Voter Guide: Q&As with the two candidates seeking to represent the Palmyra District on Fluvanna County’s Board of Supervisors
In Virginia, Boards of Supervisors govern counties and are elected for four-year terms. Fluvanna County’s Board of Supervisors has five members, one for each district. James D. Schoenster and Timothy M. Hodge are both vying for the open seat representing the Palmyra District.
The candidates are seeking to replace sitting Supervisor Patricia B. Eager, who is stepping down.
Schoenster and Hodge are the only candidates certified by the Virginia Department of Elections, though voters can write in other names if they choose.
Charlottesville Tomorrow designed a questionnaire based on over 200 responses we received to a voter survey. The candidate answered these questions by email in August. The candidates’ answers are listed in the order we received them.
Tell us about the economic situation in your county. What would you as a supervisor do to address the major economic concerns of your constituents?
James D. Schoenster: Fluvanna County desperately needs to diversify its tax base. Right now about 95% of the tax revenue to the county comes from residents, and it should be closer to 70%. We need commercial businesses to shift that burden off the residents, but a lack of infrastructure is making that difficult. The county has been reluctant to make investment in the infrastructure needed to draw commercial businesses to our planned areas of development, Zion Crossroads and Fork Union chief among them. Promoting this infrastructure and growing commercial development strictly within these development zones will be a priority for me as a supervisor.
Timothy M. Hodge: As a rural county, Fluvanna’s tax base consists primarily on residential and personal property taxes. Ultimately, this places the taxation burden on the citizens of Fluvanna County. In turn, this places those on fixed or lower incomes at risk the most and is a greater burden percentage wise to their income. Fluvanna needs to put in place 3-, 5-, and 10-year plans to shift the tax base more toward business and this can be achieved through economic development and tourism. This growth must be planned ensuring that infrastructure is in place and that the growth is location appropriate. No one wants industrial in or near residential.
What sort of development, if any, would you like to see in your county?
Schoenster: I see a lot of opportunities for infrastructure improvements, so I’ve made that a priority of my campaign. We need to stop new housing developments in the Lake Monticello beltway because the existing roads, utilities, and emergency services are already strained and in need of attention. Until these issues are remedied, the county should shift its focus to infrastructure, which will in turn allow us to attract much needed commercial businesses to other areas of the county, like Zion Crossroads and Fork Union. Two birds, one stone.
Hodge: I would like to see increased agri-tourism business as well as more retail opportunities. With only one major chain grocery store in the county, there are parts of the county that are in food deserts, meaning residents either have to drive longer distances to shop or use smaller convenience stores. Our general health could be improved by readily available fresh food and produce at affordable prices which can be best achieved through the major retailers.
Voters have asked about broadband internet access and speeds in Central Virginia. What is the situation in Fluvanna County and can the Board of Supervisors do anything to help?
Schoenster: An expansion of broadband coverage across the entire county is already underway and so this service should be available to all residents in the next year or so. This is critically important for Fluvanna because access to the internet allows for easier county-wide communication and helps economies thrive. Just because you live in a beautiful rural area does not mean you should not be connected to the wider world and county events like a farmers market! While a quick walk to the backyard is an easy way to unplug, it’s important that everyone has the option to log on.
Hodge: Fluvanna has benefited greatly from having Central Virginia Electric Cooperative’s Firefly internet rolling out across the county. Several years ago, the county Board of Supervisors committed funds to bring high speed access to areas which were not going to be served. They also committed funds in partnership with the library and schools to provide free WiFi hotspots in and around the schools and library. This was pre-pandemic and proved to be timely as that access was needed during the pandemic.
Central Virginia counties have commissioned studies that show climate change will have devastating effects on agriculture and flooding in the coming decades. What would you as a supervisor do to prepare?
Schoenster: I take this issue very seriously and know that we have to do everything we can to protect the agricultural land, as it is the heart and soul of our county. Fluvanna is fortunate to have many residents with a great historical understanding of our natural resources. Many of them are already involved in the emergency planning process, but I will always encourage more input! The winter storm in January 2022 is a great example of the kind of impact we should expect going forward, and despite widespread power outages, I am proud of the way Fluvanna met that challenge.
