About 150 people turned out to hear 16 candidates seeking election in local and state offices offices answer questions from Bedford County voters during a town hall meeting Oct. 23.
The candidates for local contested races on hand were Bedford County Capt. Tim Hayden, Bedford County Capt. Mike Miller and Bedford County Deputy James Kirkland, who are looking to become Bedford County’s next sheriff; Incumbent District 6 Supervisor Andy Dooley and District 6 challenger Bob Davis; Incumbent District 7 Supervisor Kevin Willis and District 7 challenger Tammy Parker; Incumbent District 5 School Board representative Julie Bennington and District 5 challenger Georgia Hairston; and Incumbent District 7 School Board representative Martin Leamy and District 7 challenger Patti Kese.
The event at the Bedford Columns was organized by the Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce, Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce and Smith Mountain Lake Association.
Miller, Hayden and Kirkland were asked about their opinion on gun control legislation proposed by Gov. Ralph Northam, including a “red flag” bill that permits police or family members to petition a state court to order the temporary removal of firearms from a person who may present a danger to others or themselves.
All three candidates said they oppose any legislation that would impede the Second Amendment rights of Bedford County residents.
“If I am elected I will do everything in my power to make sure that does not happen,” Miller said. “I will go to Richmond and fight to make sure that does not happen in Bedford County.”
“If that happens, it will be a sad day for everyone,” Hayden said. “We can’t let people try to regulate the lives of others like that.”
“This bill is being pushed to try and prevent incidents like we have seen across the country,” Kirkland said. “But the problem is not the guns. I will not enforce a red flag law and would stand with my fellow sheriffs and go to Richmond to fight it.”
Bedford County supervisor candidates were asked about concerns raised by current county residents who will be annexed into the Town of Bedford within the next few years as part of the agreement the town made during its reversion from a city in 2014.
“The good news is that we have good friends with the Bedford Town Council to work with,” Willis said. “We have to make sure that we try to make this a smooth transition and make sure that these citizens are receiving the same services as current town residents.”
“This will be about a 60% tax increase for these citizens and I think there will be a lot of unhappy people when this happens,” Dooley said. “However, this was something that was planned during the process of reversion so I don’t think it can be stopped. It is going to be an issue, and I think everyone has to sit down and make sure these citizens are getting what they pay for.”
“I know I would be upset if I was annexed into the town and all of a sudden my taxes almost double,” Davis said. “We need to make sure the town provides the services these people will be paying for.”
“We have seen board of supervisors meetings where a 1% tax increase brings people out,” Parker said. “Just wait until it is a 60% increase. In order for this to happen the town has to provide all of the core services that these tax dollars are being charged for.”
Bedford County School Board candidates were asked if they favored renovating existing elementary schools or building new schools, which were options presented in a recent elementary school study for the division.
Leamy and Hairston both said they favored renovating existing schools in Bedford County.
“We have schools that are already paid for,” Leamy said. “We don’t need to be spending money building new schools. That is not being good stewards of the taxpayers’ money. Let’s fix the schools we have and not waste money on building mega schools that we don’t need.”
“I’m all about small schools,” Hairston said. “Our small elementary schools are the heart of our communities. It is crucial that we keep and maintain our elementary schools.”
Bennington and Kese said they were not opposed to renovating existing schools if it is in the best interests of students in Bedford County.
“It really depends on the options we have,” Bennington said. “We have to look at whether renovating or expanding a school is what the students need or if it makes it a school of the future. We have to determine what is in the best interest of our learners.”
“We have to look at fiscal responsibility,” Kese said. “We have to look at whether renovating a school makes more sense in the long run than building a new and bigger one. I think there are some schools that can be fixed but that is something we are going to have to have more discussions on to determine the best decision for all of the students.”