Recently, a friend of mine posed the following question, “do we as citizens have any duties or obligations outside of what we are directed to do (or not do) by law?” This was a very interesting question, and I thought for several minutes to form a reply. Of course we do!
I recall this quote by our very own Mr. Jefferson in a letter to Edward Carrington January 16, 1787, "Cherish, therefore, the spirit of our people, and keep alive their attention. If once they become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, judges and governors, shall all become wolves. It seems to be the law of our general nature.” I believe he was stressing the worst outcome of a government where the people stop paying attention and cease being involved, although he very plainly made his point.
We, as members of our community, cannot go about our lives thinking only of our daily routines. Unless we become involved in the direction of the affairs that shape our community, someone whom we elected along with a small informed group of active people will shape them for us; with or without regard of what we as a broader people desire of the outcome.
This very concept runs parallel with the current state of Greene County. We are now faced with challenges that we’ve never encountered since our incorporation 178 years ago due to our tremendous growth over a very short number of years. Over the past 5 years alone, we gown more than 8 percent to a population of just under 20,000, and there seems to me no slowing down. Such growth places demand on core services county wide; schools, safety and infrastructure.
Take, for example, our water and sewer system (for those of you not on a well or septic). Currently, it’s reported that our average daily water and sewer capacity will reach its permitted level by 2020, and we’ve already exceeded its daily peak demand. Estimates place a proposed cost of expanding this service for a 30-year usage outlook at $55-65M, doubling our current debt, and adding potentially more that 22 cents to the current 77.5 cent per $100 of assessed property value. This alone would place Greene County as one of the most expensive property taxed counties of its size in the Commonwealth, and in the range of property taxes imposed by Virginia cities, which offer a vaster array of services than counties do. Is there no other alternative to the one proposed?
Then there’s the Greene County School System Facility Study that examines options that help address the expanding school population. The study describes most of the Greene County Schools exceeding or approaching building capacity, with two schools exceeding their cafeteria capacity. Whatever direction the consultants propose in the final options, better space utilization, building expansion to existing structures, or adding new facilities, the costs will be significant and additional to the cost of water and sewer infrastructure.
We have a responsibility to be involved in every aspect of our governance. We are a people of a self-governance. Our government is the structure that we have chosen to consent to a few elected individuals within the confines of laws and ordinances, to strictly and limitedly keep our local community functioning. Folks, it will not work without our collective input and telling them what WE want in the long-run.
If you look at the new Greene County website, there is a section towards the bottom of the home page that says, “Meet Your Government”. The section shows the Board of Supervisors Chair and Vice-Chair, County Administrator, and our Sheriff. Sorry, not to split hairs here, but they are not our government, they are our representatives…even we as citizens are not our government. Their purpose is to represent us to the government (the structure), not represent the government (the structure) to us. We’ve grown accustom to getting these concepts mixed up.
The County of Greene can no longer afford, literally, to aspire to be managed like it has for prior decades. We’ve grown too fast in too short of a period for that, and circumstances have become too complex and sophisticated to manage the structure one month at a time. It’s time for some very classical strategic planning that focuses on how we will be positioned to successfully face the next 20 or 30 years, and that planning requires ALL of us.
Please get involved by first knowing the facts. Attend the Greene County Board of Supervisors and School Board meetings. Send your Board of Supervisors an email. Your involvement will decide how decisions are made and to what degree they impact the cost of living in Greene County.
-- Bob Young