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Affordable housing, homelessness emerge as issues in Franklin County candidate forums

Molly Hunter - The Roanoke Times

Sep 27, 2022

Housing emerged as a top election issue in Franklin County and Rocky Mount at candidate ask-and-answer events Thursday and Monday.

ROCKY MOUNT — Housing emerged as a top election issue in Franklin County and Rocky Mount at candidate ask-and-answer events Thursday and Monday.

The Franklin County NAACP organized a candidate forum Thursday, while Mark and Nicole Redden — owners of The Grand At 290 in Rocky Mount — hosted a town hall Monday evening. Between the two events, nearly all of the candidates in the county’s three main races in the Nov. 8 election were present. There is a vacancy on the Franklin County Board of Supervisors in the county’s Snow Creek District seat, three openings on the Rocky Mount town council and the Rocky Mount mayor is up for election.

“We have rental properties and we put a house on the market and in six or seven hours somebody is there asking to purchase that house,” Snow Creek Supervisor hopeful Larry Moore said Thursday. “We’ve got to find a way to keep interest rates down and manufacture housing and put them on lots and let people buy them.”

On Monday, town council incumbent Ralph Casey brought up the possibility of annexing land to expand the town and allow for growth.

Both mayoral candidates, incumbent Steve Angle and Holland Perdue, acknowledged the lack of available land for housing development.

“The town owns three lots that ... are available. ... If we’re going to develop any town property without annexation, we’ve got to look at those parcels to see what we can do. We’ve also got to offer incentives to developers,” Perdue said.

Angle added that the town’s industrial business development potential is also limited due to space.

“We’re going to have to look elsewhere and if that takes expanding the town a little bit, that would be something we need to look at ... for the future,” Angle said.

Rocky Mount hopeful Ben Mullins later pointed out that homelessness is a symptom of the county’s housing crisis and advocated for an active, pragmatic response. Snow Creek Supervisor candidate Carol Haynes — who previously worked for Franklin County Public Schools and currently works for Virginia Cooperative Extension — also touched on homelessness.

“Mental health is a big issue in the homeless crisis we have. ... We need to support the communities that are out there and the organizations that are working to help these people everyday,” Haynes said.

Later, Haynes stressed the importance of communication when addressing different problems.

“The people in charge need to learn the services that are out there in the community and reach out to the organizations. ... Communication is going to be your number one thing to go to,” she said.

Cooperation between the town and county will be key in resolving the area’s housing crisis.

“One of the thing that’s really burning in my chest is working with the board of supervisors,” Casey said. “We should be working together ... There are lot of things that have happened over the years where the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.”

Meanwhile, Moore and Snow Creek candidate Lawrence Linkous discussed the need for emergency services. Linkous serves in one of the county’s volunteer fire departments and is a certified emergency medical technician.

“We have an area in our district, the ... Truevine area, that seems to be forgotten,” Linkous said. “Cell service is almost non existent. Internet service is almost non existent. ... Most of the rest of the county has 24-hour, 7-day-a-week career staff on ambulances and firetrucks. Not in Snow Creek.”

Other topics included the proposed Franklin County High School Career and Technical Education facility, town-county relations and term limits.

All of the candidates were supportive of the high school CTE project, particularly Nicholas Mitchell and Karl Martin, two of the six candidates for the county’s Snow Creek District.

“I was going to Virginia Western and I despised it. ... I would have been much better suited for something like [the CTE program]. ... The county already has a pile of money invested in a business park ... and in order to fill that business park ... we’d better be investing in skilled labor,” Mitchell said.

Fellow Snow Creek candidate Karl Martin said much the same.

“I think all of us would like to see our children, our grandchildren and our great grandchildren be able to stay here and make a living. It doesn’t mean you have to spent x number of years in college if you learn something in school that will make a living for you,” Martin said.

When asked about term limits, most of the candidates were generally in favor, although Angle and Boones Mill town council incumbent Jason Masching said there is sometimes difficulty attracting people to run. Rocky Mount Town Council hopefuls Mullins and Phillip Bane expressed strong support for term limits.

“We have things we’d like to get done and it’s not necessarily about seeing it all the way through,” Mullins said. “I hope the things that, if I am elected to council, we put into play, the people who elected after me will continue on with that and maybe in 25 years I’ll be lucky enough to see it happen.”

Bane said term limits are one of his top priorities.

“When you have people in the same positions for decades, what are they going to do different?” Bane said.

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