A four-way race for the Berkeley District seat on the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors pits a self-proclaimed “independent conservative” incumbent against a Republican newcomer and two county employees.
Supervisor Greg Cebula is up against Republican Debbie Curcie, Spotsylvania firefighter Kevin Marshall and county construction technician Nelson Gentry in the Nov. 7 election. Cebula, who first won election as a Republican in 2013, lost the GOP nomination to Curcie earlier this year, and the two have waged a bitter campaign since then.
A major issue in the rural district is a controversial proposal for an anti-terrorism training center that would include outdoor shooting ranges. Some residents who live near the 78-acre site at 6116 Jefferson Davis Highway in Thornburg have pushed supervisors to deny the project, called Crucible, because of concerns about noise, safety and the impact on property values.
Curcie said she would not vote in favor of Crucible under any circumstances, while Marshall and Gentry, both independents, said they oppose the current plan. But Gentry said the final version could look dramatically different, adding: “Somewhere in the middle, I’m sure, is what the Crucible will actually propose. And that’s assuming they do—they’ve had so much negative publicity, it’s possible they could drop the idea.”
Cebula has said in emails to residents that he does not support the current proposal based on feedback from constituents. But he’s also accused Curcie of prejudging the plan for political gain, which he says is unethical and puts the county at risk of lawsuits.
Curcie said she’s simply representing the will of the people, saying the vast majority of nearby residents are “totally against” Crucible. “Would you want to live near that?” she asked.
Cebula said the Board of Supervisors could negotiate “last-minute changes” before making a decision on any project. It would hurt economic development if Spotsylvania got a reputation for rejecting proposed businesses from the outset, he added.
“To make a premature judgment, until you have a final package sitting before you, is ethically wrong,” Cebula said.
Still, he’s come under fire from a vocal group of residents who have asked him to abstain from any vote on the project. They cite an email from a Crucible rep early last year thanking Cebula for his assistance. They also note that he appointed an employee of the government contractor to the Economic Development Authority.
Crucible hopes to relocate to Spotsylvania from Stafford County, where it has offered specialized training to service members and civilian contractors for about 17 years. No public hearings have been scheduled for the project.
The candidates also weighed in on taxes, with none of them willing to close the door entirely on future increases to the real estate tax rate. Supervisors have not raised the rate, now 85 cents per $100 of assessed value, in recent years, though rising property values have increased payments for some homeowners.
Cebula said he’s generally not in favor of raising taxes, but called himself a “realist.” “This is not the federal government,” he said. “And local government has to pay their way.”
Curcie called a tax hike a “last resort,” but said she could not completely rule it out. “What if we had a natural disaster?” she asked. “There are so many variables.”
Gentry, who is retiring from his Spotsylvania job in January, says it’s irresponsible for candidates to say they would never vote for a tax increase. “Everything goes up,” he said. “You’re going to have to support a tax increase every now and then.”
Marshall said he wants to avoid tax increases whenever possible, but that “we may get to a point where the tax rate’s going to have to be raised.”
Curcie and Gentry also criticized Cebula for voting to continue negotiations two years ago with a Minor League Baseball team proposing a taxpayer-financed stadium in the county. The deal died, but candidates in various races have continued to bring it up.
Marshall said tax dollars should not go toward “another person’s livelihood,” but noted that the 2-year-old proposal is no longer under discussion. Cebula also called it a “dead issue.”
Cebula called himself the most qualified and dedicated candidate, saying that, unlike others on the Board of Supervisors, he treats the position as a full-time job. He said he wants to continue attracting large employers to the county with deals that reduce or waive certain taxes over a period of time.
“I don’t believe in part-time supervisors,” he said. “We’ve got a few of those … and I think the board suffers because of it.”
Curcie, who used to own a business that distributed computer parts, said she thinks her real-world experience will be an asset. “You don’t manage a business for as many years as I did without being smart about your money,” she said.
Gentry, a Spotsylvania native, said he’d like to bring more blue-collar jobs to the county and “adequately fund” schools, though he said he’s not in favor of proposed artificial turf football fields in the school system’s capital plan. “If you don’t like the way things are being run, you can sit around and complain about it, or you can roll your sleeves up and try to make a difference,” he said.
Marshall, another Spotsylvania native and the grandson of former Supervisor Emmitt Marshall, said he’ll push for road improvements in the Berkeley District, which he feels has been neglected in favor of other parts of the county.
He said he does not plan to abstain from any votes because of his job as a county firefighter, but that he won’t make decisions for personal gain.
“I’m for my community,” he said. “I’m here for the sole purpose of putting people before the politics.”