Friday, April 5, 2019

Physician Turn-Over in the Sentara Halifax Health System

The physician turn-over in our country is way too high.  It seems that every physician that come here, leaves after fulfilling their contract.  It seems odd to me that we simply can't keep the good ones. 

I'm not knocking those that have been here for a long time, at least most of them, but the question of "why the big turn-over" needs to be addressed. 

Is it the schools?  In many cases it is and the County needs to fix that.  The recent steps are a start but more tax revenue is needed to reach our goals.

Is it quality of life?  Yes it in in that we lack enough shopping and eateries.  When your only choice for groceries is Food Lion and Food Lion, people simply shop out of town.  While shopping local is critically important to small business, we need more small businesses offering more stuff.

More physicians are leaving this summer and I'm told that the work demands and time constraints placed on physicians by Sentara are simply too much.  There are simply not enough primary care physicians to serve the county needs.  That's why several Doc-in-a-Box clinics have popped up in the area.  If the SHRHS won't provide the primary care, then others will.

I'm certainly disappointed to see several good physicians leave the county this year, and there seems to be few replacements in the pipeline.  I hope Sentara and the relatively new administrator will find a solution to this problem.  We need quality health care here in the County.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Lives Versus Rescue Squads Versus Taxes!

It's ironic that the County Rescue Services are telling the Halifax County Board of Supervisors that without additional funding, they may have to close, but the Supervisors are refusing to increase real estate taxes. 

This is pure wrong-headed conservative politics.  Supervisors are frequently talking about a lack of funds but the solution is staring them in the face.

So, what do we do, let the rescue services close for for the sake of about $200,000?  Are the Supervisors are willing to let people die rather than raise real estate taxes?

Everyone knows my position, raise real estate taxes by 10 cents and get the job done.  But no, Supervisors are worried about being reelected, and they are listening to the naysayers among county residents.  Either that or they simply don't want to see our beautiful county prosper.

On a real estate tax note, two speakers at the budget hearing last week spoke against the 2-cent increase, Roy Mitchell and David Shapard, who would see an increase of $56.78 and $100.52 respectively, stated we don't need an increase.  A third person speaking against the 2-cent increase or any tax increase  at all, Weldon Anderson, seems to not own any property at all, according to county records.  (it's possible that his real estate is in some other name)

What am I missing in this?  Are people so tax adverse that they would let people die for the sake of a few dollars.  As a recent editorial stated, $10 dollars a year would be the cost of a 1-cent increase if your home/property was valued at $100,000.  For those with big land and big houses, those with a $1 million property value, the cost would be $100 per year for a 1-cent increase.

Do you see the relative ridiculousness of this this argument about raising taxes?  The truth is, most people want the services, but don't want to pay.  Remember that the next time you dial 911 and no ambulance or fire truck arrives.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Thank God for the News and Record!

I so appreciate the real news and local support provided by the News and Record newspaper.  They provide positive and factual news about our beautiful county.  It is a strong independent voice standing up for the values of the community.

90% of the time, the story "above the fold" in the News & Record is positive.  Many time, all of the stories are positive with the only negative ones being the unavoidable tragedies that befall every community. 

I cannot say that about the Gazette-Virginian.  Their "above the fold" stories are either negative or are aimed at the conservative right.  In fact, often the positive stories on the front page of the News & Record are relegated to page 3 or 4 of the Gazette-Virginian, or not in the paper at all.

I particularly enjoy the fairness and journalistic excellence of the News & Record and the editorial commentary that is almost always spot on, though not what many conservatives want to hear.  I certainly hope that the independent views of Tom McLaughlin never changes.  We need a voice of reality and if you read his editorial and then look at the Gazette-Virginian, it almost like we live in different places.  Most of the G-V editorials are regurgitated conservative syndicated columnists rather than being a local voice.

Thank you for all the work, News & Record!

Taxes Versus Schools

Tonight the public gets to voice their views on the FY2020 County budget.  From my previous posts, you know what I think.  The Supervisors are exercising fiscal irresponsibility by failing to provide funding for our schools and our teachers. The School Board's ask for the $1.4 million is a very responsible ask after much deliberation.  The School Board is trying to take care of our students and teachers, but they get smacked down by Mr. Davis and his anti tax increase mob.  That's irresponsible.

We need to raise taxes by at least 10 cents this year and then again next year in order to fund the schools and the remaining budget needs for the county.  Playing ostrich for the past 10 to 15 years has left us with this mess and Mr. Davis and Mr. Witt are hiding from doing the right thing. 

Why? 

Because the big landowners, forestry people, and the "fixed income brigade" are who they listen to, not the business community that knows we cannot stall tax increases forever unless we want to be a sub-par county.

