CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. – Election Day is next week away and there are six candidates vying for three open seats on the Christiansburg Town Council.
Those looking to serve Christiansburg are Tanya Hockett, Casey Jenkins, Hil Johnson, Mike Scarry, Tim Wilson and Anthony Woodyard.
We spoke to them about where they stand on some issues within the town and what they would do to solve them if elected.
What’s the biggest issue right now that you would address if you were a member of town council?
Hockett: An important issue I see right now is the impact that COVID-19 has had on the Christiansburg community and the difficult choices that we must address as we move forward. There is a lot to balance: federal relief funds, unemployment, budgetary impacts, water bills, rebounding commerce, and so on. Making the right choice at the right time is an essential part of maintaining trust. I think Christiansburg needs a plan to navigate out of the pandemic strategically. Right now, we have some resources that lend themselves to this, but I would champion a clear recovery plan that lets our community know what to expect, where to find help, and how Christiansburg is planning to thrive.
Jenkins: The biggest issue currently facing the town council is the erosion of public trust. As I look back on the past year, I am disappointed in the lack of decorum among some of the elected leaders. At times, the climate has felt quite hostile and relationships on the governing body have deteriorated. Diversity of perspectives is much needed with the expectation that all elected officials be good ambassadors and stewards of the town to build and maintain trust among citizens. Relationship building among all stakeholders and constituents is critical, and I pride myself on my ability to foster good relations while building community trust through transparency, accountability, and professionalism.
Johnson: I believe the biggest issue is to ensure the quality of life in Christiansburg continues to improve as the Town of Christiansburg continues to grow at a rapid pace. Christiansburg has a small-town feel to it and I want to make sure we don’t lose this.
Scarry: Development has come up a lot in this campaign. Christiansburg is growing and that is a good thing, but growth must be managed well or we will have issues with traffic and services. I have been in construction as a field worker, project manager, and company owner for over 15 years and my experience there will be a great asset to the town. Development and smart growth are obviously important to the townspeople and they are also important to me. I will draw on my expertise negotiating with developers and builders to make sure that development and growth don’t leave the town or its citizens holding the bag. I would also like to take this opportunity to promise that if I think that a particular project will benefit me or my business financially then I will recuse myself from voting on that project. I will always work to make sure we get the best deal for Christiansburg and its residents.
Wilson: Financial management and accountability. The Town of Christiansburg in the 2021/2022 budget shows approximately $65 million in revenue and $75 million in allocated spending driving the Town to dip into our savings or reserves to make up the shortfall. The Mayor and Town Council should have good governance and management controls in place to remain transparent and accountable to their residents on where and how this money is being allocated and why we have an approximate $10 million shortfall.
Woodyard: The biggest issue I would address is the current council’s culture and environment. Our town council has made local news for its actions and words toward one another. I find that deeply disheartening and entirely unacceptable. The three seats available in this election cycle will be filled by new people as none of the incumbents are seeking re-election. There is also a possibility for a fourth seat on council to become available as two of the current members are vying for the office of mayor. The winds of change are blowing in our local government and I am looking forward to seeing the exciting outcomes that will undoubtedly spring forth from this new governing body. I vow to work diligently with whomever my fellow council members are and will conduct myself with a high level of collegiality and professionalism always. Our town expects and deserves leadership that works their hardest, and that is precisely what I will do.
What are three things you would do to support small businesses?
Hockett: I want to be active in the way I support small business growth and development. I think, first, it’s important to emphasize buying local. That sentiment and practice is a direct way anyone can help small businesses. Second, I would like to see Christiansburg increase the presence of small businesses on the website to make it easier for residents to explore places they’ve never been and visitors to try something new. Finally, I would like to connect with small business owners and managers and learn more about their needs and challenges. I think there are some creative solutions that Council may not always see, and we need to hear from the experts and then be willing to pursue funding, adjust fees, or consider new incentives for the small business community.
Jenkins: This is a topic that I am quite familiar with as I thoroughly enjoy working with the small business community. First, I would encourage – and even mandate – that Town staff get at least one bid from a local Christiansburg company, if applicable, as it relates to the procurement of goods and services. I would also like to explore and form partnerships with businesses to promote and facilitate workforce training programs designed to support job growth and encourage new industries and sectors to do business in the area. Last, I am a great supporter of “shop small” campaigns and initiatives that help promote and raise awareness of what our local economy can offer by way of products and services.
