Herald Election 2023 Q & A: Buckingham Supervisors District 4

Published 1:25 am Friday, November 3, 2023

We have reached November, with just a few days left before Election Day here in Buckingham County. With that in mind, we’re continuing to reach 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. 

This piece is for the District 4 seat on the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors. That’s between Republican Walter E. “Wes” Saxon Jr. and Independent Paul W. Garrett

Saxon has been a Dillwyn dentist since 1982, opening a dental practice immediately after his graduation from MCV/VCU School of Dentistry.  He provides dental care to all ages and is one of the largest providers of dental care through the Medicaid program in the surrounding counties.  Saxon also served on the Buckingham County School Board from 2000-2007 and currently serves as the Treasurer of Maysville Presbyterian Church and President/Chairman of the Holiday Lake 4-H Center Board of Directors. 

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Garrett, meanwhile, says he’s running as an independent because most people in the County are more concerned with local issues for a Supervisor and he doesn’t want to be beholden to a party or its leadership in decision making. He is a Buckingham native and a retired mathematics teacher for Buckingham County Public Schools. Garrett also coached football and baseball at various levels there. He is an avid sportsman and love the fishing and hunting and other outdoor activities that are offered in Buckingham and the central Virginia area.

He is also a nearly lifelong member of Bethlehem Baptist Church, where he has been actively involved. Currently, he is a Sunday School teacher, serving many years. He was also the church treasurer for 18 years, retiring from that role at the end of 2022. In addition, he says he’s involved in many area organizations that he has served with in various leadership roles.

Q. How do we attract more businesses to Buckingham? In 2024, what can we do to grow the commercial tax base?

Saxon: To attract more businesses to Buckingham, we need to have available workers that they need. Expanding vocational courses in the school system is a start. We must have a way that the expanded vocational education is available to adults. Other areas in Virginia have enacted programs that teach job skills in a condensed amount of time. This allows adults to get training and start new jobs quicker.
We need to see what resources the Commonwealth has. We don’t need to develop something new, but take advantage of current programs.
Expanding the commercial tax base in 2024 doesn’t have a quick fix. The tax rates need to be reevaluated and see if they are keeping businesses away. In the past Buckingham has given tax breaks for potential businesses. This is another option to explore.

Garrett: To attract business to Buckingham we first need to work with Dominion Energy to ensure that all of their customers have access to high speed internet. Also we need to give our students the skills they need to be productive employees. I think our school system does a great job with that now, but improvements and expansions of existing programs would be an avenue to pursue.
Our school funding that used to come from the state no longer does, which leaves us holding their money bag. I fully support education and investing in our teachers, staff and students. As for expanding the commercial tax base in 2024, we would have to find other ways to obtain taxes rather than just real estate and personal property. One possible avenue is a meals tax. Make possible changes creating a scale that could attract new businesses by being lower at the onset then raised when the business has been established. We need to have a comprehensive plan that calls for growth, voting for policy that welcomes industry and safeguards the residents from their negative affects.

Q. Following that up, how do we reverse the current trend of population shrinkage? How do we attract more residents to Buckingham?

Garrett: In an effort to reverse the trend of population shrinkage we need to emphasize that we have a good school system to keep young couples starting a family here to take advantage of our quality education that we can offer. Our schools have produced graduates that have gone to many prestigious colleges and universities in the state and the nation.
Many have gone on to become successful professionals. We currently lack housing opportunities for young people. They need job opportunities from employers that will employ these individuals and keep them in the county. These may be professions that require advanced degrees or vocational opportunities. Also we could use mixed use developments to dine shop and live for older and younger people.

Saxon: To reverse the trend of population shrinkage, we must look to see what makes Buckingham a desirable place to live. We need to understand why people decide to move to an area and see how that aligns with the “envisioned future” of Buckingham. We then need to enhance these qualities. The Comprehensive Plan is being revised and this should be a key component.
Two items that always seem to be key are schools and jobs. Buckingham County Public Schools must become an asset and not be perceived as a liability for new families looking to relocate. Jobs can be small, varied and local.