How can it be right to fund county employee pay raises and not fund raises for our teachers?  It's shameful how blind our Board leadership is when it comes to tax increases.

It's time for Mr. Davis to end his opposition to Mr. Gasperini, and actually work out a solution for our schools.  Funding the school system at 120% of the state requirement is meaningless if all our teachers can drive 30 mile in any direction and get paid more.

The sad truth is that until we are willing to pay for what we need, we will lose businesses, people, and the future of our beautiful county.

Come on people, go to the meeting and give them your 3 minutes of reality. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Supervisors Interfering with School Board Business, AGAIN.

The big story today in Halifax County, VA is once again the new high school.

Even though officially it's none of their business beyond the funding required, the Supervisors want a second opinion about building a new high school.  This is in spite of the work done by the School Board to vet the need and plans for such a school.

Some Supervisors say they're "uncomfortable" with the study already conducted by the School Board.  "Look at what other options", Mr. Davis.  He says he not comfortable signing anything that endorses a new high school.  That's because he thinks we could just scrap the high school altogether, and move back the the middle school.  Mr. Davis, you live in the past and you are getting in the way of the elected School Board doing their job.

And Mr. Witt follows that with his second opinion thoughts as if this was a county with a cancer growing in it.  Well the cancer is the failure of the Supervisors to raise taxes over the past 10 years and fund the schools as they should.

The hard facts are this:

1. Waiting to build a new high school will only make the cost higher.
2. The School Board did their job and presented the facts.
3. Spending more money for a second study is a waste, and could result in a higher figure.
4. Supervisors need to get out of the way and do their job, and fund the school system.


Here We Go Again!

Sounds like an old country song doesn't it?  Well it is, but in this case it's about real estate taxes.

So the Supervisors voted to advertise a 2-cent increase in real estate taxes this year, knowing that it is not enough to support the needs of our beautiful County.

You will see in my previous posts that I advocated for a 10-cent increase.  Yeah, pie in the sky I know, but 2-cents?  Come on leaders.  We have to have at least 4-cents this year and 4-cents next year if we are to support the needs of our citizens. 

The local paper shows a lot of humming and hawing about budget needs, but the Supervisors just can't quite get off the pot and advertise a realistic increase. Since 5 seats are up for reelection in November, I guess they are afraid they might lose and have to give up the power and the money, thought the money certainly isn't compensation for the time required.  It's all about the "power".

As I read all of the funding requests, it is cleat that a 2-cent increase will not meet the needs.  It must be noted that the proposed funding of the school system does not meet the budget needs to provide the quality education for our children and attract businesses and people to the county.

Any bets that the "fixed income brigade", and the big land and forestry people come out in force against any increase?


Monday, March 4, 2019

And Then There Were Five!

2019 could be a watershed year for Halifax County.  We have five supervisors up for reelection and wouldn't it be great to replace all five with people with a vision for the future of our beautiful Halifax County and the guts to vote yes to raising real estate taxes.

So this is a call to arms for the local moderates, independents, and Democrats to mobilize and recruit young, progressive, forward-looking individuals who will make decisions about the future of Halifax County that are NOT influenced by the old school cadre of conservatives hell-bent on keeping Halifax County from moving into the 21st century.

Let's review these folks:

First, Mr. Dennis Witt, District 4, our ineffective chairman.  I really thought there was a chance for progress when Mr. Witt won his seat, but like others before, he drank the Kool-Aid that affects all politics.  Candidates say they will do great things in Halifax, in Richmond, and in Washington until they get there.  Then they drink the water and suddenly follow the silent majority of naysayers who support the status quo.  All you have to do is look at the courthouse debacle to see that leadership is missing.  Wanted: A new face to run against Mr. Witt.

Next is Mr. J. T. Davis, District 1, our finance chair that is opposed to anything with the word tax in it.  It seems that Mr. Davis is not running for reelection and is already grooming his chosen successor.  Well, we need to change that by finding a candidate to oppose his choice.  The last thing we need is another puppet on the Board with someone outside pulling the strings.  Mr. Davis, what a perfect year for you to support a 10 cent real estate tax increase since you are not running again and have no fear of losing your seat.  After the crazy suggestions about moving the high school back to the middle school, your credibility is gone.  Wanted: a new fiscal manager to run against Mr. Davis and his successor.

Next is Mr. Joseph Rogers, District 5.  I had high hopes for Mr. Rogers, the first young Board member since David Martin years ago.  It felt like a breath of fresh air, but it lasted only a short time.  Thankfully he did replace the person who saw Halifax County and the new "retirement home of the South".  As is often the case with a young working man, he's too busy to devote the time to the job and consequently has fallen under the wing and influence of Mr. Davis. He misses many of the meetings he should attend that provides the background for the Board meetings.  Wanted:  a more involved and better informed Mr. Rogers, and a new face to replace him.

