Grant Holmes (center), executive director of the Botetourt County Chamber of Commerce, provided the opening remarks at the 2020 State of the County Address. Michelle Crook (from left), who represents the Buchanan District on the Botetourt County School Board, Dr. Lisa Chen, superintendent of Botetourt County Public Schools, Billy Marin, chairman of the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors, and Gary Larrowe, county administrator for Botetourt, provided specific insights into the state of the county.
Photo by Aila Boyd

By Aila Boyd

The 2020 State of the County Address was held last Friday at the Greenfield Education and Training Center by the Botetourt County Chamber of Commerce and Botetourt County.

Speakers included Billy Martin, chairman of the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors, Gary Larrowe, county administrator for Botetourt, Michelle Crook, Buchanan District representative on the Botetourt County School Board, and Dr. Lisa Chen, superintendent for Botetourt County Public Schools.

Martin, who spoke first, said, “The state of Botetourt County is strong, very strong; 2019 has been a red-letter year for Botetourt County.”

He went on to discuss some of what he sees as the county’s achievements in 2019, which included:

  • The Board of Supervisors renewed its strategic planning process when it updated the county’s vision statement. The last time it was updated was in 2014.
  • The county adopted its first $100 million budget without a tax increase.
  • The county’s tax base has grown while its general fund’s unassigned fund balance, which serves as the county’s savings account, has grown from nearly $14 million in 2010 to nearly $27 million today. In the coming years, the fund balance will help the county offset the renovation of the Botetourt County Courthouse, the consolidation of county offices, radio system replacements, broadband expansion, fire and emergency medical services, capital investment, public safety, economic development, and education.
  • The county was awarded funding for two significant road projects, including $650,000 to build West Center Drive at Greenfield and $4.5 million for Virginia Department of Transportation to build a new intersection at International Parkway and U.S. 220.
  • The Botetourt County Broadband Commission developed a set of strategies to help increase broadband to county homes and business. The commission’s efforts were aided by an announcement by Gov. Ralph Northam that the Craig-Botetourt Electric Cooperative and Botetourt County were the recipients of the Department of Housing and Community Development’s Virginia Telecommunications Initiative grant, which provided nearly $760,000 to assist with the deployment of fiber to the home for 621 homes and 52 businesses in the county.
  • The county invested in public safety, including the recruitment and retention of sheriff’s office employees, the addition of a paid paramedic crew, the addition of two new ambulances, and the addition of new fire engines at various volunteer fire departments.
  • A partnership between the Board of Supervisors, the School Board, and the Botetourt County Economic Development Authority culminated in the groundbreaking of the site of the new Colonial Elementary School. It will be the first new school in the county in over a decade.

“Since 2016, more than 1,000 new jobs and nearly $200 million of industrial and commercial investment have put Botetourt on the map,” Martin said. ELDOR, Altec, Pratt Industries, Metalsa, and other companies, he said, have contributed to the county’s addition of new jobs and investment. “Job growth in Botetourt County has exceeded regional job growth for the last several years and is expected to continue.”

Martin also touched on the housing summit that the county held in 2017. The summit, he said, was to gauge the market and to see what opportunities were available for workforce housing. “In 2019, the result has been a boom in new single-family residences, including apartments and townhomes aimed at all segments of the market,” he said. The hope coming out of the housing summit was that 500 new housing units could be added to the county. As of 2019, nearly 1,000 new units have been added.

He ended his comments by noting that 2020 marks the county’s 250th anniversary. The four co-chairs of the anniversary committee, he said, have been working to plan, coordinate and promote the momentous year. “This entire year will be time to celebrate us and our community,” he said. “Every aspect of our county will be highlighted in some way.

“As we look ahead to the future, I’m excited to see what comes next because of all the paths that have opened up,” Martin said. “If 2019 was special, I can only imagine what 2020 is going to be like.”

Larrowe followed Martin. He said, “It has truly been a great year in Botetourt. We’re all proud of the work that has gone into giving us such a good report.”

He noted that this month marks his four-year anniversary as county administrator. “It’s been very, very fast as the four years have come and gone,” he said, adding that he’s looking forward to additional developments in the county in the coming years.

He explained that the county strives to expand the services that it offers to citizens. “As we all know, the federal government is vast and has national, international, state, and local influence. The state government mostly deals with commonwealth issues and allows the localities to carry out certain functions. All levels of government have their place; however, the functions of local government are closer at hand. Daily, local government deals with issues that you, your family, or your neighbors need addressed in some way. The local government is the place where you can generally see change take place at a faster pace than at the federal or state levels,” he said. “Local government employees can be found in their offices or in the field working; however, they can also be found at the grocery store or in the dentist office waiting room or at the local coffee shop during their time off. Local government is like looking in a mirror – they are us.”

Larrowe then ran through a set of statistics in order to demonstrate the work that county employees have done over the course of the last year. In 2019, county employees received 1,921,912 emails and sent 934,004 emails. There were 16 new hires in 2019 in the offices of the constitutional officers and 52 new hires in other county offices. County employees also drove more than 400,000 miles in 2019.

He ended his remarks by saying, “Botetourt is known far and wide.”

Following Martin’s and Larrowe’s updates on the state of the county, Crook and Chen provided insights into the state of the county school division.

Crook began her remarks by noting that it is the mission of Botetourt County Public Schools to ensure that all students participate in quality learning experiences necessary to grow, to adapt, and to meet the challenges of responsible citizenship in a changing global society.

The school division, which currently has 4,600 students, had an attendance percentage of 97.8 percent or better at all of the schools in 2019. She added that all of the schools maintained Virginia State Board of Education accreditation last year.

“Our top two priorities are the safety of our students and delivering quality instruction to our students,” she said.

In pursuit of ensuring the safety of the school division’s students, Dr. Chen established a school safety task force in 2019 that is comprised of various educators, first responders, and government officials. “The results of a recent school safety audit are guiding the priorities for this task force and for our division,” she explained.

As for ensuring that quality instruction is delivered to the school division’s students, Crook cited recent Standards of Learning (SOL) scores as proof that the prioritization of the delivery of quality instruction is paying off. Out of the 133 school divisions throughout Virginia, Crook said, Botetourt County ranked eighth in math in the most recent round of SOL testing. County students ranked 11th in history and 13th in reading. “In those three categories– math, history, and reading– we are in the top 10 percent of all divisions in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” she said.

Crook highlighted the fact that the School Board preserved teaching assignments for agricultural courses in the division, which she said, factored into recent FFA successes including two individual state FFA champions from Lord Botetourt High School and an FFA team championship from Lord Botetourt and James River High School.

She also spoke of the division’s success in athletics, including the Lord Botetourt High School volleyball team’s state championship win and the school’s football team being named the state runner-up.

Chen said to those in attendance, “Thank you to this county and your continued support of our schools, staff, and students.”

Over the next year, Chen said, all fifth grade students will be introduced to career areas in the Botetourt County Expo this spring, all seniors will be involved in a career summit with mock and on-site interviews in coordination with the Botetourt County Chamber of Commerce, construction will begin on a site in Fincastle as part of the Building Trades program, a health science academy with Carilion Clinic will be launched with three other local school divisions, and the new Colonial Elementary School will be opened.

The address was attended by more than 100 individuals.

Grant Holmes noted that this year marks the 75th anniversary of the Botetourt County Chamber of Commerce.
Photo by Aila Boyd