- Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 April 2013 10:32
- Published on Wednesday, 03 April 2013 10:32
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About once every two years council members bring up the subject of school consolidation. Former Mayor Fred Rummage was often accused of trying to consolidate the town’s school system with Westmoreland County, which he denied in a school board meeting saying “I have never in my entire adult life not supported public education! I have not in my entire public life not supported teachers and the people working in the schools! And I have never suggested eliminating the school system or closing down the school system!”
The current council decided to explore the issue last week, in fact it took up a considerable amount of time at the first half of this month’s Colonial Beach Town Council work session on Friday. However no mention of it was made at the second half of the meeting on Monday.
The subject was brought up when Councilman Gary Seeber suggested hiring the town’s auditors, Davenport, to conduct a study to find out if consolidating the Colonial Beach Schools with Westmoreland County Schools would be advantageous.
If council is serious about the matter this time, this would be a good starting point since Virginia Code requires proof that consolidation must be of monetary savings in order to be considered.
Virginia Code § 22.1-25 Subsection C-3 states that when any school division considers any change in the composition of a school division, the Board of Education shall consider among other things “The potential of the proposed school division to promote efficiency in the use of school facilities and school personnel and economy in operation.”
§ 22.1-25 lays out the ground rules for any locality wishing to consolidate, in brief the Colonial Beach School Board, Westmoreland County School Board, Colonial Beach Town Council and the Westmoreland Board of Supervisors all must agree on the consolidation of the school in order for the process to even begin.
Then the groups must submit the request to the Virginia State Board of Education and any change in the school division must not be in conflict with any joint resolutions of the General Assembly in the upcoming year.
A whole host of conditions must be met in order for the State Board of Education to allow such a consolidation.
In addition all school property located within the Town of Colonial Beach would then become the property of Westmoreland County.
The mere thought of consolidation, brings much controversy in this town among citizens. But one council member Wanda Goforth even suggested consolidating the police department with theWestmoreland County Sheriff’s Office.
The town is currently negotiating to consolidate the dispatch of the police station with Westmoreland, however the police department would remain in the hands of the Colonial Beach Town Council to govern. Consolidation of the entire police department would bring about many changes.
Consolidation would eliminate representation over police protection. Currently under Colonial Beach Town Council the police department is run by the Chief of Police, the town collects taxes for the police department and distributes those funds each year as the police budget is presented. The council, consisting of six members and one mayor, preside over the police department with full power to hire and fire the Chief of Police.
If consolidation occurred, the Town Council would no longer have governing power over the police assigned to the town of Colonial Beach. That power would reside with the Westmoreland County Sheriff’s Office. Currently the supervisors have five sitting members. One of which, Larry Roberson, who represents Colonial Beach, has a one fifth say in county funded matters concerning the Town of Colonial Beach.
In terms of government, if consolidation of the police department occurred the town’s interest in police protection would be represented by one county supervisor rather than that of seven members of council.
Another matter to consider is the population of Colonial Beach. The town is roughly two square miles with a population of over 3,500. This is roughly a population of 1,750 people per square mile. A much higher population density than that of greater Westmoreland County.
If consolidation occurred, the amount of police protection would then be governed by the Sheriff’s Office.
If both the school and the police department were consolidated with the county, that would leave only public works, building & zoning and town staff for the Colonial Beach Town Council to govern.
The council has not even explored the consequences such consolidations would have on the comprehensive plan or the town’s application for a Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development Block Grant for Revitalization.
It’s not clear what it will take for future councils to decide one way or the other on consolidation matters for the Town of Colonial Beach. But it is clear that with every consolidation, the town government will lose governing powers.
During Friday’s meeting, Councilman Jim Chiarello said, “Having our own school attracts visitors and new residents.” Chiarello said that the town needs to boost its population to grow the economy of the town. “The future of Colonial Beach is at stake here. Can we afford taking away that aspect that attracts people to this community? We need to stimulate every area of this town in order to grow the population.”
Montross, the only other incorporated town in Westmoreland, operates without a police department or school of it’s own. While Montross is the County Seat, it only has a population of roughly 350 citizens.