VACo held its fourth of eight regional meetings for 2023 on May 11th, and this will be the last one conducted virtually this year. VACo staff had the honor of hosting local elected officials and staff from Region 7 and Region 8. Region 7 encompasses the counties of Caroline, Culpeper, Fauquier, King George, Louisa, Orange, Rappahannock, Spotsylvania and Stafford, while Region 8 contains the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William. 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 preserving local discretion for zoning and land use, housing, broadband availability, and more state support in the areas of mental and behavioral health as well as education.
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. County leaders throughout Regions 7 and 8 stressed that local elected officials must be able to make various land use decisions that affect their county at the local level. The topic of housing and housing affordability ties into preserving local authority as county elected officials and staff indicated they should be the ones to address the topic of housing at the local level through the various tools of county government. Region 7 counties would go on to discuss the need for more broadband availability in their region, highlighting the need for connectivity in more rural parts of these counties. Counties would find common ground advocating for the state to provide more resources that address mental and behavioral health issues including crisis intake centers and other mental health facilities. Lastly, counties within Regions 7 and 8 would echo support for more state resources to be directed toward education as K- 12 funding tends to make up a large portion of county budgets and counties are heavily invested in the success of their public school systems.
VACo was pleased to be joined by various elected officials who hold office in differing levels of Virginia government and thanks Congressman Gerry Connolly, Senator George Barker, Delegate Bobby Orrock, Delegate Vivian Watts, Delegate Mark Sickles, Delegate Paul Krizek, Delegate Kathy Tran and Delegate Tara Durant, as well as representatives from the offices of Senator Jennifer Boysko, Senator Jeremy McPike, Delegate Dave LaRock, and Delegate Phillip Scott for taking time to participate in the meeting.
Congressman Connolly highlighted many federal programs that have been enacted in recent years that are geared toward helping localities across the country. Specific actions included legislation that was passed during the pandemic that directed money to localities to help ease the burdens they were facing as well as money that would keep the Washington Metro operating, as the Metro is vital to Region 8. The Congressman would also discuss the re-founding of the Congressional Caucus of Former Local Elected Officials for the current Congress. We are delighted to hear that Congressman Connolly, a former President of VACo, is restarting this Caucus and are pleased to see the Congressman chosen as one of the inaugural Co-Chairs. The Congressman addressed several questions from county leaders and we are all thankful for his input and the discussion.
Senator Barker would then speak about ongoing Virginia budget talks, citing the federal debt ceiling debate then underway and the need to carefully watch state revenues in developing an amended budget. Senator Barker would end by discussing that we need to find ways to improve the state and local relationship regarding funding for many programs such as constitutional officers, K-12 education and public safety. Delegate Watts would outline her priority of reforming the tax policy of the commonwealth to better fund the objectives and goals of the state and its local governments. Delegate Sickles made it a point that he supports much of the mental health funding identified by counties earlier in the meeting. The Delegate further touched on his support for broadband funding, the Virginia Housing Trust Fund and local land use authority. Delegate Krizek would reiterate the support for broadband funding and the Housing Trust Fund as well as local decision making. Delegate Krizek made everyone aware of the elephant in the room that the General Assembly will look different next year and that we need to be ready to work with each other. Delegate Durant would end the legislator discussions with a discussion of potential efforts to mitigate the impact of mandatory property tax relief programs on local governments. Overall, these legislators support the localities they represent, are very cognizant of local concerns and are eager to see if an updated budget is released.
The meeting served as a great chance to connect with VACo members counties and really try to understand the issues at heart in the region. VACo staff would like to give a special thanks to the VACo members, legislators, partners, and others who attended and participated in the discussion.
VACo Contact: James Hutzler