By MIKE WILLIAMS
The Pulaski County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday voted unanimously to “generally” support a list of legislative priorities the Virginia Association of Counties (VACo) will lobby for when the General Assembly opens next week.
The upcoming “short” session of the legislature opens Wednesday in Richmond and is scheduled to adjourn on Feb. 25.
The legislative priorities of VACo are included in a 25-page position paper assembled by the organization, which County Administrator Jonathan Sweet noted includes many positions the county’s supervisors will agree with, but some they won’t.
“They [VACo] do a really good job of representing the localities and 93 counties in Virginia,” Sweet told the supervisors.
“There could be some things in there you want to strike, there could be some things in there you’re really excited about supporting and promoting,” he added.
The VACo position paper forms the bulk of the county Board of Supervisors’ list of legislative priorities for the new year, but that list also includes two additional items concerning I-81 and tobacco.
One item, according to Sweet, is referred to currently as the Aid to Interstate Localities Legislation.
“Chairman (Laura) Walters has been a huge proponent of codifying aid to localities that are on I-81,” Sweet said.
“The aid would include state funding to support all of the first responder services that counties like Pulaski provide Virginia’s travelers and quite frankly the nation’s travelers as they traverse Pulaski County,” Sweet explained.
Walters said in her research on the issue she found that most Emergency Medical Service costs to run interstate rescue calls is reimbursed by insurance companies, but most of the calls run by fire departments is not.
“Getting those six to eight people and equipment out there cost us an estimated $206,672 a year,” Walters said.
“That would be a nice little chunk of money we could use for something else,” she added.
Sweet noted he could see VACo supporting that initiative and a joint resolution among participating localities along I-81, I-77 and the other interstates in Virginia.
On tobacco, the supervisors will lobby for Pulaski County’s inclusion into the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission.
According to its website, “the commission’s service area includes 40 tobacco-dependent localities in Southern and Southwest Virginia. Local governments and nonprofits serving those localities are eligible to apply to the Commission’s grant and loan programs for projects that will enhance the economic growth and development of the region.”
The region currently includes all counties and cities south and west of Pulaski County.
In 1998, the Attorneys General of 46 states signed the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) with the four largest tobacco companies in the United States to settle state suits and recover billions of dollars in costs associated with treating smoking-related illnesses. A portion of the MSA proceeds funded the creation of the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission.
It is Virginia’s portion of the money from this settlement that the commission uses to provide the grants and loans.
“We are the donut hole,” Sweet stated. “We feel we should be included. We’ve had some good [tobacco] history here just as much as some of the other localities that didn’t have the lion share of their agricultural stock in tobacco, but a significant amount to be included in the commission, which affords a variety of programming and funding opportunities.”
Sweet said throughout his career, working in Carroll County and Grayson County, the City of Danville and Bland County he had been a part of the commission until he arrived in Pulaski County.
“It was one of the things that surprised me when I got to Pulaski County, that I had lost that tool in the toolbox. So this is something I’ve wanted to see and we now have a representative willing to create legislation to advance that cause,” Sweet said.
Sweet noted the county may not be successful at gaining entrance into the commission on its first try, and it may take quite a bit of effort to gain success.