Next is Mr Garland Ricketts, District 7.  Mr. Rickett's is a loyal Halifax County supporter who has a long history of trying to make Halifax County a better place.  He has served in many capacities in local government and on local Boards and civic organizations.  Arguably, Mr. Rickett's has more experience than most of the other Supervisors.  Mr. Rickett's is not a negative on the Board, and with better leadership and more progressive thinkers, would make up that critical fifth vote needed to get things done.  That said, another new face wouldn't hurt.

Last is Mr. Bryant Claiborne, District 8.  Mr. Claiborne is well past the point of needing to retire.  He hinted at doing so in the last election, but I suspect he didn't like the candidate who ran against him and filed his paperwork late.  He defeated his opponent, though with a smaller margin than the previous opposed election.  Mr. Claiborne needs to retire and open the seat to a new and progressive candidate.  He was one of the famous four who held the Board hostage several years ago for months because we are one of a few counties who have an even number of seats.  We should have had an at-large seat added, but Mr. Claiborne was instrumental in stopping that from happening. Now we have a tie-breaker.  Wanted:  a young professional to oppose Mr. Claiborne.

So, my assessment is this:
  1. We need to field a candidate to oppose any seat up for reelection.  Running unopposed doesn't mean the electorate agree with the incumbent, just that they think they can't win.  Unopposed is tacit approval of their views and that's not always true.
  2. We must field more women  candidates.  The Supervisors has been a clan of men for years except for Mrs. Nunn, who also needed to go.
  3. We must have younger candidates.  Where are the thirty and forty, and fifty somethings?  
  4. We need businessmen and and women to run.  We need people who understand this modern technological world to get involved.
  5. We need the two local Republican and Democratic Party affiliates to get involved with recruiting candidates to run.  All politics are local and we need politicians to run as what they are, not as independent that then show their colors after they're elected
So there it is, one persons opinion of what we need in local politics.  Now it's the peoples turn to stand up and do something.

The Dreaded Five Letter Word - TAXES!

The local news has been packed full of discussion about taxes and budgets for weeks now, but there seems to be a lot that has not been said, particularly by the politicians.

It is the responsibility of the local government to fund the infrastructure and services that serve the local residents.  In turn, in is the responsibility of the people to understand that to have the services that will make our county prosper, each of us must pay our share of taxes.

Every member of the Board of Supervisors, past and present, has know that in order to fund our schools and other local services, taxes would have to go up.  But to a man (and one woman in my era), all have hidden from that responsibility.  All have listened mainly to the voices of big landowners, some of them on the Board of Supervisors, the "fixed income brigade", and others with extraordinary influence, to quash any attempt to solve this problem.

For years, leaders lived off the gravy-train of state money from the City of South Boston's reversion to a Town, ignoring the fact that the goose would run out of gold one day, and we would have to pay our own way.  Had our Supervisors not suffered the "ostrich effect", and seen there was no light at the end of this tunnel unless we slowly raised real estate taxes, we would not been in the hole we are today.  The business community lobbied for small increases over several years to resolve the problem, but were ignored.  That same business community wants to see real estate taxes increase today.

Halifax County is slowly becoming a third-world county because we can't attract business and people without schools and services.  People are leaving our county because the schools system doesn't have the money to pay teaches and provide students with a quality education.  All you have to do is ask the physicians and technology people who leave because of the schools, or live in North Carolina and commute.

Last year, grudgingly, the Supervisors advertised a one penny increase in real estate taxes and the  "fixed income brigade" came out in force to rail against it.  Then they stabbed the citizens with a waste removal increase that was likely less than a 1 penny tax increase would have been (See previous post on this blog).  Well, my friends, we are all on a fixed income of some kind.  This year we are much worse off with a ballooning courthouse expenditure, and the looming need to replace the high school and well as maintenance on other schools.

One penny, though better than nothing, would have been the proverbial "drop in the bucket" needed to fund our county.  One or two cents a years in increases for each year before the financial crisis and before the state goose finished laying its gold, could have put us in good stead today.  A few years ago, I asked one Supervisor why not raise the real estate tax by 2 cents, and the reply was that "he would not get reelected if he supported an increase".  I made that point in a previous post; staying elected is more important than good governing.

So here's some tax facts.

All the hoopla about raising real estate taxes is smoke and mirrors.  With a little research on the web site https://www.webgis.net/va/halifax, you will likely find the same thing I find.

The median property value in Halifax County varies depending on where you look, but according to the  Zillow Home Value Index, the median property value is $79,700, up 6.1% over the past year.  So for those home owners, a ten cent increase equals $79.70.  I'll bet my hat that every property owner in the county spent more than than at meals out in the last month.

