Roanoke County Board of Supervisors chairman Richard Flora, who will not run for reelection next year from the Hollins District, used his final State of the County address last week to talk about “Leading with Courage and Commitment.” That was the theme of Flora’s address to invited guests at the Green Ridge Recreation Center, guests that included dignitaries from Roanoke City, Salem and Vinton. The Regional Chamber of Commerce stages the annual State of the County address.
Flora, who retired from Roanoke County schools several years ago – but then went back to work part time as the Craig County administrator – was first elected to the Board of Supervisors way back in 1972. He left after one term, then came back in 2005 to represent Hollins again. Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce chairman John Francis praised Flora’s “long career in public service,” when introducing him.
Flora welcomed invited guests as those “that make a difference in this valley,” before launching into his address. Slides that accompanied his speech highlighted that even with declining revenues in recent years – the “Great Recession” Flora called it – the Board of Supervisors did not raise taxes, have to lay off county staff members (attrition has accounted for a work force reduction) or compromise services. “[We are] financially stable and within budget,” noted Flora.
Courageous and forward-thinking leadership, according to Flora, has left Roanoke County in good shape. “We owe much of our success today to courageous decisions that were set in motion years or even decades ago.” One of those decisions involved building Spring Hollow Reservoir, “one of the best things that ever happened to the valley,” said Flora, built in the face of opposition despite reports that, “the entire valley was on the verge of running out of water.”
Spring Hollow helped provide water to Roanoke City during drought conditions in the late 1990’s; that in turn led to the creation of the Western Virginia Water Authority. The Smith Gap Landfill and the Roanoke Valley Resource Authority also came together in the face of public opposition. Implementing service fees for fire and rescue calls caused the Board to take “a lot of flack,” over a decade ago, but Flora said those fees have helped meet the demand of a call volume that has more than doubled and has helped fund more paid fire/rescue positions.
The Western Virginia Regional Jail has been “another shining example of how regional cooperation has enabled us to pool our resources,” noted Flora. The joint decision eight years ago by Supervisors and the Roanoke County school system to set aside funds for capital projects has led to the building of schools and public facilities, even in lean times.
That has happened “without tax increases, additional fees or politics entering into the picture.” The Green Ridge Recreation Center, the new South County Library and the public safety center on Cove Road were some of the projects funded by the joint effort.
There are other possible partnerships on the horizon said Flora – a possible merging of 9-1-1 emergency communication operations with Roanoke City, and a joint criminal justice training academy.
Flora said Roanoke County did end the last fiscal year in the black, despite an economy that “tanked” in 2008, and without tax increases or service reductions. Four new businesses and investments totaling around $17 million have helped create more than 340 jobs.
Roanoke County School Board chair Fuzzy Minnix followed Flora to the podium, declaring that the $3.3 million surplus announced recently will soon be a distant memory. “It will be gone before you can turn around twice,” said the Cave Spring resident, despite budget cuts and belt tightening. Minnix said the School Board and the Board of Supervisors must continue to have a close relationship in the years ahead.
“It’s our job to get things done,” said Flora as he concluded his final State of the County address, “and that takes elected officials who have the courage to take risks, endure criticism, understand the value of compromise and place good long-term decision making ahead of political pandering.’
by Gene Marrano