County advances in economic development and education

Franklin County leaders recently voted to approve a state legislative agenda that focuses on priorities in economic development and education.

Drafted by the Virginia Association of Counties, the agenda has since been drafted and approved.

The publication is typically released in November after VACo members adopt the program at the annual conference. It helps guide advocacy staff during the General Assembly session.

VACo supports county officials and represent, promote and protect the interests of counties, according to Joe Lerch, director of local government policy.

“This is what we use when we go to the legislature and effectively lobby on budgets,” Lerch said. “We use this to communicate to the legislature and governor, ‘here are our priorities.’”

The program outlines different aspects including transportation, finance, health and human services, education, economic development, planning and more.

“We want to be a part of a lot of these things as they move forward,” Franklin County Board of Supervisors Chairman Cline Brubaker said. “We want to do everything that we can for economic development and education’s career and technical development.”

VACo has seven committees that each focus on an area of the program. The completed program is later voted on by all members in November.

Lerch said VACo’s biggest issue is seeing an increase in education, saying that area has been underfunded for the last few years.

VACo is urging the General Assembly to provide “full state funding” for public schools, without reducing other areas of public education budgets.

According to the document, the state recognized that local school divisions spent about $3.9 billion more than the required local effort for the 2016 financial period.

In addition, the group says the state should also meet obligations to fund the support side of K-12 education.

Since 2009, there have been “sizable structural budget cuts” to K-12, especially in areas of support, the document said.

VACo supports the restoration of those cuts and funding to improve school security.

“Improving career and technical education at the high school and the business park go hand-in-hand,” Brubaker said. “We need to make sure that we give these young people an opportunity to start somewhere.”

Economic development and planning is another area of focus within the program.

Franklin County appears to be faring well, especially with the formation of its new business park, Summit View, he said.

“The goal is to have high quality and high-paying jobs in the business park,” he said. “We want to create a good image. We do have a number of prospects … but we do not have a contract signed yet. We’re trying to find people and businesses that can help Franklin County.”

The business park has attracted a few prospects that did not work out in the end, but in time it will hold about 2,200 jobs when it’s full, he said. These jobs will bring people into the county, and Brubaker’s hope is that those people will live here as well.

Once aspect of economic development VACo points out is its support for broadband. It urges the state and federal government to help communities, especially in rural areas, in efforts to provide residents with universal and affordable broadband access.

Franklin County has already made steps toward giving more people access to internet services with the county supervisors’ approval of a broadband authority.

“The concerns of the people are my concerns, and there are a lot of things that we are trying to do,” Brubaker said. “I hope that our taxpayers are willing to invest in our young people. We lose too many of our young because they can go to other areas. They are our future and in order to move forward we have to invest in them.”

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