Surry Board of Supervisors Bacon’s Castle District candidate profile: Robert Chandler

Published 11:08 am Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Editor’s note: Robert Chandler is running for the Bacon’s Castle District seat on Surry County’s Board of Supervisors against Walter Hardy Jr. The Smithfield Times sent the following questionnaire to both candidates. This profile was updated on Oct. 18 at 4:24 p.m. The Times inadvertently published an earlier draft of Chandler’s profile with shorter responses. Below are his full responses.

Age: 77

Occupation: Retired Navy/Newport News Shipbuilding/small-business owner

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Prior elected offices held: None / appointed to Surry County Economic Development Authority

1. Can you briefly summarize why you decided to run for the Board of Supervisors?

The majority of the members of the Board of Supervisors are not listening to our citizens, thus not truly supporting us. For example, earlier this year our county proposed an increase in our personnel property tax rate of 72 cents per $100 on the newly assessed property value. At the public hearing on this new tax rate, of the 24 speakers, 22 did not support the tax rate increase and two spoke in support. Even with the citizens’ opinion, a majority of the Board approved a 71-cent rate. Each cent increase was worth approximately $630.000. This was the fourth rate increase in four years, all without citizen support. The total increase in the tax rate over the past four years was approximately 22%. The rate could have been reduced to 68 cents and the county would have been able to increase tax income more than the previous fiscal year. 

2. What should be Surry County’s top priority right now?

The creation of jobs within the county, development of affordable housing, and an improved school system. In the 30 years we have lived in Surry County the Board has never taken the need for affordable housing as a serious need. Without affordable housing there is no place for young people to move into as they obtain a job either within the county or in nearby areas.

  • To prevent the continuing decline in the county’s population we need to develop jobs for our young people to be able to remain in the county and for new people to move here.
  • Our school system has the lowest student-to-teacher ratio in the state and country with an average of nine students per teacher. We need to concentrate on the three R’s, add additional trades training programs and provide a stronger process allowing students to attend college or trades training.

3. What more can Surry County do to ensure a timely response to ambulance calls?

Provide 24/7 service. More than 25% of the citizens are 65 and older and deserve support. As a result of a citizen outcry the county has added a second ambulance and a part time crew to cover a full day and a partial back shift, but this is only a partial answer.

4. Did the supervisors make the right decision in June by lowering the real estate tax rate to 71 cents per $100 in light of reassessed property values, and postponing a $4 million, two-year plan for parks and recreation improvements? Why or why not?

Yes, but they could have lowered the tax rate to 68 cents and still obtained more tax money than they earned the previous tax year based on the current assessment. With a dwelling population and no real plan to turn it around there was no need for the Board’s $4 million plan for the two-year plan for parks and recreation improvements. If the plan had been to develop jobs and affordable housing within the county, then the outlook may have been different. Without turning around the declining population in our county the Board’s plan would have been a waste of citizens’ money that could have been used to turn around our decreasing population. Our tax money should be used to create jobs and affordable housing within the county. This can be accomplished without minimizing our rural atmosphere.

5. Does Surry County contribute too little, too much, or just enough local money to its school system?

Too much! Surry’s has the lowest student to teacher rate, 9 to 1, in the state and operates three facilities to support only 679 students. The average teacher’s salary in Surry County is higher than the average teacher’s salary in both the state and the USA. The school system operates three school buildings, with a principal and an assistant principal associated with each when all students could be housed in two facilities. We need to concentrate on the three Rs and develop additional trades training to allow students to develop a path of their interest and a good paying future job. A student with either path can achieve an excellent paying job to support a family.

6. Did the supervisors make the right decision in April when they amended Surry’s comprehensive plan to limit solar farms to 10% of the county’s developable land? Why or why not?

Yes, they did. While I support a greener environment, the cost of solar energy remains very high and demands the use of a lot of land per megawatt of energy produced, up to 10 acres, and then land recovery remains questionable. For example, Surry Power plant can produce up to 1,600 megawatts of electoral power. This means that the plant can produce approximately 1.9 megawatts per acre. This is less than one twentieth of the land that a solar farm needs to produce just one megawatt,

The greenest form of electric power production is nuclear. With the currently approved solar farms we have in the county they have negatively impacted future land use needed for farmland and have impacted wildlife by limiting rural land used by the wildlife forcing them to move to other areas.

7. What can be done to reverse Surry County’s decades-long trend of declining population?

Every day approximately 3,000 citizens leave the county for work and approximately 3,000 workers enter the county for work. There are three great needs to help reverse this. The first is jobs within the county, the second is affordable housing within the county, and the third is an education system that improves our current students’ knowledge level and provides excellent trades training.