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Four Bedford City Council incumbents are seeking reelection for what will likely be very short terms—at least as a City Council.
If reversion goes according to schedule, City Council will cease to exist on July 1, 2013 — to be replaced by a Town Council. Councilmen won’t automatically transition to this town council. They will all have to run for seats on the new town council in an election to be held in May 2013 if they want to serve on that elected body.
Skip Tharp, currently serving as Bedford’s mayor, and Bob Wandrei, vice mayor, have been on City Council the longest. The other two incumbents running in November are Steve Rush and Guy Murray. The four incumbents are being challenged by Stacey Hailey and Michael Schneider for the four at-large seats.
Tharp, a Bedford native, was first elected in 1992 and has served as mayor for six years. He said that his most compelling reason for seeking reelection is the city’s reversion to town status. Tharp believes the reversion process is vital to Bedford’s economic development.
“I think we need a steady hand on the throttle,” he said.
Tharp said that incumbents should be retained on Council because it isn’t wise to make changes mid-way through the reversion process.
“It’s a work in progress,” Tharp added.
Tharp believes that, as a local business owner, he brings business sense and leadership ability to his role on City Council.
“I’m a businessman,” he said. “I think business people make good community leaders, good Council members.” He notes that business owners have to be able to regularly make payroll and work within a budget.
Tharp is pleased that Bedford has had few tax increases and only minor adjustments in user fees over the years he’s been on City Council. User fees are for city services, such as water and sewer that are intended to pay their own way without input from the general fund. He believes that it’s important to avoid real estate tax hikes because a large number of homeowners in Bedford are elderly and on fixed incomes. Tharp notes that the value of their home does not necessarily indicate their ability to pay.
He’s also pleased with some recent developments.
“We virtually rebuilt the Stoney Creek reservoir with state funds that Delegate Putney got for us,” Tharp said. The state-mandated overhaul involved reinforcing the dam and building new overflow spillways. He said that the $7 million project was completed ahead of schedule and under budget.
He’s also pleased that reversion was done via a negotiated agreement with the county, rather than through an adversarial process. Bedford could have unilaterally decided to revert.
“I suggested to council that we invite the county into the process,” Tharp said. “I’m so proud of that.”
Tharp said that, “The end result was an excellent agreement” that was negotiated “In a civil, gentlemanly way.”
“It will ultimately be a model for other communities that will be doing this,” he said.
Bedford’s reversion to town status will be economically important to Bedford, according to Tharp.
“The whole reversion thing ripples down to economic development,” he said.
Tharp said that Bedford has excess water and sewer capacity, which can be provided to outlying areas. The unified school system reversion will bring extra education funds from the state, and will make it easier to develop a comprehensive plan for schools.
Bob Wandrei, a Navy veteran, came to Bedford in 1968. He was first elected to City Council in 1994 and the city’s reversion to town status is also his primary reason for wanting to return to Council.
“I want to see reversion get off to a good start,” said Wandrei, who served on the committee that negotiated the reversion agreement.
Wandrei said that reversion provides a good opportunity to consolidate service, something he said local governments must do. He said Bedford will be able to avoid duplicating services with the county, such as having a separate recreation department and separate landfill.
“We are pretty much getting out of the landfill business,” he said.
Another area where there is a duplication of services is in law enforcement. Wandrei said that Bedford already contributes to the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office budget and believes that some savings can be found in Bedford’s police force.
“One of the areas where we ought to save money is law enforcement,” he commented.
A consolidated sewer and water system with the county is another big plus that comes with reversion. This will help development in the county as well as addressing drought problems.
Wandrei would like to take a look at the electric department. He said that, back in 1968, the electric department was a major revenue source for Bedford.
“We should look at it as revenue center,” he said.
Wandrei would like to upgrade Bedford’s hydroelectric dam on the James River so it will generate more electricity along with looking to see if the electric department can be run more efficiently with an eye to making sure it brings as much revenue as possible into the general fund.
He would also like to see reductions in Bedford’s water and sewer rates. Wandrei believes Bedord’s current $57 monthly minimum charge is a little high.
“We need to adopt rates so people pay for what they really use,” he said.
Wandrei would like to do more with Bedford Main Street as well as see closer cooperation among downtown merchants.
“They are competing with Lowes and Wal-Mart,” he commented.
“We need to do everything we can to get people into Bedford,” he said.
He said that the county will handle economic development for both the county and the town. However, he believes that having a full-time director for Bedford Main Street would be helpful.
Along with building business downtown, Wandrei would like to encourage small industry, attracting start-ups and promoting the expansion of existing industries, such as CINTAS.
