Virginia's General Assembly meets for only a brief period every year, starting in January and ending after 60 days in even-numbered years and 45 days in odd years. Making sure the voices of constituents are heard in such a short period makes strategic planning imperative. Stafford's Board of Supervisors works year-round to compile resident concerns and analyze current county issues to create a new legislative program to take to the General Assembly every year. The General Assembly makes decisions that affect Stafford ordinances, taxes, fees, funding and more.
"It is imperative that we are thoroughly prepared to represent the interests of the county to our legislators in Richmond," said Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Crystal Vanuch, Rock Hill District. "In particular, this year's session is short, and revenues have been adversely affected by the pandemic. Stafford would like to work with our Delegates to increase funding for road safety and congestion in our area instead of reallocating the funding to Hampton Roads, and to prioritize an increase to cost to compete funding so that Stafford is receiving equitable funding for our students.”
Stafford hires an outside lobbying firm to manage the County's daily on-the-ground lobbying efforts. Supervisors also visit and communicate with legislators as well. Chairman Vanuch and Supervisor Tom Coen, George Washington District, are members of the Board's Legislative Committee and work with Stafford's legislative affairs staffer to assist the Board with what has become a year-round effort. Stafford starts preparing its next legislative agenda at the end of every General Assembly session and completes it by October to line up a vote by the Board. Bills must be submitted in advance of the session's January opening, with November being the opening date.
Stafford's 2021 legislative priorities' main matters include the topics below, all of equal importance.
Recordation Tax Distribution Amendments
Last year, the General Assembly made changes in the collection and distribution of state transportation revenues, reducing the state recordation tax's total local government allocation by $20 million. By state code, localities may use their state recordation tax allocation for either transportation or education purposes. The change in state law resulted in reducing approximately $900,000 to the County's Transportation Fund. Stafford is lobbying for restoring the local recordation tax allocation.
Public Day School Funding
The General Assembly is requested to provide additional state-support funding for a community-based, therapeutic public day program. Stafford County Government and Stafford County Public Schools have long operated a public day school program within our school system. The program allows students to require services through the Virginia Children's Services Act to be educated within their local public school system. Presently, the Commonwealth of Virginia does not allow for the use of Children's Services Act Funds in the public school setting. Through this program, Stafford has documented a potential cost savings of 40% per participant versus private placements outside the County. To date, the General Assembly has not adopted policy changes to mitigate rising CSA costs and support students' education within their home community.
Study on the Impact of Disabled Veterans Tax Relief Expense on Localities
Stafford is requesting that the state, through the commission on local government, study the impact of the disabled veterans' tax relief expenses on localities. While Stafford is honored to participate, the state did not sufficiently examine the fiscal implications for local governments after they passed the program. As a result, local governments have funded this program entirely through their real estate tax bases. Increasing costs, enrollment, and demand for this program in Stafford County have significantly impacted the County's real estate tax base. Stafford fully supports the program but believes the Virginia General Assembly must evaluate local governments' budgetary impacts.
Land Use Issue
The General Assembly is requested to amend and reenact the Code of Virginia to allow localities the authority to prohibit stormwater management facilities from being located within open space and/or conservation areas established in a cluster development. Stafford County has observed multiple development projects where the required open space shown on the subdivision plan did little to meet the State Code's intent and the County's Comprehensive Plan. Subdivision stormwater management facilities do not meet open space requirements because they do not exist in a natural state, provide recreational opportunities, and do not contribute to agriculture, forestry, or land conservation purposes.
For more information on Stafford's 2021 legislative program, please visit https://staffordcountyva.gov/DocumentCenter/View/18344/2021-Stafford-General-Assembly-Legislative-Program.