Free Lance-Star reporter Robyn Sidersky covers Caroline County government and schools. You can reach her at 540/374-5413 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow coverage on Facebook or Twitter as well.
Ashcraft speaks to Rotary Club
Percy Ashcraft, County Administrator email@example.com (804) 633-3499
Differences’ Between Government & Business
County Administrator Percy Ashcraft says he learned this past year the significant differences in managing government versus business in difficult economic times.
Speaking to the Caroline Rotary Club on August 26, Ashcraft said the County has gone through its worst budget discussions in his 11 years in Caroline County and it surfaced “significant differences” between the operations of government and business.
“I have often said it has been my intention as a manager to run County government as a business,” Ashcraft said. “But I learned last year than at anytime in my 15 years as a public manager that government and business do have significant differences.”
Ashcraft pointed out that when businesses hit an economic downtown, they have options such as closing, merging or seeking protection from their creditors. Ashcraft said that government does not have any of these options.
“We still have to provide effective services in bad times, as well as good,” Ashcraft said. “We have to find ways to do the same things with less people and still satisfy a critical public. And that is hard when expectations are high and it hurts when you can’t do things you would like to do because public funds just aren’t there to do them.”
Ashcraft pointed to agencies such as Social Services, the Public School Division and the Library system as groups that were affected by major budget cutbacks last year. Ashcraft reminded the Rotarians that within County government people were laid off; salaries were reduced; training was put on hold; and equipment purchases were deferred.
“Adversity can be a valuable teacher if you learn from it,” Ashcraft said. “There have been plenty of lessons learned over this past year. We enter this budget cautiously optimistic that it won’t be as tough as last year.”
Ashcraft highlighted some of the major items happening in County government at the present time, especially a strong focus on economic development.
“Throughout the downturn, we continue to be aggressive in the area of economic development,” Ashcraft said. He pointed to the decision by McKesson to locate in Caroline County and the investment of property at the Carmel Church Station as examples of competing for economic development projects in a tough economy.
“There have also been a number of small businesses that have opened or rebranded over the last year,” Ashcraft said. “These businesses have joined our traditional tax base to keep our revenues steady. We watch our collections more closely than we used to.”
Ashcraft announced two utility projects that will be up for public hearing and consideration by the Board of Supervisors at its September 21 meeting. They include the expansion of the wastewater treatment facility and extension of a water line to Caroline Pines.
“Wastewater capacity is critical if we are going to have residential and commercial growth,” Ashcraft said. “And the Caroline Pines extension is a true quality of life issue. Those residents deserve quality water and they will eventually become customers of the public utility system.”
On other matters, Ashcraft summarized:
- Reappraisal of property – A public meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, September 8 at the Community Services Center. The meeting will give Blue Ridge Appraisal Company a chance to go over the process and let people know their options to appeal. No numbers will be released that night. We don’t expect them before December.
- Update of Comprehensive Plan & GIS – The County recently updated its Comprehensive Plan. It is a document that all citizens – especially business owners – should have and understand. And to complement that, we have a new GIS system that is about to be made available to the public.
- Continued Career Staffing in Fire and Rescue – We are continuing to move our paid staff into areas that traditionally have been covered by volunteers. Just recently we moved career fire fighters into the Ladysmith Fire station for the first time. This is simply a sign of the times. Volunteers served as well, but they are not capable to provide the 24-hour coverage expected by our citizens.
- Tourism – Our tourism program continues to grow. Our new Visitor Center is busy all the time and the vendors who have items in the store are doing well. Our fall tourism program features the State Fair, Harvest Festival and Frog Level Festival, all of which will bring a lot of people to Caroline.
- Investment in Education – I know that Dr. (Greg) Killough is trying to stretch every Education dollar the County has given him and we are trying to do the same on our end. He is about to wrap up a four-year plan to upgrade County public schools in which the Board of Supervisors appropriated $6.7 million. This comes on the heels of opening the new Lewis & Clark Elementary School that was over $20 million to build. Discussions are underway on two proposals that will be geared to streamline efficiencies and save some money. The first is joint purchasing of common items used by both the County and the Public School Division. The second is the establishment of a Central Accounting System that will combine many of the financial functions used by the school division with County government.
- New Projects – (1) Opening of a County Museum next spring in the old Commissioner of the Revenue’s Office; (2) Construction of a new branch library in Dawn. The Board of Supervisors will consider this at the September 14 meeting; (3) Construction of a new YMCA in Ladysmith. This will be on the Board of Supervisors agenda on October 12. This is a partnership with the Rappahannock Area YMCA and Newland Communities who own Ladysmith Village.
- Public Information – Proud of our outreach to the community in providing public information. I like to think our website is as informative and interactive as any government site you will find. We have entered the world of all the social mediums which include Twitter and Facebook.
Ashcraft also said the County implemented a new Customer Service Policy within the last month. It Re-defines how the County deals with citizens and is a standard for all employees to uphold.
Ashcraft was introduced by Rotary President Kay Brooks.