Let's assume that those values are more like $160,000, which means that the tax increase would be $160.  And for the people in the big houses, perhaps the increase would be more like $350.  I found one 500 acre property owned by someone in Danville that the increase would be $542.  How about another 600 acre track owned by a timber company in Brunswick, GA.  Their increase would be $765.  I think they should pay double since the income from this land must be really good.

In fact, many of the large property owners in the county are timber companies or other LLCs.  Much of the open land is owned by people from out of state.  Let them pay their fair share.

Whenever the discussion of raising real estate taxes arises, the "fixed income brigade" come out of the woodwork to yell about not being able to afford to pay more.  This argument is laughable.  If you own the land, you have the assets and you owe the tax.  If our beautiful county needs infrastructure and schools for our future success, then the "fixed income brigade"needs to pony up as well as the rest of us.  And don't give me the "I don't use schools and services" excuse.  Someone paid the taxes when you did go to school so now it's your turn.

It doesn't take much effort to find out how much a tax increase would be for anyone.  It's public information.  So here's a list of people you might know and how much a 10 cent real estate increase would cost them per year.

Mr. Dennis Witt - $224.00
Mr. Jeffery Francisco - $949
Mr. Stanley Brandon - $278
Mr. Joseph Rogers - $332
Mr Bryant Claiborne - $490
Mr. J. T. Davis - $530
Mr. Hubert Pannell - $118
Mr. Garland Ricketts - $433

Some of these gentlemen are arguing that we must not rise real estate taxes, yet their increase at 10 cents per $100 is in fact a pittance.  Gentlemen, stand up for what's right and do it.

Me you ask?  Well, my increase would be a paltry $732.

By far, the largest real estate tax payers in the county are timber companies making a fortune off the land with some of the lowest real estate valuations.  The biggest increase would hit residents  like Del. James Edmunds, who owns more than 5000 acres, and Ward Burton and the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation, who spends a fortune to preserve the land and wildlife, educate children, and help veterans, yet I suspect that both of these people would agree that taxes must go up.

The "fixed income brigade" simply cannot use fixed income as an excuse to hold the county back.  We need support for our schools, our fire and rescue systems, our police, the water and sewer systems, including water to VIR from Halifax County, not from Danville.

The "fixed income brigade" will sell out our beautiful county because they don't want to see us prosper and grow, with more jobs and better education if they have to pay for it. They just want to whine and complain to sympathetic Supervisors who will listen.

Until we have raised our real estate taxes by 10 cents per $100 and invest in the future of our county, we will continue to see a decline in businesses, and jobs, and local people staying here in beautiful Halifax County.  Our kids deserve the best education possible and you're fussing about a few dollars. We need to replace and extend the water and sewer system.  We need to fund the infrastructure that includes fire and rescue services and police departments.

Sadly, the conservatives attitude towards these thoughts will be that I'm a tax and spend liberal.  To that I say, "You Get What You Pay For!".

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Don't Let The Sales Tax Bill Derail A Tax Increase

The General Assembly just passed a bill allowing Halifax County to raise the sales tax by 1 penny to fund the new high school, but ONLY after a ballot referendum in the Nov 2019 election.

This penny increase is a great thing and should be applauded.  Del. Edmunds worked hard to get it passed and we are grateful.  This will produce between $2 and $3 million annually to support the new high school.  This is also the first chink in the despised "Dillon Rule" (addressed in a previous post on this blog) that prohibits localities from taxing their own people to solve their own problems without Uncle Virginia approving.

Since the Governor is unlikely to veto this, there remains only on problem...............the people of Halifax County have to vote for it in November.  Will they do it?  Well, considering the "fixed income brigade" efforts in the past when it comes to real estate taxes, who knows.

My worry is that this will give our ineffective Board of Supervisors the perfect excuse to NOT raise real estate taxes this year.  So what happens if they don't pass an increase or just do 2 cents, and then the people say no to the sales tax?

We're back to square one and with no money to take care of our county.

Supervisors, please don't take this windfall for granted and play ostrich again like with the reversion money.  We need to raise real estate taxes this year by 10 cents regardless, and use that $3.7 million to take care of the rest of the needs of the County, like increasing the school budget, increase teacher pay, police pay, repair and extend our water and sewer systems, and a host of other needs. Even 6 cents might suffice, but nothing less.

We need a lot of money to bring prosperity to our beautiful County.  Call you Supervisor and demand that they do their duty.  We can all afford it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Evangelical Hypocrisy!

Somehow, sitting on both side of the fence must be painful.  The local paper recently carried an article from an evangelical minister that condones the actions of Mr. Trump because he is appointing conservative judges in the belief they will overturn Roe v Wade, and is trying to build a wall will stop human trafficking.

