Several voters attended a September 21 Candidate Forum to hear from those seeking office in the November election. Hopefuls were asked to prepare a three-to-five-minute introduction. Those attending had the option of asking questions.
Unopposed in her election bid, Bobbitt said she was hired out of law school to work as the Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney under the now Judge Stephanie Vipperman.
“I learned everything that I know about prosecution and criminal law from her, and I’m proud that I learned all of that from her,” she said.
In her role as Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney, Bobbitt was a specialized prosecutor who handled special victim-type cases like sexual assault, child abuse, and elder abuse as well as cases involving things like drug distribution, carjackings, and murder.
Bobbitt was appointed the interim Commonwealth’s Attorney last year when Vipperman became a judge. In November, Bobbitt was elected to finish out Vipperman’s term. “So, this November I’m seeking a four-year term,” she said.
When she kicked off her campaign last year, Bobbitt’s platform was the acronym “VOICE,” as she believes the Commonwealth’s Attorney is the voice for Patrick County residents.
The “V” is for a victim-centered approach. “I make sure that every single case that we have that’s a victim case, that the victim knows their rights and they’re informed every step along the way. That they know what’s going on,” she said.
Bobbitt said the “O” is for obtaining justice for the most vulnerable and the “I” is for the incarceration of the most violent offenders. “‘C’ stands for combat the drug and opioid epidemic, and we have done that recently by working in conjunction with the Patrick County Sheriff’s Office to indict 39 people on 191 drug distribution charges,” she said.
Bobbitt said the “E” stands for her overall goal of enhancing the safety of the community.
“I think that it’s my job in conjunction with the Sheriff’s Office to make sure that Patrick County is a safe place to work, live, and raise our families, and I’ll continue to do that,” she said.
Bobbitt also fielded a question regarding those with drug addiction seeking treatment, and if she believes that’s an important part of the consequences for someone using substances or if it’s strictly incarceration.
Bobbitt said she feels like mental health is also an epidemic that the entire country is facing right now, “especially here in Southwest Virginia, we don’t always have the resources that these people need, and I fully realize that sometimes incarceration is not the best option.
“Sometimes it’s the only option we have, but I work diligently with defense attorneys and also Piedmont Community Services (PCS) and other programs throughout the state to get people the treatment and mental health services that they so desperately need,” she added.
Commissioner of Revenue
A Woolwine native, Overby said her servant’s heart prompted her to seek the post.
“You have to have a servant’s heart to serve this community. You as citizens are important to us in the Commissioner’s Office. We’re there to help you. Anything you need. Anything,” she said.
Overby has been with the Commissioner’s Office for more than 16 years, starting in April 2005. She was hired full-time in November 2006.
When looking through paperwork one time, Overby said it read, “Tabitha has maintained an above-average rating, and she is a dedicated employee.”
Overby has done every job in the Commissioner’s Office, including real estate, reading deeds and wills, surveys, and working with tax maps, and the tax mappers to help prepare the real estate book.
“Our personal property, we also have to prepare the personal property list that you get, we work and value all the vehicles from 2004 and below. We value those vehicles manually. The rest of the vehicles come from” JD Power and Associates, she said.
Overby said she’s also worked with different programs for tax relief, veteran’s relief, mobile home reports, building permits, sales tax reports, meals tax, Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT), and address changing reports.
For Overby, the most important part are citizens of Patrick County.
“When you come in that office, we make sure before you leave that every question is answered. We may have to do a little digging sometimes, but we figure it out,” she said.
More said she started working for the county 22 years ago, starting “in the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) Select Office,” and then in Building Inspections, county administration, “and the last 16 years, I’ve worked in the Treasurer’s Office as a Master Deputy Treasurer.”
Morse said she feels all of those jobs have helped prepare her for the Commissioner of Revenue position.
“I have worked with personal property, real estate taxes, meals tax, transient occupancy or lodging tax, tax relief programs, have hands-on experience with preparing departmental budgets, and a financial background working with personal property and real estate taxes,” she said.
Morse said she wants to continue to build on what previous commissioners started and change what needs to be changed to keep up with the continually changing times and technology.
Noting the duties of the Treasurer and Commissioner of Revenue are not the same, retired Commissioner of Revenue Janet Rorrer asked what experience Morse actually has in the commissioner’s office.
Morse said she’s worked in the Treasurer’s Office right beside the Commissioner’s Office, and the jobs do overlap. The Treasurer’s Office works hand in hand with the Commissioner’s Office.
