What does Cumberland County need? Residents respond to survey

Published 12:01 am Friday, July 28, 2023

CUMBERLAND – Cumberland County residents want more grocery options. As the county works on developing a plan for the future, surveys were sent out to local residents, asking what they liked, what they’re concerned about and what they want to see happen in the future. Overwhelmingly, the number one issue was access to grocery stores. 

We’ve looked at this issue before. A foodbanks.org map shows 13%-17% of Cumberland labeled as “food insecure.” Now, to be clear, food insecurity doesn’t mean no options exist. It does however mean there are obstacles in the way. After all, it’s hard to plan on a weekly grocery run if you have no vehicle and no one to give you a ride. At that point, you just take what you can get.

And it’s not just a Cumberland problem. To the south and west, the food insecurity numbers rise to between 17%-27%, in Buckingham and Prince Edward counties. But there’s one key difference. Both counties have areas that are not labeled as food deserts. Cumberland isn’t so lucky — it is categorized “food desert” in its entirety due partially to location. People who are in central Cumberland, for example, have to travel the farthest for groceries. The lack of local options means most residents go to Powhatan, Buckingham, Goochland or Farmville for supplies. 

Over the last couple of years, the arrival of a Dollar General Market and Pine View Bulk Foods have helped some, but there are still challenges. And part of that includes jobs or a lack thereof. 

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“If people are driving to Farmville or Richmond or wherever for work, let’s be realistic,” said Cumberland Board of Supervisors Chairman Brian Stanley. “They’re stopping at Wal-mart on the way home.”  

Looking at Cumberland County data

Supervisors held a workshop before their meeting this month, going over what the surveys said as they prepare to look at shaping a comprehensive plan. All of that was reflected in the survey answers. Out of the thousands sent out, 219 surveys have been returned as of now. That’s slightly less than necessary. They need 300 to be statistically significant. 

But the ones returned were very clear. In addition to more grocery options, residents pointed to the same thing Brian Stanley mentioned, limited job availability. Also, some complained about limited broadband access, but as County Administrator Derek Stamey pointed out, that’s changing. 

“We’re going through the process,” Stamey said. “Everyone doesn’t have access yet, but we’ll see that (change) over the next 18 months.” 

Thanks to state and federal grants, companies like Kinex and Firefly received millions of dollars to completely cover Cumberland and the surrounding counties. Work started last year and is expected to take up to possibly winter of 2023 before the job is done. But once that’s finished, any resident would be able to connect to broadband. It’s clearly important to Cumberland residents, as 99% singled it out in the survey. 

Four other issues took center stage in these surveys. Ninety-six percent of surveys came back saying more jobs were needed. Ninety percent said the county needed to preserve farmland. Further down the list, but not too far, were requests to make housing more affordable for younger families, with the argument that would help bring in more residents. Also, people want to see more activities available. Basically, people in the county want more grocery stores, more retail shopping and parks. They want to see new development near the courthouse and around major roads. 

And now, the positive parts

But the survey data wasn’t all bad. In fact, people praised several things about Cumberland, including the location, the community, the quality of life and the school system. All Cumberland schools were fully accredited by the state. 

The Virginia Department of Education decides if an individual school is accredited, or meets state standards, based on six categories. The state looks at a school’s English pass rate, English achievement gaps, math pass rate, math achievement gaps, science pass rate and if there is chronic absenteeism. If a school doesn’t meet state standards for multiple years, then the Department of Education steps in to help determine what’s needed to address the issues.

In Cumberland County, the elementary, middle and high school all showed improvement in multiple areas. Each school receives a “quality rating” of Level One, Two or Three when being considered for accreditation. Level One means you meet or exceed the state standards. Level Two means you’re showing improvement, but haven’t quite got there yet. Finally, Level Three means there are issues, as the school is performing below state standards. 

In Cumberland’s case, most of the ratings for all three schools came in at Level One. English scores showed the most growth for Cumberland High, with 85% of students passing their test. The state standard, by comparison, is 75%. It’s also the highest passing percentage for the school since 2018, when 81% passed. 

Praise for law enforcement 

People also praised the work done by the sheriff’s office, as crime numbers are much lower than other local areas. 

“The statistics were off the charts compared to Buckingham and Prince Edward,” Stanley said. “We’ve had virtually no crime compared to them. People like the fact they feel safe here. I think we all do.” 

During 2022, the crime numbers stayed low in Cumberland County. There were no murders, kidnappings, rapes or similar crimes. You can also count on one hand the number of burglaries and counterfeit situations the sheriff’s department responded to. That’s a reverse from the overall trend in Virginia. 

Overall in Cumberland, there were 84 reported crimes against property. That means things like robbery, burglary, motor vehicle theft and forgery, among others. Compare that to 270 property crimes reported in Buckingham County and 514 reported during the same period in Prince Edward County. 

Looking closer at the property crimes, there were only three reports of ID theft, one of credit card fraud, seven burglaries, five cases of counterfeit material and 24 reports of vandalism. The same crimes are much higher in other counties. Cumberland only saw three reports of motor vehicle theft, for example, in 2022. Neighboring Prince Edward reported 14, while Buckingham saw 34. 

The comparisons were similar for “crimes against people”, such as assaults, murder, rape and intimidation. Cumberland only reported 41 total incidents, compared to 70 in Buckingham and 212 in Prince Edward. The majority of those in Cumberland were assault cases, with 26 simple assault and 10 reports of aggravated assault. 

What happens next in Cumberland County? 

Surveys will remain open throughout Cumberland until September, to get more data from residents. The county plans to hold other events in Cartersville and one in Randolph, as well as one at the Patriot Day celebration, to get more responses. You can also pick one up at the library. 

Once that data is collected, the board of supervisors will hold two joint workshops with the planning commission, to put together a draft concept of the comprehensive plan. In October and November, county staff and the hired consultants will put that together and then it could come back to the board of supervisors in December for possible approval.