Long term elected official expresses concern for Greene’s future

Greene County Commissioner of Revenue Larry Snow

Greene County Commissioner of Revenue Larry Snow, a lifelong county resident who has held his office for 26 consecutive years, took some last week to talk to Eye on Greene about his concern for the county’s future.

The interview with Snow follows close on the heels of remarks made by retiring Greene County Supervisor Clarence “Buggs” Peyton, who told Eye on Greene a few weeks ago that the “tax and spend mentality that has existed in Greene over the course of the past two years has seriously jeopardized the county’s financial stability.”

At that time, Peyton also called attention to the county’s debt, its stringent local regulations that are contributing to high prices for home ownership and rentals, its rising property taxes, its lack of incentives to entice new business to Greene, and the very real possibility that the county will be exhausting its reserve fund and dipping into its general fund to pay its bills by year end.

In light of the Ruckersville Volunteer Fire Company’s concern for possible closure due to lack of funding in two or so years,  Snow focused his concern on the effect the above-mentioned circumstances are having on services, and the need for open, honest communication.

“My concern is that people moving here find that the services are not what they expected them to be,” Snow told Eye on Greene last week.

He pointed out that many new arrivals – as well as some of the younger generation of native residents – don’t understand that the county’s one rescue squad and three fire departments are staffed primarily by volunteers.

“The rescue squad receives between 1,500 and 2,000 calls each year,” Snow said. “A shortage of personnel has led to the county hiring outside contractors to provide staff during the day, and that’s a huge expense.”

But the county’s three fire departments – in Ruckersville, Stanardsville and Dyke – are still manned by volunteers.

“The only way I can see these four organizations surviving is to merge them into an emergency services department and move them into a centralized location,” Snow said, while pointing out that his idea is not original, and not new.

“Sterling Gibson, now deceased, a past president of the rescue squad came up with that idea 30 years ago,” Snow said.

But making it happen will be extremely hard to do, Snow adds, because the services were established and maintained by community members who came together to look out for a place they called home, and who have developed a deep-seeded sense of pride in how they have nurtured their individual organizations into growth.

The first of the services to be established in Greene was the Ruckersville Volunteer Fire Company, back in 1948.

At the time, the only two businesses in Ruckersville were the Lindsey Garage and CC Jennings Gulf Station, but, according to local history, a huge fire had broken out in what was then the small town the previous fall, and “when you have a big fire, especially in a small town, it will naturally draw a lot of attention.”

The attention this fire drew was to the need for a fire company, and 16 local residents saw to it that the need was filled.

The Stanardsville Volunteer Fire Department was organized in 1960, when the county’s population hit a 20th century low of 4,715. Thirty volunteers got together to establish the form the organization, which purchased a 1937 fire engine from the Elkton Volunteer Fire Company and garaged it in a barn on a community member’s property. A year later this fire company purchased an old chicken coop factory on Madison Road that would serve as its fire station for the next four years.

The Dyke Volunteer Fire Company was the last of the three to be established—in 1983 with 15 members. In addition to being staffed by volunteers, members of the community volunteered their time to actually build the firehouse.

The Greene County Rescue Squad was organized in 1968 with about 40 volunteers who began providing services with five night teams and two day teams consisting of a driver and two emergency technicians. Calls were routed to the Ryan Funeral Home, where the one ambulance was garaged. Operating expenses were raised from the public, and squad members often stood in front of the bank on Main Street in Stanardsville on Friday afternoons to solicit donations. During its first year in operation, the Greene County Rescue Squad responded to 240 calls.

Today, with a population near 20,000 all four service companies depend heavily on volunteers, as well as participation in various fundraisers, and donations, to keep going.

Snow said he is all for the county providing all necessary services to its current near 20,000 residents, but “we have to live within our means,” and that compromise may be necessary.

“I fully believe that (merger) is the only way these services can survive,” he said, but such a merger will have to be carefully negotiated.

Snow recalled  the “discovery” of Greene that began in the mid-1970’s when retirees started moving south from Northern Virginia and other places, and Albemarle began to expand up Route 29, bringing to the to this rural area residents who found the commute to Charlottesville to work worthwhile.

That population explosion, for which Greene was unprepared, took the county from a mere 5,248 people in 1979 to the near 18,000 it was at the time of the 2010 census.

“Change doesn’t bother me,” he said. “Change is going to happen. The people who have settled here have a lot of talent and the potential to provide good service to the governing body, but it’s going to take someone who is familiar with the dynamics of the county and who possesses an understanding of the sense of pride that comes with a native’s lifetime of service to his or her homeland to bring about constructive change in this economic environment.”

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