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Tracy Pyles: How the sausage is made in Augusta County

Tracy Pyles
Augusta County
(© Rex Wholster – stock.adobe.com)

It is time for the people to assert their right to observe how “the sausage” is being made. The antiquated notion that, to preserve our respect for laws and breakfast patties, we need to ignore their processing, insures questionable meat and governance.

The rules and oversight of Jimmy Dean factories now give us a high degree of faith that our breakfast links are good to eat. However, the rules meant to keep legislators focused on us are only as effective as the ethics of the elected. Whoops.

Today’s Augusta County Board of Supervisors is as unreformed and unenlightened as Chicago meatpackers in 1900. Their work in the past six years has shown an underbelly of contempt for financial conservatism and people’s rights that defy the expectations of their voters.

“Greedflation” is the term now circulating to describe how big businesses continue to gouge us as their costs, but not their pricing, recede. But missed in the description is the role of government in making the uncomfortable, unbearable.

When McDonald’s increases a $2.00 hamburger to $3.00 it is not just a dollar more. At a 4% meals tax the county’s revenue jumps from $.08 to $.12. Which is bad, but when simultaneously the supervisors increase their take from 4% to 6%, it makes the bad, worse: from $.08 to $.18.

A dime may not mean that much by itself, but when every tax rate in the county is bumped up, while every price tag is increased, the cumulative burdens become the bricks that break our backs. As a reminder, these are the tax rate increases since 2017: Real Estate $.58 to $.63, Car Tax $2.50 to $2.60, Meals 4% to 6%, Lodging 4% to 6%, Cigarette pack from $.00 to $0.25.

As to property rights, farmland has many restrictions even apart from state and federal regulations. There are “setbacks” required to protect a neighbor’s serenity at the cost of available production acreage. The subdividing of land is determined by the county not the landowner. Much of the reasoning is sound in insuring harmony in our communities but unnecessary where there is no actual intrusion.

The overregulation of passive solar collectors is an example of doing people harm for no “greater good.” Craigsville, Augusta Springs and Deerfield once supported prosperous industries. Cement, textiles, oak barrels were produced and then dispatched on railcars. Vigorous commercial/industrial activity amongst farmland is not a death sentence for open space.

Those businesses came, they went, and Augusta County benefited while here. Solar energy will, likewise, benefit many local landowners with no discernible impact on anyone else. No erosion, no feed trucks, no noise, no smell only income on incoming sunlight.

And then there are basic rights of speech, press and open government. Each has suffered under the hands of a Board more dedicated to blistering one another than attending to its people.  In the last six years, the Board has ended the county’s long held position that public meetings are places where the public has the right to speak its mind, without restrictions.

They held a “press conference” where they wouldn’t let a paid member of the press (me) ask a question. Fearing the press, and the public’s voice, is standard policy in Russia, China and North Korea, but we are supposed to be of sterner stuff.

And then there is Augusta Supervisors’ fear of, and non-compliance with, the Freedom of Information Act. Six years ago, I made a request to the Board to learn how much they had paid to silence an employee, fired on the whim of one petulant Supervisor. Repeatedly, they asserted they were allowed to hide what turned out to be over $100,000 of tax waste.

Only when forwarding the Virginia Supreme Court’s ruling that all public expenditures were to be made available (duh) did they relent. This is a standard tactic still weaponized against us.  Deny, and make the public fight its own government for the rights the government is established to protect.

And just days ago, a court again denied their desire to hide their disfunction. (Chronicled elsewhere on these pages) But still the Augusta Board bows its neck and refuses to comply with the court order.

This foot-dragging is particularly hypocritical given how impatient they were in calling the police on a 75-year-old man trying to speak an extra 30 seconds at a public meeting. Which begs the question, as to “Why?”

How bad can these secret musings be? Potty mouths? Laughing at the resigning supervisor, the accuser? Childish insults to each other? The mind reels.

But what we won’t hear is: “All in favor of letting the sun shine in, disinfecting this room, and making our people wealthier, say Amen.”

Tracy Pyles is the former chairman of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors.