Tuesday, July 26, 2011

My Rural Travelogue (Part XV): Local politics in the Northern Neck of Virginia

This is part two in a series about my trip last month to the Northern Neck of Virginia. Read the first post here, which provides background on the counties' economic and demographic profiles. In this post, I am going to summarize some of the stories in the local newspapers we read while there. First, though, I want to note that each of the counties we visited seems to have only a weekly paper, and they all appeared to have the same owner. I deduced this because many of the same stories appeared in each of the papers, under the same byline.

One of the papers, the Northern Neck News, covered several counties, and it featured this story out of Richmond County: "Against the grain, board votes to approve budget." The story is accompanied by a photo of a number of senior citizens holding up identical signs that say, "'We the People' Say No!" In spite of this message from some of the county's voters, the story reports that "supervisors voted 3-2 last Thursday to proceed with funding what will be Richmond County's largest capital investment to date," a new high school. The supervisors voted to approve a $20.3 million spending plan, an increase of more than $750,000 over the prior year's plan. This will result in an increase of property tax to $.67 per $100 assessed, up $.11 per $100. "Under the current plan, Richmond County Intermediate School would be vacated for what now functions as the county's high school, the population of which would relocate to the new facility estimated to cost $23 million." I suppose it is nothing new for elderly folks to oppose spending on schools, but it seems awfully short-sighted for the community--especially given that Richmond County's poverty rate is 19.3%. The county's population is just under 10,000.

In another front-page story, the paper reports that the Warsaw Town Council "shelved" a "citizens' proposal to lower the number of elected officials in Warsaw" and impose term limits ... "in deference to the council's desire to see how the upcoming newly formatted election will work." The paper does not explain how the format of upcoming elections is new, but it does include many quotes from council members about why they oppose term limits.

I note that in both of these stories, local governing bodies are resisting populist calls for limits on their powers and/or spending.

In other news:
  • Northumberland County's plan for re-districting was approved by the U.S. Dept. of Justice.
  • St. Stephens Episcopal and Anglican congregations put on evidence in a lawsuit to determine which is entitled to St. Stephens church in Heathsville. The suit apparently stems from a split within the Episcopal church worldwide, whereby some members have left to join the Convocations of Anglicans in North America.
  • The ranks of Republicans vying for the 99th District House of Delegates seat thinned from five to three. The primary is August 23.
  • Commencement photos from Northumberland High School and Rappahannock High School are features.
  • An environmental controversy has erupted over a new asphalt plant in Tappahannock. An amendment to a zoning ordinance has been proposed.

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