By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: March 4, 2019 | 1:45 p.m.
DINWIDDIE – As Dinwiddie County continues to evolve, with the northern end of the county in the midst of its own economic boom and the thing that made Dinwiddie what it is, its agricultural roots continue to grow deeper and bear fruit, leaders need to not only react to the present but also plan for the future and learn from the past, which are concepts that find a venue and audience annually at the county’s board of supervisors advance meeting.
Being held for nearly a decade, this year’s advance returned to last year’s venue, the Robert and Betty Ragsdale Center in the Town of McKenney, where the entirety of the Dinwiddie County Board of Supervisors joined County Administrator Kevin Massengill and members of the county’s senior staff, ranging from social services to public safety, for a day-long session of data digestion, introspection on supervisor’s performance as a board and individually, and their ideas for what should be tackled next in terms of bettering Dinwiddie.
The advance meeting, the brainchild of Massengill, has been where a number of key initiatives have been birthed, such as the county sports complex and the evolution of the county’s parks and recreation department and what can de be done to attract business and industry to the county, the results of which can be seen across Dinwiddie with grocery store chain ALDI, Dominion Energy, and Elite Contracting all either opening or in the process of opening headquarters within Dinwiddie County.
“From a day-to-day perspective, we seem to focus on individual issues, opportunities, or challenges,” Massengill remarked. “But, it is really important to have the ability to sit down and talk about the things we normally wouldn’t talk about on a day-to-day basis, which gives up a bigger picture and better reflection of where we are overall, which then helps guide where programs and services need to be tweaked and revisited, then move forward from there.”
Much of the morning session was spent with pens to paper or fingers to keyboards as county leaders were walked through The Cameron Foundation’s detailed recently released community health needs assessment, a comprehensive report that, according to the foundation, “offers a fuller picture of community health by incorporating social determinants of health indicators” by “[incorporating] new data to provide deeper insight into the needs of areas showing high concentrations of poverty and low educational attainment across the Tri-Cities region, and it reveals disparities in life expectancy.”
Focusing specifically on Dinwiddie County while also comparing some data to neighbors in the region, supervisors and county leaders were able to see things number of households with children, which can affect school enrollment and social service needs, to trends in population age, as the county has a growing older population, some of those people are leaving the county, with some in the meeting questioning if the county is lacking amenities to serve that segment of the population, like no- or low-maintenance senior living facilities, which are growing across neighboring Chesterfield County and points northward, to the number of households who lack an automobile, which can affect workforce development efforts as not having a car could mean those looking to develop skills may be unable to reliably get to a training facility or be able to take a new job from a business coming into the county.
For Massengill, having The Cameron Foundation’s data as a tool for, not only, display but a discussion point was valuable for this year’s advance.
“It was extremely helpful of Cameron to fund this to give each community this data, and I only touched on about 70 pages of a 400-page document,” Massengill said during a break in the morning session. “This really helped to have to this to help us get to know our community a little bit better in a way that we wouldn’t have been able to if we didn’t have all this data.”
Supervisors listen to County Administration Kevin Massengill walk through data from The Cameron Foundation that provides a snapshot of the makeup of Dinwiddie County during their board advance last week. (Michael Campbell)
He continued, “The supervisors are the ones that are elected and represent the people at the closest level. So for us, as the county staff, it is a conversation. We do know the day-to-day needs and operations, but really, this is about getting the senior to talk and better educate the board. Here, the board leads the government. It’s not the other way around, so it is good to hear from them and have them tell us about their specific goals and how some issues need to be addressed. As we are in the midst of budget time, it helps to see the bigger picture.”
Prior to lunch and a later session focused on specific service delivery, such as fire and EMS, supervisors were asked to turn mirrors inward and evaluate their own performance as supervisors and, through their own interactions, what they have observed as Dinwiddie’s image inside and beyond the county’s borders.
“A lot of county’s fight against each other but I believe we are stronger together,” Dinwiddie Board of Supervisors Chairman William Chavis said. “The Virginia Association of Counties has said that of us, that we are all together and, at times, we are the only ones in VACo who all show up to the meetings and, at some point, we were all chairman.”
Longtime supervisor and National Association of Counties member Harrison Moody echoed those sentiments, saying, “I think they know we are all faith-based… that we put God first in our decisions. I think that is important and we do all work well together. We disagree at times, but we disagree agreeably.”
Looking within the county, Supervisor Mark Moore said he believes there’s a sense of pride in what has been going on in the county over the last several years during last week’s advance.
“I think people are proud of what is being accomplished here in the county,” he said. “When you talk to people, their eyes tell the story of what we are doing,” referring to things like the new government buildings that were built without the use of a tax increase and recent economic development wins for the county.
He continued, “Whether it’s education and partnering with our schools and funding them, there is no question we have stepped up on that… but it is also about taking care of the people who work for the county and where they work.”
“We have constituents who call us with complaints and that comes with the job, but when we look at the five of us working together for the community, it helps and it speaks volumes about us as a board,” Moore closed.
While the annual meeting can last a full workday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at times, Chavis said the time together with supervisors and county staff is extremely valuable in their efforts to govern effectively.
“You always have to have a vision and if we don’t have a vision, then we fall back,” he said. “We have this every year to try to get us to the point where we can better serve our community and be the best we can be. All five of us are on the same level, we want to make the citizens live better health-wise and financially, but how do we do that? We have to strategize and that is what we are working toward.”
He also praised The Cameron Foundation for their comprehensive report which served as the foundation for much of the discussions had during the morning session of the advance meeting.
“It is a great thing to have to fall back on,” he said. “If you don’t have something that you can look back at, how can you look toward the future? That’s the great thing about having data and using that data to better serve our community.”
That report from The Cameron Foundation is available for the public to read on their website at https://camfound.org/about-us/publications.