Frank Ruff: Our downtowns need help

Published 7:52 am Thursday, April 27, 2023

In earlier generations many of us were excited to go downtown and enjoy stores, or at least store windows, that displayed the latest and the greatest. To our chagrin things have changed, often downtown areas need improvement. Without a vibrant center of town there is a loss of some of our pride in our communities. Often this is what visitors see first and, frequently, the first impression forms their opinion of a community.

The state has recognized this and over the years the General Assembly has approved various programs through the Department of Housing and Community Development. The most notable one is the ‘Main Street Program’. It has helped a couple of dozen towns as they have worked to improve their downtowns. The problem is that the parameters of the program for smaller towns disqualifies them. However, the department is committed to helping in some way.

New Legislation

With this as the backdrop, I introduced legislation that passed both the Senate and House with little opposition and was signed into law last week.

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The new law allows existing businesses and town or city governments to work together to improve their downtown areas. The way it can work is, if a majority of the businesses in a defined area agree to become a special taxing district, the town can raise the real estate taxes in that district. However, those existing businesses would have their business taxes, often referred to as BPOL taxes, reduced by an equal amount. This, in effect, would only negatively affect those business owners who don’t keep their buildings filled with businesses. Hopefully, it would encourage owners to do what is necessary to make them attractive to rent or they would sell to someone that would do that.

The bill was drafted to give local merchants and town governments the chance to design a plan that fits their needs. The district could be one or two blocks, or it could be one side of the street and not the other.

Any tax revenues gained in this process could only be used in the defined district. It could be used to upgrade appearances from the street, or it could be used to remodel unused upstairs to rent out as apartments.

Taking actions such as this would give the Department of Housing Development a signal that the town has a plan and they in turn would be more likely to provide additional assistance.

The legislation should only be considered a tool that could be used. It requires no town to do anything. They in turn could only act if they have the support of businesses.

News Versus Opinions

Once upon a time, news was news and the editorial pages were clearly reserved for opinions. For most mainstream media, however, those lines have been blurred.

Consider the Richmond Times-Dispatch this past Sunday. A story appeared as if it was a news story, but was it? Under the title ‘10 Things You Can Do to Slow Climate Change’, weather reporter Sean Sublette offers 9 ways that you and I can save the planet from ‘global warming’, excuse me, from ‘climate change’. Setting aside his miscount or that weathermen have a difficult time predicting weather week to week, look at the story.

One would think the first proposal would have been following President Jimmy Carter’s guidance. Turn down the thermostat and put on a sweater. (He didn’t suggest it, but one could also take off a layer in the summer.) Instead, Sublette proposed the fad suggestions of the year. He proposed junking your gas appliances and buying new electric ones. He wrote about planting trees while also proposing more solar panels. He appears to not be aware that solar companies are cutting down trees faster than they can be replaced.

Looking past all of that, he writes of the success that we have had in the last 20 years of reducing warming, delaying the promised doom of Al Gore and John Carey. His explanation is that we have accomplished so much, we have reduced the earth’s warming predictions by 40%. He ignores the reality that while we have reduced pollution in America by burning less coal, 

Let’s return to real news and let people decide what that news means.

Frank Ruff Jr. serves as the 15th District senator in Virginia. He can be reached at, (434) 374-5129 or P.O. Box 332, Clarksville, VA 23927.