2019-10-27 21:33:45

Two business owners are vying for the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors District B seat.

Republican Sherri Blevins works with motorists via her Christiansburg-based New River Valley Driving School Inc. Democrat Brian Lawson feeds hungry bellies in Radford where he operates the Thai This Express restaurant on Tyler Avenue.

Lawson and Blevins are running for the seat currently held by two-term Republican Supervisor and former board chairman Chris Tuck, who announced his decision to not seek re-election in January.

The result of the Nov. 5 race will play a key role in the partisan balance of the board of supervisors.

The board has had a 4-3 GOP majority since 2016. That majority has been a key factor in debates such as whether or not to raise taxes to provide more financial assistance to the schools and on divisive issues such as the 2017 sale of the old Blacksburg high school and middle school properties.

If Lawson wins, the board would at the very least swing to a 4-3 Democratic majority. Both Blevins and the Republican candidate in the only other competitive supervisor race need to win to maintain the board’s current partisan split.

Past election results, however, show that District B — which includes the town of Christiansburg — is a GOP stronghold. Tuck’s predecessor, Republican Douglas Marrs, ran unopposed during the 2007 and 2003 general elections.

Lawson said it doesn’t discourage him that Democrats for years have had no success in the district.

Lawson said he’s put up about 80 yard signs and says that they’re roughly split between the yards of Republicans and Democrats. He describes himself as socially liberal but fiscally conservative.

One point Lawson has leaned on during his campaign has been the fact that he’s a business owner, which he said makes him strongly adhere to the concept of an entity living within its means.

“We have to operate under budgets, as well,” he said, referring to his restaurant. “I feel it helps me explain that I understand you have to work with tight budgets … as a business person, that’s everyday life.”

Business is one of Blevins’ touted campaign points as well. She said one of her goals, if elected, is to maintain the county’s efforts to foster economic growth.

“I want to encourage business and growth for the county,” she said.

Blevins also views recent issues with schools as another key point.

She said she’d like to see upcoming expansions at Christiansburg Elementary, Christiansburg Primary and Belview Elementary schools — all of which serve the Christiansburg strand — move along quickly so that Christiansburg High School can be addressed in time.

“Of course, I want us to make sure we keep the bond rating low and move on these projects as quickly as we can because Christiansburg High School is in need,” she said.

Of all the upcoming school projects, Christiansburg High is the most expensive with its estimated project cost of $70 million. The school, like the other three elementary schools, has long battled capacity issues.

The school projects also come as the county has been given the green light to take on debt again. The county, for a few years, couldn’t take on debt for major projects due to the construction earlier in the decade of new schools in Blacksburg and Riner.

“You want to make sure there’s no delay so it’s not an inconvenience,” Blevins said, referring to the completion of the elementary school expansions.

Another school issue has drawn Blevins’ attention: the security at Christiansburg Elementary and Christiansburg Primary.

During recent visits, she said she noticed that each school employs the open classroom concept, where classes aren’t separated by walls.

“Bookshelves separate class space. I don’t like that, at all,” she said, adding that it could lead to issues during an emergency. “There’s not a classroom for them to shut the door and be secure. It’s all open.”

Again drawing from his experience as a business owner, Lawson would like to see the county foster more small business growth.

“Being a small business owner, small business entrepreneurship is important to me,” he said.

Lawson said there are a great deal of potential entrepreneurs, particularly Virginia Tech and Radford University students, who are capable of bringing good startup concepts to the area. He, however, said he’s not sure how aware they are of programs that can assist them.

“It’s a shame that somebody has a great idea, but they don’t get to do it simply because … they’re intimidated by the whole process of getting information,” he said.

Lawson said assistance programs can be very helpful to small businesses. He said his restaurant recently benefited from a Radford program where it was returned $10,000 it paid in meals tax.

“It was a big shot in the arm for our business,” he said.

Lawson said he doesn’t want the county to necessarily replicate that program — but at least wants to bring ideas to be discussed.

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