Supervisor candidates face off

Published 10:58 am Thursday, September 29, 2011

Capron District challenger Bruce Phillips, right, speaks during a candidate forum at Southampton High School on Wednesday night. Phillips is running against Southampton County Supervisor Moses Wyche, left, in the Nov. 8 election. GWEN ALBERS/TIDEWATER NEWS

COURTLAND—Seven candidates for the Southampton County Board of Supervisors share the same vision: They want to maintain the county’s agriculture economy without raising taxes.

To support the economy, Franklin District challenger Barry Porter, 63, favors bringing in compatible businesses, although he doesn’t believe a multi-million dollar industrial park will lure them in, referring to the 492-acre Turner Tract developed by the county on Rose Valley Road.

“We have a product,” Porter said during Wednesday night’s candidate forum at Southampton High School sponsored by The Tidewater News. “It’s our forests, low land prices, reasonable labor, transportation access and Paul D. Camp Community College.” “We never considered an industrial park for a decision,” added Porter, a financial/real estate consultant and former finance director for Mobil Corp. in North and South America and Africa. Porter is running against four-term Republican incumbent Walter Young.

All candidates told the 120 attending the forum they favor continuing to pay Franklin-Southampton Economic Development Inc. to seek out businesses for the county, but several said the joint city-county entity has not produced sufficient results in job creation.

“FSEDI has been very proactive giving information out to prospects,” said Newsoms District two-term Republican incumbent Walter Brown, who is challenged by independent Glenn Updike. “They are talking to industries that are interested in this county.”

“We have the Turner Tract,” the 67-year old retired Army lieutenant colonel added. “You need a house to put them in.”

When it comes raising taxes, which supervisors have done during four out of the past five years with either real estate or personal property taxes, the challengers firmly expressed not supporting increases.

Independent Dr. Alan Edwards, who is challenging two-term Republican incumbent Anita Felts in the Jerusalem District, noted that Southampton County has the sixth highest tax rate out of Virginia’s 95 counties and 13th highest personal property tax rate.

“Fifty percent (of the county’s budget) comes from local taxes,” said the 63-year-old chairman of the county Planning Commission. “You need to cut the expenses, the fat, the waste. I would never vote to raise taxes.”

Felts responded, saying that no one wants to raises taxes.

“We have a $52 million budget this year,” said the 60-year-old co-owner of Felts Machine Shop in Sedley and Suffolk. “In 2009-2010, it was $68 million. We have cut, but there’s things this county gives you that cost money.”

Brown said a means of bringing in revenue is needed to prevent tax increases, while Updike, 71, suggested cutting fees for consultants.

“We paid the Timmons Group $1.5 million to consult for the Turner Tract and Powell and Associates $1 million for the wastewater treatment plant (in Courtland).”

Updike also did not support supervisors’ decision to fill the assistant county administrator’s position after Administrator Mike Johnson recommended against doing so. In addition, Updike proposed cutting pay for the highest-paid employees.

Capron District challenger independent Bruce Phillips, 62, favors cutting expenses to avoid a tax increase, while two-term Democrat incumbent Moses Wyche said it’s easy to say “you won’t raises taxes.”

“Until we find some other way to do it…,” said Wyche, 69.

Young, 71, did not attend because his wife was undergoing a medical procedure in Philadelphia.

Porter suggested cutting $500,000 from the budget by evaluating every position in the county.

“We need to take a business approach,” he said. “We need to increase productivity. I would have to be dragged kicking and screaming to raise taxes.”