Editorial: Town, to be or not to be

Besides an occasion for celebrating our Declaration of Independence from Britain over two centuries ago, the Fourth of July presents an especially appropriate time to examine and/or re-examine the way that We the People currently govern ourselves.

A good place to start is our own local government. This is not to compare Rappahannock’s administrator John McCarthy to King George or our board of supervisors to Colonial-era governors — but, rather, to continue the conversation recently ignited by development plans for the county seat.

Should the county seat remain a separate incorporated town, with a government apart from the rest of Rappahannock? That question was posed at the Rapp Live forum a couple of weeks ago, sparking an ever-expanding debate among county residents.

For those on the political right who believe that individual liberties are unnecessarily constrained by “too much government,” revoking the town of Washington charter as an incorporated entity might be a good place to start peeling away unnecessary command and control.

For populists on the left, the county’s flagship village seems to be run as if by a few activist members of a gated community’s homeowners association -– 30 voters out of a total resident population of 130. (To become an incorporated town today, Virginia law apparently requires at least 1,000 residents!)

For fiscal conservatives, the tax revenues collected in the town might be an easy way to meet the county budget without raising real estate tax rates. Or maybe not so easy, given any liabilities on the town’s balance sheet?

For environmentalists worried about being elitists, the question is whether the town’s allergic reaction to affordable housing might jeopardize the whole county’s zoning regulations as “exclusionary.”

At the same time, however, there is talk of the town actually annexing more county land. And that, curiously enough, might be easier to do than revoking the town’s charter. What would the Founding Fathers say?

Walter Nicklin