by Gene Marrano
Hopefully it wasn’t an omen: as he began to give the State of the County address last week at the Green Ridge Recreation Center, the power went out on Board of Supervisors chairman Joe “Butch” Church.
He and Roanoke County School Board chair David Wymer had to deliver their remarks to the hundred or so gathered at the center’s gymnasium, during the annual event that is hosted by the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce. Alas, the accompanying Power Point presentations were also a casualty of the power failure, as a transformer failed.
Roanoke City Manager Chris Morrill and Vinton Mayor Brad Grose were among the attendees that came from all of the jurisdictions in Roanoke County. First elected in 1999. Church, who was running for a fourth term on Tuesday, hoped that his address would leave people feeling “energized.” Investing in the Future was the theme of his remarks, said Church, adding that “citizens come first” in Roanoke County.
He also said transparency has been the operative word in how the Board of Supervisors and the county has dealt with the public in recent years. Church ticked off several accomplishments that included no tax increases and a balanced budget. He pointed out, as in the past, that Roanoke County’s tax rate compares favorably to those of surrounding counties and is only higher because of the increased level of services demanded by citizens.
The board has also shown “continued support” for education, despite tough economic times and lower tax revenues. Much of that has to do with what Church called “sound financial practices” in an atmosphere that has been “most challenging” over the past three years.
Once again the former college basketball official and retired insurance agent bad-mouthed any plan that would make local governments responsible for secondary road maintenance – as the General Assembly has suggested could be an option. “The General Assembly can be a one-man wrecking crew,” said Church.
Reducing the county staff through attrition, cutting back on travel expenses and looking for other cost cutting measures has helped keep Roanoke County afloat, added Church, who now identifies himself as an Independent after first getting elected as a Republican in 1999.
Church touted the county’s Information Technology department for helping to improve customer service and Roanoke County’s new website, launched earlier this year. “We listened to citizens who said they wanted a user-friendly site,” noted Church. The website won an award from the Center for Digital Government.
A partnership with Roanoke City on the horizon will mean a regional emergency radio system will be in place; the Vinton and Roanoke County dispatch centers merged last year. The changes will keep Roanoke County “ahead of the curve in the crucial area of communications,” said Church. He also cited retiring police chief Ray Lavinder and invited him to the podium to be recognized. Church recognized retiring Parks and Recreation Director Pete Haislip, and his successor, Doug Blount.
Wymer was introduced by Church and gave his own State of the Schools report, talking about the recent “difficult financial times” that the system has weathered with help from the Board of Supervisors.
Wymer touted the county schools as being fully accredited, with a graduation rate near 92 percent, and numerous construction projects recently completed or underway. Despite “severe reductions in state funding” over the past three years, Wymer said Roanoke County schools are in “outstanding shape.”
New libraries in south Roanoke County (now slated to open in January 2012) and Glenvar, plus library projects on the board for Mount Pleasant and Vinton also received mention. Church said Roanoke County had a willingness to “make big decisions and take bold steps forward,” as he concluded his remarks.