Our region’s often fast-paced lifestyle is a signature component of the “personality” of NOVA, the dynamic economic engine of the Commonwealth of Virginia. But Virginia is a big state – demographically, socially, and geographically. What about the “rest of Virginia,” what some pundits call ROVA? Truth be told, there’s a lot more of ROVA than NOVA, and it’s good to explore, and compare, other parts of the state occasionally.
Last weekend, the Virginia Association of Counties (VACo) held its quarterly board meeting in Smithfield, in Isle of Wight County. This year’s VACo president is Judy Lyttle, a Supervisor from Surry County, but the closest hotel accommodations were in Smithfield, so our formal meeting was in Smithfield, and the afternoon and evening was spent “Savoring the Secrets of Surry.” The county is decades older than Fairfax, having been created in 1652. Current population is a little less than 7,000 people, almost evenly divided racially between Caucasian and African-American residents. The entire county budget is about $23 million, with $12 million transferred to schools, about the same ratio as in Fairfax County. However, Surry County’s entire school population of about 800 students would fit into an average elementary school in Mason District.
Like many local governing bodies, Surry’s five member Board of Supervisors has focused on economic opportunities for growth. The major employer in the county is Dominion Power, which has owned and operated the Surry Nuclear Power Plant, located on the James River, since 1972. When our group toured on Saturday, we noted the absence of the big cooling towers usually associated with a nuclear plant. The manager explained that the plant draws its cooling water directly from the James River, eliminating the need for the familiar towers. The plant provides about $12 million in taxes annually for Surry County, coincidentally the same amount as the school transfer.
Two newer projects are the Hampton Roads Winery, which opened to the public just two weeks ago, and a marina and restaurant on Grays Creek, which will be designed to attract boaters, fishermen, and ecotourism to Surry. The county purchased the latter, and leased it to private operators. If the dinner we had on Saturday at The Surry Seafood Company is any indication, folks will flock to Grays Creek for the food and nature vistas very soon.
Why tell you about a weekend trip to Surry? The 30 or so VACo Board members hail from all over the state, but our similarities are so much greater than our differences. All county boards grapple with budgets, school transfers, tax rates, public safety, parks, libraries, and general governance. With few exceptions, constituents want safe streets, clean air and water, good schools, a community to live, work, play, learn, and grow old together. It’s the same in Accomack, Hanover, King and Queen, Louisa, or Wythe Counties. Admittedly, the pace may be slower in other counties, but the real difference is simply the scale. Whether NOVA or ROVA, it’s helpful to see, and understand, the breadth and depth of this vast Commonwealth we all share.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]