The annual Virginia Association of Counties (VACo) meeting always follows the November elections, and election results often were the subject of discussion among Supervisors from across the Commonwealth. Most bond referenda questions, including Fairfax County’s public safety bond, passed overwhelmingly, but a $13.1 million bond for a community recreation center in Culpeper County failed. A meals tax question in Charles City County passed easily, but similar questions in Fluvanna and Tazewell counties failed. Statewide, the Constitutional Amendment questions passed resoundingly, to the consternation of many local elected officials. Both questions would authorize localities to provide real estate tax exemptions in certain instances — for surviving spouses of disabled veterans, and for real property that is subject to flooding despite resiliency improvements. The General Assembly did not provide any funding to reimburse localities for lost tax revenue, so the cost to localities is not yet known.
There was little discussion about the Senate race between Senator Tim Kaine and Supervisor Corey Stewart. Although Supervisor Stewart attended a portion of the conference, many elected officials at the conference knew Senator Kaine personally, and had a positive response to working with him in the coming term.
Governor Ralph Northam addressed the Supervisors on Monday morning, and focused on diversifying Virginia’s economy. He noted that the statewide unemployment rate is 2.9 percent, and that Virginia ranks fourth in the nation for being business friendly. He added that no region should be solely dependent on one industry, and that 21st century jobs — cyber security, unmanned aerial systems (drones), biotechnology, data collection and data analysis — are perfectly suited for the Commonwealth. We must prepare youth now for these jobs, which may require vocational and technical training, but not necessarily four-year college degrees. At a breakout session later in the afternoon, panelists agreed that middle school is not too late to start career explorations for students. In fact, Delegate David Bulova (D-37) reported that he had introduced legislation, which passed, that directed the state education board to develop curricula in career exploration that could be interwoven into existing class work or as an extra program. Skills building must start early; middle school is not too early for students to be encouraged to consider what they want to do in their lives.
Other breakout sessions included a robust discussion about broadband, and how to get that service into rural areas. One Supervisor suggested that broadband installation should emulate the system used for rural electrification in the 1930s and 40s, and simply put fiber and cable on existing power poles. A panelist noted that regulations for broadband providers are more complicated today, and property owners have more options for choosing a provider, but most agreed that expanding broadband is crucial to the Commonwealth’s economic and social wellbeing. In his morning remarks, Governor Northam said that Virginia couldn’t wait 10 years for expansion, and most Supervisors heartedly agreed.
“The VACo annual meeting provides an opportunity for elected officials from all over the state to learn more about our shared challenges, and how they can be solved. Whether an urban county like Fairfax or a rural county in the western part of the state, the commitment to public service by local elected officials is unwavering.”
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]