Fairfax County picked up some very nice “swag” last week at the National Association of Counties’ (NACo) annual conference last week in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. The annual conference draws thousands of local elected officials from across the country, to participate in policy committees, as well as workshops of interest to local jurisdictions. Fairfax County received a NACo Achievement Award for its “Stormy the Raindrop” Public Education Campaign, and placed first in the 2012 Digital Counties Survey for counties above 500,000 in population.
“Stormy the Raindrop” is a child-friendly character who appears at local events in a water droplet costume. The Department of Public Works’ Stormwater Management Office staff created “Stormy” and produced two educational coloring books geared for fourth grade students. The booklets demonstrated the connection between local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay/Atlantic Ocean in order to give students a better understanding of their global impact. At local events, Stormy distributes thousands of recycled reusable shopping bags, as well as recycled dog waste bags, educating students, and their parents. A television puppet show features Stormy as the main character. The NACo citation noted that “the end result of this campaign indicates that successful programs do not require a great deal of money – Stormy the Raindrop was created entirely by county staff and is thoroughly enjoyed by the community.”
The Center for Digital Government, a national research and advisory institute, focuses on IT policies and best practices in state and local government. Each year, counties are invited to participate in the Center’s survey, which evaluates how well a jurisdiction makes strategic use of technology. This is the third time in 10 years that Fairfax County has taken first place in its category. Among the items cited by the Center were mobile apps for child care availability, transit information, and emergency alerts. The citation also noted that “Fairfax County is reaping $300,000 in financial benefits from its energy savings programs, which include remote power management of computing resources, virtualizing servers, and consolidating storage.” The Public Safety Data Exchange system also was lauded as another example of Fairfax’s best practices in the region. Interestingly, six other Virginia counties (Loudoun, Chesterfield, Roanoke, Albemarle, Franklin, and Gloucester) placed in the top 10 for their population categories, but only Fairfax County was singled out for the top prize.
The NACo conference wasn’t just about prizes – serious issues provided the bulk of discussion between county members. One workshop focused on tax reform, especially the effect that federal elimination of the tax-exempt status for municipal bonds might have on county governments’ ability to fund school construction, libraries, police and fire stations, and other local infrastructure. A bonding program that has worked well for more than 100 years appears to be under attack by congressional reformers. Another workshop discussed 911 Call Centers and next technology, especially the ability for texting emergency information, and other new technologies relating to social media. NACo is the voice of more than 3000 counties, large and small, urban and rural, across the country, and I was pleased to represent Fairfax County at the conference.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at [email protected]