VACo held its sixth of eight regional meetings for 2023 on June 28th, at the Robert Russa Moton Museum in Prince Edward County. VACo staff had the honor of traveling to Prince Edward County, who graciously hosted the event, to meet with local elected officials and staff from Region 1 and Region 4. Region 1 encompasses the counties of Accomack, Charles City, Isle of Wight, New Kent, Northampton, Prince George, Southampton, Surry and Sussex, while Region 4 contains the counties of Amelia, Brunswick, Charlotte, Dinwiddie, Greensville, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Nottoway and Prince Edward. 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 stated that the corporate income tax rate is being looked at and that cutting this tax rate will allow for business in the Commonwealth to stay competitive and keep Virginia’s workforce in Virginia. Delegate Otto Wachsmann also attended the meeting outlining his legislative priorities. As a representative for multiple rural counties, he will continue to pursue restoration of state payments in lieu of taxes to compensate counties housing state correctional facilities, as well as multiple rural healthcare initiatives. We were pleased to be joined by a representative from Senator Tim Kaine’s regional office, Taylor Thornhill, who would highlight items Senator Kaine is working on and available programs to counties in the region. These items include strengthening our workforce, expanding childcare for working families, and the announcement of $1.4 billion in broadband that became available to Virginia. Ms. Thornhill highlighted the congressionally directed spending process, which Senators Kaine and Warner do jointly, and encouraged counties to contact the Senator’s office for assistance in pursuing federal funds for local projects.
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 education and school capital funding, EMS and public safety support, broadband, transportation and infrastructure funding, as well as unfunded mandates. Localities within these regions support more funding for education as well as expanding the ability to impose a 1% local sales and use tax, of which the revenue would be dedicated to school capital needs. Volunteerism was an often discussed topic in the meeting as county leaders feel this trait is dwindling in their counties, a situation that challenges more rural counties, which often have a hard time supporting paid emergency services employees. Broadband is imperative for the region, as this utility is necessary for work, education, and quality of life in the 21st century. Transportation and other infrastructure funding was cited in the discussion, as Region 1 and 4 counties believe they are being left behind with current funding programs and that this work will help with economic development. Lastly, costs associated with early voting, Constitutional offices, emergency services, 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.
After the discussion with county representatives, attendants got to experience a history lesson. Newly appointed Executive Director of the Moton Museum, Cainan Townsend, discussed the historical significance of the Museum and highlighted how Prince Edward County is tied into the nationwide civil rights movement of the 1960’s. The meeting ended with Charlie Lintecum, Director of Operations for the Opioid Abatement Authority, discussing the recent awarded funding that was announced and announcing that planning grants for localities looking for ideas on what to do with their abatement funds open July 1.
The meeting served as a great chance to connect with VACo member counties and get a grasp of the issues at heart in Regions 1 and 4. VACo staff wants to first thank Prince Edward County and the Robert Russa Moton Museum staff for hosting us for a great meeting. We would like to give a special thanks to the county leaders and staff, Senator Ruff, Delegate Wachsmann, Taylor Thornhill, sponsors and others who attended and participated in the discussion.
VACo Contact: James Hutzler