PHOTO – VACo Executive Director Dean Lynch leads a Conflict Resolution Workshop prior to the Regions 10 & 11 Meeting.
VACo held its fifth of eight regional meetings for 2023 on June 14, at the Franklin Center for Advanced Learning & Enterprise in Franklin County. VACo staff had the honor of traveling to Franklin County, who graciously hosted the event, to meet with local elected officials and staff from Region 10 and Region 11. Region 10 encompasses the counties of Appomattox, Campbell, Floyd, Franklin, Halifax, Henry, Patrick, and Pittsylvania while Region 11 contains the counties of Bedford, Botetourt, Craig, Giles, Montgomery and Roanoke. 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 Senator Frank Ruff discussing the ongoing budget talks and providing an overview of the 2023 General Assembly session. Senator Ruff firmly believes the House and Senate will not allow the $3.6 billion surplus to be left on the table and expects a revised budget to be approved with more funding for education, law enforcement and mental health programs along with tax relief. He spoke on the 2023 Session, describing it as a “reasonable year,” given that the legislature is divided, and highlighted the workforce consolidation bill that he sponsored, which allows all workforce programs to be monitored and evaluated under one roof. Elaina Corfield, Chief of Staff to Delegate Sam Rasoul, attended the meeting on behalf of the Delegate as well. She stated that for Delegate Rasoul the priority right now is the budget and that she will take information from the discussion back to the Delegate.
The meeting continued with representatives from each county outlining top issues or legislative priorities in their localities. Several issues emerged as common areas of concern including issues within transportation, school capital and education funding, and unfunded mandates, as well as various emergency services, and behavioral health issues.
Transportation was a large part of the discussion for counties in these two regions and they feel the current funding structure the Commonwealth employs does not benefit areas like those found in Regions 10 and 11. Specifically, counties feel that secondary road funding is not at all adequate and more resources should be directed towards helping localities fulfill their Secondary Six Year Plans. School capital and broader education funding were further topics that were discussed at length. Some localities in this region have recently gained the ability to impose a 1% local sales and use tax, the revenue from which is dedicated to school capital needs. At the meeting, localities within these regions discussed broadening this ability to all localities across the state, a proposal which VACo supports. Unfunded mandates, which VACo has long opposed, were featured in conversation numerous times. Costs associated with early voting, Constitutional offices, emergency services, Community Services Boards and temporary detention orders were brought up by leaders in these counties, who urged the Commonwealth to direct more resources to help offset the burden taken on by localities to provide these necessary services.
The meeting ended with VACo’s own Joe Lerch leading a discussion revolving around solar energy and utility scale solar. Topics discussed were the lifecycle of utility scale solar and a wind and battery storage study that just came out and that VACo staff is looking at.
The meeting served as a great chance to connect with VACo member counties and get a grasp of the issues at heart in Regions 10 and 11. VACo staff wants to first thank Franklin County and the Franklin Center for Advanced Learning & Enterprise staff for hosting us for a great meeting. We would like to give a special thanks to the county leaders and staff, Senator Ruff, Chief of Staff Elaina Corfield, sponsors and others who attended and participated in the discussion.
VACo Contact: James Hutzler