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CAMPAIGN 2013: Candidates emphasize schools as they seek Falmouth supervisor seat

MORE: Read more Stafford County news

An open seat in the Falmouth District has drawn three candidates—two of whom have served on the Stafford School Board—to this fall’s race for the county Board of Supervisors.

Robert Belman is running as an independent against Republican Meg Bohmke and Democrat Valerie Setzer.

Support for the county’s education system unites the three candidates, who want strong public schools and a healthy relationship between the Board of Supervisors and School Board.

But evaluating the current state of affairs puts the candidates at odds.

Falmouth School Board member Bohmke, 54, says that the current joint committee that meets occasionally to hash out issues has been a “phenomenal” venue for cooperation.

She also said voters seem misinformed about progress at Stafford High School—construction has begun on the rebuild.

Meanwhile opponent Belman, 53, a former School Board member, said the relationship between the two boards is at an “all-time low.”

He said he wants to look at every issue that comes before the board with an open mind, receive public suggestions and vote based on all aspects.

“I think each issue has to stand on its own and if it is the best interest for the county of Stafford and the people of Stafford, I will support it,” said Belman, a Realtor.

And the third candidate in this year’s race is Setzer, a political newcomer who joined the contest in early September after David Beiler, a former Falmouth supervisor, withdrew.

Setzer, 63, wants to better plan ahead for the growing student population, and pay higher salaries to school employees.

“While I was canvassing door-to-door, many people said they or their spouses had changed systems to change salaries,” said Setzer, who recently retired from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Setzer has been endorsed by the Stafford Education Association.

Increased development in Stafford makes up another key issue for the candidates.

Bohmke worries about the rapid growth occurring in the county and wants developers to pay their fair share. Much of the current construction was approved by past boards and stalled during the recession.

“We have to get this current growth under control before we add additional growth that will impact roads and schools,” said Bohmke, a finance coordinator, who is finishing up her first term on the School Board.

Her campaign finance reports reflect no donations from developers or the construction industry, according to the latest numbers posted on the Virginia Public Access Project website, through Sept. 30. That’s important to her, she said, so that she is on a level playing field when considering land-use issues.

Bohmke has received $9,523 in donations and spent $8,352.

Belman denies having a “growth” agenda, something Bohmke claims on campaign mailers she and outgoing Supervisor Susan Stimpson have paid for.

Belman says he’s worked in the industry for 20 years, so many of his friends are developers and brokers.

He has received $20,189 through Sept. 30, much of which is from real estate and construction industry. Belman has spent $13,875 on his campaign so far.

He has been endorsed by the Fredericksburg Area Association of Realtors, the Fredericksburg Area Builders Association and the Stafford Professional Firefighters Association.

“But to assume someone takes a contribution from any industry, that they’ve somehow been bought and paid for” is wrong, said Belman.

The nearly lifelong Stafford resident calls the negative fliers and misinformation that’s been spread “mudslinging.” Belman served on the School Board 2002–2009 and says he now wants to serve the public again. His father, Ferris Belman, was a long-time Stafford supervisor and also served on Fredericksburg City Council.

Late to this year’s race was Setzer, who retired in January and has lived in the county for six years. Upon learning the current board’s makeup was majority Republican, she wanted to offer new perspective.

She said her voting record would represent her constituents, and she would aim to get “a reasonable amount of money contributed to county services” by the development industry.

Setzer has reported receiving $3,135, and had spent just $92 through Sept. 30. The next campaign finance report filings are due Monday.

“It took a little while to get things going on but we are out there,” Setzer said of her campaign.

Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975