Bailey, Shruntz want county to sever ties with Virginia Association of Counties
By Alex Bridges
Shenandoah County's newest supervisors began their push to curb government spending early.
Cindy Bailey and Marsha Shruntz take office in January to represent Districts 4 and 5, respectively on the Board of Supervisors. The supervisors-elect announced last week they would opt out of a training forum held by the Virginia Association of Counties in Richmond early next month. The three-day event costs $295 per person plus $114 for the hotel cost usually covered by the county.
But, as Bailey explained Tuesday, their decision goes beyond the one event. She and Shruntz plan to ask the rest of the board to consider ending the county's membership with the association. Bailey and Shruntz said in a statement last week the board should reconsider the $9,725 earmarked in the current budget for the county's association membership.
Bailey said Tuesday she wants Shenandoah County to be the second jurisdiction in the state to end its membership with the Virginia Association of Counties. Bailey and Shruntz are drafting a resolution to do that. Whether the new supervisors can gather support from other board members remains uncertain. Bailey noted that she and Shruntz may be the only proponents.
Their decision to ask the board to revisit the county's membership with the association came as a result of their ongoing study and scrutiny of the budget.
"We are looking at, like I said, anywhere in the budget where we can cut and we've compiled quite a list, and this is just one of them," Bailey said.
The county's membership fee represents a small portion of its entire budget.
"We can say that about every single item that we have put together on the list and the thing is that you add all these up and it starts to be a big deal," Bailey said. "Some people may say it's a drop in the bucket ... Common practice is thrown out the window. It's what does Shenandoah County need? What is Shenandoah County getting from this group and lobbying groups have just gotten way out of control."
But support for the association remains high after nearly 80 years with membership at nearly 100 percent, according to Jim Campbell, the association's executive director.
On Monday, Campbell voiced disappointment that Shruntz and Bailey chose not to attend the training forum, a session he said helps new board members acclimate to their leadership roles.
"Our experience has shown that lots of time folks run for board of supervisors, get elected, and then all of sudden are overwhelmed by the number of issues that they have to deal with," Campbell said.
The director pointed out that most supervisors' candidates run on one or two issues. But the newly elected supervisors take office and find themselves immersed in a "full array" of issues they must address as board members such as zoning, transportation, public safety and education. The forum tackles these topics.
"So our timing is certainly critical to be as early in their tenure as possible," Campbell said. "It really has been a highly successful program. It is an intense, 2½ days of exposure to many of the issues that the county supervisors are going to have to deal with."
Campbell said he was disappointed that Shruntz and Bailey's cited cost to the taxpayer as a reason not to attend.
"If they think they know everything there is to know about county government then I guess it's their choice not to attend," Campbell said.
The association, in existence for nearly 80 years, has offered its county supervisors forum for the past 20 years every other year to coincide with the possible induction of newly elected board members. Campbell said even more experienced supervisors have chosen to attend the forum as a refresher.
This year, approximately 75 of the 100 newly elected supervisors across the state have signed up to attend the forum, Campbell said. The association sees attendance by 70-80 percent of newly elected supervisors each year.
Shenandoah County already has provided Shruntz and Bailey with the supervisors' handbook, County Administrator Mary Beth Price said Monday. She confirmed that neither supervisor-elect plans to attend the forum.
But in the past, the county has sent newly elected supervisors to the association event, Price said. District 4 Supervisor Sharon Baroncelli went to the forum when she was first elected eight years ago, Price said.
But Shruntz and Bailey's criticism of the association goes beyond the training event.
They point out that Goochland County ended its membership with the organization. That action to sever ties with the association took place in August 2012. The supervisors-elect note that similar discussions about ending membership with the association have occurred in Spotsylvania and Prince William counties.
Currently 94 of the state's 95 counties participate as members of the association. Up until Goochland's action, the association had 100 percent participation, Campbell said.
But the supervisors-elect argue that the association does not always keep its members' best interests at heart when the General Assembly starts to work on legislation.
When asked for specific instances of the association's lobbying efforts, Bailey pointed out that the group backed legislation introduced in 2012 that sought to more narrowly defined the use of eminent domain -- the taking of private property for public use -- in the state constitution.
The supervisors-elect also claim the association supports less government transparency.
Campbell said he was not sure "where they're going with that."
"But what you do every once in a while have is [that] some individual supervisors might disagree with one or two legislative positions, which we lobby on behalf of," he said.
The association's active members set the positions, Campbell said. The best way to change those positions is to remain involved in the process, he added.
"But that's really hard to do when you're outside the organization," Campbell said.
The director added that Shenandoah County has been an active member of the association for decades. The late Shenandoah County Supervisor C. Thomas Sollenberger served as president of the association in 1986.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org