Isle of Wight programs lauded

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 17, 2007

RICHMOND—Two Isle of Wight programs received recognition recently from the Virginia Association of Counties.

Isle of Wight’s Rural Economic Development Program and Social Service work redesign were among 13 programs chosen for 2007 Achievement Awards, which recognizes local government programs in nine categories for innovation, collaboration and model practices.

VACo, a lobbying group representing citizens and government representatives from counties throughout the state, received 43 entries for the statewide contest. Winners will be recognized during a ceremony at the group’s annual conference in November.

&uot;This is not just an awards program,&uot; Executive Director James Campbell said. &uot;These projects represent innovative ideas with positive results that can be replicated throughout the state and the country.&uot;

Isle of Wight’s Rural Economic Development Program, created under the Office of Economic Development in 2003, helps farmers diversify their operations, creates and promotes agri-tourism ventures, develops farmland preservation programs, recruits agri-businesses, supports value-added agriculture development and educates the public about agriculture.

According to VACo information, the agricultural organization is &uot;one of only a handful of programs of its type and is the only one housed with a department of economic development in Virginia.&uot;

The program was started, according to the background information included with the county’s award application, because &uot;citizens, the Board of Supervisors and the county’s Department of Economic Development recognize that a good balance of land uses is necessary in order to be a viable, well-rounded community.

&uot;The creation of this program was driven by a common belief within the community and its leaders that assisting local farmers in their success was vital to maintaining the rural heritage and character of the community.&uot;

One of the program’s chief accomplishments has been the creation of the Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements Program, which compensates landowners for the development rights to their land in return for conservation easements that ensure the property will always remain in agricultural or forestry production.

Rural Economic Development also has partnered with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Community Services, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and the county Farm Bureau and was instrumental in creating the Windsor Farmers’ Market.

The county’s Department of Social Services also will receive recognition for a program it began in 2006 to help improve long-term employment, financial self-sufficiency and home and car ownership among poor families in the county.

Recognizing the need for improvements and the unavailability of money for more staff, the social services agency redesigned and streamlined its benefits delivery system, created &uot;one-stop shopping&uot; for customers, developed a performance reward system for employees and implemented a new educational welfare-to-work program.

According to VACo, the redesign in Isle of Wight has made benefits and services easier to access, has reduced the amount of time customers spend dealing with the government bureaucracy and has encouraged them to spend more time working toward self-sufficiency.

A customer-service survey conducted after the changes were put in place revealed that 51 percent of those who visited the agency were satisfied and 38 percent were delighted with the service they had received.

The program has been recognized at the state level and is being used as an example for other departments throughout Virginia.

The National Association of Counties also honored both Isle of Wight programs earlier this year.