Extending high speed internet to rural areas, further study of the locally-collected Business Professional and Occupational License, more state money for public education and increased focus on mental health services are among the “priority issues” identified by the Virginia Association of Counties Region 7 for consideration at the 2019 session of the Virginia General Assembly.

The Culpeper County Board of Supervisors, at its meeting Tuesday, unanimously endorsed the legislative priorities put forth by the Richmond-based association that represents and lobbies for counties across Virginia. According to the group’s final draft of priorities, adopted Nov. 19, a large portion of residents in Region 7, including Culpeper, Orange and Madison counties, have no access to broadband.

“Broadband access strengthens K-12 education, healthcare delivery, economic development and lessens stress on the transportation network,” according to the platform developed by legislative liaison Eldon James in conjunction with a regional board. “The region encourages state financial support for expanded broadband capacity as well as strengthened local authority to deploy broadband directly or through public-private partnerships.”

On the issue of tax reform and local revenues, the VACo Region 7 platform stated BPOL taxes and the machinery and tools tax are frequently mentioned as taxes the General Assembly should consider for elimination. That conversation has been had more than once in Culpeper, where the town voluntarily reduced the tax, based on business gross receipts, earlier this year.

“We recognize the need to promote business growth and support efforts to do so, but those that can result in reducing local services that support economic development or raising other taxes will undermine the intended purpose,” according to the VACo Region 7 platform approved by the county board. “Before tax system changes are enacted, the Region supports thorough study of the entire system and the consequences.”

The Association further stated such study should include consideration of equal taxing authority in cities and counties.

VACo Region legislative priorities, in addition, generally supported improved rail service along the I-95 and U.S. Route 29 corridors and maintained state support for current transit operations in Virginia.

Regarding state funding for local and regional jails, the Region 7 platform urged the General Assembly to restore funding to $14 per day per state inmate, costing around $6 million. In 2010, state legislators reduced the amount to $12, transferring the cost to localities.

On the topic of public education, “The Region is deeply concerned by the trend of declining state support for K-12,” according to the stated priorities. VACo encouraged the state to reverse this trend and to provide funding for school resource officers in all schools.

As for mental health, the region strongly supports a sustained focus on the issue to ensure the availability of appropriate and effective outpatient and inpatient services across the state. In addition, “The Region encourages reforms provide for alternative placement for local jail inmates with serious mental health issues that should not be left to jail personnel to address.”

Finally, the VACo Region 7 platform supports legislative and education efforts to emphasize prevention and misuse of prescription drugs. Someone in the U.S. dies every 19 minutes from an overdose of such opioids, according to the American Public Health Association. The Association suggests, and VACo supports, legislation to address physical and mental status examination, doctor shopping, tamper-resistant prescription form requirements, regulation of pain management clinics, prescription drug monitoring, and prescription drug overdose emergency response.

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Allison Brophy Champion can be reached at abrophy@starexponent.com or (540) 825-4315.

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