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In final forum, unopposed candidates spell out priorities

SoVaNow.com / November 04, 2019
Unopposed incumbents for two local constitutional offices — Commonwealth’s Attorney and Treasurer— spoke about their reasons for seeking re-election at the final candidate forum hosted by the Halifax County of Chamber of Commerce Wednesday night at The Prizery.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Tracy Quackenbush Martin and Treasurer Ruth Oakes each appeared at the forum, along with William Bryant Claiborne, who is running unopposed for the ED-8 seat on the Board of Supervisors, and Larry Roller, the lone candidate for tiebreaker on the eight-member board.

Two other candidates who had been slated to appear at the forum, ED-8 School Board trustee Walter Potts and Commissioner of Revenue Brenda Powell, were no-shows.

Martin started out by saying she has been honored to serve as the county’s chief prosecutor for the past six years, taking over for Kim S. White, who was promoted to circuit court judge midway through her term in office. Martin said the Office of Commonwealth’s Attorney has made great strides in recent years, lowering the time it takes to resolve cases from 41 percent, of at least one year’s time, to only four percent.

“I’m a hard worker and I am very blessed to have a staff of hard workers. I work with law enforcement who are very hard workers,” said Martin. She also expressed appreciation for White, who leads the Halifax bench, and the Clerk of Court office. “We all strive to be leaders” of positive change, she said.

Through better communications with law enforcement agencies, Martin said her office has been able to improve the caliber of criminal prosecutions in Halifax County. Saying “we have a great deal of respect in my office for our law enforcement partners,” Martin added that plea agreements with criminal defendants only happen “after consultation with law enforcement and after consultation with the victims.

“Victims and their opinions matter to the Commonwealth Attorney’s office,” she said.

Martin also praised the work that has gone into the formation of a local drug court, launched in 2016. “Drug court is not for everyone. It’s not for violent offenders or drug dealers,” she said. Instead, it is a “tough program” that emphasizes rehabilitation and community re-entry for offenders, with proven results of preventing crime and keeping non-violent offenders out of jail.

Martin credited the program, which was initiated by retired Judge Joel Cunningham, with saving close to $190,000 in local jail costs. The recidivism rate — offenders turning back to drugs and crime — has been very low, she noted.

Along with the office’s efforts to aid and support victims of crime, Martin said she was proud of its work to streamline expenses. The Commonwealth’s Attorney office has been mandated by the state to provide another prosecutor due to the increased workload created by body search cameras used in law enforcement. “Instead of hiring a lawyer, I elected to decrease the salary of another lawyer and hired a paralegal,” Martin said. “I saved a direct cost to the county to streamline their approach, to be more efficient with better prosecution.”

Next to speak was Oakes, Halifax County’s treasurer. Admitting she was a bit nervous at the microphone, Oakes introduced herself by saying, “I have the job collecting, and nobody likes the tax collector,” drawing a laugh from the audience.

Oakes has worked in the treasurer’s office for 33 years, with the last four years devoted to being treasurer. She said she has worked to lower the county’s rate of delinquent tax payments. For those who do not voluntarily pay their taxes, “I have to track down where they work” to issue liens, or garnish their wages. The Treasurer’s Office also can issue a DMV stop, suspending a driver’s license until unpaid taxes are taken care of.

“Some of these ways may seem not nice,” Oakes admitted. But she said she operates by a simple philosophy: “We try to make sure that if you’re paying your taxes, your neighbor is paying theirs, and try to keep it fair.”

William Bryant Claiborne, the veteran supervisor in ED-8, used his time behind the microphone to advocate for open and clean government, job creation and improvement of local education, which he believes should include a new high school building to replace the current HCHS facility. He said the county’s experience fixing up its dilapidated courthouse shows that renovation is not always the best option for modernizing county buildings. Claiborne, who was critical of the courthouse renovation plan as a member of a minority bloc on the Board of Supervisors, suggested Halifax shouldn’t make the same mistake again: “I do support building a new high school.”

To do so, county voters must first approve a 1 percent sales tax to bring in an estimated $100 million in revenue over the next 30 years for school capital projects. “I support the 1 percent sales tax referendum and with this revenue is how it gets done,” he said.

For the greater good of Halifax County, “we need to get rid of politics,” and put forth a unified effort to build a better future, said Claiborne. “It won’t take long if we decide to come together for the public good.”

Larry D. Roller, unopposed candidate for the tie-breaker seat on the Board of Supervisors, is a native of Halifax County. Roller obtained his Bachelor’s of Science in mechanical engineering and technology from Virginia Tech. He was employed as director of Maintenance and Operations with Halifax County Public Schools 24 years.

Roller emphasized the importance of education and workforce training in ensuring the future success of the county’s young adults, and said economic development should be the other chief priority of the Board of Supervisors.

Roller also expressed support for the sales tax referendum. “I support upgrading all schools facilities, but there is a limit to the amount of money that can be feasibly spent.” He said operating expenses can be reduced by cutting the number of elementary schools in Halifax County. “This need a serious look,” he said.

Roller also said he feels the maintenance of the high school has been seriously misrepresented in public discussions. The HCHS building and equipment are past their expected lifespans, but facilities remain functional and provide safety. He said the facilities maintenance department should be applauded and recognized for their efforts, calling the employees there highly skilled, conscientious, and dedicated.

A discussion in support of the 1 percent tax referendum followed the candidate forum. Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg and Halifax County Administrator Scott Simpson spoke to the key points in favor of the referendum:

» The tax burden will be shared by visitors to Halifax County. Twenty percent of the projected revenue from the 1-cent sales tax — roughly $20 million — for school construction and renovation will come from tourists passing through Halifax County.

» Lineburg said the sales tax referendum is a “big deal” for Halifax County, which is the first locality in Virginia to test the idea of imposing a local sales tax to pay for school facilities improvements. “All other counties in the state of Virginia are watching and hoping this will pass,” said Lineburg.

» With passage of the tax, the school division will create a maintenance line item in its budget to prevent future school facilities from falling into disrepair. The maintenance line item will offer accountability for funds spent.

» The 1 percent sales tax referendum will not apply to groceries, medications, and the purchase of automobiles. It will also not affect farmers with a sales tax exemption. “We have broken down the increase cost to the average family in Halifax County,” said Simpson. “ An additional $12 a month is what can be expected. If you purchase a pizza for $20, it will now cost $20.20, only twenty cents more.”

Simpson closed by stating a “yes” vote for the 1 percent sales tax referendum will help Halifax County as a way to make long range plans for the future.



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Comments

VOTE NO on any tax increase. TELL ALL BOS MEMBERS TO VOTE NO ON ANY TAX INCREASE. ANYONE RUNNING AND SAYING THEY SUPPORT A TAX INCREASE SHOULD GET ZERO VOTES!

Comments

Vote YES to improve educational facilities in Halifax County! Any candidate with the guts to tell the public what is needed to improve the community is an honest one worthy of your vote!


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