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James Monroe High School

The Fredericksburg City Council is now considering building a new school (which will cost upwards of $35 million) but council members admit that the only way to pay for it while still paying off the existing debt (which new school borrowing would increase by more than $2 million annually) is a major tax increase.

IT WAS not among the worst devastations wrought by the novel coronavirus—those include sickness and death, record unemployment, business bankr…

The two women running for mayor of Fredericksburg in the May 19 election are both advocates of fiscal responsibility who want to preserve the city’s historic charm, but differ on how to accomplish this.

Mary Katherine Greenlaw, who is running for her third term as mayor, is facing Anne Little, founder and executive director of Tree Fredericksburg and a former chair of the city’s Clean & Green Commission.

Greenlaw said that she and other city officials are having to make difficult decisions about the current and upcoming budgets due to the impact of COVID-19 on the city’s economy. These include staff pay cuts and furloughs, which they hope to restore as soon as possible.

“In order to do so, we have to support our local businesses because they account for much of our revenue,” she said. “For example, we have delayed payment dates on some taxes to give them more time to rebuild. We have also distributed $225,000 in grants through the Economic Development Authority to 83 businesses—so far. I know that we are all in this together and we will work cooperatively to support each other.”

Greenlaw also pointed to the 2036 Vision Statement, Desired Future States that City Council created during a retreat in 2017. It is helping to guide the city in achieving 35 priorities including being an employment epicenter, leader in historic preservation and providing public services. As part of that, the city was divided into several what are being called Small Areas, and is working with consultants on developing plans for growth, zoning and other requirements in each.

“This is one of the better things that I’ve seen the city do,” Greenlaw said.

Little said that the Small Area plans are good, but what’s missing is a strategic financial plan that balances growth with infrastructure needs. The plan would also need to look farther into the future than the five years in the city’s capital improvements plan.

“I’ve knocked on about 500 doors and made about 1,000 phone calls,” she said. “What I hear from a lot of people is they’re seeing Fredericksburg change, and they don’t think it’s for the better. The change is taking away the charm of our city. Having a strategic plan will be a real key.”

Little said what made her decide to run was the $4.56 million Riverfront Park project in the 700 block of Sophia St. She said that building it in a floodplain without a bathroom was “a tremendous waste of taxpayers’ money,” especially when the city needs another school to ease overcrowding.

“I am very concerned that unmanaged growth has resulted in many problems in our city and this current virus crisis has only amplified these issues. I would like to see our city focus on core services: schools, police, fire and economic support for our businesses and residents,” she said. “A park is a nice amenity, but our children’s education should come first.”

Greenlaw said that the city and the School Board have been working together to resolve overcrowding at the city’s schools. One possibility is using space in the building across the street from James Monroe High School. She said it’s on land that was originally supposed to be a regional high school campus, and could be used now as additional classrooms for JMHS and as a technical school.

“We know we have overcrowding issues. We also have changing programs and modes of education,” she said. “There is much opportunity here to take a broad look at our school system and work together to provide the best possible education for our most important citizens, our children.”

Regarding another city capital project, Little said that that city knew as far back as 2010 that they would need to either renovate or replace its water treatment plant, and should have been setting aside funding for this since then. The city is currently working with Spotsylvania County to expand the Massaponax plant and shut down the one off Dixon Street.

The city’s share of the joint project is estimated to cost almost $65.7 million, although the state had budgeted funding that could help defray some of that expense. Greenlaw said that the city has “high hopes” of getting some of the money if legislators leave it in the budget.

Little said that Fredericksburg needs to encourage more businesses that offer high-paying jobs to locate in the city so its budget isn’t so heavily dependent on tourism and restaurants, which are especially hard hit right now. Greenlaw said that’s the city is working on developing the Hylton Tract as a possible site for a Veterans Administration clinic and for data centers, both of which would bring good paying jobs and additional revenue here.

“With the right leadership, we can face the economic challenges ahead caused by COVID-19 without losing our focus on impactful quality of life issues.,” Greenlaw said.

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