The federal Office of Management and Budget added Rappahannock and Culpeper counties earlier this month to the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria statistical metropolitan area (SMA).
County Administrator John McCarthy said the overall effect of the designation — brought about by the counties’ 2010 U.S. Census-based density and commuting patterns — is unclear, but said the designation could bring about higher salaries for state (and state-sponsored) public employees, if the General Assembly funds such efforts.
McCarthy said it could also make it more difficult for Rappahannock — which has the lowest population and highest proportion of agricultural land of the counties and cities in the statistical area — to qualify for certain USDA grants. On the other hand, the designation could have the opposite effect on federal Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), he said, making qualification easier for such grants, which are usually made for community-based projects, housing and water-and-sewer projects.
The designation was likely triggered by Rappahannock’s density (27 per square mile; the statistical area requires at least 25) and the fact that the most recent Census data shows that at least 50 percent of Rappahannock’s working population commutes to one of the other counties in the statistical area (starting with Fauquier County and continuing eastward to D.C.), McCarthy said.
SMA designations, according to longtime Rappahannock resident Jim Miller — who actually ran OMB under President Reagan for three years — are “carefully considered . . . and judgments are made based on rigorous standards. . . . Since the designation has value to certain local residents, OMB is under constant pressure to commit to such designations, but to my knowledge has never relented for political reasons.
“Designation as a SMA can mean more visibility for the area,” Miller said, “higher rates for national advertising programs carried by local media, and in some cases higher pay for federal employees. Overall, I’d say the designation will make Rappahannock County a little more popular place to live but a little less popular place to visit. The net effect is likely to be positive but not very great.”
“At this point,” McCarthy said, “it’s not clear whether the designation will make any immediate difference.”