I, as a christian, will never understand this hypocrisy in politics.  Praying for Mr. Trump while supporting his wrong headed policies is not christian.  It is enabling him to continue to destroy the office of the President.

As you might have guessed, I am pro-choice. I believe it is a woman's right to choose what happens to her body.  That doesn't make me a non-christian.  I believe that Roe v Wade should never be overturned, moreover I believe it never will.

I could list all the reason why Mr. Trump is unfit to be President but it would take more words than I can afford to spend on someone who doesn't deserve it.

Evangelicals and Conservatives have every right to their opinion, but they must never be allowed to shove those opinions down anyone's throat, and that is what the right is trying to do.  Liberals and progressives must stand up for what is right and not be browbeat by the bully pulpit, whether it be Mr. Trump or the constant drone of the conservative and evangelical right.

Changing laws will not stop abortion, just drive it underground as it was in the past, and building a wall will not stop human trafficking, just create more suffering for those being trafficked.

It is time to stop using religion and conservatism as a hammer to solve the world's problems when tolerance, compassion, compromise, understanding, sympathy, and love is the only solution.

Evangelicals and conservatives are doing what they have always done, oppose change and go backwards.  The good old status quo will take this country backwards, and American can't afford to go backwards when the rest of the world seems to be going forward. If the Irish are now willing to allow abortions, then we should stop trying to take that right from American women.

Same Tax Money By Getting Rid of Money!

Did you know that America is the only major country that still has small denomination bills in circulation?  Why hasn't one of these brilliant politicians in Washington pushed a bill to get rid of the $1 bill and the penny?

The Euro, serving virtually all of Europe, has a 1 and 2 Euro coin, even though they still have the 1 and 2 cent coins.

Canada has a 1 and 2 dollar coin and no penny.

Australia has a 1 and 2 dollar coin and no penny.

The UK has a 1 and 2 pound coin, but still has the 1 and 2 pence coins.

All of these countries made this move to reduce the cost of producing their money.

Do you realize that getting ride of the $1 bill would save billions over the three decade.  The Government Accountability Office (GAO) puts that savings at $13 billion.

It cost 1.7 cents to make a penny.  With about 8 billion pennies minted each year, it cost $132 million to make $50 billion is circulating money.  Ending production would save $900 million a year.

Having traveled to many countries with no small bills and no small coins, I can attest to the fact that it sure makes things easier.

So the coin operated businesses would need to change, but that seems to be no big deal in today's technological world.  Since you can but a bag of ice and a car wash with a credit card, how difficult would it be to make this transition to coins.

It's time for Washington to take a progressive stand and get rid of the penny and the dollar bill and join the rest of civilized society.

Where are you Mr. Trump?  This would pay for the wall in no time!  Why not call for the Virginia Washington delegation to take the lead on this.

Friday, January 18, 2019

A NEW High School

The Halifax County School Board went public with their position of building a new high school rather than renovating the old monstrosity.  A right choice that needs to be endorsed by the Board of Supervisors.  Now raise real estate taxes by at least 4 cents as a commitment to funding the school. 

Without quality schools and teachers, our beautiful county will continue to go backwards.

Build the new school on the existing student  parking lot, or where at the current stadium complex, and then convert the old school land into a new stadium.  Just a though.

Another thought is that we definitely should name the new school the Henrietta Lack High School, in honor of the Halifax County native that has contributed more to healthcare than any one in history.

It's time to move on.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

IDA versus EDA

Thank you Mike Sexton, for your riveting letter to the G-V editor that not only said what needed saying, but put the blame for the problem squarely where it belongs............. The Board of Supervisors and it chairman.  As Mr. Sexton stated, the lack of leadership in Halifax County is sad.

Big industry is not coming to Halifax County, period!

Big agriculture is not coming back to save Halifax County, period!

The IDA under Matt Leonard was a failure from day one.  His ego was bigger than the job and he didn't have the experience to back up his ego.  Hiring him was a mistake.

We do not need industrial development, we need economic development.  So change the name of the organization and change the focus to take steps to bring economic growth to the County, regardless of the type of business it might be.  And above all, don't let the BOS take control.

The Supervisors blew it when that turned down the billion dollar opportunity to develop the fairgrounds.  How crazy is it to turn down that kind of development for the sake of one festival and an outdated and poorly attended fair.  There are enough empty fields around South Boston to put both of those.

And to point fingers at communications when the BOS do most of their actual business behind closed doors and violate the law by discussing issues and decisions among themselves by phone.  Don't tell me it doesn't happen, I know better.

And what about the courthouse renovation debacle that was hidden for public view until it was too late.  How much smarter would it have been to build a new courthouse and preserved the historic one as a museum.  Think Rustburg in Campbell County.

The idea of bringing the existing IDA under the control of the Board of Supervisors is totally ludicrous.  They can't manage themselves, much less the marketing of Halifax County.