“CINTAS is starting to expand,” he commented.
Wandrei praised the area’s volunteers.
“If the volunteer base left us, we’d be hurting,” he said.
He listed the Bedford Volunteer Fire Department, the Bedford Lifesaving Crew, the library, the National D-Day Memorial, the Welcome Center, the Bedford Museum, The Shepherd’s Table, Bedford Christian Ministries and Bedford Ride as service providers that depend on volunteers.
“Volunteers, I think, are very important to the community,” Wandrei said, adding that he would like to see a central clearing house for volunteers set up.
He’s pleased that two men are challenging the incumbents in this year’s election.
“I think it’s good you have two people running,” he said. “I think it’s good that there is competition.”
Steve Rush was first elected in 2008 and is seeking his second term.
“I enjoy doing it,” he said. “I believe in public service. I like the interaction with the citizens.”
Rush believes that he is a good choice for Council because he is a Bedford native and a businessman in town. He’s a realtor and he believes this type of business gives him a good feel for Bedford. He got into the real estate business six years ago after a 31-year career in law enforcement that included service with the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office and the city of Lynchburg. He has a master’s degree in criminal justice from Longwood College. He’s also on the local government committee for Region 2000.
“I went to school here, I raised two kids here,” he commented, adding that Bedford is “a great place to live, work and play.”
Reversion figures large in Rush’s thinking. He believes that the elimination of service duplication, along with an expanded tax base, means that taxes should come down.
“I think I’m pretty fiscally conservative,” he said, adding that the challenge will be to keep taxes low while still providing the services people expect.
Reversion will bring a consolidated water authority, which will bring benefits. One of the benefits he wants is a line that will connect the existing city water system with the existing county system. Water is vital to economic development and Rush said that the city’s reservoir is vulnerable in a drought.
The reversion also means that Beford residents will have elected representatives on the Bedford County School Board and the Bedford County Board of Supervisors.
Rush believes Bedford needs more grocery stores and that Bedford needs to bring new businesses into the old industrial buildings that are now vacant.
He wants to work to bring natural gas service to Bedford, something that is needed in order to attract industry.
“There is plenty of it [natural gas] and it’s essential for economic development,” he said.
Rush said he intends to run for the new Town Council in the spring. He said it will be a challenge because everybody who wins in November will almost immediately have to do it all over again. They will also have a shorter time in which to collect the necessary signatures to get on the ballot.
Murray has only served on City Council since 2010, but this will be his second election. City Council appointed him to fill the unexpired term of Jeff Hubbard, pending a special election. He won that special election and now he is seeking his first full term.
Murray is a Bedford native.
“I’ve lived in this house all my life,” he said during an interview in his home.
He said that he attended school in “Old Yellow” and graduated from Bedford High School, located right next door. He then went to Virginia Military Institute graduating in 1957 with a degree in civil engineering. He worked for the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) prior to going into the Air Force.
He served as a fighter pilot in the Air Force from 1960 until 1964, flying the F-101 Voodoo. The Voodoo was a supersonic interceptor designed to intercept Soviet bombers coming over the North Pole. His mission was to “get up, fly fast and get there and intercept them.” Later he joined his father at his Chevrolet dealership. He was the Murray side of Murray and Bolling when it closed in 2009.
“I still fly,” he said. “I still have a plane and I still fly.”
While not as fast as the Voodoo, his Piper Turbo Arrow can still get him to where he wants to go quickly. The low wing, retractible landing-gear, aircraft cruises at 175 mph. The Voodoo cruised at 450.
“I want to do what’s best for Bedford,” he said, explaining why he’s running for reelection.
Murray points to his more than 40 years in business as a strength. He said that, as a businessman, he learned to deal with the public and how to give and take. He said that he likes to get opinions from multiple directions, then sorting through them and making a decision.
“You have to look at both sides of the story,” he said.
He also feels that his background as a civil engineer helps him as councilman, such as being able to understand what the people in the electric department are telling him. His work with VDOT means that he understands streets, paving, sewage and what public works employees need.
Murray believes Bedford has a lot of advantages.
“I think we have an excellent city manager (and) assistant city manager,” he said.
He also has praise for the city’s electric department and said that the violent wind storm that caused widespread power outages on June 29 demonstrates the department’s quality.
“We were an oasis of electricity when Roanoke and Lynchburg were without power,” he commented.
Murray sees reversion as a good step for Bedford and plans to run for a seat on the new Town Council in May.
“I just want to do what’s best for Bedford because I’m not going anywhere,” he said.