Three candidates are running for the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors seat in the Livingston District.
None of them is the incumbent, Greg Benton.
He decided not to run for another term after more than a year of contentious rezoning for a massive industrial solar farm in his district, which covers the western portion of the county. Benton voted in favor of the rezoning.
Two candidates running for the seat are retired from the Spotsylvania Sheriff’s Office, while the third is the president of a motivational consulting firm and a pastor.
Howard Smith, the county’s former sheriff, and Barry Jett, who also worked in the Sheriff’s Office, said they would not have approved the solar power facility because many district residents opposed it.
Raymond Bell, president of Mosaic Expression LLC, as well as pastor at Mount Hope Baptist Church, wouldn’t have supported the solar plant, either. He thinks the plant was too big for a populated area. Bell spoke against the proposal during public hearings.
Bell, an independent, said he is running to serve the community and to “find real solutions” for the top issues he is running on: education, taxes, transportation and internet service for the rural district.
He said he has a plan to fund a “needs-based budget” for the school system, which would allow a solid education for students and pay competitive salaries in order to keep the best employees. He also wants to expand technical learning opportunities for students who do not plan on attending four-year colleges.
As for taxes, Bell said raising taxes or cutting services is not the best route. Instead, he wants the county to invest in more economic development, which would bring in more businesses and jobs. He also touts tourism as a way to bring money into the county.
That approach would “get other people to pay” for needed county services, he said.
“There is a disproportionate ratio of businesses to houses,” he said, explaining that more businesses can mean more tax revenue.
As for transportation, he said the county has a one-page strategic plan, which is “unacceptable to us taxpayers.” Bell said he has a plan reaching 25 years into the future, with a focus on rural road safety as the top priority, followed by congestion relief and capacity expansion.
Jett and Smith also ranked rural road improvements as a top transportation need.
Jett, a Republican, pointed out that bad roadway shoulders and potholes are dangerous for young drivers. He said he would work with the Virginia Department of Transportation to address those issues.
“Someone has to get the wheel turning on the roads,” he said.
Jett’s top priority is public safety.
He said the Board of Supervisors’ decision to address wages and a pay plan for fire and rescue and sheriff’s office employees is a “good step in the right direction. … This has been a long time coming.”
Internet access in the rural district is another top priority for Jett. Too many residents in the district lack internet access, which impacts students and home-based businesses, he said.
Smith, running as an independent, also said the roads need improvement, citing repaving as one way to do that.
“Folks out here, they just want their roads repaired,” Smith said.
Internet service is another top concern for Smith, saying the district’s poor internet and cellphone service need to be addressed. He knows one district resident who has two daughters who struggle to do their college work online at home, so the father is considering renting an apartment for them closer to the city.
He said public school students need internet service to do their work, too.
Smith, a Lake Anna resident, said poor internet and cell service have made it difficult for him and his wife to run their business, Hair Mosaics. Their internet service was recently upgraded, but he said before that, his wife often had to drive closer to Fredericksburg to complete business duties online.
He said he would look into creating a task force to address those service issues.
Taxes also are something Smith would focus on if elected.
Smith said he, like everyone else, doesn’t like tax hikes, but pointed out that the county needs revenue to provide services for residents.
He believes the county is doing well. As a county Planning Commission member, Smith said he has insight on growth and business development.
The county has been growing at just more than 1 percent annually, which is lower than the limit the county’s Comprehensive Plan calls for, he said.
He likes the work the county’s Economic Development Office does, too.
“We’ve done a good job bringing business in,” Smith said.
While a key driver for Bell’s candidacy is serving the community, he also thinks the board needs a fresh voice.
“I believe we have to get rid of the good ol’ boy system,” he said, explaining that the district seems to vote for the same type of candidates “again and again.”
While he respects law enforcement, Bell pointed out that Benton, Smith and Jett all have the same background—with the Sheriff’s Office. He believes that makes for a “narrow perspective.”
Smith is retired, but said he has spent most of his life serving the community and he wants to continue to do that.
“I’ve always loved being a public servant,” he said. “I want to give back to the community.”
Jett has never run for office and said he is enjoying life and spending time with his children. But he wants “to get back into serving the community.”
“I enjoy giving back,” he said.
The latest campaign finance report posted by the Virginia Public Access Project shows Bell has raised more than $35,800 with a balance of $11,389. Smith raised more than $20,000 and had a balance of $13,616. Jett raised more than $11,700 and had a balance of $5,110 at the end of September.