With just days to go before Purcellville voters fill a vacant Town Council seat, the two candidates shared their views during an Oct. 21 forum at Otium Cellars winery.
The event was organized by the Purcellville Business Association and moderated by Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce President Tony Howard. The program also included a forum for the 33rd House District candidates, although only Democratic nominee Paul Siker attended.
Sean MacDonald and Erin Rayner are running to fill the unexpired term of Ted Greenly, who resigned in May as he was moving out of town. The special election is on the Nov. 2 ballot.
MacDonald, a counterterrorism intelligence specialist with the Department of Homeland Security, moved to Purcellville from Leesburg in March, and by June offered his services to serve on the town’s Policing Advisory Commission, Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, Planning Commission or Town Council. Last year, he sought appointment to a vacant Leesburg Town Council seat.
Rayner, the executive director of former Congresswoman Barbara Comstock’s Program for Women in Leadership at George Washington University and Mountain View Elementary School PTA president, is a five-year town resident. She ran for a council seat in last year’s election, finishing fourth with three seats available.
Both were among five applicants who sought appointment to the seat in June, but the council opted to leave the seat vacant until a special election could be held.
In his campaign, MacDonald has aligned himself closely with Mayor Kwasi Fraser, adopting the themes of slow growth, low taxes, infrastructure investments and innovation solution. He also expressed a view that surveys of residents should carry more weight than those in the government.
“I do not believe in just letting the future of our town be guided by contractors and town management,” he said twice during the hour-long forum. “It should be guided by our citizens who live here, pay taxes and pay water and sewer bills.”
Rayner said she was focused on promoting the revitalization of the town’s business community and refuted opponents’ claims that she would be a growth advocate.
“I want to help. That’s why I’m running. I want to work on our economic development, and I want to work on infrastructure issues. Those are the two main reasons why I’m running for the seat,” she said. “It really breaks my heart that there are 17 open storefronts in Purcellville right now, just boarded up and empty. We need to have a more robust plan to lure businesses, small businesses not big businesses. We need small businesses with local owners to fill these spaces.”
Many of the question posed by audience members focused on business concerns, including bringing in new companies and rebuilding the workforce. Others focused on specific hot-button issues including the future of the town-owned Pullen House, the potential annexation of land on the east end of town, and the previously approved, but undeveloped Vineyard Square project along 21st Street.
On the Pullen House, which the council sought to sell but rejected the single qualified bid as being too low, MacDonald said the council should survey the community about what to do with the property.
Rayner said the property should be used as intended when a previous council purchased it to expand the Fireman’s Field recreation complex. She said the dilapidated house on the land should be razed and the land used for a community gathering area, such as a playground or splashpad. “I think it is very short-sighted to sell it, especially for less than we paid for it,” Rayner said. “I truly believe it is an asset the town needs to keep and turn it into a gathering area.”
Neither candidate expressed support of the annexation, but differed in their view of Vineyards Square.
“Vineyard square is supposed to be a six-story monstrosity right on 21st Street. I don’t know why it is still being talked about,” MacDonald said. “About six or seven years ago it was approved by the Town Council and, I don’t know, the funding’s not there, but I do not support any development on 21st Street so I would be voting against that.”
Rayner disputed that characterization and said the town should work with the developers to create a project that would contribute to the revitalization of the area while fitting with the scale and character of the town.
“For one it is not a six-story building. It is not going to be above Magnolias. It’s smaller. I’ve seen the designs and the builders are willing to work to make it in the same style as Purcellville,” she said. “They’re willing to work with the Town Council with the design and change it. … I think that street needs revitalization, and the builder is willing to work with the town.”
On the concerns about the town’s utility rates, MacDonald agreed with the current Town Council to reject the recommendations of the town’s advisors that rates should be increased to meet operation and debt obligations.
“Yes, it has to be paid off, but it has to be reasonable,” MacDonald said “We can’t just jack up our water rates 9 percent. It’s unaffordable. There has to be other ways to come up with that kind of revenue.”
Rayner said that past councils have held rates artificially low for many years and that the town was not well served by the 17-tier water rate structure recently replaced by the council. She noted that construction of the sewage treatment plant was required to comply with Chesapeake Bay Act regulations and, while the systems may be expensive, they are needed to provide safe services to town residents. She noted that only this year have Hillsboro residents ended a decades-long boil water requirement.
When asked about whether the town government should enact a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for the staff, MacDonald said he would look to survey constituents.
Rayner said that, while she and her husband choose to get vaccinated, she does not support a requirement for others to do so.