The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Spotsylvania to remain in Virginia Association of Counties
BY JEFF BRANSCOME
The Free Lance-Star
Spotsylvania County is continuing its membership in the Virginia Association of Counties, despite objections from some conservatives on the Board of Supervisors.
Supervisor David Ross, who describes himself as a social and fiscal conservative, at Tuesday’s meeting asked the board to sever ties with VACO for at least three months.
He takes issue with the association’s opposition to the constitutional amendment that would curtail government use of eminent domain—the taking of private property for public use.
The amendment will be on the ballot in November.
“It’s going to send a clear message that this kind of lobbying that hurts our constituents is nothing we’ll support,” Ross said of ending the county’s VACO membership. He was elected last year on a property-rights platform.
Spotsylvania’s annual VACO dues are $27,279. The county has four new supervisors on its seven-member board after last year’s elections, and all of them ran as conservatives.
The new majority voted in January to support the eminent-domain constitutional amendment, reversing the position of last year’s board. The amendment allows landowners—including small-business owners—to pursue compensation for loss of profits and access and would prohibit eminent domain for economic development.
But Supervisor Timothy McLaughlin was the only other board member to support Ross’ proposal. Supervisors Ann Heidig, Emmitt Marshall, Benjamin Pitts, Gary Skinner and Paul Trampe voted against it.
A few residents at Tuesday’s meeting were vocal in their opposition to the county’s VACO membership. A sheriff’s deputy had to warn a lady after she shouted over a talking supervisor.
Pitts, who called himself a friend of VACO, referred to the eminent-domain issue as water under the bridge.
“I belong to a lot of organizations, and I don’t always agree with what they do, but that’s not reason to pick up my toys and go home,” Pitts said in an interview.
The Goochland County Board of Supervisors last week ended its relationship with VACO, citing its opposition to the association’s eminent-domain stance. That makes it the only nonmember of Virginia’s 95 counties.
“We have enjoyed 100 percent participation from all the counties for 19 years now,” VACO Executive Director James Campbell said. He said he hasn’t heard from any other localities interested in leaving the association.
Spotsylvania Supervisor McLaughlin said he doesn’t agree with giving taxpayer money to a registered lobbying group such as VACO, even if he agrees with its positions. “They’re interested in representing government,” he said. “I think we need to represent the citizens, the taxpayer.”
Heidig, Pitts and Trampe are on VACO steering committees, which began meeting Friday to discuss legislative priorities for 2013. Heidig and Trampe, both conservatives who were elected last year, decided to stay with VACO despite disagreeing with its position on eminent domain.
“I don’t believe at this moment in pulling out,” Heidig said. “That’s just not the way I do things. If I find that my voice is not being heard you can expect to have this meeting again next year.”
Trampe said he voted to stay in the association because it provides insurance to the county at much lower rates than other insurers.
“Making a point about property rights came after my duty to the taxpayer,” Trampe said. Spotsylvania currently doesn’t have to be a member of VACO to purchase its insurance, but that could change, he said.
Trampe wrote a letter to the association encouraging it to reconsider its stance on eminent domain. “ It is not proper for an association of governments to lobby for the interests of those governments against the interests of the citizens,” he wrote.
The letter has been co-signed by Heidig, Ross and Skinner.
VACO’s Campbell said the association will be responsive to the new views on Spotsylvania’s board.
“We look forward to gaining their continued confidence in us as a representative of their values,” he said.
Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402