Bedford commissioner to retire

Election process, taxes, staff retention also addressed

BEDFORD — While two of the three Bedford County commissioners are seeking re-election, Paul Crooks confirmed his plan to retire from the seat he has held for nearly eight years at a breakfast review of county affairs Friday.

The 77-year-old commissioner, who was sworn into office in 2012, said at the event at Hoss’s Steak & Sea House that he wants to spend more time with his wife, Mary.

He said he is proud of how people in the county come together to help one another and thanked people for his two terms in office, sharing his hope for future commissioner boards.

“I’m sure that whoever gets elected, whenever they get elected, that this county does not put a lot of credit into whether I’m Democrat

or I’m a Republican or I’m an Indepe­ndent,” Crooks said. “We work together. If it was all party-wise, there would be less done in this county than there is today.”

Ahead of the November election, Crooks assured attendees the county will order enough paper ballots this year, avoiding the shortage precincts experienced last year due to a record voter turnout.

“We guessed wrong last year. So we made a mistake. Those things happen,” Crooks said. “I can tell you we will be ordering enough ballots.”

“It’s a two-fold issue in my mind. There are some counties in the state that don’t have paper ballots, and everybody votes electronic,” he added. “Bedford County is different. There are residents in the county who believe they rightfully should have a paper ballot, and they won’t vote electronic.”

The election board will order enough paper ballots to cover nearly 100 percent of the voter turnout, according to Josh Lang, chairman of the commissioners.

Commissioner Barry Dallara described the process of obtaining additional ballots as extremely difficult following the September confirmation hearings of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

He commented on how there are voting machines that can print additional ballots at precincts, but noted the high costs of new election machines. So far, there are two voting machine companies certified by the state, Dallara said.

“There’s some very good equipment out there, but it’s not going to be cheap,” Dallara said.

“It’s going to be an expense,” Dallara added. “I’m going to say most likely we’re going to have to incur debt if the state doesn’t come forward with more dollars to do it.”

Although all the commissioners outlined the current board’s accomplishments, they also discussed future issues to address, including courthouse security, a proposed hotel room tax increase, a gas tax and retention of county employees.

Lang said the implementation of security cameras and other safety and wellness programs at the courthouse are ideas worth exploring, while Dallara commented on both the approval and disapproval people have about installing metal detectors.

Regarding the proposal to increase the hotel room tax, the commissioners said they received all the questionnaires sent out seeking resident feedback and are continuing to research the issue.

The idea of adding a mandated $5 gas tax was something not all the commissioners agreed on.

Lang said a lot of the revenue generated from the tax doesn’t come back to the county, while Dallara pitched in that the tax is an option to examine should the county need new revenue and money for bridges.

Meanwhile, Crooks said if it were up to him, he would implement the $5 gas tax to generate money for roads and bridges, pointing out how the county has 12 structurally deficient bridges.

When asked how to incentivize county employees, specifically those who work for the jail and children and youth services, Lang admitted the county could do more to retain staff and referred to the high turnover rate of staff at the prison.

Retaining staff with competitive salaries is a “tough issue,” he said, given that salary raises could cost thousands or millions of dollars.

To Dallara, decreasing costs in other services, using the reduced health care costs at the Bedford County Jail as an example, could hopefully help with county staff retention rates. Crooks backed up Dallara’s comments, stating how the commissioners look for ways to save money where they can.

The commissioners also highlighted some of the county’s progress , including the addition of broadband to the Hyndman area, the groundbreaking of a solar array at the county jail, the expansion of 911 services and the developments of a six-county regional plan and a master plan for a recreational trail.

Mirror Staff Writer Shen Wu Tan is at 946-7457.