1. What is it about your personal and professional background that makes you the most qualified to hold this office?
England: Being a small-business owner over the past two decades, I have seen firsthand the impact that city and county governments can have on creating an environment where businesses can succeed. One of the significant opportunities facing Washington County is promoting the area so as to encourage the growth of our existing businesses and entice other businesses to locate here.
Economic development is key to our county’s future success. I understand the variables that contribute to successful economic development, and it is through successful economic development that we are able to retain our youth to live, work and play here. They are our future.
Snapp: I have a master’s degree in city and regional planning from the University of Tennessee. As regional director of a planning office, I worked with 25 communities in Upper East Tennessee.
I was also a part-time instructor for East Tennessee State University’s Master City Management Program.
I have worked closely with cities and counties throughout my career. I served as a Johnson City commissioner for 12 years and two years as mayor.
I also served 14 years as the economic director for Johnson City, Jonesborough and Washington County.
2. What do you think is the most challenging issue facing Washington County?
England: During my service as a county commissioner I have seen balancing the county budget as one of the most challenging issues the commission faces. The amount collected annually from property taxes is never enough to fund the many county departments as fully as would be desired.
In the years following the Great Recession we have seen overall growth in the region remain flat. When the county’s cost of doing business increases (cost of vehicles and equipment, employee compensation and health care premiums) absent equal or greater growth in revenue this problem only grows.
It is critical that we create new and increasing opportunities for economic growth in our community in order to keep up with the cost of doing the county’s business.
Snapp: City property owners pay 65 percent of county property taxes and should be treated with more respect. There should be a better working relationship with the city and the county Board of Education, by the county mayor in particular.
In the future, county policies impacting both city and county residents should be explained clearly. For example, the 40-cent tax increase was poorly explained to the public.
And there seems to be a major breach with the county school board and County Commission. This is a major problem in providing quality education.
3. Under what circumstances would you vote for a property tax increase?
England: No one, me included, wants to see an increase in their taxes. Whether it is a city or county property tax or a sales tax increase, it is never a popular topic with voters. But the ugly truth is that in order to keep up with the ever-increasing cost of doing business, revenues must grow or we must find ways to reduce the county’s expenses by eliminating services. As in any business, there comes a time when prices must be increased to cover the overhead.
I would only consider a property tax increase after exploring all possible opportunities to revenue through growth and expense containment through added efficiencies.
Snapp: Not knowing the future, a candidate should never say he or she will not vote to increase taxes. With the 40-cent tax increase, one of the largest ever, it will be difficult to justify a tax increase anytime soon.
The 40-cent tax increase was promoted as an educational tax. Due to an alleged loophole, the city was not treated fairly. According to city school officials, city schools should be receiving an additional $4.8 million a year, or $48 million over the next 10 years.
4. What is your vision of how the working relationship should be between the County Commission and the county mayor?
England: The county mayor is effectively the county’s chief financial officer and together a healthy and functional relationship between the two, the mayor and the commission, is important to effectively doing the people’s business in a successful way. Plainly stated, we need to have a good working partnership with the mayor for the common good of the citizens of Washington County.
Snapp: A few years ago, there was a joint city-county liaison committee with members from both governments. The committee provided good cooperation between the city and county.
A joint committee should be re-created with members from both governments. There should be an agenda with issues that should be addressed. These should be scheduled meetings and members are expected to attend. The city manager and county mayor should be the catalysts for this committee.