VACo held its second of eight regional meetings for 2023 on May 3, and this was the first to be done in person. VACo staff had the honor of traveling to Pulaski County to meet with Region 12 county leaders at the Pulaski County Innovation Center; Region 12 encompasses the counties of Bland, Carroll, Grayson, Pulaski, Smyth, Washington and Wythe. 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. Throughout the meeting, the region identified common areas of concern, which include broadband availability, EMS funding and staffing, housing and local funding flexibility.
Broadband availability and the desire to achieve universal broadband was discussed often as leaders in the area pointed to the broad educational attainment, jobs and overall growth that come with increasing connectivity. EMS funding and staffing was highlighted as a common concern because of the limited workforce and funding issue as well as the absolute necessity these services are for localities to provide. While all regions of the state continue to face issues with housing, region 12 is no different. Specifically, with jobs coming to the area, workforce housing is a must. Housing in the region is further complicated with the various topographical constraints in southwest Virginia that make development hard. Because of this, housing is just harder to build and get approved. The last major common area of concern is one that VACo has consistently fought for in the General Assembly for quite some time. County leaders discussed that one of the largest issues facing the region is the ability for localities to raise funds to solve problems at the local level. While stating that some of their tax bases are just too small, county leaders called for and support legislation, as does VACo, to give localities more flexibility to enact more local funding options. A positive example of this is the recent enactment of the cigarette tax, which county leaders in the area said generates funding that helps local governments solve or pursue solutions to local problems, such as EMS training and funding. County leaders would end discussion on the topic outlining that while the economy of the area has shifted in past decades, the future is bright, as different forms of economic activities, such as tourism and a heavier emphasis on agriculture, continue to support the area.
VACo was pleased to be joined by Virginia State Senator Travis Hackworth and a representative from Congressman Morgan Griffith’s office, Cody Mumpower. Senator Hackworth addressed the room and spoke on a few issues important to him and gave updates on the General Assembly. Senator Hackworth agreed with county leaders that the aforementioned EMS issues are something he has been hearing about all throughout the region. He would also agree that housing is a big issue as the topic is never as easy to fix as it sounds. With housing comes finding land, building on said land and having the appropriate infrastructure to support these housing developments, which is a hard task. He emphasizes that while local governments acquiring funding flexibility is something he is sympathetic to, local leaders must be efficient with the revenues they do have. He ended on an optimistic note, emphatically stating that, ”Southwest Virginia is not dead,” and that jobs are coming to the area, so the future is bright. Mr. Mumpower with Congressman Griffith’s office said he enjoyed the discussion and that learning what is really impacting the citizens of congressional district 9 is important to the Congressman. He said he will take back information learned, such as broadband funding and EMS issues, to the Congressman.
The meeting wrapped up with a presentation from the Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Joseph Guthrie. Commissioner Guthrie gave an overview of the history and structure of the Department, then would highlight initiatives, programs, and goals of the Department as well as some things to look for in the future surrounding agriculture in VA. Commissioner Guthrie was once an elected official of Pulaski County, serving as a school board member and County Supervisor, so it was great to see the Commissioner on home turf.
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 wants to first thank the culinary students who crafted a delicious lunch for us all to enjoy and of course thank Pulaski County for hosting us. We would like to give a special thanks to Pulaski County Chair and newly sworn in VACo Regional Director Laura Walters for coordinating this meeting with us as well as county leaders, staff, Senator Hackworth, Mr. Mumpower, Commissioner Guthrie, sponsors, and others who attended and participated in the discussion.
VACo Contact: James Hutzler