Crisis creates opportunity.
Winchester and Frederick County have an opportunity to streamline government and ultimately save taxpayers money while providing more efficient service through consolidation.
The opportunity to streamline government while increasing business and educational opportunities and offering better service to the people who fund it can’t be ignored.
38 of America’s 41 independent cities are in Virginia. This is the result of legislation passed in 1871 to aid machine politics. This had nothing to do with good government. The Commonwealth’s last political machine died a half century ago. It’s time to do away with its residue.
Government was set up to serve the citizens who fund it, not politicians.
In-person retail, which was already in decline, will suffer large losses in the post-pandemic world. Traditional mercantile centers like Winchester will see tax revenues fall as unemployment rises.
The time to act on consolidation is now, before economics forces the issue. Blueprints have already been drawn — twice. Acting now means things can be done at a measured, thoughtful pace that respects the employees of both jurisdictions and the people they serve. There will be time for citizen input and buy-in.
A decision to merge forced by one jurisdiction facing financial failure will be hurried, panicked and inefficient.
The schools, everyone agrees, would be the most emotional merger and the hardest, given the percentage pf local revenue dedicated to education.
Departments such as social services, the courts and parks and recreation, which serve the population at-large, would not be hard mergers.
The School Consolidation Committee that I chaired from 2005 to 2007 saw consolidation as a three-year process. An impartial administrator — who would not serve as the superintendent of the consolidated school system — would oversee the re-drawing of attendance zones, transportation routes and salary scales and the merging of IT platforms. This process would be transparent with citizen input at every step.
On the school front, consolidation would save money on transportation and duplicate administration. Money saved could be used to attract and retain the best teachers and enhance programs that teach students 21st century skills. Attendance boundaries can be drawn so students can go to the nearest school and ensure buildings are used at full capacity before new ones are built.
Winchester would still have a town council to represent its interests and, more than likely, a police force.
Outside of City Hall and the County Administration Building, 99 percent of Winchester and County residents wouldn’t notice the change, with the exception of their government being more efficient.
Consolidation will prepare Winchester and Frederick County for an uncertain future best navigated by an efficient government that puts the best interest of its citizens first.
What I propose is that City Council and the Board of Supervisors examine consolidation as an option to enhance our area going forward into an uncertain world. Holding talks on this subject costs nothing.
The dividends could be huge.
Wayde Byard is a resident of Frederick County.