Herald 2023 Candidate Q & A: Prince Edward District 1 race
Published 12:01 am Thursday, October 26, 2023
As we move into late October, early voting has already started and for those who want to wait, it’s less than a month until Election Day. With that in mind, we’re reaching out to candidates in all contested races across our coverage area, asking them to answer several questions. Each candidate in a race receives the same questions and the same amount of time to send answers in.
In this edition, we’re focusing on the race to be the next representative for District 1 on the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors. If it seems like we just did this, you’d be right. The District 1 seat was made vacant in July 2022, when Beverly Booth stepped down for health reasons. Last year, a representative was elected to serve the rest of Booth’s term, which ends this year. Now voters will be choosing someone to serve a full term.
And just like last year, the race comes down to two people, the same two.
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Harrison Jones is the incumbent, having been elected last November as the youngest person to ever hold the position. The 21-year-old was born and raised in Prince Edward County and is currently pursuing a degree in business administration. He also has a family connection, as his great-great-uncle Winky Smith served as District 1’s representative more than 40 years ago.
His opponent, and immediate predecessor, is Dr. Peter Gur. After Booth stepped down, supervisors appointed Gur as an interim to fill in between last July and November. He has a Ph.D in chemistry from Michigan State, a Master of Education from VCU and a Master of Art in Physics Education from UVA. Gur has taught chemistry at Prince Edward County High School, chemistry and physics at the Governor’s School of Southside Virginia, and the dual enrollment classes at Southside Virginia Community College as an Adjunct Associate Professor. After Gur retired from teaching, he served on the Prince Edward County School Board and volunteered at several local organizations.
Q. What is one resource we don’t lean on enough in Prince Edward, to develop and strengthen the county?
Gur: Prince Edward Business Park is one resource we don’t lean on enough to develop and strengthen the county. It is near the US 460 and US 15 Interchange, and it has Lowe’s, Paris Ceramics, Tri-Boro, VDOT and the Prince Edward County Extension Office. Wawa Convenience Store will also move to this area when it’s built.
After the county built an access road, it opened the remaining 105 acres of land into four potential development areas. I would suggest widening Farmville Road from two lanes to four lanes, starting from Commerce Road to Dominion Drive. It will make these sites easier to excess from the interchange and will attract more new business.
Jones: Prince Edward County has so much to offer. In many ways, we are the epitome of Southern, small-town America. Our identity is rich with history and culture that makes our community a fantastic place to call “home”. Going forward, I think it is important that we lean into our identity and market ourselves effectively to show what a special place Prince Edward is.
Q. We’re starting to see businesses moving into Prince Edward. How do we continue that growth in the year to come? How do we expand and improve it?
Jones: Supporting our local businesses is one of my top priorities. As a county supervisor, I am dedicated to ensuring we continue to facilitate an environment where businesses and families can thrive. At the county level, this includes working through ordinances to make sure they are conducive to economic growth and fighting for low taxes to not add to the economic burden small businesses are already experiencing.
Gur: Prince Edward County needs to expand its tax base. The fourth Dollar General store in the county is under construction near Kingsville, and a Wawa Convenience Store along with a car wash will be constructed at the corner of Farmville Road and Commerce Road.
To continue that growth in the year to come, the County needs to keep its property tax rate low. PE increased its 2023 fiscal year property tax rate from 0.47% to 0.51% to renovate the PE Elementary School and apply for permission to use the Sandy River Reservoir water. However, the County tax rate is still low among its surrounding counties. Besides, both PE Sheriff and Town Police Departments need to keep the county and town safe.
Q. One challenge for Prince Edward is the fact outside of Farmville, there are very few “town centers” to attract things like restaurants and shops or growth in general. How do we attract businesses to the areas beyond the Farmville town limits?
Gur: Our facilities beyond the town limits are great places that could be promoted more via advertisements and offers as Centers for personal and organizational development. Twin Lakes State Park offers facilities for conferences, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts can camp overnight to learn wildlife skills, and the high school field trip can teach students to identify plants and learn the wild animals’ habitats.
High Bridge Trail State Park offers various events, such as the National Day 5K walking/hiking and the Summer Firefly Festival. During July 2022 – August 2023, the attendance at High Bridge Trail State Park was 153,522. The park is constructing a Trail Center. After the Center is completed, it will offer a place for visitors to purchase snacks and drinks and rest their feet. The Appomattox River Company sells kayaks and canoes. People can maximize the use of the Appomattox River and Blueways for fishing and canoeing.
At the Adventure Park at Sandy River Retreat, it provides the “Do the Zip Line” activities at the treetop and offers the “Kayak Rental” for kayaking at the Sandy River.
Jones: I believe it is important for us to rely on our strengths and use them to our advantage. Farmville is a huge asset to Prince Edward County and the fact that our economic hub is concentrated in Farmville provides a synergy for more growth. We have seen some new businesses come to the county outside of Farmville, and we welcome them, but I simultaneously recognize the value of our town’s centrality and see it as a blessing rather than an obstacle.
Q. One of the challenges we’ve encountered in building a renovated elementary school is the cost involved. Currently, the total bill for Prince Edward’s chosen renovation option is $43.5 million. One way the county has tried to cover that cost is through a 1% sales tax. However, the state keeps rejecting our request for one. Is there a way we can get the state to approve the 1% sales tax and if not, what options are there to cover the elementary school cost?
Jones: As we study the pages of history, we learn that more taxes are almost never the answer to our problems. The American people are being hit hard by inflation and property reassessments are pushing tax bills higher than ever before. The last thing people want is to be hit by another tax when their budgets are already stretched thin. Supporting our students and teachers is important, and making sure they have a safe and healthy environment to learn in is critical, but I believe we should strive to come up with the money without raising taxes.
Gur: We have staunch support from Delegate James E. Edmunds II and Delegate Thomas C. Wright, Jr. regarding our needs. Unfortunately, bills proposed in 2022 and earlier this year did not pass. Since we cannot look to others for aid we must step up.
One of the options to cover the elementary school cost is a grant the School Division will apply for from the competitive Virginia School Construction Assistant Program 2024 (SCAP 24FY). If the School Division is awarded the grant, it will receive 20% of the project cost, $8.7 million, based on its local composite index 0.3274.
Now, Mosley Architects is working on design drawing. In May 2024, the School Division will put out a bid for contractors. Construction should be starting in August 2024, and the renovation project should be finished in 2025.
Q. How do we attract people to Prince Edward? How do we grow our population?
Gur: To grow the Prince Edward County population, the county needs to provide equity, justice, and the opportunity for all to find a job. Farmville is America’s first two-college town. It has Longwood University and Hampden-Sydney College. It is a distinctive place where the college town vibe meets small town charm. We should be promoting our local businesses and taking advantage of our unique history.
During the Civil War, Confederate general Robert E. Lee retreated through Farmville on April 6, 1865. Three days later, he surrendered his army to Union general Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. During the Civil Right Movement, Barbara Rose Johns, at the age of 16, led a student strike for equal education opportunities at Moton High School in Farmville on April 23, 1951. In the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, the Supreme Court struck down the doctrine of “separate but equal” and ordered an end to school segregation.
The school division also needs to improve its performance: improve all three schools as accredited, retain young teachers, and reduce students’ chronic absenteeism.
Jones: Population growth begins by supporting healthy family units. Attracting young families to our area is imperative to our future success as a community. One of the most important spheres for improvement we have is our schools. School districts are one of the first aspects of a community that prospective residents research, so having a better-ranked school district needs to be of our utmost priority. I will continue to work with our school board members to ensure that we take the necessary steps to improve the state of our schools.