Henrico programs honored by Virginia Association of Counties

Henrico County has been recognized by the Virginia Association of Counties (VACo) for programs that help nonnative-English-speaking residents assimilate to the community, informed residents about a meals tax proposal and promoted a better understanding of the workplace culture within the county’s government.

Henrico was one of 12 counties to receive a 2014 Achievement Award from VACo in recognition of a model local government program. Henrico and Loudoun County each received three awards, the most of any county. Overall, VACo recognized 18 programs among 61 entries.

VACo announced the awards Aug. 5 and will salute the winners at the 2014 Annual Conference in November. The Achievement Awards program is in its 12th year.

Henrico received an award for the ESL Conversation Café, a program of the Henrico County Public Library that allows nonnative-English-speaking adults to practice English, gain a better understanding of American culture and meet others. The ESL, or English as a second language, program was developed in response to Henrico’s growing diversity and as an extension of more-structured ESL programs. More than 29,000 Henrico residents were born in other countries, according to the 2005-2009 American Community Survey.

Henrico also won an award for the “It’s Your Decision” campaign to inform residents and voters in the months leading up to a meals tax referendum, held Nov. 5, 2013. The Department of Public Relations & Media Services managed the public information campaign with support from the County Manager’s Office and Department of Finance.

Using a website, social media, television programming, brochures and news releases, the campaign explained Henrico’s reasoning behind the proposed 4 percent tax on prepared meals and beverages, highlighted the county’s record of sound fiscal management and outlined how revenues from the tax would help maintain the high quality of Henrico County Public Schools. Voters ultimately approved the measure, making Henrico the first Virginia county with a population greater than 200,000 to authorize a meals tax by referendum.

Henrico also earned an award for “Re-Imagine Training: Learning Through Conversations,” a series of interactive forums developed by the Department of Human Resources to promote the exchange of organizational wisdom within county government. The focus on institutional culture came in response to a wave of retirements of longtime, high-ranking officials.

The effort included panel discussions in employee-training classes, group discussions of leadership and employee meetings hosted by senior managers. More than 600 employees participated in the sessions, with 81 percent reporting having gained a better understanding of how the county operates.

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