The Virginia Association of Counties (VACo) is the voice of local governments in the Commonwealth, providing an opportunity for local elected officials to discuss common, and sometimes not-so-common, issues at the federal, state, and local level. VACo’s summer meeting was held in Richmond last weekend, and featured educational sessions about the state budget, stormwater, right-to-farm, and transportation. VACo steering committees also met to continue work on the association’s legislative package to be presented to the next General Assembly in January.
According to the budget presentation from a House of Delegates staffer, state revenues are predicted to grow by more than 4.2 percent next year. In discussion, I challenged that premise. Northern Virginia, especially Fairfax County, is the state’s economic engine, and our figures do not indicate such robust growth in the coming year, so I am concerned that the state’s forecasts are somewhat rosier than what we know to be reality. Slower growth and federal sequestration, especially as it affects Virginia’s many Defense Department installations, may stymie recovery during the coming few years, and that can have a ripple effect on other counties that depend on the strength of Northern Virginia.
Stormwater is an issue that can affect a majority of Virginia’s counties, whether large or small. By state law, localities subject to the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act must have new stormwater ordinances adopted by July of 2014. In Fairfax County, the new ordinance especially will affect single family infill lots, as well as responsibility for maintenance of stormwater ponds, swales, wetlands, and other Best Management Practices (BMPs) in residential areas. The public hearing for Fairfax County’s ordinance is anticipated in December, but it was clear from the presentation at VACo that many localities still are in the planning phase, and the clock is ticking.
On its face, the Right-to-Farm seems to be an issue of little concern to Fairfax County, but the erosion of local land use authority under some proposals for modification to Virginia’s Right-to-Farm law would pose a serious challenge to all localities. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has established an On Farm Activities Working Group to make recommendations about what farm activities should be protected and what local governments can to do assist farmers. At issue are activities that may, or may not, be construed as legitimate farm activities. If a rural vineyard decides to host weddings, concerts, and festivals to augment winery income, are those activities protected under Right-to-Farm, or are they subject to regulation under local land use authority? If a farmstand sells furniture made elsewhere, is that considered a farm activity, or a retail sales establishment? Most likely, the Virginia General Assembly will consider such legislation in 2014, so all local governments will be watching.