Editor's note: This is one in a series of question and answer articles about local candidates running for office. The Northern Virginia Daily asked candidates for the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors to answer three questions. Unedited responses are below.
Frank Coe Sherrard is vying for the board seat held by Richard Walker, who does not plan to seek re-election. Walker, instead, is challenging long-time Treasurer Cindy George for the constitutional office.
What should the Board of Supervisors do to improve the local economy?
The health of economies, whether they be local, state, or national, is dependent on the level of economic activity that occurs in it. This activity in a town or county economy is generated by either constituent residents/businesses or visitors.
Larger numbers of residents and businesses naturally result in greater amounts of economic activity, so county management initiatives that encourage new business development or population increases are generally helpful in stimulating local economic activity, including retail spending, new construction, and job creation. Shenandoah County has many acres of property already zoned for commercial development, as well as empty buildings that would be suitable for new business activities. Unfortunately, much of this property and many of the buildings are not ready for new businesses to easily move in. Road access and electrical/plumbing/IT infrastructure need to be improved for much of our available commercial property to be a competitive opportunity for companies looking to expand or relocate.
The other source for increased economic activity in the county, visitor spending, requires less up-front investment by the county. The county already features legendary scenery and views as well as a variety of good tourist attractions. We also have a giant conduit for bringing visitors to our area in the form of one of the country’s busiest interstates. To attract more visitors, we only need to let them know we are here and that we are open for their business. In 2017, the US Travel Association estimated that Shenandoah County generated over $6.5 million dollars in tax revenues from visitor spending. The total marketing budget for the county that year was just a bit over $200,000. Visitor spending resulted in nearly $31 in tax revenues for every dollar we spent to market tourism! This seems to be an area in which our county isn’t maximizing its full potential.
Where should the county spend most of its revenues?
Shenandoah County is spending its revenues proportionately in the areas that it should be. In fact, the percentages of revenues in our county’s budget that go to education, fire & rescue, health & welfare, parks and recreation, the court system, and administrative service mirror the percentages spent in most counties similar to ours. The more important questions are : “Are we spending these dollars as efficiently as possible?” and “Are we fully collecting all of the taxes and fees that we have already legislated?” In business terms, a county must ensure that all revenues due are being fully and efficiently collected, and that each of the dollars collected is being effectively utilized, just as any viable commercial entity must, in order to ensure long-term sustainability. As a candidate who has not been involved with past county budgeting, it would be presumptive of me to comment on the efficiency of current budget spending. As a longtime business-person in the community, I am familiar with the tax assessment and tax collecting process. I believe opportunities may exist in these areas to collect additional revenues from current sources before having to find additional sources or having to raise the tax rate on our primary sources.
Without significantly changing the broad percentages of spending allocated to the various services provided by our county, I believe room exists for some adjustments in certain key areas. As noted in the previous paragraph relating to improving the local economy, some additional emphasis (spending) seems warranted in the areas of economic development and tourism. As an extreme example, a 100% increase in the total tourism advertising budget for the county would represent an amount equal to about 1/10 of 1% of the county’s total budget, with the potential for a good return on the additional investment. Relatively small and strategic spending re-allocations such as this one could have positive impacts on the County’s overall budget.
When should Supervisors interact with state legislatures relating to county needs?
Because county governments receive their proxies and protocols for legislated administration of government from the state, county administrators have many areas requiring critical interaction with their state legislator counterparts. The most obvious may be the need to stay closely aligned with VDOT. This state agency literally controls our ability within the county to move around, and our highway system is important to the county’s business infrastructure, public safety, fire and rescue and general resident convenience. To illustrate with a local example that is relevant, ask the residents of Ft Valley how important the (currently closed) Tower Road is to their lifestyle in our county.
Other examples exist, such as:
The complicated formula for allocating state funds for public schools to the communities in Virginia. A relatively small change in this index value (Local Composite Index), created by the state will result in an additional $600,000 to be funded by the county in the next budget cycle.
Our local economy relies heavily on our important relationships with the many state and federal parks (and park lands) that surround us. Consistent liaison and interaction with state and federal agencies is important to ensure the maintenance and upkeep for these facilities, and also for the potential creation of new ones in our county.
State mandates affect diverse county requirements in the areas of the court system, health and welfare (Medicaid), and security. It is important for our county administration to maintain open communications with state regulators in advance of mandates that could negatively impact local budgets.