BLUEFIELD — Greg Puckett is one of two candidates on the ballot for a seat on the Mercer County Commission.
Puckett, 50, the Republican incumbent, was elected in 2014 and is running for his second term.
A Princeton resident and Mercer County native, he is a graduate of Concord University and executive director of Community Connections. He is on various committees and boards at local, state and national levels and has been an active participant for years in fighting drug addiction.
Puckett also is well known for anti-littering work, including the Keep Mercer Clean campaigns.
He said some of his primary goals in a next term include working on infrastructure, tourism, diversification of tax revenue and the addiction crisis.
Puckett said investing in infrastructure – water, sewer, broadband, cell service – is also an investment in bringing people here.
“You cannot have jobs and you cannot have growth without infrastructure,” he said, comparing it to the foundation for a house that will not stand without it.
It can also help the county utilize all four I-77 exits in the county, at exits 1, 9, 14 and 20.
After that, infrastructure needs to be built along all major highways and byways in the county, he added.
Puckett said all it ties in with tourism. He is on the board of the Mercer County Visitors and Convention Bureau, and said the county is in good hands.
“Jamie (Null) is phenomenal,” he said of the VCB executive director.
Many projects are in the works, he said, including drop spots on the Bluestone River to make it available to watercraft, a splash pad and tent camping at Glenwood Park and development along the interstate exits.
Puckett said many ATV riders visit the county as well as other people and they need things to do.
“We are primed for opportunities,” he said. “It’s a matter of who is going to invest.”
One major problem the county is facing, he said, is the continued jail bill, which has been as much as $1.6 million a year to house prisoners from Mercer County in Southern Regional Jail.
“We need more resources to be able to raise revenue,” he said. “We cannot grow if we don’t have diversity of tax revenue.”
A levy to raise property taxes, 5 cents on each $100 of assessed value, failed by a 2-1 margin two years ago.
“This is the only county of our size that doesn’t have an essential level of services,” he said, referring to the Sheriff ‘s Office that is 25 percent short on deputies because no money is available and other essential services that are short-staffed.
Although the county did make sure officers received a much-needed pay raise recently, more personnel is needed.
Puckett said having a meals tax would help, but that option is not available because the Legislature has not allowed it and the county has limited options to raise money.
“The Legislature needs to take the jail bill off counties and let the Department of Corrections pay for it,” he said. “It (the jail bill) is killing us.”
On dealing with the pandemic, Puckett said the county and the Mercer County Health Department are on the right track.
“It took a monumental effort to understand the importance of public health,” he said. “The community response (with following protocol) has been better.”
County leaders, including the health department, emergency management, medical personnel and first-responders meet virtually once a week to review everything that is happening and what may need to be done as well as the supplies available.
“We get updates every week from everyone,” he said. “They go through it in a very organized, methodical way to make things better.”
But a lot has been learned, he said, and dealing wth COVID has given the county new options like using Zoom for conferences, taking advantage of telehealth and bringing attention to the lack of broadband that is crucial.
Puckett said his time as a commissioner has been busy, but “we have accomplished a lot in the last five years.”
The county continues to face a litter problem, he said, and it’s a long-term endeavor to change the culture where people simply do not do it because they see it as not only being an eyesore, but also how detrimental it is to the county by discouraging visitation, tourism and economic development.
He also has praise for his fellow commissioners.
“Every commissioner is engaged in our community,” he said of Gene Buckner and Bill Archer. “We move things forward.”
Puckett said they don’t always agree, “but we work together.”
“We have tried to be as transparent as humanly possible,” he said. “We are giving back to communities.”
Contact Charles Boothe at firstname.lastname@example.org