Henrico County voters and the $511.4M question, by Brandon Hinton

9/29/2022, 6 p.m.
Serving 340,000 people at the local government level can be a challenge. Differing populations can yield differing expectations when it ...

Serving 340,000 people at the local government level can be a challenge. Differing populations can yield differing expectations when it comes to public services. In Henrico County, this is entirely expected – and also wholly wel- comed. While decisions made at the local level are not always popular with every resident, one guiding principle is always our “north star”: doing what is right.

One can point to decision after decision of Henrico’s elected officials reflecting this premise, beginning with the most important service of all — educating our youths. Without fail, year after year, the needs of our school system are fully funded by our Board of Supervisors, a decision requir- ing the lion’s share of taxpayer resources. This is not common in most localities.

In 2016, voters overwhelmingly approved a bond referendum that ultimately allowed the rebuilding of J.R. Tucker and Highland Springs high schools (the original Highland Springs High has now been converted into the county’s first full-service community hub now known as the Oak Avenue Complex), as well as the renovation of seven other aging schools to ensure children have the safest and most conducive learning environments. These were expensive but necessary projects that were put forward – once again – because it was the right thing to do.

Henrico confronts its challenges head-on. There are numerous examples in recent years, including:

• The handling of the COVID- 19 pandemic, in which the county took the lead in the region and vaccinated over 160,000 people at Richmond Raceway;

•The Board’s decision to move forward with constructing the first detoxification facility of its kind in Virginia to assist with addiction recovery efforts for some of our most vulnerable residents and serve as an alternative to incarceration;

•Partnering with Woodland Cemetery in the restoration of this historic African-American cemetery; and

•Investing nearly $4 million in the past few years to renew Henrico’s focus on affordable housing, while also forcing appropriate maintenance and improvements at five of the county’s largest affordable housing complexes.

These recent or forthcoming accomplishments are examples of a local government confronting challenges rather than ignoring them and hoping they go away.

This fall, Henrico voters will be asked to choose “yes” or “no” on four questions that will appear on the ballot, seeking authorization to continue to build needed facilities. The questions propose the issuance of general obligation bonds to support projects in four distinct categories: schools, public safety, recreation and parks, and stormwater drainage. The total funding proposed through these questions is $511.4 million – two-thirds of the amount, $340.5 million, would be for schools projects alone. Each project offered for consideration continues upon the theme of building infrastructure to improve the quality of life for all, and to do what is right for Henrico’s residents.

Continuing upon the momentum from the last bond referendum, most of these funds would be directed to rebuilding or renovating five schools built more than 50 years ago and in dire need of attention. The schools question also includes funding for three new schools — two new elementary schools as well as an incredibly exciting “living building” on Wilton Farm in Varina, which would support the new environmental science-focused specialty center at Varina High School.

Outside of schools, an affirmative vote by Henrico voters would address new and renovated firehouses and parks, the training and physical safety of Henrico’s first responders, as well as the first significant investment in addressing a problem in Henrico that will only worsen over time: neighborhood and community flooding. Henrico also is partnering with the Henrico Humane Society to operate a new “no- kill” animal shelter and adoption center that the public will name. A list of all projects that would be funded with an assenting vote on the bond referendum can be found at henrico.us/bonds.

As with the 2016 bond referendum, all projects being proposed in the 2022 bond referendum would be funded within existing resources. Henrico’s tax rates would not increase.

The facilities associated with these four questions on the ballot this fall impact every corner of Henrico. If you are still undecided as to whether you plan to vote in this fall’s election, we sincerely hope that this bond referendum gives you added reason to exercise your right to do so. Absentee voting started Friday, Sept. 23, and Election Day is Nov. 8.

The writer is Henrico County’s deputy county manager for administration.