And don't get me started on the need for a new high school.

This is like the disaster that is being mishandled regarding the gem of Halifax County, the VIRginia International Raceway.  They need water.  It's in Halifax County.  We don't want to help.  The BOS wants to give up control to Pittsylvania County and Danville.  I have the perfect solution, build a water treatment plant using the Dan River that passes yards from the track.  Would that not resolve the water issues and keep the loyalty of VIR focused on Halifax County?  Likely also cheaper than running miles of pipe and paying for the water that runs through it.

Alas, I drifted off the subject, even though solving the VIR water issue is an Economic Development Authority issue.

I applaud Mr. Sexton's letter and I would vote for him to lead a new EDA, or even a seat of the BOS.  He would bring business savvy and leadership, along with a healthy dose of reality. I also agree that there are good people on the BOS that need to be given a chance to serve as Chair.

New High School - Don't Pass The Buck!

Since my August comment on the need for a new school, much has happened.  The supervisors don't want to raise taxes to pay for one, the site proposed is too wet and the school would sink in the marsh, supervisors have proposed all sorts of bizarre plans like going backwards by sending one grade back to the elementary schools and moving the high school to the middle school.

I seem to remember the reason we built the dinosaur that is now the high school was that the old high school wasn't big enough.

Following the theme of this blog, the problem is leadership and always has been.  Supervisors get elected and then have selective amnesia when it comes to important issues. 

I really thought that the new crop of people elected a few years ago were going to step up and fix the problems facing the County.  Instead they all abdicated their responsibility in order to appease their base of voters who rebel at the thought of paying higher taxes to bring our county up to above third-world status.

Come on people.  Get with it before time runs out.  There is only one "leader" in Halifax County and that's Tom Raab.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Getting Rid of the Dillon Rule!

The Dillon Rule was named after John Forrest Dillon, an Iowa judge that wrote "Municipal Corporations" in 1872 while on the Federal bench.  This was one of the earliest studies of municipal government. 

The theory of state preeminence over local governments was expressed as Dillon's Rule in an 1868 case: "Municipal corporations owe their origin to, and derive their powers and rights wholly from, the legislature. It breathes into them the breath of life, without which they cannot exist. As it creates, so may it destroy. If it may destroy, it may abridge and control"

By contrast, the Cooley Doctrine, or the doctrine of home rule, expressed the theory of an inherent right to local self-determination. In a concurring opinion, Michigan Supreme Court Judge Thomas M. Cooley in 1871 stated, "local government is a matter of absolute right; and the state cannot take it away".

The belief that if local government were given the power, it would abuse it, and after hundreds court cases over the years, the dust has settled that there is "Dillon rule" based on Dillon's theories, and "home rule", based on the Cooley Doctrine.  There are 39 states that follow the "Dillon rule", including Virginia, which the Virginia Supreme Court adopted in 1896, and states the legal principle that local governments have limited authority, and can pass ordinances only in areas where the General Assembly has granted clear authority


As a "Dillon Rule" state, Virginia requires an act of the General Assembly in Richmond before a Virginia county can do many things such as open its schools before Labor Day, alter speed limits for vehicles traveling through school zones, or levy a standard fee on all households to cover the cost of managing a landfill.

Local governments do not have the power to establish a moratorium on rezoning land, expand the definition of "family" so same-sex partners qualify for health insurance, or require a proposed uranium mine to compensate nearby property owners if concerns regarding radioactivity lowered values of nearby properties. 

The Dillon Rule give the state legislature the capacity to meddle in small-scale decisions made by local jurisdictions. Municipal (town, county and city) governments may adopt an ordinance only if the General Assembly has clearly granted authority for the local government to make decisions on that topic.

The state legislature has defined in state law which authorities have been delegated from the state government to all jurisdictions of a particular category. For example, town and city councils have been granted the right to implement a meals tax, but elected supervisors in a county may implement the tax only if local residents vote for approval in a referendum on that issue.

Removal of the Dillon Rule (which will never happen) would allow county governments to increase sales tax rates to help with budget issues.  While Home Rule makes perfect sense, the Virginia General Assembly will never relinquish its strangle hold on local jurisdictions.  It has always seemed out of place that cities and towns can actually do more than a county regarding raising revenue.

I for one, would love to see the state repeal the Dillon Rule to allow all Virginia counties to decide there own destiny, BUT considering the failure of our Supervisors to raise real estate taxes as it should, the state is probably right.  The supervisors would run a muck and raise sales tax by 2% instead of making the wealthy landowners pay their fair share.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

A New High School for Halifax County

So, the new elephant in the room facing the Board of Supervisors and the School Board is the need for a new Halifax County High School.

