CHRISTIANSBURG — A pair of Republican victories Tuesday night ensured that the GOP will maintain its 4-3 control of the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors for at least another two years.
Republican Supervisor Darrell Sheppard, who represents District E, won a second term after defeating Democratic challenger Robbie Jones.
In the other competitive supervisor race, Republican Sherri Blevins, in her first run for office, defeated Democrat Brian Lawson.
Two incumbent Democrats on the board, Mary Biggs and April DeMotts, were unopposed for reelection Tuesday.
Blevins’ victory means that she replaces two-term Republican supervisor and former board chairman Chris Tuck, who announced earlier this year that he wasn’t seeking reelection.
“I’m excited about the future and how I can best serve the citizens,” said Blevins, 47, the owner of the Christiansburg-based New River Valley Driving School Inc.
Sheppard, 58, is a retired Virginia Tech police officer who now drives a bus for the Montgomery County Public Schools.
“I’m excited. I feel tired actually,” Sheppard said Tuesday night.
During their campaigns, both Blevins and Sheppard leaned on common party points such as stances against raising taxes out of a desire to not burden taxpayers, particularly those on fixed incomes.
Sheppard has argued that significant tax revenue can come from new real estate, which they each said is being added at a relatively rapid pace in Montgomery County.
“I want to do as much as we can for the schools, but I want to do it within reason,” he said.
Blevins and Sheppard also each voiced support for a push to collect more taxes from Virginia Tech Foundation properties, which are allowed by the state to pay reduced amounts in property taxes.
The board of supervisors’ partisan makeup has been an issue due to the fact that the governing body, for years, has been split 4-3 along party lines on some of the county’s most contentious issues.
Examples of matters that were either passed or defeated on party-line split votes included the sale of the old Blacksburg High School and the approval of a special use permit for a Mountain Valley Pipeline natural gas tap.
Another issue that has divided supervisors — and was at some point touched on by each of the candidates in the competitive supervisor races — is funding for local schools.
Over the past few years, the board’s Republicans have successfully resisted attempts by the Democrats to raise the county’s 89-cent property tax rate to more easily address challenges such as school capital needs and teacher salaries.
In fact, Jones — in the lead up to the election — received some criticism from some of the current Republican supervisors for voicing an openness to raising property taxes to help the county meet some of its biggest needs.
Jones has said during the campaign that she only suggested possibly raising the tax rate by just a cent every other year as a way to more proactively address the county’s challenges.
Blevins, however, said the county in recent years has managed to address some of its most important needs without raising taxes. She pointed to the planned renovations and expansions of several Christiansburg schools and the county finding money to help cover teacher pay raises.
“It will never be my go-to,” Blevins said about calls to raise taxes. “I will always exhaust all other means.”
The supervisors last raised the tax rate in 2013, when they hiked it by 2 cents to the current rate of 89 cents. That tax hike exclusively went toward the establishment of a school capital earmark that was recently used in the renovation and expansion of Christiansburg’s Falling Branch Elementary School.
Blevins’ and Sheppard’s victories Tuesday come as plans are in place to increase the spaces at Christiansburg Elementary, Christiansburg Primary and Belview Elementary schools.
Those projects are slated to cost $35 million, most of which will be financed with debt that the county was recently allowed to take on again.
There are also plans to renovate and expand the capacity-troubled Christiansburg High School for $70 million.