Whether Purcellville’s municipal election is held next month as scheduled or is delayed until June or December because of the coronavirus outbreak, town voters appear to have clear choices before them.
The town’s two mayoral candidates lined up separate slates in the race. One is teamed up with three Town Council candidates, and the other is joined by the other two council candidates and has secured the endorsement from a county supervisor.
And although town voters do not vote on slates—instead voting for whatever combination of candidates they prefer—those two groups are casting themselves as the two options.
Incumbent Mayor Kwasi Fraser and Town Council candidates Christopher Bertaut, Stanley Milan and Mary Jane Williams are all running together. On the other side of the aisle, Supervisor Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) has endorsed Beverly Chiasson for mayor and newcomers Mary Lynn Hickey and Erin Rayner for council.
Voters will elect three council candidates from the group of five in the election, scheduled for May 5. The Virginia General Assembly on Wednesday was expected to vote on Gov. Ralph Northam’s request to move the elections to Nov. 3.
Fraser said the common goal among his slate “is to represent the people first,” specifically to keep with a slow-growth approach to town governance and maintain Purcellville’s small-town character.
“To achieve this, we will continue to pursue and implement innovative and transformative solutions to address our debt,” he stated. “Instead of relying on development for a quick, short-term cash infusion, we will focus on utilizing our $125 million in assets for long-term revenue.”
Fraser said his slate’s first items of focus, if elected, would be to continue to reduce debt and establish zoning districts that match a comprehensive plan that calls for slow growth.
“We will be focusing on alternative ways to assure our resiliency and economic prosperity to eliminate fluctuations in our budgeting,” he stated. “Continuing to represent the people, this will prevent rash decision making on expanding our borders or large-scale residential development that is better suited to a large metropolis.”
Fraser charged that Chiasson, Hickey and Rayner “want to rely on annexation that will increase our town liabilities, raise taxes, and add to our traffic congestion,” while he, Bertaut, Milan and Williams “are committed to projects which either pay for themselves or improve our services.”
But Chiasson, a former 12-year Town Councilwoman who served on the dais from 1992 to 2004, said that is not so.
She said her slate is not pro-annexation, and there is “little opportunity” for the town to annex additional land. She said that’s because most of that land surrounding the town is either already built out or has been recently acquired by a landowner who plans to put the land into conservation easement.
“It’s not something that is on our radar,” Chiasson said about her slate’s views on future annexations. “I don’t see that as an issue that we’re going to have to face in our lifetime.”
Because the town can’t rely on annexations for increased utility connection fees and tax payments, Chiasson said the town needs to learn how to pay its own bills through different means.
Chiasson said her slate is also neither against nor for slow growth because the town is already 90-percent built out and is unable to grow at any pace other than slowly.
Fraser said he and his slate would focus on projects including solar purchasing agreements to reduce the town’s energy costs, laying fiber optic cables in the town rights-of-way to extend broadband connectivity, erecting a second cellular tower to increase wireless coverage for public safety purposes and to generate income for the utility fund, selling reclaimed water, and entering into public-private partnerships to generate revenue from underperforming town assets.
Chiasson said her slate would be primarily focused on straightening out the town’s finances. She emphasized a need to replenish the water and sewer funds, which shrunk in Fiscal Year 2020 by 39 and 16 percent respectively, and said the town should be as open as possible with residents and businesses so those people know what their tax and utility bills look like.
“I think we need to get a handle on the rates,” she said. “This is not something we are locked into, but it is a plan.”
Hickey, a seven-year resident who works as the vice president of administration for the News Literacy Project, said the utility funds should be stabilized in a sustainable way that is independent of general fund support. She said the town should follow guidance set forth by Stantec, its utility rate consultant.
“Stantec has offered detailed options to collect enough revenue to fully cover costs and to create a fair rate structure for residential and business customers. However, the Town Council has yet to fully implement this guidance,” she said.
Hickey also noted that an open and transparent government and responsible fiscal planning would be key, specifically the town’s need to reduce debt and eliminate “unnecessary and wasteful expenditures.”
Rayner, a three-year town resident who works as the executive director of the Barbara Comstock Program for Women in Leadership at George Mason University, said she is concerned about the town’s finances and infrastructure projects, noting that all three candidates want “to help our town recover from over four years of turmoil.”
“We saw mismanagement of town finances, terrible decisions about the running of community assets, and dishonest leadership,” she said. “We all united under those points to hopefully change that, bring back trust and responsible government.”
Three new council members, and the mayor, will work alongside three incumbent councilmen who will remain on the dais until June 2022—Joel Grewe, Ted Greenly and Vice Mayor Tip Stinette.
Fraser said that, if elected, his slate would look forward to working with the incumbent councilmen “in a mutually respectful and collaborative manner.”
“We all have shared values, and I will invest the time and energy to serve the people of our small town,” he stated.
Chiasson said that if her slate is elected, “very diverse ideas” would be presented on the dais, which would see the six council members and mayor often engage in productive discussions.
Hickey said she already works well with all three incumbent councilmen. Rayner said they “have great ideas” and “are easy to work with.”
Buffington did not respond to multiple attempts by multiple reporters to contact him by email and phone. Reached through a member of his legislative staff, he declined to say why he was supporting the slate of Chiasson, Hickey, and Rayner.
“Supervisor Buffington advised he does not wish to comment on this at the moment,” stated Rachael Holmes, Buffington’s chief of staff.