I read Richard Brady’s commentary in last week’s Rappahannock News. We all have a right to express our opinions and he did just that. But are those opinions well thought out and fact based?
I would like to take this opportunity to rebut. Having lived here only 28 years, I’m not considered a local, but I did marry one 43 years ago. I have served on the School Board, 20-plus years on the Recreation Facilities Authority, Economic Revitalization Committee, and Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection. I work with the RAAC theater group, the Art Tour, and Taste of Rappahannock. I presently represent the Jackson district on the Board of Zoning Appeals. Hopefully, I would meet Mr. Brady’s “solid citizen” requirement. I have no interest in seeing our county become Loudoun or Fairfax. I have no conflict of interest and I will not, as he suggested, sit down and shut up.
First, a definition of the words “affordable housing” is difficult to find because of the large number of influencing factors. I will simplify it and say housing for those who are middle to low income. Also, I am not including subsidized housing, although we also have a need in that area. Do we have some affordable housing in the county? Yes, but much of it is small one or two bedroom units, some of which are in poor condition. We need housing that is 2000-2500 square feet where families can live comfortably.
So what are the advantages of allowing a limited number of well thought out areas in our county where small acre lots, with their own water and septic systems, would be permitted?
These areas would have to be carefully analyzed to insure they would not overburden the hydrology and could handle the septic systems. The square footage of the housing could be controlled. The building would be done by private individuals that would buy the lots and build, or builders who buy and construct homes to sell.
These areas would allow young families to once again move into the county. It would allow the children of existing families to stay in the county. It would increase the birthrate in the county, which would bring more children into our school system that is facing a crisis, not because they are not providing a high quality education, but because of a declining number of students.
It could provide a larger pool of individuals to staff our overburdened Fire and Rescue companies. It would provide a larger available work force for our local businesses that often struggle to find employees. It would assist with families who have members who wish to age at home but struggle because those they need to care for them must come from distant locations. It would allow all of our teachers, county employees, sheriff’s deputies, and not too far down the road paid fire and rescue personnel to live in the county where they work. The list can go on.
There are those who feel that an increasing population would put a strain on our county services and lead to higher taxes. I feel the opposite is true. An increase in the population would add little cost to our present system, but it would increase the amount of taxes being collected and because of the increased number of taxpayers possibly decrease the individual tax burden. The school funding from the state is determined by the number of students in the system and the composite index, which is based on average individual income of the residents.
Rappahannock has one of the highest rates in the state and therefore gets less money. If we increase the number of middle class income residents, it would bring down the composite index and increase state funding. Our school population has decreased by 33 percent over the last 20 years, but our operating costs, due in part to capital expenditures, have risen. If we increased our student numbers by 400, which would put us where we were 20 years ago, we would see a substantial increase in per pupil funding. This increase in both areas would decrease the local tax burden and possibly lead to a lower tax rate.
Affordable housing should not be a controversial issue. Who are we trying to preserve the wonders of Rappahannock County for? Should it be only for those who can afford to pay the price?
Our son was at a gathering this past weekend in Roanoke, which included a number of friends who grew up in the area. Many of them are turning 30 this year. They spoke of returning to Rappahannock to live, but the requirement is affordable housing and high speed internet. There was a photo in last week’s News of 10 RCHS nursing students who are graduating and already have job offers in the area. How many of them will be able to remain residents of the county?
This issue raises the question of opening the door to development. We, for the most part, closed that door 30-plus years ago. We are now having to deal with the results. The land remains, as do the views and vistas. Wildlife abounds. We now must deal with new issues that arise from a decreasing but aging population that has been created by that decision.
What direction do we take? Do we agree to pay much higher taxes in order to import the services that we are no longer able to provide, or do we make well thought out and controlled changes that will allow an increase in our population of individuals that can fill that void?
Our Planning Commission is in a position to chart a course that will move us in a direction that can solve this crisis.
The writer lives in Amissville