Is a new visitor center for Greene County a want or a need? It depends on who you ask, as usual.
Greene County is a tourist destination; whether you believe it or not the numbers back it up. In 2018, more than $5.5 million was spent to stay the night in our fair county. We’ve seen a lot of questions about why people would want to stay here, but we don’t think you need to look much further than Shenandoah National Park. If you’ve never lived in Northern Virginia, you won’t appreciate the quiet hamlet that Greene County offers—and that people are willing to pay for.
Those directly involved in tourism—those who operate the rental cabins, host weddings and operate vineyards—are seated on the Greene County Tourism Council. These folks are supposed to know what is needed to increase tourism as their own livelihoods are at risk. We learned during the public meeting before the Economic Development Authority (EDA) on June 4 that it was the council who recommended the purchase of the one-acre lot that faces U.S. Route 29 in Ruckersville in front of Lowe’s to the EDA for a vote.
The money used to fund the mortgage—and the current visitors center rent—comes from the 5% transient occupancy tax that is placed on each overnight stay. Of that total, 3% must be used for tourism, according to state law. The remaining 2% goes into the county’s general fund, as do 1% of the locality’s sales taxes.
Personal property, sales tax and real estate tax revenue are used to fund the basics in the county from courts to schools to police to fire and rescue and so much more.
The EDA voted unanimously to send the purchase proposal to the Greene County Board of Supervisors with a favorable nod.
Surely, educated and rational citizens can disagree on a topic and remain civil. We appreciate and agree with many questions brought up by those who oppose the purchase. However, we want to address the want-versus-need argument for one moment. Some of the suggestions over the past week on how to spend the money were straight-up wants yet phrased as a need. While a community center, pool, splash pad or more parks would be amazing features in our county, they’re not going to draw tourists here unless you’re prepared for a large endeavor. They’re also not “needs.” We need to educate our children. We need to maintain law and order. We don’t need to entertain the kids (though it’d be awesome if we found some way to increase the options here).
While living in Northern Virginia, George Mason University spent a pretty penny to open up the Freedom Center in Prince William County, a large recreation center with a pool, adjacent to its new campus location. Even that wasn’t large enough to draw tourists to Prince William County. We think you’d need a Massanutten-sized project to actually draw people from areas that are not bordering counties—people who would stay here, i.e. tourists. Are we prepared for that kind of attraction in our little county?
It’s perfectly reasonable to dismiss the idea that residents in neighboring counties would even day-visit for a community pool as all our neighboring counties have one, as many of you have stated under the argument for that we need our own.
The 3% TOT cannot be used to fund new deputies or rescue and fire squads or increase funding for the school system. The state code is clear on that.
We don’t know if the purchase of this property for a visitor center move is the right move, but both the tourism council and the EDA have said it is and those opinions need to be considered. We’d love to see more for the kids in our county to do, too, but that has to come from the county’s general fund. We encourage plans be brought up to the board of supervisors on what you’d like to see and how it should be paid for. Private enterprises should be lobbied to consider paying to build these attractions here in Greene County, as well.
The board of supervisors meets twice a month on the second and fourth Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. (usually) and meetings are always live-streamed from their website, though internet access is often an issue.