Lake voters in Franklin County will head to the polls Nov. 5 to elect their representatives to the board of supervisors.
Both Gills Creek and Union Hall districts are on the ballot for four-year terms. In Gills Creek, the race does not feature an incumbent. Supervisor Bob Camicia is not seeking reelection in that district.
Candidates shared their thoughts on Franklin County’s biggest projects — development of the 550-acre Summit View Business Park and the effort to expand career and technical education offerings at the high school — and explained why they want to serve on the board.
Lorie Smith, Gills Creek District
Not long after moving to Smith Mountain Lake, Lorie Smith knew she wanted to serve the community.
Smith, 57, served one term each on the school board and city council in Waynesboro. She’s active in the community she now calls home, currently serving as president of the Smith Mountain Lake Association.
“The primary motivator is really to serve the people and to try to improve upon things and leave things better than I found them,” said Smith, who is running as a Republican.
Smith views Summit View, and tax increases that would be necessary to cover debt service on the project, as one of Franklin County’s greatest challenges. A lack of growth is another, related issue.
“We’ve got to do something about growth because it’s directly correlated to our economy,” she said.
Business parks are “wait and see” projects, Smith said, since full buildout can take decades. In the meantime, she proposes focusing on the designated growth areas of Westlake and Union Hall, which she believes are poised for development.
If the county hopes to build a new career and technical education center, Smith said the board of supervisors needs to have a more productive relationship with the school board. She’d like to see the two boards meet more often.
A significant portion of Franklin County students do not go on to college; Smith said they deserve an opportunity for workforce training.
“I feel I’m the best candidate because I have extensive governmental experience,” she said. “I know how local government works. I know how to strategize and run 150 million-plus-dollar budgets.”
Rick Smithers, Gills Creek District
When opponents of the Mountain Valley Pipeline had their land taken by eminent domain, Rick Smithers began thinking about running for the board.
“I thought, ‘Somebody needs to stand up for the people,’ ” said Smithers, who is a pastor and also has a concrete foundation business.
Smithers, 52, is a first-time candidate running as an independent.
The candidate said he would be an advocate for children and the school system. Though there’s a lot of talk about building or improving school facilities, Smithers said increasing teacher salaries is a more pressing issue. He also wants to make sure kids are cared for, citing the recent controversy over a lunch debt policy.
Still, Smithers said he would like to see career and technical education offerings expanded.
Concentrating on students means making sure they’ll have places to work as adults, Smithers said. County leaders have proposed Summit View as a way to do that, but Smithers has concerns about the project’s cost.
“How much more do we have to put into this project before Franklin County starts seeing a profit from it, or starts getting paid back the money it invested?” he asked.
Given the money spent, Smithers hopes it will attract new businesses.
“I’m like anybody else — I’m crossing my fingers and praying that this park is successful,” he said.
But he believes there should be a point at which the county halts investment in the project.
Smithers said many people at Smith Mountain Lake live on foundations his company laid for them.
“Franklin County needs a strong foundation,” he said. “I’ve got experience in that.”
Tommy Cundiff, Union Hall District
Tommy Cundiff is seeking a second term on the board of supervisors because there’s more he wants to do for the district where he was born and raised.
That includes bringing public water and broadband to unserved parts of Union Hall, building a community park with a beach and getting the new Glade Hill fire station up and running.
Cundiff, 68, hauls equipment for Boone Tractor. He is running as an independent.
Though Cundiff inherited the business park project as a member of the board, he supports the effort.
“I believe there is a bright future for the park, not necessarily for me, but for the future generations coming on,” Cundiff said.
The region has lost many industries, he said, making it important to draw new ones. Cundiff also noted the park will have recreational amenities for the public.
“In the future I think people will realize that it’s a good thing for Franklin County,” he said.
If Cundiff is reelected, he plans to spend his next term pushing hard to move the career and technical education project forward. He said the board of supervisors and school board need to agree upon a plan that’s financially attainable.
“The biggest thing is getting the boards to work together to get this going,” Cundiff said.
That project goes hand-in-hand with the business park, he said, as the high school’s students may one day work at Summit View.
Additionally, Cundiff advocated for promoting tourism, attracting more shops and restaurants and providing recreational opportunities.
Cundiff said his strong ties to the Union Hall District and experience on the board make him the best candidate for the position.
John Hinkell, Union Hall District
John Hinkell wants to serve on the board of supervisors for a simple reason: To give voters a say in how their tax dollars are spent.
Hinkell, a veteran of the Army National Guard now transitioning to retirement, said Franklin County citizens have concerns about spending related to Summit View.
“Taxpayers want evidence that their funds are being used efficiently and wisely,” he said.
Hinkell, 49, is running as an independent. This is his first time seeking public office.
The candidate advocates for taking a “strategic pause” to reevaluate the business park endeavor and ensure a worthwhile return on investment. Hinkell said it might be wise to “curtail” investment in public amenities at the park in the meantime.
Hinkell supports the effort to expand career and technical education offerings, and said the board of supervisors needs to commit resources to that project. Perhaps the business park has hindered their ability to do so, Hinkell said.
“All our eggs are in one basket with the business park and there’s other good programs going on like this career and technical education that could pay significant dividends if we were able to apply some resources to it,” he said.
Helping Franklin County grow depends on two things, Hinkell said: keeping tax rates low and revitalizing towns and village centers.
Hinkell said his professional background involved budgeting, contract negotiations, holding others accountable and building partnerships — skills he feels will be useful on the board of supervisors.
“I believe with some civility, dedication and a can-do spirit we can work together to find common ground and build a prosperous community,” Hinkell said.