Hodge: The County’s Department of Emergency Management in cooperation with the Emergency Services have incident plans in places for emergencies and natural disaster events. Fully funding the Emergency Management and First Responders is key to ensuring we have the services we need when these crises hit. As a volunteer firefighter, I see these services up close and understand the importance of maintaining our services for times of need.
Do you believe gun violence is a pressing issue facing your county? If so, what do you believe local government can do to address it?
Schoenster: I do not believe gun violence is a pressing issue in our county. We have responsible gun owners here, minimal violent crime, and excellent school resource officers in our schools making sure they are secure. While gun violence should always be prepared for, I am confident that Fluvanna can remain safe if it maintains its present course.
Hodge: Fortunately, Fluvanna County is peaceful with little to no violent crime. We need to ensure all federal and state laws are followed pertaining to firearms and other lethal weapons. Our Sheriff’s Department performs outstanding work serving our community, and I supported the recent request to increase the minimum starting deputy salary increase to bring it closer to the starting teacher salaries, both professions which are critical for our community.
What do you think about local law enforcement working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement?
Schoenster: I think that is an issue beyond the scope of the county Board of Supervisors, but I would fully support our Sheriff’s Department so they can continue to do their job well.
Hodge: Local law enforcement should support state and federal law enforcement when requested as they have local knowledge that outside agencies do not have. It is NOT in the remit of the local Sheriff to enforce Immigrations and Customs, though this is a question best left to the Sheriff as it is his department to run within the confines of his budget and the law.
Do you support building more solar farms in central Virginia? What would you do to encourage or discourage such projects in Fluvanna County?
Schoenster: Solar farms in Fluvanna can be a great way to contribute to our state’s energy goals and to give landowners a new source of revenue. However, we need to do everything we can to make sure these projects don’t do more harm than good, especially when they are being considered in underrepresented communities or take away prime agricultural land. I want to balance meeting the clean energy goals set forth by our governor with making sure any project is right for our community.
Hodge: Solar plays a role in America’s energy needs going forward. We need to look at all forms of energy generation and plan for the implementation of the ones which are most economical. There is no one single solution for any locality and each opportunity needs to be measured and weighed on its merits and benefits.
What role do you think national politics can or should play in local government?
Schoenster: Despite our proximity to Washington, I believe that national politics are incredibly out of touch with rural needs. My neighbors are justified to feel disaffected at best, or even handicapped by the consequences of decisions made beyond their control. Folks at the state and federal level talk a big game about caring for rural communities, but if you follow the money, it isn’t coming here. I’ll fight for all the grants we can get and amplify the concerns of our community at the state and even federal level, if necessary.
Hodge: National politics should have no bearing on local politics. Fluvanna should focus on providing what is best to serve the citizens of this county all while complying with state and federal laws and mandates.
What are one or two biggest challenges you see facing Fluvanna County? How would you as a supervisor address them?
Schoenster: I don’t mind repeating myself because it is truly that important — we have a lot of work to do regarding commercial growth. This is intrinsically linked to Fluvanna’s need for new infrastructure projects that will attract the commercial businesses we need to shift the tax burden off the residents. As supervisor, I will work to make sure the James River Water project stays on schedule, and commercial businesses feel welcome in Fluvanna while working to balance this sustainable growth with maintaining the rural way of life for current residents that makes living in our county so special.
Hodge: Taxation and its effects on low-income and fixed-income families is by far the biggest challenge for our citizens today. Diversification of the tax base while ensuring local government is running at maximum efficiency with minimal waste. We need to implement programs to improve efficiency and provide services for our citizens. Having worked for the County for five years and previously as a corporate executive, I know that this can be done. This is why I am running for Supervisor in the Palmyra District.
More about Fluvanna County’s Board of Supervisors
- Schoenster’s campaign contributions in the Virginia Public Access Project
- Hodge’s campaign contributions in the Virginia Public Access Project
- A report in the Fluvanna Review about a candidate forum, including the two candidates