Cumberland County Administrator and County Attorney Vivian Seay Giles attended the Sept. 7 Commonwealth Regional Council (CRC) meeting to discuss the possibility of the county rejoining the current five-county regional planning district.
Members of the CRC include the counties of Amelia, Buckingham, Charlotte, Lunenburg and Prince Edward. Cumberland was once a member.
Giles’ attendance followed a memorandum she sent to Amelia County Administrator Taylor Harvie on July 31 regarding a “potential restructure” of the CRC to act as an umbrella organization that would include the Virginia’s Growth Alliance, the CRC, the Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act and the Southside Planning District Commission.
“I was just brainstorming or just asking really was there an opportunity, because Cumberland County has not been a member of the CRC for several years, whether there was an opportunity because you obviously are going through some restructuring,” Giles said during the meeting. “…I just sort of threw that out as food for thought or possible discussion and if that was a direction that my board (of supervisors), which I have not talked to my board about any of this, you know, just sort of trying to … open a dialogue.”
CRC Treasurer and Prince Edward County Buffalo District Supervisor C.R. “Bob” Timmons Jr. said, in response to Giles, the first time he read the memo he took offense to it.
“Then I read it again and I still took offense to it. Then I read it again and I started seeing, trying to see your points and I did understand what you’re trying to do,” Timmons said.
During the council’s Aug. 3 meeting, Timmons said last year the council had gone to Cumberland with an offer for the county to join at no cost, noting the CRC’s offer that if the county didn’t get its sought-after Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) grant Cumberland County could “walk away.”
“You get the first year, year and a half at no cost. You get benefits at no cost,” Timmons said in August meeting.
Timmons alleged Cumberland County officials wouldn’t answer his telephone calls nor respond to emails regarding the offer.
“This organization is in the process of becoming a new organization and that means that we’re going to be more flexible. We can move and adjust to whatever
makes sense. And that’s the goal of what we’re trying to do,” Timmons said. “So if Cumberland has an interest in coming back, then collectively we can work together to make this organization what we want it to be, what our membership wants it to be and still comply with the state … Before we go to it, what’s the interest of Cumberland County?” Timmons asked Giles.
Giles said ultimately the decision to rejoin the CRC is a decision the board of supervisors would have to make.
“Until now I have not had an overwhelming reason to recommend to the board that we join the CRC. As a matter of fact, the year that they came out was the year that I came to Cumberland,” Giles said. “… If we have a dialogue, if this organization is moving forward I would personally think it’s beneficial, and again I don’t make the decisions, but then I would feel compelled to recommend to the board, ‘These are the things that are going on, these are consistent with goals you’ve identified, these are efficiencies we can realize,’ (then) I would then have reasons to recommend to the board and possibly build (this) into the budget.”
Giles said she personally saw a benefit of Cumberland being a member of the CRC.
Timmons said if the county wanted to rejoin, they would be welcomed without issue.
Lunenburg County Brown’s Store Interim Supervisor Mike Hankins said from a county perspective, the CRC replaces employees that the county would have to be paying for in order to write grants.
Giles said in Cumberland they have “very strong grant writers,” so that’s not something the county is in need of.
“I read your letter, unlike (Timmons, and) I didn’t take any particular offense to it,” said Buckingham County District Four Supervisor Morgan Dunnavant. “…My vote would be 100 percent in favor of welcoming Cumberland back, but I’m not anticipating making any specific changes to our structure of the way we do things for Cumberland to come back, but just as anybody else who is here, we’re going to listen to your comments and concerns and criticisms and take them into account.”
Dunnavant said if Cumberland was able to come up with a “better mousetrap, or a better money trap, we certainly would employ it.”
At the end of the discussion regarding the possibility of Cumberland rejoining the CRC, it was suggested that a representative from the county attend meetings for six months, prior to the beginning of the budget process, so the county can decide whether being a member would be conducive to its goals.