In March of 2005, the Town of Washington’s comprehensive plan update listed, in its vision of the town in 25 years, a population that had either stabilized or slightly increased. In 2000, the town’s population was 183 people, which further decreased to 135 in 2010.
The declining population during that decade has not yet stabilized and seems to be continuing its downward trend. In fact, the population of the town hasn’t topped 300 people in more than 100 years. One hundred years!
So why does it still have a charter? In Virginia, a new town must have at least 1,000 people in it to qualify to be chartered and govern itself. Clearly even the town planners didn’t envision it growing to enough people in 2030 to qualify for a charter.
As a county resident, even though my farm has a Washington zip code, I can’t help but wonder if the county wouldn’t be better served to manage the budget and extend the benefits of the town’s revenue beyond its borders. In contrast, the population of the county has actually grown in the same period of 2000 to 2012 by several hundred, and could probably really use the revenue collected by the town.
One of the problems with a town as small as Washington governing itself, in my humble opinion, is that simply by its minuscule size, it cannot do so without any actual (or perceived) financial or business conflict of interest. When the town council members own a significant percentage of the town’s property and must consistently recuse themselves from council discussions because the decisions may positively affect them financially, how can the council truly be fair and represent the best interests of the town?
It seems to me that the issues presented for discussion and decision might be more fairly examined and decided at the county level. When there aren’t enough people in a town to provide a body of at least somewhat objective residents to serve on a town council, something is wrong. This is likely one of the reasons a town needs at least 1,000 people in it to qualify to be chartered.
I really think it’s time for county residents to take a serious look at what is going on in Washington and ask themselves and their county supervisors — is this really what’s best for our county seat?