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School, County Candidates Face Off

Taxes, SOL scores debated.

Monday night, County and School board candidates continued their bitter fight to Nov. 5 election.

A debate hosted by the Dover Crystal Civic Association drew about 50 spectators to hear Beth Wolffe spar with incumbent School Board member Mary Hynes, and Republican County Board candidate Mike Clancy take on current Board Chair Chris Zimmerman, a Democrat.

Both challengers took shots at the incumbent’s records. But Wolffe was particularly aggressive in her criticism of Hynes and the School Board, especially on the issue of minority achievement.

She said that all School Board members, including Hynes, have made excuses for the minority achievement gap rather than demanding results. Sufficient funds have been there, she said, but "the will" has not. Hynes countered that there have been major improvements in student performance since she took office eight years ago.

Clancy and Zimmerman remained more reserved in their criticism, but addressed each other's platforms enough to draw numerous outbursts from the crowd.

<b>TAX ISSUES DOMINATED </b>the County Board candidate debate. In a strategy he called bold but honest, Zimmerman said the county needs taxes, possibly even tax increases. They will pay for county services voters have come to depend on, and to improve the transportation infrastructure in the county, he said.

Political candidates who promise tax cuts without cutting county services are dangerous, Zimmerman warned. "When someone promises you something for nothing, you usually get nothing for something."

Clancy took umbrage at the comment, which he saw as a criticism of his call for lower county property taxes. "I'm not talking about a cut," he said. "I'm just trying to protect you from...[major] increases." During Zimmerman’s tenure, he said, property taxes have climbed 55 percent.

Indeed, property taxes, tied to property value, have risen in the last five years. Since 1998, the average home value has climbed 20.6 percent, from $186,130 to $224,390, and the average property tax bill in Arlington has risen by 23.6 percent, from $1,858 to $2,296.

Mismanagement of funds has made high taxes a necessity, he continued. The current County Board, all Democrats, are a "monopoly government," he said, and with no other party represented on the board, there is no check on spending.

<b>IN CLOSING STATEMENTS,</a> Hynes and Wolffe again battled over student achievement. Hynes insisted she is doing what it takes to improve education for all students. "My answers may not have been the sharpest tonight," she conceded, "but on the Board I'm known for asking tough questions."

After the debate, both County Board candidates claimed victory, at least in spirit. "If I do 50/50 here, that's really good," said Zimmerman, noting that the audience was fairly conservative.

Clancy said the "good reception from the crowd shows that Arlingtonians are ready to embrace a two-party system in county government.