Our pursuit of a plan to address our community challenges

Published 11:52 am Saturday, August 8, 2015

by Anne Seward

As many of you know, the Board of Supervisors recently voted against the proposed growth plan for the northern development service district, “ISLE 2040.”

With the Board’s decision, it is my hope we will continue to focus on developing solutions to the reasons the plan was introduced.

The ISLE 2040 plan focused on attracting amenities in concert with residential growth to create a community where people can live, work and recreate without the need for long commutes outside our beautiful county. Additionally, the plan outlined a strategy to address future infrastructure needs such as schools and roadways we cannot pay for today.

This plan was first presented to the Board in late summer of 2014 to address a number of core concerns facing the county today and in its future.

Specific challenges in no particular weighted order are:

1. Costly water contracts with quickly escalating tax impacts

2. Recurring budget deficits due to lost revenue and slow growth

3. Lack of economic development activity and adequate workforce

4. Lack of retail and entertainment amenities INSIDE the county

In short, we pay for a lot of treated water, but have no good plan to grow our customer base to cover this significant investment. Eighteen percent of the county real estate tax goes to help cover water expenses today, and will increase SIGNIFICANTLY IN THE NEAR FUTURE with fixed contract increases adding pressure to the future tax burden. While the County has reduced costs and services in an effort to cut spending, we continue to experience recurring deficits threatening our ability to provide for schools, courts, health, welfare, fire/rescue, law enforcement and animal control just to name a few of the many service mandates that counties are required to provide.

New business and development inside the county has been stagnant while other communities around us announce new ones daily.

Most localities rely on business “spin-off” revenue such as meals tax, lodging tax, and sales tax to support government service needs. The county has very little as most goes to the towns or cities around us. A business that locates just outside the county’s boundaries adds to our residents buying in other communities helping to keep their taxes low and not ours.

Businesses look for population to support them. This means we need to focus our population to critical corridors to support new businesses and keep service areas focused. It also helps to preserve our agricultural lands that are greatly valued.

As folks leave the county for employment, goods, eateries, and entertainment not available at home, the county gets more traffic flow and road impacts. A majority of our county residents leave daily for employment and to buy goods or services.

Our lack of job options for our youth and limited housing stock adds to workforce concerns we encounter when trying to attract new industry. Trends show we are a rapidly aging community with a high concentration of the 55-plus population.

If we remain on this trajectory we will find ourselves with more fixed income households and less employed youth to help pay for services.

Over the past year, the ISLE 2040 planning process has been focused on education and outreach to develop a growth plan that would assist with these many challenges.

While the community reaction to a change in the landscape is understandable, the research and facts support our need to develop a plan to improve our future different from what is mapped today. While this need was recognized by many, it was spoken by very few. The compromised plan received support from the Planning Commission and the Chamber of Commerce, but fell short in reaching approval by the Board due to a lack of public support; however, the challenges and major issues that precipitated the development of the ISLE 2040 plan still exist.

As your loyal staff, we will now move forward searching for other solutions and strategies and to hearing and working with all who will contribute to this process.

Whether you liked the ISLE 2040 plan or not, the fact remains that the plan did attempt to address all of the challenges and issues I have shared. While there may be disagreement about specifically how much Isle of Wight County will grow over the next 25 years, the fact remains that the county will grow. Our questions should focus on how will we make it work for us and not against us.

ANNE SEWARD is the county administrator for Isle of Wight County. She can be contacted via droberts@isleofwightus.net.