Piedmont Supervisor Christine Smith is running to be reelected to the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors, describing the county as a “world-class beauty” and the people of Rappahannock as “salt-of-the earth.”
Smith was first elected to the board in 2017 and was appointed as chair in January 2020. Smith served as chair for a year before Wakefield Supervisor Debbie Donehey was appointed in January 2021.
Smith, 50, grew up in rural Delaware and moved to Rappahannock in 1985. She attended Wakefield Country Day School and then Lord Fairfax Community College, before transferring to Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg.
“I always felt very much at home here,” Smith wrote in an email to the Rappahannock News. “Even when I lived away, it always felt like home. I moved back to Sperryville for good about ten years ago, and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
Smith lives in Sperryville with her husband, Ryan Allred, and two sons who attended school in the county. She lives next door to her mother and sister, saying it was important that her sons grow up around family.
Smith currently works as an account manager with Communications Corporation of America in Culpeper County.
“I just hope people will know that I'm an open book and they can always reach out to me. Yes, I'm here to work for them,” Smith said.
How should Rappahannock approach its future?
Smith said that while some growth is inevitable, the county’s Comprehensive Plan envisions a county with little to no growth.
“You can find larger cities and towns in every direction. People choose to live in Rappahannock County because they want something different,” Smith wrote.
Smith said she’s proposed reviewing the family subdivision section of the zoning ordinance to allow more generations to live on their family’s land together. She said this would hopefully bring young families who otherwise might not be able to afford to live here.
The candidate said that because of the pandemic and the state of the housing market, it’s hard to say how the county can maintain its character while still attracting younger residents.
“You have to figure out what your priorities are, and if your priorities are that you want to live in a rural place and figure out how to make that happen, then you will do it,” Smith said. “That's what I did. And I know a lot of other families that make that choice on an ongoing basis.”
How to address lack of universal broadband?
The Board of Supervisors recently approved phase 2 of their agreement with All Points Broadband, making the county a step closer to securing state funds for universal broadband access.
Smith acknowledges the need for better broadband in the county, but wants to take a look at more diverse and less expensive options to address the issue.
The board approved the $19.5 million project in a 3-2 vote, with Smith abstaining. A grant from the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative could cover 51 percent of the costs, with All Points covering $6.5 million and the county responsible for the remaining $5.9 million. County resident Chuck Akre pledged $3.5 million to help cover the county’s portion of the project.
Smith said she’s concerned about accepting a large donation to move the regional approach forward. All Points is proposing to cover seven different counties with the help from Dominion Energy Virginia, Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative and seven participating counties.
Smith said she would have voted in favor of the plan if the county was entering into a contract with All Points on its own. The regional approach makes the county’s application for state funds more competitive than if the county entered into the plan alone, but the regional path costs the county more money.
“Broadband is a necessity for most people now, and we need to be careful that the choices we make lead to a reliable, future-proof system with choices that we can afford,” Smith wrote in an email. “I hope folks know that I have worked hard as a board member to transition this work from the Broadband Committee to our recently formed Broadband Authority. We must have an authority in place to be eligible to receive many grants and federal funds.”
Smith was also concerned about the possibility of having to raise taxes to afford a universal broadband plan, saying “we could very well drive out the very people we are trying to serve.”
“We want to make sure that we're figuring out how to correctly fund the initiative,” Smith said in an interview. “The folks from [the Department of] Housing and Community Development and All Points talked about different ways to fund it. And if there's a way to impose a service fee, or some sort of user designated area that has a tax district to fund the services, that's usually the most fair way to fund new services. So people feel like they're getting what they pay for, but they're not paying for something that they won't get.”
She added that would continue to support a diverse approach to universal broadband coverage, like satellite technology through SpaceX’s Starlink and other methods with local service providers.
Where to allocate stimulus funds?
Rappahannock County will receive $1.43 million in pandemic relief funds and has already received about half. Smith said she would like to see those funds used for broadband initiatives and water and sewer infrastructure.
She said Sperryville’s sewer system needs to be evaluated for potential maintenance, but that she knows that there is an infiltration and inflow problem that needs to be repaired, along with a handful of sump pumps.
“For Piedmont District, this would be ideal for structuring a five-year plan of studies and improvements for the Rappahannock County Water and Sewer Authority, which serves Sperryville. Even $50-75,000 for the RCWSA would provide valuable insight, accomplish critical work, and avoid a rate increase,” Smith wrote in an email.
The county also has nearly $500,000 in CARES funds that were returned to the county by the school’s and sheriff’s office, and Smith said that money should be used to reimburse the county’s volunteer fire & rescue companies for “critical fundraising efforts they had to cancel due to COVID restrictions.”
Smith would also support using stimulus money to install digital speed display signs around Sperryville to prevent speeding.
“These are about the same size as a regular ‘Speed Limit’ sign, and you have probably seen them in other counties,” Smith wrote. “It can be programmed to go dark overnight, so there’s no light pollution to impact our beautiful dark skies. Installation of these displays usually lowers speeds by five miles per hour.”
Why should voters reelect you?
Smith said voters should reelect her because she works hard and knows how to get things done.
“Countywide, I’ve worked to avoid tax increases, succeeding for the past three years. As Chair, I oversaw the adoption of the new, more protective Comprehensive Plan. In 2019 I supported a change, and in 2020 I signed the refuse and recycling agreement with Page County that saves us a quarter of a million dollars annually. I work well with our fire and rescue volunteers and thank them for the excellent service and value they provide for our county,” Smith wrote.
Specific to the Piedmont district, she said she’s investigated the challenging traffic issue, which has included marking pedestrian crossings, closing Water Street to through trucks and advocating for further improvement.
She said that looking forward, she wants to work to lower tax rates after property assessments are complete.
“The county is already adequately funded, so we should not collect more money from you, our taxpayers. If you vote to re-elect me, I will lower the tax rate, so the reassessments won’t be an automatic, big tax hike,” Smith wrote.