According to Purcellville Mayor Kwasi Fraser:‘Purcellville is in a great place with glasses prepared to be filled.’
In late April, the Blue Ridge Leader interviewed Purcellville Mayor Kwasi Fraser and here’s what he had to say about Purcellville’s future and its extraordinary promise.
BRL: What’s next on moving the Town’s budget towards greater sustainability?
Fraser: Well, we have accomplished a lot over the past six years to achieve fiscal sustainability. We have lowered our overall debt from over $60 million to $53 million. We have restructured and refinanced our Utility Enterprise Debt to insulate our citizens and businesses from significant debt payment increases, all while maintaining our stellar credit rating.
A few years ago, a consultant the Town hired told us that we needed to raise our sewer and water rates by nine percent each to be structurally balanced.
A few members of the Town Council characterized our Town as being at the edge of some “fiscal cliff.” I characterized the advice to raise water and sewer rates by nine percent as the “mythical 9 percent,” because I know our calculations for Capital Improvement Project funding lack precision.
We made the right call by not taking the recommendation of the nine percent in water and nine percent in sewer increases, and three years later we are being told we need only three percent in water and five percent in sewer increases.
Further, we were able to engage the USDA to pursue 40-year 2.125 percent loans for CIP projects. We are now in a better position financially than we were six short years ago. The recent restructuring of our debt bought us time to continue to pursue initiatives to generate revenue to offset utility rate increases, thus easing the burden on our citizens. Furthermore, the terms of the restructuring carry no penalties for prepayment.
Looking ahead, we will continue to pursue initiatives to monetize our assets to lessen our reliance on taxes and fees from our residents.
It’s key to note what we are accomplishing with our asset monetization strategy. Just from having fiber optics placed in a few miles of our right-of-ways, we are generating over $30k per year, with that being increased to $48k in the coming year.
We are in the final stages of negotiating a deal to obtain net revenues of over $700k from a nutrient credits and reforestation project on our Aberdeen property. Aberdeen is an example of how a community should approach preservation. No community should ever give away its assets in the name of preservation and for a front page headline, and not receive any monetary value for it. As we are showing, it is possible to monetize and preserve natural assets at the same time.
BRL: On the issue of small-town character, which is also about financial strength and sustainability, what would your number-one priority be there?
Fraser: The charm and small-town character of Purcellville is one of our competitive advantages, and the wellspring of our economic vitality. It is what makes tourists driving past other places, stop and enjoy the sights, sound, flavors, and activities of Purcellville.
As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to focus on delivery of exceptional services to our citizens, and to continue to be the economic hub of western Loudoun.
We will achieve this by wisely investing the funds we will be receiving from the American Rescue Plan, and to continue to pursue ways to generate non-tax revenue that will not compromise the character and charm of our Town.
Our strategy of slow growth – and rejection of annexation with high density residential development – is paying dividends by making our community inviting, and highly-desirable, and our residents are seeing this with ever increasing property values.
To our new residents; we know you paid a premium price to live in this community, I will continue to reject high density residential annexations that would negatively impact the value of our homes.
BRL: Your administration has an innovative edge to it, new ideas such as drone applications for agriculture. What’s new?
Fraser: We will continue to pursue precision agriculture with drones. Innovation is one of the key ways to fund a slow growth strategy. Innovation has led us to monetize our right-of-ways, our green space, and even to transform a dilapidated facility into a maker-space and manufacturing hub.
Revenue generated from innovation does not require heavy operational costs, and the Town receives high returns on such investment.
I am looking forward to the more than $700k in revenue the nutrient credits and reforestation project at Aberdeen will generate. This project will result in more than 78,000 trees being planted. This is an innovative marriage of capitalism and environmental sustainability.
I am still committed to lowering our water and sewer rates, by generating new revenue that is not dependent on the rate payers – such as the Aberdeen nutrient credit project.
Western Loudoun needs an aquatic and recreational center, and Purcellville is the most suitable place for it, based on our water and sewer infrastructure, and we are the home to five schools. We have made our Board of Supervisors aware of our interest in having the center in Purcellville.
In addition, we will be pursuing ways to bring true broadband service to every home and business in Purcellville that is affordable and competitive.
On the operational front, I’m looking to “automate” our Town’s thousands of repetitive functions, from tax collection, to public meetings, to applications processing. They all cost the taxpayer money. Robotic process automation can dramatically lower operational costs.
Purcellville’s operational study, conducted two years ago, recommended we look at getting something like this going. I think that robotic process automation can get us to lower costs.
Embracing Artificial Intelligence with a data-driven online platform will increase our businesses’ visibility, make it easier to interact with the Town, and increase sales. Further, we should never buy a product elsewhere when we can buy it here. Town prosperity is measured by how long it takes a dollar to leave Purcellville.
BRL: What do you want the people of Purcellville to know about your biggest hopes for the Town in the coming year?
Fraser: My hope for Purcellville is for it to be the most desirable community in which to live, shop, learn, and grow, and we are getting there by continuing to embrace the strategy of slow growth, low taxes, innovative solutions, and infrastructure improvements.
I will continue to ensure that the aspirations of our citizens, as reflected in our Comprehensive Plan, have a voice at Town Hall and become the policies they expect from that process.
BRL: What are your challenges as mayor of the Town of Purcellville?
Fraser: The continued pressure for high density residential growth under the guise of affordable housing is a big concern. We do need affordable housing; but I don’t subscribe to the belief that increasing the volume of homes will achieve affordability. I believe we cannot begin to address housing affordability without discussing wage increases, especially for our teachers, and determining how many individuals truly want to live where they work.
BRL: Any other thoughts on the Town’s response to COVID?
Fraser: Our Town has been resilient throughout the pandemic; we worked on addressing the needs of our elderly community in partnership with the Tree of Life Ministry. We distributed 2,000 boxes of food to replenish our food banks.
We were one of the first communities in the U.S. to test our sewer system for the virus using wastewater epidemiology in collaboration with Biobot and researchers at MIT, Harvard, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. We also distributed over $900k in relieve funds to local businesses and nonprofits.
Guests to our restaurants benefited from our voucher program, and over $200k in meals tax reduction. Purcellville is in a great place with glasses prepared to be filled.