By Brandon Martin
Eric Bowling, a Henry County native, will seek the Iriswood District seat on the Henry County Board of Supervisors in the November election.
Dr. J. David Martin, incumbent, said he will not seek reelection.
Bowling, 32, said he has traced his lineage back at least three generations.
“I’ve pretty much lived in Henry County all of my life. I’ve always had a genuine interest and curiosity for local news and information,” Bowling said. “That interest kind of made me a cheerleader for the area and put me on my path now.”
While always interested in events happening in his hometown, Bowling said he wasn’t that involved in the political arena until 2016.
“The issues that are presented right now, with reversion and increase in spending on projects along the way, pushed me to want to run,” Bowling said. “This role on the board of supervisors, they are a liaison and should perform customer service for the local government.”
This is a way in which Bowling said he will differ from Martin.
“I think Dr. Martin is a very respectable gentleman and I think he is a great guy,” Bowling said. “I don’t know that I necessarily disagree with him wholeheartedly, but I would be a little more transparent, or even more cooperative with trying to reach out and work with other organizations or even the city. It seems right now that we have this big impasse with reversion.”
As complicated as an issue that reversion is, Bowling said he is still relatively undecided on what the best path would be until more details are settled.
“I’m not 100 percent where I stand on reversion as a whole, but I would like to take steps towards consolidating certain services with the city and the county,” Bowling said. “I would rather take those intermediate steps instead of lawyers battling it out from different jurisdictions. We need to work together and combine our resources to give the taxpayers and the citizens the most bang for their buck.”
Bowling said he would consider consolidating services like Parks and Recreation, which the city currently contracts on with the YMCA. Additionally, senior services, and potentially refuse, are other areas that he would consider combining.
Promoting community involvement would be one of his major goals if elected.
“I want to try and get people interested and involved with the process,” he said. “Recently, they brought up the big thing about litter. I want to be able to empower people to reach out to me or the rest of the board. I’ll come and help them pick up trash personally. There are people that care and don’t want to keep trashing up the place.”
Bowling said he also would engage local religious institutions.
“Each church has a different form of outreach that they do in the community. I would really like to work with them to identify all of those things that each church offers,” Bowling said.
Another form of community involvement would be fundraising for emergency services.
“Personally, I’m not accepting any campaign donations,” Bowling said. “Anybody that would potentially want to, I’d just ask that they donate it to the rescue squads and the fire department.”
As a proponent of frugality, Bowling said he would keep a close watch on the county’s purse strings.
“I’m big on fiscal responsibility,” he said. “Taxes have increased in two of the last five budgets, even as revenue has naturally increased during that same time. The budget has actually increased 25 percent over the last six years. I know it sounds like there is going to be a big hurdle next year as far as being able to keep the budget consistent, but hopefully that is something that we can tackle.”
Bowling said he agreed with the county’s decision to not raise taxes in the fiscal year 2022 budget.
“I think it was the right call,” he said. “There are some expenses, like costs associated with foster care, and I’d like to know exactly what is causing that to go up. But even with those costs going up, I’m glad they were able to find a way to do it without raising the tax rates.”
In terms of economic development, Bowling said he would lean heavily on the county’s ability to lobby the state for additional funds through the annual legislative agenda.
“I would probably bring the Blue Ridge Airport runway expansion higher on the list,” he said. “I don’t think we should necessarily put any local tax money towards that, but we should be letting the General Assembly know that is a high priority for us.”
The runway expansion will enable increased air traffic, which would make the area more attractive to companies looking to relocate their operations, he said.
“I think the low cost of living that we have here is definitely a big attraction,” Bowling said. “There are a lot of companies moving out of bigger states and going elsewhere. As long as we can keep it that way, I think that is a good goal to strive for. We can work with those companies to see what else would attract them here.”
Bowling also discussed the county’s desire to finish constructing I-73.
“I think that overall, the completed interstate would be really huge for the area, but we are still a long way from that,” he said. “I know that North Carolina has a big chunk of theirs complete but as far as I know, no other state has really even started. I’d still like to leave that on the legislative agenda but move the airport higher above that.”
Along that same vein, Bowling said he sees issues with the Southern Connector project.
“The way that I recall, with the way it is drawn, the Southern Connector veers off to the west side of U.S. 220 and it looks like I-73 is going off to the east side, coming up from the bottom. I just think it is a big waste of time, land and money if we have the two separate roads going in the same direction.”
Another area of soft infrastructure that Bowling supports is broadband.
“I don’t think we should allocate any local tax dollars towards that,” he said. “The reason is that it seems to be an extremely, quickly-evolving sector. We do need to encourage private development. The city’s MiNet recently just ran fiber down close to my house to Carlisle School. I reached out to them to try and get a quote. It’s $100 a month for 100 megabytes. I think I’m paying about $70 a month for 200 (megabytes), so there’s not really any incentive” to switch.
Additionally, Bowling said he sees value in other private broadband projects like Starlink which is a satellite internet service provided through SpaceX.
“I was at Rooster Walk last Saturday when I saw the Starlink coming across the sky,” he said. “That was wild. We’ve got all of these things happening that could potentially bring broadband to us and I think if we run fiber everywhere, it’s just going to be outpaced in 5-10 years just because of how broadband is evolving.”
Another sector that is quickly evolving is solar energy. Noting the number of new solar projects occurring in the Iriswood District, Bowling said he is excited about the prospects.
“I think that is great,” he said. “I’ve driven by the one that is on Mountain Valley Road quite a bit and is kind of exciting. It’s a big field that I don’t think has recently been used for anything. Maybe 10-15 years ago, it might have had tobacco, but I think that (solar) is a great thing and it’s potentially a tool for the community.”
Currently, Bowling is in the process of collecting signatures to be put on the ballot this year. He needs 125 signatures of registered voters, but he said he has set a personal goal of 170 just to be safe.
“I’m about 10 percent of the way there so I’m still chugging along,” he said. “If anybody wants to reach out to me then they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or check me out on Facebook.”
Bowling is a graduate of Magna Vista High School and he received an Associate’s in Business Administration and General Studies degree from Patrick Henry Community College. He works in customer service at a local furniture company. Bowling’s hobbies include NASCAR and bargain shopping.