Not a recycled old school, but a brand new, state-of-the-art high school.  It is ridiculous to consider a remodel of the old school when the new structure will cost only $10 million of so more.

The old school is like a prison and was flawed from the beginning.  You can't put enough lipstick on this pig to make it serve our student's needs.  The disruption for classes and cost for temp classrooms while a remodel is done makes no sense

We need the new school built next to it and then remove the old building for the parking lot.

No doubt this process will turn into the same fiasco as the courthouse and take years to resolve, but the longer we wait, the higher the cost.  It's time to raise real estate taxes and do the right thing for our young people.

I don't want to hear the whining from the land owners and fixed income crowd.  You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, and you can't build a new high school without money.

Let's consider our high school students and give them the education they deserve.  Let's give them a great school, quality teachers, and the support needed to become the next generation of leaders for our great County.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The NRA and Guns!

While I'm stretching outside the county with this post, I believe that it still affects the residents of our beautiful Halifax County.

There is no doubt that many Democrats belong to the NRA, and I'm alright with that, but I suspect that the majority of their 5 million members are Republican.  Maybe in the spirit of Ireland, the NRA should be renamed the National Republican Army.  Listening to the rhetoric in the media makes me think we're in a war.

I don't care if every adult in America belongs to the NRA, nor do I care if every adult in America over 21 owns a gun.  What does irk me about the NRA is the influence this non-profit wields over politicians including my local Representative.

Even as a liberal, I support the 2nd Amendment right of Americans to own guns.  What I don't support is the uncontrolled availability of guns to people who should not have them.  What I don't support is military style semi-automatic weapons and large capacity magazines in civilian hands.

When our founding fathers wrote the 2nd Amendment, the world was a dangerous place and a well armed militia was potentially necessary to prevent another authoritarian leader from taking away our rights.  I suggest that those days are long gone.  If we fear our elected leaders today, we vote them out, not shoot them.

While there are a few voices that would like to totally control guns, I don't know a single Democrat that supports repeal of the 2nd Amendment, or taking away guns from law-abiding citizens.  I hear, like a broken record, my conservative friends rail about slippery slops, and taking their guns away.  That's balcony!  What most people want is responsible gun ownership.

What we do want is to ban assault style weapons that have no use outside the military and law enforcement.  We want to increase the age to buy a gun to 21.  We want to ban large capacity magazines.  We want to require background check for all gun transactions, public or private.  We want a three day waiting period for the purchase of any gun.  We want a national database that collected information on people identified with mental health issues to prevent them from having guns.  We want a national RED FLAG law that allows guns to be removed from the possession of people reported to authorities with threatening and unstable behavior.

What mystifies me is why any responsible gun owner would not want the same thing.

Now add to this debate the facts that the NRA has Russian members and Russian money being accepted and then used to fund political campaign ads and support pro-gun candidates.  Don't believe me?  Well Russian Senator Alexander Torshin has been a NRA member since 2010.  He even attended the 2012 NRA Convention as a "VIP guest" of the NRA President.  In 2013, at the NRA Convention, Torshin was presented with the gift of a rifle.  Also in 2013, Torshin and Maria Butina, the face of gun rights in Russia, hosted an NRA delegation to a Russian gun-rights convention in Moscow.

Are you getting my drift yet?

At that 2013 Convention in Russia, NRA President David Keene delivered a speech promoting Russo-American unity.  John Bolton, now Trumps national security adviser, delivered an address to the Russian gun-right movement, called "Right to Bear Arms".  Torshin and Trump are reported to have met at the 2014 NRA Convention in Nashville.

This is not made up stuff and if you want to read the complete story of the Russian influence in the NRA and their efforts to elect Trump, then read the article "The NRA's Russia Connection" by Tim Dickinson in the April 19 issue of Rolling Stone Magazine.

Yeah!  I know you'll say, that liberal rag magazines, but the facts don't lie.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

VIR - The Gem of Halifax County

Our beautiful county has a gem tucked in the southwest corner.  Virginia International Raceway, and it's business campus are a gold mine that county leaders ignore.  In fact, I surprised the Supervisors haven't offered to let Pittsylvania County annex the facility.

This weekend and next weekend will bring international road racing cars and motorcycles to VIR and with it tens of thousands of fans.  They will fill up hotels and eat at restaurants, but how many will do that in South Boston.  Hopefully many.

VIR has been brought back for extinction by its owner and along with its rise it brings over 400,000 visitors each year to the county to spend their money.  The only problem is that most of these tourism dollars are going to Danville rather than South Boston.

Our Supervisors should be fighting every year to make this the premier tourist destination, yet they won't even support supplying water to the facility at a fair rate.

