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Board keeps membership in state organization

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK -- Shenandoah County leaders on Thursday stifled an effort to end its membership with state and national groups that lobby for local governments.

The Board of Supervisors voted at a work session to not forward a resolution seeking to resign from the Virginia Association of Counties and the National Association of Counties.

The resolution states that the county pays $9,725 annually for its membership with VACo and $813 per year to belong to the national organization. Dues paid to the organizations don't cover the cost to attend conventions or other events held throughout the year, such as the annual meeting at the Homestead in Bath County.

District 5 Supervisor Marsha Shruntz proposed the resolution in an effort to move the matter on to a regular board meeting for a vote. Chairman David Ferguson, Vice Chairman Conrad Helsley and Supervisors John R. "Dick" Neese and Steven Baker voted against putting the resolution on a future board agenda for consideration.

District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey, who supported the resolution, told the board that members can obtain the same information, training and networking experience with elected officials in other counties without the membership.

"I would like to hear from you ... what have they done for Shenandoah County," Bailey said.

Ferguson said the county benefits from membership with VACo as far as the group's ability to lobby on behalf of its members.

"So it isn't a negative thing; it's a positive thing because you alone may not be able to make a difference," Ferguson said. "But, collectively, you may be able to change something in Richmond that impacts you tremendously that, by yourself, you couldn't do."

Bailey questioned why the county would seek aid from VACo, which does not write bills for the General Assembly's consideration, when the board can go to their legislative representatives for help. Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, and Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, represent the county in the General Assembly

Bailey sided with Shruntz and said they opposed spending county money on the memberships on principal.

"My question to the board is what did we do before we belonged to VACo; where did we get this information; how did we function before and, once again, this is on principal," Bailey said. "This is taxpayer money that we're using for these memberships ... It adds up to big money after a while."

"I see no plausible reason to stay in a membership that costs this much money," Shruntz said. "We don't get a bang for our buck at all."

Shruntz said she doesn't approve of much of the legislative stands taken by VACo recently, such as the organization's support for a bill that deals with eminent domain and protection of private property.

Bailey told supervisors that the subject of funding VACo membership comes up every year for boards in several other counties. Shruntz said she spoke to chairmen of the boards of supervisors for Prince William and Spotsylvania counties recently. The two counties pay roughly $28,000 annually for membership. Those counties remain members of VACo though the subject of membership comes up often.

Goochland County resigned its membership recently but 94 of the 95 counties remain members.

Bailey said that when speaking with other supervisors about VACo events, elected officials said they enjoyed the social interaction rather than gathering information.

Ferguson noted, "If all you want to do is go to a meeting to be social, then you're not doing your job. But if you go to a meeting in order to glean information that may help you when you come back to run your county, then that's what you should be doing."

Ferguson said he goes to VACo events to network with officials and representatives from other counties to establish contacts with whom he can talk to later. Bailey asked why board members couldn't do the same through phone calls or using the Internet.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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