Kilmarnock candidates respond to survey

Emerson Gravatt
R.C. “Chris” Harris
Dr. Curtis Henry Smith
Leslie E. “Les” Spivey

KILMARNOCK—Town council elections will be held May 1 in Irvington, Kilmarnock and White Stone.

In Kilmarnock, four candidates are running for three seats on council. The candidates are Emerson Gravatt, R.C. “Chris” Harris, Dr. Curtis Henry Smith and Leslie E. “Les” Spivey.

Mayor Mae P. Umphlett is unopposed for re-election.

Candidates in the contested council races were recently asked to respond to four questions. Their replies follow:

Give a brief bio of your qualifications to serve on town council. Why are you running for office?

Gravatt: I’ve lived in Kilmarnock most of my life. I’m 71 and have been on the town council twice. Once in the late 90s and now for the past six years. My wife and I have been married 50 years, have two children and six grandchildren. After finishing college, we chose to move back to Kilmarnock to live and raise our family. I have a bachelor’s in business and worked at Rappahannock General Hospital from 1975 until I retired in 2013. I am running for town council again because I am interested in seeing our town grow to its fullest potential, yet keep its small town atmosphere.

Harris: I served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam era. My education is in business administration, economics and programming. As a certified instructor, I have taught engineering economics and strategic long range fundamental planning. Most of my 50-year career has been in the public utility industries where I managed operations, analyzed costs and depreciation parameters, developed rates and tariffs, and wrote and presented testimony in regulatory proceedings.

I am a family man. I am married, have two lovely daughters and three grandchildren.

As a public servant, I will remain committed to family, community and country while bringing my varied professional experiences to the town council, if elected.

Smith: I have been a citizen of Kilmarnock and Lancaster County for about 40 years and have been an active member of Kilmarnock governance, having served on the planning commission and chairman, member of council serving on all of the working committees and one term as mayor. I work well with people across all walks of life and political persuasions and have no personal agenda except to help provide the town with sound, conservative but forward thinking, guidance. I am seeking re-election for that purpose and I believe my voting record supports that.

Spivey: I am running for office to provide my account and management experience and expertise to the town.

What would you change about the way Kilmarnock town government operates?

Gravatt: I would not change anything about the way our town government operates. Town committee meetings are all held on the same day—the first Thursday of each month. The public is invited to come to all of these meetings. The town management, the mayor and usually all council members attend these meetings. The business of the town is discussed in these open committee meetings. Reports are made at the monthly town council meetings and motions are made and voted on at this time.

Harris: The town council meetings are generally too short and lacking details. More descriptions, background and discussions are needed to fully disclose how a proposal fits with the current budget and long-range vision for economic development of the town, county and the Northern Neck region.

A functional analysis of the town’s operations and expenses contrasted to the public safety, municipal water/sewer, etc. functions versus their sources of revenues and real estate tax assessment basis of operations is needed. The public needs certain assurances that one function is not being crossed subsidized from another source because not all services and functions are provided equally to every business and residence in town.

Smith: We have made changes along the way, such as having a monthly work session of all committees, open to the public, where much discussion and debate occurs on the issues at hand. I desire to see the town work more closely with the Northumberland and Lancaster boards of supervisors and interact more with Irvington and White Stone where appropriate. The recent police issue regarding  how we handle drunk-in-public offenders comes to mind. It wasn’t until the issue hit the Record that the town and sheriff’s office worked out the issue. There needs to be more of that proactive working together.

Spivey: I would not make any changes in the operations of the town government.

Where would you like to see Kilmarnock in 20 years and what is it going to take to get there?

Gravatt: I hope the ambience of our town doesn’t change much over the next 20 years. Keeping our small town atmosphere is what makes our town desirable. We are small but with big town amenities. I would like to see more young people with families being able to make a living in our area. We are fortunate to have some large employers in our area, but we need more to bring young people here. Good schools is also a key factor to bring young families here. More employment opportunities and good schools will certainly bring more young families into our county and town.

Harris: I would like to see Kilmarnock recognized as the economic heart of the Northern Neck region on a year-round basis.

To get there, more businesses will need to extend their hours of operation. Additional businesses will need to be opened; i.e. a local movie theater could attract and retain entertainment revenues.

Expanding business opportunities means expanded employment and of necessity housing and supporting infrastructure. Creating a satellite office facility for 100-200 federal, state and Fortune 500 corporation employees to support remote telecommuting and reporting could change the economic base for the region.

Smith: I would like Kilmarnock to remain much like it is today, but that is not entirely realistic. This is why we need town council men and women to work on planning and supervising the growth of the town, working together with the county and state agencies, like the Virginia Department of Transportation, making effective use of our tax dollars; helping to stimulate jobs and services for our citizens. Previous mayors, councils and town management have worked to keep Kilmarnock on budget, keeping taxes low and maintaining our water, sewer and police departments. The recent addition of the town park is becoming a growing asset to the town, it’s citizens and visitors. As the park matures and activities grow that will further enhance our community.

Spivey: I would like to see a town that has continued to gradually grow and prosper. In order to grow and prosper, we need to continue and increase promotion of the Town Centre Park. Using the park as the key, along with working in conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce, the county and other towns, as well as with local business leaders, our commercial and residential areas will continue to grow. I believe that every new visitor to the town not only produces sales and other tax revenue, but also results in a desire by many of those visitors to return to visit again, as well as to perhaps move to the Kilmarnock area. I believe that Kilmarnock is and will remain the “HUB of the Northern Neck.”

If you could fix one thing about Kilmarnock, what would it be?

Gravatt: I would like to see a town policy or ordinance concerning abandoned, unoccupied buildings (both residential and commercial) in Kilmarnock. The unsightliness of old abandoned buildings are a deterrent to bring new businesses into our area. Also, broadband internet service is badly needed in Kilmarnock. In order to attract new business, we need to have this service in our community.

Harris: Ultimately, traffic flow to the Northern Neck communities and through or around Kilmarnock will need to be addressed. Either replacing the Norris Bridge or building a new bridge across the Rappahannock River someplace between White Stone and Tappahannock to relieve congestion on both routes are in serious need. The never in a 100-year event happened recently when both bridges were blocked for extended periods.

Creating opportunities for people to live, work, shop, play and have fun should be part of the agenda. Providing a clean safe modernized experience must be part of the plan too.

As a community, we need to decide if the taxes that are being levied are being offset by the value we receive from the town and the county governments.

Smith: Our roads and sidewalks are inadequate and need attention. The town is appropriating money annually to install new sidewalks and improve the older ones that need attention. The area near the new library needs sidewalks and the town is working toward improving the safety for the children walking in the area. VDOT is beginning to funnel more highway dollars into our town to help keep traffic moving smoothly, especially during the heavier summer season. Activities like the Oyster Trail, the Fireman’s Carnival and Chamber events all help enrich the community and attract visitors. It is all a constant work in progress, which is why I am asking to be re-elected to help carry on this important work. I humbly ask for your vote, thank you.

Spivey: My “one thing” would be to eliminate the derelict buildings on Main Street and encourage building new structure on vacant lots.