Public Comments for: HB902 - Augusta County; removal of county courthouse, authorization by electorate.
Last Name: Sours Locality: Augusta

Mr. Chair, Members of the Committee, The County in its testimony elsewhere, has claimed that it has exhausted its options within the city limits and that it therefore cannot honor the codified and uniform referendum rule by waiting for 4 more years for a new vote. Specifically, the County claims that because it doesn't have the power of eminent domain within the city boundaries, the bank property across the street from the Courthouse is only available at an inflated price and the City appears unwilling to help. What the County fails to tell you is that it hasn't asked the General Assembly to grant it the right of condemnation in the city, an action that the General Assembly clearly contemplates in 15.2-1901, Clause B. ("A locality may acquire property or property interests outside its boundaries by exercise of the power of eminent domain only if such authority is expressly conferred by general law or special act."). Because it has not considered asking for such condemnation power, it has not adequately estimated the true cost of property acquisition in the City nor has it considered how such an action could strengthen its negotiating position with the City. There remains a strong contingent on the Board of Supervisors that has been committed to moving the County Seat out of Staunton for some period, and I believe this has colored the negotiations and strategies it has engaged in since losing the 2016 referendum vote. If the General Assembly passes this special bill, it will encourage elected local officials to across the Commonwealth to seek the same type of dispositions after losing referendums. The General Assembly has within its power, the ability to consider measures that will assist Augusta County in honoring the referendum results of 2016, such as the special condemnation power referenced above. Such actions would strengthen the County's bargaining position with the City of Staunton and property owners. Therefore, it would premature to pass this bill. For these reasons, I encourage the Committee to reject this bill and ask the County to consider all of its legislative options with its patrons for moving foward in the City.

Last Name: Bell Organization: N/A Locality: Staunton

HB 902 Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee: For more than a decade failed negotiations between Staunton and Augusta County have produced no solution to the problem of relocating the courts and the county seat. In 2016 the decision making was wisely turned over to Augusta County voters in the form of a referendum that those voters defeated. Those same voters made their will known with the full understanding that a ten-year window of time would exist before another referendum could be brought forward. Clearly county officials did not feel bound by those results and having lost, they now want to change the outcome of that vote by using legislation to disenfranchise the voters who rejected the idea and thought they had done so for at least ten years. Presently two pieces of legislation are making their way through the General Assembly; House Bill 902 (Avoli) and Senate Bill 283 (Hanger). The bills call for a new referendum to be held this year, 2022, five years earlier than the initial moratorium called for. Both bills have several qualifiers, all of which seem to favor the county since city voters will have no say in the matter. That means they are taking voters out of the equation. The city and county have failed to reach any kind of mutual agreement in fifteen years so how do they make that happen now? The most troublesome in all this remains to be the way it is being sought. It is never right for elected or appointed officials, at any level of government, to attempt to reverse the outcome of a fair and honest election because they didn’t get the results they wanted. It is especially troubling that legislators are complicit in this side door approach to deny the voters their chosen outcome. In our system of government, we allow for these defeated referendums to be reconsidered after ten years. Voters who rejected the 2016 proposal believed those were the terms and conditions of that vote and no one, no one, should be able to move the goalposts at halftime hoping for a different outcome. Honorable Dickie Bell HD 20 Retired

Last Name: Crawford Locality: Page

Please save all of Virginias history, by leaving our monuments intact and historic memorabilia on display. The Commonwealths history should not offend anyone who takes the time to understand it and respect the changes that occurred. For instance Virginias State park history, the Commonwealth’s Roadways or the quaint country town with the history of its namesake and deep rooted genealogy of the people who lived there. The Monuments are no different, they speak of times gone by, appreciated by some, disliked by others. Maybe they are a symbol that change is needed and to remind us to do so, whatever the cause, our history brought us to this day in time. We need to respect each other’s heritage and appreciate how each native Virginian helped to shape all of us. Respectfully, Alan Crawford

Last Name: Byrd Locality: Fishersville

As an Augusta County resident who voted on the referendum in 2016, I find it unconscionable that legislation is being introduced to specifically try to circumvent the will of the Augusta County voters. The referendum should only be permitted to be reintroduced in 2026, consistent with the 2016 vote--to allow it to be presented prior to that sends the message that the state's laws aren't worth the paper they're written on and that the voters' voices don't matter. This problem exists because the County has failed to properly maintain the courthouse over the years. I ask that you oppose this legislation in keeping with the will of the voters and their decision in 2016.

End of Comments