The Supervisors should consider taking every action possible promote VIR.  Such support should include:
  • working with the State to provide better road access to the track from US58, 
  • rezoning if necessary and promoting hotels and restaurants on US58 at the Route 119 junctions,
  • creating a private/public partnership to expand the industrial park at VIR,
Bringing these tourist dollars to Halifax County could increase tax revenue from rooms, meals, alcohol to put to the county's bottom line, but Supervisors lack the vision and the fortitude to stand up and act.

Instead, VIR will likely soon get it water from Danville, and their hotels will capture most of the hotel room nights and restaurant sales.

It's a crying shame to let this gem slip through our fingers.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

How Halifax County Supervisors Squandered The $57 Million Windfall!

It may sound like a fairy tail, but it's a true story.

In 1995, the Halifax County real estate tax rate was lowered when South Boston ended its city status and became a town in the County.  Many other counties in the area slowly raised real estate taxes over the subsequent 20 years, but not Halifax County.  No, the Supervisors became addicted to the revision funding from the State, which paid Halifax County over $57 million over the next 15 years. 

Instead of planning for the future and the loss of this "free" money, our Supervisors played ostrich and refused to act.  While this left money in the pockets of taxpayers, it also left the county without a tax rate that could sustain our schools and infrastructure in the future.  Knowing that the money from the State would end at a certain point, progressive and forward-looking leaders would have slowly raised the tax rate by about 8 cents per hundred.  

When reversion funding ended in 2011-12, suddenly the responsibility for the additional $3.24 million in annual school funding fell square on the shoulders of the Supervisors who refused to raise taxes for fear of losing an election.  Halifax County real estate tax rate went from 45 cents to 48 cents in 2015 and remained there.

Fast forward to today.  Now in order to fund our schools appropriately, Supervisors will need to raise taxes by 6 to 10 cents per hundred, just to catch up.  That kick in butt for citizens was completely unnecessary.  Nearly all of those Supervisors are gone and a new crop of ostriches are now in power doing the same thing, hiding from their responsibility.  

Only 11 counties in Virginia have equal or lower real estate tax rates.  That's not a badge of honor that county leaders should embrace.  People and businesses don't move to Halifax County because of the low tax rate.  Instead that move away because of the school system.

Halifax is not a poor county, certainly far from the poorest.  Land area in Halifax County is 818 sq. miles or 523,500 acres.  There are just over 900 farms in the county that total over 211,000 acres  A large portion of the land in our county is owned by timber operations, out-of-state owners, trusts, and non-farming landowners.  Nearly 50% of the county farm land is woodland.  Over 450 of the farms are under 180 acres  Based on an inflated average value of $2000 an acre, most of these landowners would pay about $40 more in taxes for a one cent increase.

This also means that over 312,000 acres are in towns, and residential lots.  On average, these individual property owners would pay between $8 and $80 per one cent tax increase.

Halifax county is in the bottom 10% in the state in average local spending for education.  Halifax County teacher salaries are also in the bottom 10 percent among the 132 Virginia school divisions. Many counties poorer than Halifax pay much higher tax rates because they want a better future for their county.

So how will this fairy tail end.  Well, with the school issues, new schools needed, a courthouse renovation, a $2M temporary courthouse, underfunded fire and rescue, and poorly funded infrastructure, county taxpayers had better get ready for the wicked witch to raise taxes about 8 cents per hundred in the next year or two.  When that happens, be sure to let your Supervisor know how you feel, if they bother to reply to you.  As you might imagine, my doesn't  respond.

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Uranium Twist!

It seems that all of the "conservative" base in Halifax County got a big shock this week when the Trump Administration asked the Supreme Court to overturn Virginia's ban on uranium mining.

That must have been a shock to all those wealthy Trump supporters who have fought for years and spent many thousands of dollars fighting to oppose the mining of the uranium deposits just across the county line near Chatham.

So now, the Trump appointed Solicitor General has filed a brief asking the Supreme Court to overturn the 4th Circuit Court decision.  The argument is that this is a federal issue, now a state issue.

What happens now is anybody's guess.  If the SCOTUS overturns the 4th Circuit ruling, it might be over on one level, but that won't open the door for Virginia Uranium Inc. to start mining.  There will be many more fight by the Trump supporters to stop the mining from going forward.

That's what happens when an unfit president gets elected.  I'll bet all those angry white men with guns never thought about the consequences of putting such an unqualified man in the White House.  I can only hope that most of them are disillusioned in the great "yellow-haired one" by now and maybe we can get back to reality.  Even if he's a one term president, it will take a decade to recover from the damage caused by Trump, including this little venture that hurts our beautiful county.

Now, I don't support the mining of uranium in Virginia until every other viable deposit of the stuff anywhere in the world has been exhausted.  Virginia Uranium, Inc. is after the millions of dollars only and not the good of Virginia or the country.

Standby for the next chapter!