Q. The Knight Valley property has been sold by the county, then bought back at a higher price by the county and now, after reversing a decision to sell timber on the property, it seems to be stuck in limbo. What should the future be for that piece of land?

Saxon: Buckingham is in the geographic center of Virginia. Our location is an advantage that others parks can’t offer. We need to take advantage of this. Having a developed area that industries can use is better than letting them go wherever in the county. I feel that we need an Industrial Park.
Buckingham needs to work with experts on industrial parks. The Virginia Economic Development Partnership is a start. Talking to large firms that market industrial sites is a must. There have been entities in the past that wanted to buy in the industrial park, but were never allowed to go to the full board of supervisors. Buckingham must decide to pursue development of the Industrial Park. It is physically close to the Buckingham Branch Railroad. Extending the tracks to it would give it an advantage that many other Industrial Parks don’t have.
Job training is also a must. In other localities, various industries are fighting over limited employees. We must have a partnership in place to offer potential new industries a way to get trained employees – with skills specific to their needs.

Garrett: The Knight Valley property is a valuable asset. We need to coordinate efforts with searches through available resources and examine what localities similar to us have been successful with. Using those examples as models and pursue available state resources. The economic development committee is working with the Central Virginia Christian School on property for their expansion.
That could cause the need for another industrial park with access to infrastructure. We need good policy making and fiscal responsibility so as not to interfere with the lives of the citizens and make it easier and less expensive for them to live.

Q. Gold mining has been a point of discussion for more than a year now in Buckingham. But after all the studies and group meetings, we still don’t have any actual end result, with the planning commission deciding to wait until 2024 and include it in the comprehensive plan discussions. What should the final result of all this be?

Garrett: Gold mining in the way it is proposed would deem detrimental to Buckingham. The methods of obtaining it are the deciding factor. Strip mining and large invasive methods are different from the ways that are less harmful that were done in the past in Buckingham that preserve the integrity of the water sources. It is hard to imagine it being done in ways that would ensure it meets our acceptable expectations. The issue does not deal directly with our district, but mainly the areas that border the James River. It is, however, an issue that could have adverse effects on all areas of Buckingham and beyond.

Saxon: Gold mining has been done in Buckingham in the past. It apparently didn’t cause long term problems. However, some of today’s gold mining operations could cause long term problems. We need to protect our existing slate and kyanite mining operations. I believe that they are under enough state and federal regulations.
As for gold mining, we need to protect the James River and other streams and rivers from runoff. We also need to be sure that our ground water is not adversely affected. We don’t have a centralized water system to provide everyone safe drinking water if their wells are contaminated or go dry.

Q. Are there specific resources or tools you feel Buckingham County isn’t using enough?

Saxon: Virginia has many job training programs, that are being combined to become more efficient. We need to identify areas that would benefit our residents and businesses and develop them.
We need to develop an attitude that encourages businesses to locate or expand to here. VEDP is just one entity to seek help. CRC is another. There are also state and federal programs. We must see what’s available, decide on what’s most logical for Buckingham and then pursue it. Buckingham has citizens with good ideas for growth potential. A mechanism for getting their input and utilizing it would be good.

Garrett: We need to continue to fully invest in our good school system. Job opportunities come with partnering with the Virginia economic development partnership, Commonwealth regional council and Go Virginia Region 3 in getting site readiness as a priority to lure business. We have many existing resources that have been expanding over time, and continue to expand.
The public library and the Buckingham County Recreation Department are just two examples. Programs offered such as various sports, exercise classes, crafts and preschool programs are just some examples. To enhance these opportunities and continue to expand the offerings is a must. There are many state programs that can be utilized. We may need to change our way of thinking in some ways and look at things from different angles.