Johnson: Small businesses play an extremely significant role in the town’s economy and are vital to the economic development and job creation. The easiest way to support small businesses in Christiansburg is to shop locally. I would also support tax incentives for small businesses moving into our area as well as small businesses that have remained in Christiansburg for a long period of time. Promoting small businesses and acknowledging them at local town events would also be beneficial.
Scarry: I would like the town to provide preferred bidding for small and local businesses on Town purchase requests to help those small and local businesses compete. This would also encourage pride in our community. I would like the town to explore the option of providing benefits to commercial landlords when they rent business space to small local businesses to help them get their feet off the ground. I would be open to the town partially supporting a micro-business incubator to help very small businesses gain a foothold.
Wilson: Give them a voice that is heard with a willingness to always work with them and especially during our council meetings. Incorporate small business owners into the Planning Commission and other Town Committees. Address incentives for the Entrepreneur to have a willingness to open a new business in our Town and assist us with continued growth.
Woodyard: As a member of the town council, I will work closely with our regional tourism to ensure that we can provide the platform our small businesses need to thrive. While I certainly understand that the local government is not a PR firm, I vehemently believe that it is advantageous for the town to do everything it can to help our small businesses succeed. Including the offerings of our town’s small businesses in addition to our town’s natural beauty and landscape should be a cornerstone of our tourism office’s strategic plan. Another way I intend to support small businesses is to plan intelligently for our town’s economic growth and development. We need to ensure that we can support the small businesses we have before seeking to expand. With more businesses come additional infrastructure needs. Our vision for economic development must be one that keeps infrastructure needs in mind.
What do you feel are the most important infrastructure improvements across town?
Hockett: Development is essential, but as we have experienced in Christiansburg, the increase in impervious surfaces (surfaces where water runs off and does not drain) significantly impacts areas that become collection points for excessive stormwater runoff. Without proper management, we risk increasing pollution in our streams, inundating our wastewater treatment plant, and damaging homes and businesses affected by heavy flooding. Because of this, I believe it is critical to focus on improving our stormwater systems. I think it’s also important to consider our aging water lines and proactively identify replacements and upgrades before we experience failures in our infrastructure.
Jenkins: It is very important to me that Christiansburg sets a reasonable pace of growth that our infrastructure can realistically accommodate. With that said, stormwater management is a critical piece to constantly monitor in an effort to ensure stable infrastructure. From a pedestrian perspective, I would like to see more of an emphasis on street and sidewalk planning that facilitates more environmentally friendly forms of transportation i.e. connectivity for walking and biking in our community. What I am most interested to explore and evaluate is how the Town can develop its infrastructure in a manner that accommodates growth but does not sacrifice sustainability.
Johnson: Infrastructure improvements such as transportation systems, communication networks, sewage, water, and electric systems are vital to our town. These systems tend to be capital intensive and high-cost investments but are vital to our town’s economic development and prosperity. Specifically, stormwater runoff in certain areas in Christiansburg needs to continue being addressed. In addition, the town has made some great improvements on our roads, but it remains important for the Town to stay ahead of the game and not wait too long to make repairs. Communications are also important to our town. The internet has become a way of life today and is a must for all citizens to have access to. I also support the rail system coming to Christiansburg/NRV.
Scarry: Some parts of our systems are aging or not adequate and I think those need to be addressed first. Specifically stormwater management in College Street and other areas and older water and sewer infrastructure. Christiansburg has been well-run financially in the recent past so I’m glad we have the ability to bring these systems up to date.
Wilson: Clean water is priority number one, along with the flooding and drainage situation. Our water and sewer line infrastructure must be addressed, making our citizens’ lives and livelihood a priority over leisure development. This is much deeper than just the pipes, the properly trained personnel to manage and complete the work. I have been told that our town has a recruiting and retention issue within our Public Works Department. This is an issue that must be addressed to ensure our requirements can be made and made safely with the proper manpower.
Woodyard: Among the most important would be the need to support emergency services. As someone who works in healthcare, the son of a former fire chief, and family member/friend to many in the law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical services field, I have seen firsthand what it looks like to run sub-optimally because of a lack of resources. As I said publicly in a town council candidate forum: No one gives the fire department much thought until your smoke detector goes off, then they become the most valuable resource in your life as they save your home from the blazing flames that have set out to destroy everything in its path. As a local government, however, we cannot take that approach in regard to our emergency services. Conversely, we must have our public safety and wellbeing at the forefront of everything we do. Every single call, without fail, we need a high-caliber fire department, rescue squad, and police department to respond. It is our job to ensure they have the resources they need to perform at their best.