IW Board of Supervisors candidates debate at forum
Published 11:27 pm Friday, October 25, 2019
On Tuesday, two incumbent Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors representatives seeking re-election this November faced off against their challengers at a candidates forum held at The Smithfield Center in downtown Smithfield.
Challenging Newport District representative and current board chairman William McCarty is Richard “Rick” Gillerlain, a retired engineer and former member of the county’s Planning Commission. Challenging Smithfield District representative Dick Grice is Dr. Timmie Edwards Sr., a former Isle of Wight County Schools administrator.
Herb DeGroft of the Isle of Wight Citizens’ Association and Jarad Ford of the Isle of Wight NAACP moderated the forum, which was organized and sponsored by five local civic groups. In addition to the IWCA and NAACP, other sponsors were the Carrollton Civic League, the Southern and Central Isle of Wight Citizens’ Group and Windsor AARP Chapter No. 5309. Candidates had exactly 1-1/2 minutes to answer each question.
When asked about qualifications for office, Gillerlain cited his experience as an engineer, stating that he has “managed a water system the size of a city,” as well as a city-sized sewer system. He then said he had the “technical knowledge to ask the right questions” at board meetings and that he knew “how to negotiate and manage a construction project.”
McCarty countered, “I’m not an engineer, but I’m teachable. I think one of the biggest things you have to have in an elected capacity is the ability to be taught.”
Edwards cited his experience as a public school administrator, while Grice cited the fact that during his past four years on the board, the county’s real estate tax rate has remained at 85 cents per $100.
“We’ve added over 900 businesses in that same period,” Grice said. “You don’t get 900 businesses here, no matter how small or how large, without doing something right.”
He clarified that many of these are home-based businesses. Chris Morello, the county’s director of economic development, later confirmed to The Tidewater News that 1,050 new business licenses were issued between January 2016 and September 2019 based on monthly reports from the county’s Commissioner of Revenue’s Office and its two towns. Morello added that this figure includes not only home-based businesses, but also out-of-town contractors.
When asked about the issues facing the county over the next four years, all four candidates mentioned the ongoing debate over whether to renovate or replace Hardy Elementary School and Westside Elementary School, both of which were built in the 1960s and are located in the Smithfield area. All four further seemed to agree that replacement was the way to go, and that money could potentially be saved by obtaining architectural plans for existing schools located in other school systems in Virginia, and then building duplicates of those schools in Isle of Wight County rather than hiring an architectural firm to design new schools from scratch.
McCarty also referenced the county’s growing number of senior citizens living in the county, mentioning that the county had contributed $50,000 this year toward Isle of Wight County Social Services’ Companion Program, which provides in-home assistance to senior citizens and those with disabilities.
“Only nine people in our community were benefiting [from the Companion Program],” McCarty said. “Rather than abandon that, we need to re-tool that to reach out to our seniors in need.”
Grice and Edwards then discussed drinking water, with Grice stating that it is his goal to have most of the town of Smithfield’s water be purchased from Isle of Wight County within the next five years.
“Water rates remain a challenge,” he said. “Increasing consumption [of county water] is key to reducing rates.”
On the matter of the water bill increases county residents have seen over the past few years, Grice said, “I’d like to get by with smaller increases, but our consumption has not grown.”
Edwards, when asked about comments he made in an Oct. 16 article in The Smithfield Times regarding improving the county’s water quality, alleged that there may be disparities in municipal drinking water quality among residents who live in different parts of the county. He then said he would like to see the county’s water quality become more standardized.
“I know for a fact that citizens in the Franklin area and in the Smithfield area have had severe stains on their teeth because of contaminants in their water,” Edwards said.
When asked for clarification on this statement, Edwards told The Tidewater News he was not alleging any current or previously unknown problems with the county’s water quality, but rather that one component of his platform is to ensure that the county’s water supply remains of good quality.
The county’s most recent water quality consumer confidence reports, which are available at http://www.co.isle-of-wight.va.us/wq/, showed no violation of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards. However, some reports included copies of a letter dated May 2, 2019 from the county’s Public Works department to water customers in Camptown, Carrsville and Rushmere areas, warning of a cosmetic dental problem known as dental fluorosis, which may affect children age 9 and younger. According to the county’s public notice distributed to residents, low levels of fluoride can help prevent cavities but water containing more than 2 milligrams per liter of fluoride may cause children to develop discoloration of their permanent teeth. The notice adds that in its moderate or severe forms, Dental fluorosis may result in a brown staining and/or pitting of the permanent teeth.
The water quality report for Carrsville also showed slightly higher levels of lead than in other parts of the county, as measured in 2016, though this too was well within EPA standards.
Another question posed to the four candidates asked how Isle of Wight could attract new commercial opportunities.
“You can’t have it both ways,” Edwards replied. “You can’t have an industrialized county and your rural heritage … You tell us what your desires are. I kind of liked the country lifestyle … but we are here to listen to you.”
Grice then referenced the Shirley T. Holland Intermodal Park, which he called “the single largest site-ready pad in all of Tidewater.” He added, “They aren’t building brick buildings anymore. Everything’s online. That dynamic is changing and we have to be able to adjust to it.”
Gillerlain suggested marketing the Route 17 corridor in Carrollton to businesses, citing the amount of commuter traffic that passes through the county along that corridor to and from northern Suffolk, rather than continuing to use the corridor for residential housing developments. McCarty, however, said businesses, when looking at site locations, “always have and always will” look at the number of rooftops in an area. He instead suggested increasing broadband in the county as a means of enticing commercial development.