Yesterday (4/14/18) I attended an interview with the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce. What I learned concerns me. Based on the questions asked at yesterday's interview, and the urgency with which they were asked, and reading between the lines a little, here's what I found out:
- Members at the meeting advocated strongly and openly for tax increases.
- They want the tax increases not on businesses but on residential properties. Please keep in mind that City Council just voted for a *cut* to the business taxes for businesses that take in less than $200,000 annually in Chesapeake.
- They want Chesapeake to use the tax money raised to "pay for infrastructure."
- They're against rezoning our schools despite the fact that some schools are over capacity and others are under capacity.
- They are for the City developing the Frank T. Williams site into a major industrial commercial site. This is 4,000 acres of farmland near the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge along the N.C./Virginia border.
- They are looking to endorse candidates who will back the above.
- When I raised environmental objections about the Williams Farm site, I was told, "I don't know what you mean by protecting the environment." I was too stunned to reply.
- I mentioned that Data Centers, which are one potential use for this property, require major amounts of energy, and that we need to at least look at bringing in diverse, solar power to help power any data centers we might bring to Chesapeake (along with a regional fiber optic network). I was met by blank stares.
- They are unlikely to endorse me. I told them I am willing to listen and to back any plan for diversifying business that makes sense, but that this particular site is a hard sell. This is due to environmental considerations and due to the costs of running utilities our there. I told them I prefer to encourage redevelopment in areas like South Norfolk, Western Branch, Indian River, and Deep Creek, where the city already has infrastructure and public transportation. On the schools issue, I told them I support the School Board's efforts at rezoning before building new or bigger schools to the south of the city. I told them all the schools in Chesapeake are good schools, not just the ones in Hickory or Great Bridge. I held firm to my values of equality and of sensible, frugal decisions to protect our hard-working taxpayers.
Here are further thoughts, reading between the lines. The Hampton Roads Chamber seems to support Big Money interests. It definitely wants to hike Chesapeake taxes on residential property. Why?
I suspect to protect against any potential, currently-unforeseen increase in business taxes the City might need in order to pay for needed improvements in schools and infrastructure. Members of this organization are more interested in protecting the status quo than limiting residential growth in Southern Chesapeake.
Are they looking for Council to use the property tax hike to pay for water and sewer to Williams Farm? It wouldn't surprise me. This move certainly won't protect our farmland, environment, or green spaces. It will do nothing directly to help the distressed areas of our community, either, which need investment and development or redevelopment dollars. The Williams Farm plan was shelved in 2015 due to objections from residents, but like a zombie, it rears its ugly head back up. I wonder why. Have members of the Chamber or their friends invested in land at or near this site? A well-informed friend told me it will cost the City a billion dollars, with a "b," to run sewer alone to the Williams' Farm. If anyone has data to back up this assertion, I'd like to have it.
It is now clear to me why everyday residents and small businesses complain that their voices are not being heard by the City. When elected May 1st, I promise to be the voice for you, not Big Money corporate interests. If you want to elect to Council someone who will listen to you and ask lots of hard questions about plans like this one, please vote for me on May 1st.