“If there is a DMV stop or whatever on the account we work together, abatements, that kind of thing we do work together. There are a lot of areas that those two areas overlap,” she said. “The Commissioner prepares the books for taxes, the Treasurer collects those taxes.”
Rorrer said by the codes in the Constitution of Virginia, the two are separate offices, with separate duties, and then asked what changes Morse would implement if elected.
Morse said changes are hard in the Commissioner’s Office because they are regulated by state code and the board of supervisors.
“Technology is the big thing. I think we are still walking across the parking lot to read the deeds and the surveys, and I think that could be changed,” she said.
Board of Supervisors
Peters Creek District
Mickles (pronounced Michaels) said she decided to run for the seat because there seems to be a huge part of the county’s populus that feels they are underrepresented.
“I worked at the bank here in Stuart, I was a branch manager at the bank on the mountain, and I currently work at the Clerk’s Office doing estate and probate for the county,” she said. “A lot of people I see talk to me, and there seems to be a huge consensus that they feel forgotten, or left behind, their voice is not being heard.”
Mickles believes that sometimes her not being originally from the county gives her a unique perspective to hear those people in a different way because she looks at it in a different way.
Mickles said one of the things that are the most important to her in the county right now is the safety of school children.
“They are what is going to continue on in Patrick County and hold onto our morals, our beliefs, our values moving into that next generation. If we don’t protect them at all costs, what do we have at the end of the day,” she said.
Another focus is establishing critical medical care for county residents.
“That’s something a lot of people are concerned about. I feel like that is a void that needs to be filled here in the county, and I would like to do anything I can to facilitate that happening,” she said.
Mickles said she won’t make false promises, and noted a majority vote is needed to make changes, “but I hope, and my desire, is that you would let me possibly be one of those three to vote in that change.”
Wood has served as a Patrick County High School (PCHS) teacher, Boy Scout master, on Virginia’s Young Farmers Committee for the Farm Bureau, and as the president of the Patrick County Farm Bureau.
“So, I’ve been a voice for a large number of people in this county already because farming and agriculture and greenhouses still play a vital role in our economy,” he said.
Wood believes common sense is what Patrick County needs in leadership right now. He also believes the board and the county administrator need to be actively looking for businesses and industries to provide good-paying jobs with benefits.
“Trying to raise a family on a single income is tough. We need those benefits with insurance costs going through the roof, grocery bills – all it takes is one trip to the store and you realize what condition we’re in right now,” he said.
Currently, Wood said it seems that residents are being viewed as having an unlimited budget.
“Real estate taxes are raised to balance the budget. Balancing a budget by increasing taxes, that’s not an option for your family or mine. We have a steady income source, and most households in our county, so we have to decide what we need to adjust,” he said.
Wood also believes transparency is important and that the county budget should be available in an easy-to-read document so citizens can see line items on what is increased and decreased.
The county needs to expand its infrastructure as “COVID showed us that our county needs more reliable internet and cell phone access,” he said and noted there were some PCHS students without adequate access.
“We’re not going to be able to bring businesses to our county that are going to rely on the internet if it’s not up,” he said.
Mayo River District
The incumbent in the race, Kendrick serves as chairman of the board. A member of the former Patrick County Watchdog group, he also served on the Patrick County Economic Development Authority (EDA) for eight or 10 years.
Kendrick said elected, he and other board members had a “pretty good mess” from the previous board.
“The county accountant had recommended a 22-cent real estate tax increase that year. The Treasurer was having to operate with a line of credit up to, I think, $3.2 million to make payroll in case the tax money wasn’t there,” he said.
Kendrick said the previous board decided 22 cents in one year was too much, and instead decided to do an 11-cent increase, with the understanding that “when we came on, (we) would be looking at another 11-cent” increase.
“But we all worked together and balanced the budget that first year without a tax increase and actually put a few dollars in the contingency fund,” Kendrick said. “They all said it couldn’t be done, but it was done.”
The cuts, he said, didn’t cripple anyone person or entity. He noted the majority were in areas that had been lax before. For example, he said the telephone system and the phones at that time were still rented from CenturyLink.
The county “paid long distance by the minute, and this was in 2019,” Kendrick said, noting there were no money-saving bundles, and the county had not looked for more cost-effective internet service at the time.
Since coming onto the board, Kendrick said there’s only been one tax increase, 5 cents on the real estate tax. He voted against that increase. “I think we could have squeaked by again,” he added.
