VACo kicked off the 2023 regional meetings season with a virtual gathering of our Region 6 and Region 9 member counties. This was the first of eight regional meetings slated for the year and one of two that will be done virtually. These regional meetings allow us to hear directly from county staff and elected officials on the important issues facing localities across Virginia. They also help VACo staff craft the legislative program for the upcoming 2024 legislative session.
The meeting began with representatives from each County outlining top issues or legislative priorities in their localities. Several issues emerged as common areas of concern including local land use authority, balancing growth with stability, the lack of a state budget, and jail per-diems.
It has been a long-time priority for VACo that local land use decisions continue to be undertaken by local governments, and VACo is committed to this as one of our top legislative positions. The discussion at this meeting, as it relates to local land use, was how do localities balance the growth in the region while still being able to provide the necessary government services that come with continued development. A major concern is farmland and forestland preservation and what limits, if any, should be adopted to preserve the character of counties in these regions.
Member counties discussed the difficulties they are facing without the Commonwealth having adopted a full revision to the biennium budget, particularly challenges in planning and making funding decisions. County representatives hope to see a resolution on this front soon.
County officials throughout the meeting gave glowing reviews for the Department of Corrections taking state responsible inmates out of the local jails. They wish this will continue. The region representatives broadly hope to see per diem jail rates raised, and several counties expressed concern about Medicaid costs for inmates.
VACo was pleased to be joined by Delegate Tony Wilt, Delegate Bill Wiley, Delegate Ellen Campbell and a representative from Delegate Dave LaRock’s office, Daniel Davies. After the county members discussed their concerns and priorities, the legislators spoke about their priorities and insights about the region they represent.
Delegate Wilt started off sympathizing with the localities and understands the harm this may cause local governments while waiting for a budget. Delegate Wilt discussed keeping land use and energy decisions in the localities’ power and staying engaged with TDO issues. Delegate Wiley also sympathized with localities waiting for a budget and took an optimistic view that one will come about. He was also the first person during the meeting to discuss I-81 updates and future construction, calling the interstate a lifeline for the area. Delegate Wiley recommended that local governments find creative ways through zoning and planning to keep development impacts to localities in check. Lastly, Delegate Campbell discussed that local land use authority is important to her as every locality faces different issues. The Delegate shared her priorities of economic development and funding more business-ready sites as well as public safety. Daniel Davies from Delegate LaRock’s office talked more funding for sheriffs’ deputies across the state and shared that the Delegate was aware of the nutrient credit issues some localities in the region face.
The meeting ended with talk about the future. When discussing the multiple retirements in the General Assembly and the prospect of a new legislature, the Delegates were very optimistic in working with each other throughout the 2024 legislative session. They prided themselves and their colleagues on a public service mindset and that new or returning legislators want to come together to try and make Virginia a better place.
VACo is grateful to the regional members, General Assembly representatives, and business partners who participated in the meeting. We look forward to the next meeting in this region!
VACo Contact: James Hutzler