Debate Doldrums

Debate Doldrums

<bt>If the audience for a candidate debate numbers less than 10, the audience can ask the candidates whatever they want. This was the scenario that happened when the Vienna chapter of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees (NARFE) asked the four candidates for the Vienna Town Council to a debate on Wednesday, April 21.

The candidates, who were all incumbents except for Mike Polychrones, fielded questions about town activities, from special pick-ups to illegal immigrants to the meals tax. Since this year's race is uncontested, it was far more quiet compared to last year's race, when six candidates ran for three seats for the Vienna Town Council.

The candidates are Councilwoman Laurie Cole; Councilwoman Edythe Kelleher; Polychrones, who had served as a Councilman for several years before leaving the Town Council last spring; and Vienna mayor Jane Seeman.

FOR ALL the candidates, the debate centered on ensuring that Vienna maintain its small-town identity. Seeman, who has lived in Vienna since 1969 and is running for a third term, said she wanted to preserve the close-knit feeling within the different neighborhoods.

Remarking on the town's personal approach with its citizens, Seeman said, "That's what I get out of this job, helping people."

Cole added that the challenge of maintaining the small-town feel comes from balancing individual and community needs. Although the town is built up, families continue to move in as the older population moves out.

"The challenge is determining what's best for the community at large while being sensitive to individual concerns," said Cole, citing stop signs and drainage concerns as individual issues with potentially neighborhood-wide consequences.

Kelleher described how she liked talking with citizens at the grocery store or when they call her at home. That enthusiasm, as well as her background as a property manager and staffer for Supervisor Penny Gross (D-Mason), made her a qualified candidate for Town Council, Kelleher said.

"I love local government. The more local it gets, the better," said Kelleher.

Polychrones said he is running at the request of Councilman Al Boudreau, whose seat will become vacant because he is moving to Florida.

THE ISSUES that Polychrones would like to see come to fruition are the Town Center Square, and the construction projects to repair Beulah and Branch Roads.

"I want to keep Vienna the place we all know and love," Polychrones said.

Since the audience was small, during the question and answer period, candidates were asked questions about town services vs. ongoing issues. When asked what the next phase of the Maple Avenue Enhancement Project was, Seeman replied that the next sidewalk construction would occur from Lawyers Road to Nutley Street. But since no money is available for construction, a timetable for the final phase has not been determined.

"It was really to help our businesses, because that's our only commercial sector," said Seeman of the brick sidewalks.

When asked about what created the greatest increase in the town budget, candidates replied it was personnel costs and benefits for town employees. While the Town Council has been attempting to reduce the residential tax rate by one cent, to 26.5 cents, in its 2005 fiscal year budget, council members have had to be conservative in their revenue estimates because of the state budget impasse.

One audience member asked about abolishing the meals tax, but council members insisted that the meals tax benefits town citizens more than it hurts them. Through the meals tax, the town has been able to fund capital projects such as the new police station for the Vienna Police and the renovation of the Vienna Community Center.

"The town really benefits from this alternate source of income," Cole said.

Another audience member asked what the town was doing to keep illegal immigrants out of the town. The candidates replied that the Vienna Police has been working with other jurisdictions on gang activity, but added that the town does not have a major problem with illegals. Any illegal immigrants should try to become citizens, they concluded.