Part 3 of a series
These days, not many people live in the house where they grew up. After a walk around Chris Parrish’s cattle farm, you can see why he returned home. The place has sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and even an old road used by Robert E. Lee’s army after the Battle of Gettysburg. A plaque on the property states Lee’s soldiers drank from a spring on the farm.
Parrish is vice chair of the Rappahannock Board Supervisors (BOS) and represents the Stonewall-Jackson District. Nearing the end of his second four-year term, he is up for reelection this fall and has yet to draw an opponent.
This lanky, plainspoken supervisor describes himself as a middle of the road pragmatist and problem solver.
“I’m a fiscal conservative but not wedded to a particular ideology. I seek guidance on the issues and ask a lot of questions. I like to keep my ear down to the ground.”
Parrish can often be found at events all around the county engaging citizens in conversation about issues ranging from farming to zoning to budget matters.
Growing up on his family’s farm near Viewtown, he was one of four children — the only male. The house had no telephone and no television. He often found himself playing dolls with his sisters. “I’m a good ole boy, with a feminine side,” Parrish joked.
A colorful life with many twists and turns, he attended elementary school in the two-room schoolhouse at Forest Grove, he finished his secondary school education in England, and later enrolled at the University of Virginia where he flunked out.
Drafted into the Army in 1967, he found himself in the security services where he learned Russian, Turkish and German. Given his aptitude for languages he returned to UVA for a degree in linguistic anthropology, adding Spanish to his repertoire.
“Realizing job prospects in linguistic anthropology were limited I got a degree in animal science from Virginia Tech. A lot of farm boys didn’t speak Spanish so the Holstein Association hired me to buy and sell cattle in Central and South America,” he said.
To relax and stay in shape, Parrish goes on long bicycle rides of 60 or 70 miles a day.
He once rode from San Diego, California to St. Augustine, Florida in 43 days. In June, he’s planning to participate in a nonstop 186-mile bike ride in Sweden.
After taking over the family farm in 1978, Parrish became more involved in local government. He served as the Republican appointee on the county Electoral Board for 27 years and four terms on the Board of Assessors, assessing land values, and one term on the Board of Equalization. A member of the local chapter of the Farm Bureau, he served as its president for 18 years.
“These positions enabled me to get around the county and gave me good insight into how things work here,” he said.
Parrish is upbeat about most everything that is going on in the county.
“I think we are in good shape,” he said. “We have one of the lowest tax rates compared to neighboring counties and I think those rates will stay the same, indefinitely. Rappahannock is a desirable place to live. Our schools are great as evidenced by our kids getting state and national recognition at academic and sporting events and the pace of life, the scenery and farmlands, the peace and quiet of country life all contribute to making this a special place.”
As to the many issues facing the county, here are several Parrish highlighted in a recent interview:
Parrish believes “weekenders” — city folks who have second homes in Rappahannock — are a boon to the county’s economy.
“They pay taxes, they don’t use the services, they volunteer their time to numerous organizations, donate money, and hire local residents for a range of services. As property values increase on some of these larger properties, tax revenue to the county will increase.
“These second homes are a kind of economic development,” he said. “We could always use a little more economic development but we have to careful not to create a situation where that development would drive weekenders or tourists away.”
Parrish is skeptical about spending taxpayer dollars on broadband services, which some have touted as a key to further economic growth.
“Generally, I am opposed to spending county funds on broadband. We shouldn’t be paying for services that some citizens don’t need or want — why should they have to pay for others. These technologies also change quickly so by the time we would invest in some kind of service it could be outdated.”
As BOS vice chair, Parrish led the deliberations on the county’s 2018 fiscal year budget.
“The proposed budget for FY 2018 of almost $34 million meets all of our needs without a tax increase. If adopted, we may even run a slight surplus,” he pointed out.
“A new and key expenditure is for updating our radio and pager tower system that will improve our county’s emergency communications system. This has been funded by rolling over funds from the fire tax levy. The taxpayers have already paid this levy and the expenditure of those funds on a new system fits nicely with our public safety needs.
“We also funded the combined position of a new zoning administrator and deputy county administrator that will provide needed support in the administrator’s office. Overall, I feel pretty good about next year’s budget.”
The BOS is expected to adopt the budget at their June 5th meeting.
The county provides some support for tourism promotion. The proposed FY 2018 budget provides $47,600 to support the Visitors Center on Library Rd off Route 211, for advertising, mailings, and brochures. But Parrish can’t see financial support going much further.
“If we want to expand tourism in the county, this is something the business community needs to get behind and I’m happy to work with them. This year’s budget estimates $226,000 in revenue from the meals and lodging tax. That’s about .67 percent of our entire budget,” he noted.
“I’m all for tourism, but I just don’t see the value in spending a lot of taxpayer dollars to promote what businesses, for the most part, ought to be doing themselves. Nobody has a good answer. I haven’t heard any specific recommendations as to how dollars could be spent. Tourism spreads by social media and word of mouth and many in our local hospitality industry have had great success in growing their businesses that way.”
Night Skies and Conservation
When asked about what might be done to protect Rappahannock’s unique starry nights, Parrish pulled a photograph out of his wallet that he carries wherever he goes.
“We are one of the few counties in the mid-Atlantic region that is almost completely dark,” he said. “This is something clearly worth preserving. Light from poles and other fixtures is a form of trespass and I hope we can focus on ways to keep light from shining, not up or across, but down. As a local government, our ability to develop any regulations on non-commercial lighting is limited. We would need authority from Richmond to work out an acceptable plan. I have discussed this our local delegate, Representative Michael Webert, and look forward to continuing the conversation.”
A strong supporter of the County’s Comprehensive Plan, he believes it needs to be updated.
“The Plan has worked well but I think it needs to updated, especially given the increased number of wineries that are popping up around the county. These bring jobs and visitors, which is good, but I think the plan needs to reflect how they fit into the goal of maintaining the quiet character.”
He is in favor of local efforts to develop a scenic hiking and bike trail between Sperryville and the Town of Washington.
“This will be great for all kinds of folks — bikers, hikers, the high school cross-country team, you name it. I’d like to see a county-wide trail system. It would be great not only for our local residents but tourism as well.”
Finally, he is a strong supporter of the 25-acre zoning requirement: “It’s here to stay,” he said.
Parrish is concerned that there is still more transition to come in the county government.
“The loss of Richie Burke is a big blow,” he said. “No sooner will we get that situation straightened out, I fear we’ll lose somebody else. It is all a result of the constant badgering from a limited sliver of the county population.”
Burke, who is retiring at the end of this month, serves as the county’s building services official and emergency services coordinator.
“This mean spirited criticism we’ve been hearing is counter productive. It reduces the effectiveness of our county employees if they feel they are always going to be subject to criticism.”
Parrish did, however, have cause for optimism:
“The supervisors’ meeting last week, both during the day and evening, was the most civil it’s been in the last year and a half.”
Editor’s note: This is the third part of a series surrounding each member of the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors. Our goal is to give you, the reader, a better sense of the personal background of each official, their political philosophy and approach to governing, and to report their positions on a number of key issues facing the county.