Eric Bowling has a plan for Henry County.
As one of four candidates for the hotly-contested Iriswood District seat on the Henry County Board of Supervisors, Bowling wants to encourage more economic development in the county and has a five-point plan on how to get started.
First, he wants to see improved access to running water, especially fire hydrants, in every area of the community. While it may seem like a small issue, Bowling said this seemingly small measure could have a huge impact.
“Not only is it a public safety issue, it lowers your home insurance as well as the barrier for people to build houses.” Lack of access to water, he said, also could be a hindrance to attracting new business to the area.
The Public Service Authority’s budget is separate from that of Henry County, Bowling said.
“It’s a self-sustaining group,” he said, but is hopeful the organization has discretionary funds from the monthly fees it collects from customers to put towards the project.
“If not, then it’s something we can definitely look at with the county,” he said. “I’m all for looking at things outside the box.”
Bowling is looking at ways large and small he can help the fiscal state of Henry County.
“I’ve said, and I’ve issued a challenge to my opponents as well, that I will not take county health insurance. Things like that, if I can try to make a difference where I can to save taxpayers money I’ll try to do that,” he said.
Second on Bowling’s list is the expansion of the Blue Ridge Airport, including adding new hangars and increasing its footprint.
“Primland uses it, the (Martinsville) Speedway uses it, we bring in all kinds of people on corporate jets and if they can’t land because there’s not enough space, then they’re going to go to Greensboro, Danville, Roanoke” and spend their time and money in other communities, Bowling said.
The third issue he wants to tackle is roads.
“I would abandon the proposed (Martinsville) Southern Connector project” which would run to the west side of U.S. 220 that the county is currently prioritizing, Bowling said, adding that he believes the planned I-73 corridor, once completed, would serve the same purpose as the connector.
“I don’t think we need to spend money and take peoples’ property when we’ve got a proposed interstate coming through,” he said. “Let’s focus solely on I-73, get that through the legislative agenda and potentially secure some federal dollars and get southern Virginia moving with that.”
“The fourth thing is to prioritize building a new hotel in southern Henry County,” Bowling said. The new construction would provide a new lodging option for visitors to the Martinsville Speedway as well as enable the Smith River Sports Complex to attract more tournaments “because some of those tournaments have a requirement on the quality or number of hotel rooms nearby.”
Lastly, Bowling said, he would keep taxes low.
“We need to enable residents and business of all kinds to locate here and be happy and raise a family,” he said.
Reversion is the most important challenge he sees facing the community.
“If elected, I would proactively look at ways to work with the city prior to any potential deadline to see if there are any ways we could work together” before reversion takes effect, he said.
Bowling is a big believer in hearing directly from the public during the political process. During his campaign, he has been going door to door.
“I enjoy that,” he said, “I get to meet different people and get a snapshot of their backgrounds. That’s part of (the political process), engaging the voters, engaging the residents to find out what’s on their mind. If you’re not out there, you don’t know.”
He created a page for his campaign, which he plans to retain if he wins the election.
“To my knowledge, no other current supervisor has a public Facebook page,” he said of the page he plans to use to communicate with constituents and to help share news about community events.
The candidate said one of the county’s biggest strengths is the kindness and positivity of its residents.
“It’s like they’re family almost,” he said. “Of the hundreds of doors I’ve knocked on, only one person has been negative.”
Bowling said that can be beneficial to the county, and noted that quality would ultimately lead to greater political transparency.
“It seems to me that the county, the local government, seems to get into these gimmicks of trying to provide certain things or build certain things because they want to portray a certain image,” Bowling said.
He believes the county needs to get back to the basics and try to explore initiatives that will improve the community rather than simply drawing more revenue. He noted Martinsville’s MINet internet service as an example of what he sees as a gimmick—a revenue source for the city, but not that beneficial to the community it serves.
Bowling thinks his educational background, business degree, and “strong aptitude for fiscal responsibility” set him apart from other candidates, all of whom, he said seem to think there will be a need for a tax increase going into next year to help deal with the cost of reversion.
“We need to minimize if not eliminate that need, if possible,” he said, and cited his willingness to continue listening to residents.
“I’m not going to just go to the meeting once a month and then disappear. I’m going to be on social media multiple times a week and going to all the community events, the fairs, the gatherings, everything like that,” he said. “I’ll do everything I can to lower our taxes while looking for ways to improve efficiencies in our local government.”