Foley previously served on the board for eight years – from 2004-2007 and from 2011-2015. He also took a leadership course at Patrick & Henry Community College (P&HCC).
“I was on the Patrick County Watchdog group for a while, and we tried to keep taxes low in the county years ago,” he said.
Foley said he believes the county’s economic development group should talk to the county’s business owners to see what their needs are and what they think.
“If we don’t keep up with the business owners, we don’t really know what’s going on,” he said.
Foley said the county needs to find ways it can grow, and residents need to work together to improve their community for future generations.
“Our county has a lot going for it. We got great schools and great teachers, it’s hard to improve on that. We have great county employees who will go the extra mile to answer questions and help you. Our first responders and firefighters are top-notch, we couldn’t do without them,” he said.
Foley believes tourism is a driver of the county’s tax base.
“We don’t really have the tax revenue, and tourism’s a big part of it. Primland is a very important piece of tourism in our county, and of course, Rotary does a great job,” he said.
To improve, Foley believes the board needs to work on the county’s infrastructure, particularly its water and sewer.
“Right now, water and sewers are very limited. Without water and sewer, nothing grows. If you look at other localities, that’s what they’ve been doing and it’s working,” he said.
Foley said the tax base also has to be increased or taxes will keep increasing.
“Everybody knows their property taxes have been going up, our personal property taxes are going up, and they’re going to keep going up until we turn it around and try to get more business in the county to increase the tax base,” he said.
Blue Ridge District
An incumbent, DeLoach said since he joined the board, he’s learned it’s not as easy to change things as one would think.
“You’re one of five votes, so your job is to get along with the other people so that you can do the best for the county. I think we as a board of supervisors have done a great job of doing that, and I’m very proud of the people I work with,” he said.
DeLoach said he also learned the state can tell a board to do things and not pay for it, “which is great for the state, but not for us.”
When he first joined the board, DeLoach said the budget was a mess and the county’s auditors told the board the county was on the edge of a disaster.
“We balanced the budget, and it was a team effort to do it. We worked hard to keep it balanced. We have not borrowed any money. They were borrowing money every year, we haven’t borrowed any money,” he said, adding the board, unfortunately, did raise the real estate tax once.
DeLoach said the board has also improved its relationship with the school board and the constitutional officers. If re-elected, both continuing the good relationships the board has with others and keeping the budget balanced are his goals.
“We have to attract industry, but we’re not going to do that without a hospital or some kind of emergency medical. We’re not going to do it, so we need to do that if we want to continue to have top-notch schools, which we do,” he said.
DeLoach also wants to continue to make connections for the benefit of the county.
Steven Marshall, who is challenging DeLoach for the seat, did not participate in the forum.
Blue Ridge District
The incumbent, Harrell taught for five years at PCHS and currently teaches at the Piedmont Governor’s School in Martinsville.
“As the educator on the board, I have the teacher’s perspective and I understand the value of the programs we continue to try to participate in,” she said.
Harrell said she believes the programs the school division participates in help keep class sizes small.
“Starting pre-k, getting kids in early to teach them how to read – that is just so important,” she said.
Harrell said she also understands curriculum, special education as she works with students with disabilities, general education, teaching, and operations.
She is “super thankful for the 1-percent sales tax that the taxpayers voted on because we started making some improvements,” she said. “Our schools are amazing, but some of them are older. They smell good when you go in, there’s no mold, but with that one percent we’ve been able to start making some changes.”
For example, Harrell said the board plans to use the tax proceeds to make the PCHS bathrooms and locker rooms Americans with Disability Act (ADA) compliant, fix the lighting on the football field, and fix the tennis courts.
Harrell said more Career & Technical Education (CTE) vocational programs have also started.
“I really believe in CTE, because not every student needs to go away to college. The welding program, we have two of the three graduated with a welding degree. We’ve started electrical this year,” she said.
Harrell said a pole was just put up at PCHS, so the school division can partner with P&HCC, which is partnered with Wytheville Community College so students can get pole training.
Ryan Lawson, also an incumbent school board member, is unable to seek reelection due to redistricting and is challenging Harrell for the post. He did not participate in the forum.
Several other candidates also did not participate in the event, including Sheriff Dan Smith; Treasurer Sandra Stone; Lester Harrell, who is running for the Peters Creek District seat on the School Board; Amy Walker, who is seeking reelection for the Mayo River District seat on the school board.
Joseph Sparks, E. Wayne Clark, and Richard Kreh, Sr., who are running for the three seats on the Soil and Water Directors, did not participate in the event.