Council Candidates on County Cooperation

Brent Finnegan -- October 20th, 2008

Another installment of the ongoing Q&A series with City Council candidates. All responses are listed unedited, in the order in which they were received.

What sort of relationship should the city have with Rockingham County? Can county-city cooperation benefit residents of both municipalities? If so, how?

Roger Baker: There are many joint operations at present. I would think that relationship should continue. The cooperation benefits residents of both jurisdictions by reducing duplication you reduce costs.
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J.M. Snell: From some of the recent joint efforts it appears the relationship is better than the past. It is imperative that the city and county work openly with one another to plan for growth and deal with transportation as well as other infrastructure issues. There probably wouldn’t be as many homes in the county if not for the number of businesses in the city. While Rockingham County is a beautiful place to live, a lot of people reside there only because of their job somewhere in Harrisonburg. This situation results in additional burden on city roads, hence we now have a “rush hour” on roads in the city other than port road. We can attribute a significant amount of the congestion on port road to JMU faculty, staff, and students going to work. But, Stone spring and East Market also experience the same challenges because people from all over the county travel into the city to work.

We need to have open frank discussions with the county for planning purposes and cooperatively expand roads as necessary.
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Charles Chenault: We should share the relationship of trust and cooperation which for the first time in many years we now enjoy on a consensus basis. Both jurisdictions benefit from the joint use of the landfill, the steam plant, the sewer authority and social services. We are currently discussing joint planning initiatives through our community development departments and the metropolitan planning organization. In other words, we are talking about the effects that our mutual zoning and subdivision decisions have on each other. The most exciting joint operation that has stymied the city and the county for years is in the area of water supply. We each have judiciously and selfishly guarded our water supplies from each other from time in memoriam. The city has particularly guarded its asset because we frankly have some of the best water sources in Virginia.

We have been in the process of developing the eastern water source which will bring up to an additional 7 million gallons a day to our water treatment plant at a very high cost. Additionally, this is water we have no immediate or likely projected need for. We have finally started negotiations with the county to share the cost and use of this resource before we get too far along in its development. Sharing these resources clearly benefit the residents of both jurisdictions as well as being an environmentally sound conservation of natural resources by avoiding duplication and waste.

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Kai Degner: The importance of a positive working relationship with the city and county cannot be overstated. Cooperation and joint, regional planning is a pre-requisite for the “smart growth” that I and so many others envision. Lesson 101 in planning is that decisions should be made on a regional scale, and working with the county is the first step in that direction.

The county’s resources and open space benefit the city’s need for services and enhance its quality of life; likewise, the city’s businesses, housing and entertainment offerings enhance the county. We share many of the same needs, opportunities, and resources. This cooperation becomes particularly important when transportation and development are considered. Without coordination, we could quickly see sprawl and less green space throughout the county.

I believe my facilitation and active listening skills will equip me to be an fair and proactive contributor to keeping lines of communication open between county and city leaders. This is the same approach I intend to take in working with leaders at JMU, as well.
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Richard Baugh: Obviously, the city should try and have the best relationship with the county that it can. An obvious benefit is cost savings through increased efficiencies. Sight unseen, we can be confidant that it would almost always be more efficient if the jurisdictions consolidated functions that are presently performed separately.

However, there is another part to this. As I said in my response to a previous question, I believe Harrisonburg’s goal needs to be that it be a place that provides a quality small urban living option for people in the Shenandoah Valley. It is difficult for me to see how that would ever be Rockingham County’s primary goal. So, there are probably some limits to just how much we can cooperate. On some levels, we are two households, not one.

But it is still in the interest of both households to work together whenever they can.
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Dave Wiens: Virginia’s city county divide is unusual and, in fact the only example of this in the United States. In every other state, the city is part of the county and, in some cases, actually all of the county. That makes for a much more efficient administration of local government. Fortunately, our local forefathers had the foresight to combine many functions. The courts, social services delivery, sewer treatment, etc. are examples of this and this does permit local governments to operate fairly efficiently. So cooperation between the city and county needs to be fostered. It is a benefit to residents of both because of the increased efficiency which does save huge amounts of money that would otherwise have to be paid from taxes.
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We have not yet received responses to this question from Tracy Evans or Rodney Eagle. We will add their responses as we receive them. A total of eight candidates (including two incumbents) are running for three available seats on City Council.

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3 Responses to “Council Candidates on County Cooperation”

  1. finnegan says:

    This is particularly insightful to me:

    We each have judiciously and selfishly guarded our water supplies from each other from time in memoriam. The city has particularly guarded its asset because we frankly have some of the best water sources in Virginia.

    I had no idea. I looked it up and found this:

    The city of Harrisonburg uses 52 million gallons of water a week during the early fall. Mike Collins, the director of public utilities for the city, says there are two sources of water for Harrisonburg. One is the North River, and the other is Switzer Dam.

    Where does the county get their water from?

  2. charlie chenault says:

    Brent – the county gets its water from deep wells and from what we sell to them under certain water agreements.
    Thanks – Charlie

  3. finnegan says:

    There’s a story in today’s DNR about the very thing Charlie addressed here.

    • The city and county need more water and currently have separate expensive projects to get more.

    • The city’s project is $21 million, the county’s $33 million.

    • Now, they’re considering building only one project and sharing the cost.

    • Officials say the joint project would save up to $30 million.

    • Nothing is for sure. No details are decided.

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