Q1. You’ve made a major contribution to your community, serving more than 20 years on the York County Board of Supervisors. What are some of your lessons learned from your time in public service?
Sheila Noll: It is so very important to be inclusive. Every citizen has a right to be heard. Whether or not we agree politically, the bottom line is we all want to do what’s best for our County. Communication and openness are greatly appreciated; and the more transparent we are in local government, the greater the understanding of the decision making process. I have found that all relationships are important and are built on trust – whether it is with the citizens, board members, or staff. I’ve learned to be patient but also to be persistent– because government does indeed move slowly! I try to keep focused on the reason I ran for office in the first place, which was to serve, and that is best done by being objective in my deliberations and taking into consideration each decision’s long range implications. Should my position not prevail, I have learned to move on and not dwell on the lost vote. Although elected by my district, I recognize that I have an obligation to serve all our citizens if I wish to preserve, protect, and improve our county for future generations. Finally, keeping a sense of humor helps keep me balanced!
Q2. You’ve been an active member of VACo throughout your time in office, chairing the Transportation Steering Committee and helping to plan the annual conference, among other roles. What aspects of your experience with VACo have been most helpful to you in your service on the Board of Supervisors?
SN: Since day one in office, I have always felt that it is important to stay informed and continue to educate myself on the operations of local government. VACo has been most helpful in this respect. I became a certified planning commissioner, took advantage of VACo’s educational opportunities, and have attended VACo’s annual conferences, breakout sessions, and district meetings. This exposure to ideas outside my comfort zone has given me a better understanding of the issues local governments face and how, legislatively, we might effect needed changes. It has also helped broaden my perspective which I have shared with my fellow board members.
Q3. You have a family tradition of military service, with both your father and husband serving in the Navy, and York County, as well as the Hampton Roads Region overall, is known for its strong ties to the military. Are there some elements of York County’s partnership with the military that you would point to as particularly successful?
SN: York County benefits from a variety of professional relationships with the surrounding military bases. Our waterfront docks are used to train “Coasties” on small boat handling, and the Coast Guard responds to local emergencies on the water. Our Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Fire and Life Safety have jurisdictional agreements with the Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. York is a very patriotic community. Active duty Coast Guard trainees volunteer, and military units march in our parades. Our schools and volunteer organizations also benefit. Military personnel and dependents who are service oriented add so much to enrich our daily lives – children sharing their travel experiences in the classroom, mothers volunteering with the PTO, dads coaching all manner of sports, and military retirees serving on a great many of our County Boards and Commissions.
Q4. In your view, what are the major challenges and opportunities facing York County in the next ten years?
SN: I can’t begin to predict all the major challenges and opportunities that may face us in the next ten years; but like I imagine it is in other counties, York County’s significant challenge will be to maintain a desirable quality of life for its citizens in an ever changing world — without resorting to higher taxes. This includes meeting infrastructure needs and increasing funding for capital projects. We recently lost two of our highest commercial taxpayers, but an increase in the sales tax granted this year by the General Assembly, for the “Historic Triangle,” will hopefully offset this shortfall while providing additional tourism marketing dollars. We have an opportunity to not only give the County the resources to now fund much needed projects, but also enhance a very important sector of our economy. While we have a new fire station, new school, and a library expansion already identified in our Capital Improvements Program (CIP), a recent space needs assessment clearly shows that the County needs a new building for the Sheriff’s Department and, down the road, major expansion of other office facilities.
The vitality of a community depends on a continued inward migration and finding ways to encourage Millennials to move into the County. Nonetheless, our retired population continues to grow, and their needs do as well. The challenge will be to find a balance in providing appropriate service to both groups.
Additionally many of our County staff are reaching retirement age, and the need to compete regionally for new hires will necessitate an in depth review of our salaries and benefits. As required skill sets change, additional training will be also necessary.
Guiding us forward, the Board of Supervisors has established six Strategic Priorities. These are opportunities for York to become engaged in demonstrable efforts to improve the quality of life for its citizens and successfully meet our challenges. Quality Economic Development, Effective and Outstanding Communications and Civic Engagement, Excellent Customer Service, Quality Educational Opportunities, Exemplary Public Safety, and Environmental Stewardship will provide us a roadmap to the future!
Q5. You have been deeply involved in Chesapeake Bay issues, in particular as a gubernatorial appointee to the Local Government Advisory Committee to the Chesapeake Advisory Council. What sparked your interest in this topic?
SN: I have always loved the outdoors! Summers were spent exploring the woods, camping, clamming during low tide, or just appreciating the beauty of our natural environment. I have been fortunate to have always lived near the water and appreciate all its benefits. In college I found the biological sciences fascinating and soon began to recognize that unless we protect this ecosystem, future generations might not have the same enjoyment I had. My first practical experience as a Supervisor was visiting a low lying area of the County after a heavy rain and witnessing the runoff from septic tanks that was polluting the waterway, closing the area to shellfish harvesting. After seeing that, my support of a huge sewer project, regardless of the opposition, was vital! York County has always been at the forefront of environmental stewardship, a topic which continues to spark my interest. Given my background, I was honored to be one of Virginia’s representatives to the LGAC. This appointment enabled me to voice local government’s practical concerns regarding the watershed-wide restoration plan for the Chesapeake Bay and to help educate the public for the need to support that plan.
Q6. What are some “must do” activities for visitors to York County?
SN: York County has so many “must do” activities, depending on your interests. For the history buff, the New American Revolution Museum at Yorktown tops the list, followed closely by the NPS Yorktown Battlefield where you can stand overlooking Surrender Field and listen to a recorded reenactment or take a driving tour through the park. October 19 is Yorktown Day, which commemorates the last major battle of the Revolutionary War for Independence, a day full of activities that begins with a parade led by a contingent of the U.S. Army’s “Old Guard” and is quite a stirring event. The Watermen’s Museum honoring the fishing and boating heritage of the river and the Chesapeake Bay and the York County Historical Museum are also attractions.
If you enjoy water activities, Yorktown Beach is another attraction and was recently voted second best in Virginia by USA Today readers. A sunset sail on the schooner “Alliance,” followed by dinner in one of the restaurants along the Riverwalk might be your choice. For the eco tourist we have a map of our waterways for kayaking.
For your shopping pleasure, Riverwalk Landing has several quaint shops with antique shops and art galleries along Main Street as well. Market Days on Saturdays at the riverfront are also popular, but my best advice would be to go to www.visityorktown.org. We look forward to your visit!
VACo Contact: Katie Boyle