Since January, Albemarle County Supervisor Ken Boyd has organized meetings with area business leaders to craft an economic “action plan.” The plan seeks to foster a more business-friendly culture in Albemarle that would attract more companies, expand the county’s commercial tax base and increase tax revenues without facing the potentially volatile issue of raising tax rates.
While some claim that Albemarle County Supervisor Ken Boyd’s economic plan opens the door for Mr. Apple or Mr. Google, others want to be sure it stays open for local input.
Some of those meetings, however, were conducted without the knowledge of other supervisors. And during a June 2 meeting—less than a week before a June 8 GOP primary pits Boyd against other Fifth District Congressional candidates—Boyd’s plan took a few hits from education and environmental advocates who felt excluded from the plan’s drafting.
“This is a revision to the comprehensive plan without the important and necessary public process,” said Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council.
Tom Olivier of the Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club questioned the connotation surrounding the plan’s “open for business” declaration.
“Does that mean business trumps education and the environment?” he asked the supervisors. “Or that the county will cut environmental regulations to promote business growth?”
To encourage that business-friendly culture, the plan aims to assess which business sectors would fit the skills of the area’s work force, and simplify and shorten the application process for potential new businesses. And while the plan had its critics, some who spoke at the meeting praised its tone.
John Lowry, chairman of the Albemarle County Economic Development Authority, liked how the plan sought to be more proactive in the county’s outreach to potential businesses.
“All of us in this room would invite into our homes someone who knocks at our door,” Lowry said. “That’s called being courteous. If we had a knock on our county door from a major West Coast technology firm wanting more East Coast presence, say a Mr. Apple or a Mr. Google, would we not be polite? I say we should figure out a way to ask them to be a part of our community.”
During the supervisors’ discussion of the proposed plan, Supervisor Dennis Rooker strongly emphasized the need to include more community groups before bringing it to a vote.
“We need to concentrate on what the people expect government to do, and that’s provide a good education and good infrastructure,” Rooker said. “We need to continue to look at this for a couple more months to make it more acceptable to the entire community.”
The board’s discussion featured several direct exchanges between Rooker and Boyd, two veteran supervisors. In January, Rooker and Supervisor Ann Mallek voted against a broad to-do list presented by Boyd that ranked economic development as the main fiscal priority for Albemarle. Boyd’s economic plan is a more specific extension of that to-do list, which the board approved by a 4-2 vote.
“You want to produce jobs,” Rooker said to Boyd, “but you approved a budget that resulted in laying off 41 people in education. Those are jobs.” Boyd replied that the economic plan and his vote on the county budget are separate issues, and he noted that the plan is “not anti-education.”
Boyd, Rooker and the other supervisors made minor revisions to the plan and agreed to organize roundtable discussions in the coming weeks that involve more community groups. The board will host a public hearing on the revised plan during its regularly scheduled July 14 meeting.
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