By Callie Hietala
Joe Bryant thinks life is good in Henry County and he wants to help keep it that way if he is reelected to the Henry County Board of Supervisors on November 2.
Bryant, an incumbent, is being challenged by Andrew Palmer for the Collinsville District seat, which Bryant has held since 2010.
“If you take a look at the county on the whole, right now it’s doing good,” Bryant said, noting that the county’s unemployment rate is currently at 4.4 percent and its fund balance has increased over the last several years.
“We have been able to fund every department that has come to us with a request for funding over the last several years that I’ve been in office. We’ve been able to fund the sheriff’s department, public safety, administration, parks and recreation at 100 percent of what they asked for,” Bryant said.
Some departments received more money than they spent, he said of Henry County Public Schools. Those unspent funds were returned to the county and later reallocated to the school system.
The county’s financial success has largely been reached without an increased cost to its residents, Bryant said.
“I pride myself, and the board of supervisors, that in the last twelve years, we’ve only had an increase one time in our taxes” and are still able to maintain one of the lowest tax rates in the area, Bryant said.
He said he understands the gravity of the recent requests for increased funding from the sheriff’s office and volunteer fire departments.
“This is a competitive world, and if we’re not offering competitive salaries, then (deputies) may go to different places,” he said, adding that county officials met with representatives from the sheriff’s department last week to come up with a temporary solution to stop the loss of employees who are leaving for better-paying positions.
This is, he acknowledged, just a band-aid to “slow the bleeding down” until the two departments can come up with a more permanent resolution.
The same applies to the requests from the volunteer fire departments.
“We know that this is a problem and we’re trying to see how we can address it.” However, he said, it may take time.
“I won’t spend millions of dollars of the taxpayers’ money unless I have a great idea of whose hands it’s going to be placed in,” he said.
Bryant said he is realistic about how raises for the sheriff’s department and the costs of reversion will affect taxpayers.
“On the long term, funding for the sheriff’s department and others, you’re probably going to see a tax increase because there’s no other way we can do it without a tax increase,” Bryant said.
The unknown effects of reversion, including the county assuming responsibility for services previously provided by the city, as well as the education of Martinsville’s children, also will most likely necessitate an increase in taxes for county residents, Bryant said.
“I hate the phrase ‘tax increase,’ I really do. I hate to even think about putting more taxes on the people of Henry County,” he said, but added that any decisions he makes in terms of increasing taxes will be shouldered by Bryant and his family too.
“I am a citizen of Henry County, I own a business in Henry County, I own property in Henry County,” he said, adding that he has a son, a daughter, and grandchildren who live in the county, all of whom would feel the effects increased taxes.
Bryant would like to see more public involvement in local governing.
“We have a board meeting every month and the public is invited to every meeting we have, but we have very little participation from the public,” unless there is a specific issue they want to hear about or address, he said.
“If anyone wants to know what goes on in the county, they should come to the board meetings,” to see their elected officials in action and how their tax money is being spent, he said.
He also pointed to low attendance at the town hall meetings he has held periodically throughout his time as supervisor.
“Typically, only 10 to 15 people show up at any of those meetings, when it should be a packed house,” he said. “People are content with what they’ve got until there’s a problem.”
Despite lack of resident participation in meetings, Bryant said he makes himself as available as possible in the interest of transparency.
“I own a business here in Collinsville, I’m here six days a week,” he said, adding that his home number, cell number, and both store numbers are all publically listed should anyone want to reach out to him with questions or concerns.
Noting recent economic development announcements as highlights of his political success, Bryant also is careful to point out that everything was accomplished by the supervisors and county officials working together as a team.
“We have done so much in the last ten years for this county that it’s unreal,” he said, estimating there were “50 or better job announcements” just in the past several years, including Crown Holdings’ $145 million – which is “the largest investment the county’s ever seen. We managed to do that because we had the foresight to build Commonwealth Crossing,” which also attracted Press Glass with a $53 million investment.
He also said the board helped plan for the first fair in several years, and currently is working on creating new apartments to expand housing options, and an expansion at the Blue Ridge Airport as a few things he has helped accomplish during his tenure. He said the county is working hard to ensure job security, improve everyday life for its residents and attract new business to the area.
Bryant said he has been a part of Henry County for all his adult life. His father opened his business in 1972, and Bryant has been working there since he was 16. He is among the successful business owners in the county, and is fiscally conservative, always trying to ensure a healthy amount of savings for a rainy day.
“I run the county kind of like I run my business,” he said. “I’m a really conservative guy with money.”
Additionally, Bryant has experience.
When newly elected to his post, he envisioned making many changes quickly, he said, and recalled that the first motion he ever made died for lack of a second.
“It didn’t take long for me to learn that you have to work well with your team,” Bryant said of the lesson he also learned during his 20 years of military service with the Army Reserves. Over his time serving as a supervisor, he has learned how things work in a government environment and has built a good working relationship with his fellow supervisors and with county employees.
“There’s not a supervisor on the board that does not have the best interests for Henry County, and we are trying to be good stewards of the money that Henry County entrusts to us for us to spend for them,” Bryant said. “I would ask the people of Henry County, ‘are you ready for the changes that (new supervisors) might bring forward? Are you happy with the way things are running in the county, are you happy with the way we’re looking after your money?’”
As voters head to the polls to select their next supervisor, Bryant wants them to remember this: “I am trustworthy and honest.”