Henrico is unafraid to take bold action for community’s success, Vithoulkas says
By building two high schools simultaneously, acquiring 1,200 acres on the James River and pursuing an indoor sports complex, Henrico County shows it’s willing to make bold moves to ensure the community’s success, County Manager John A. Vithoulkas said during his State of the County address for 2019.
Speaking Wednesday to about 300 business and community leaders at the Short Pump Hilton, Vithoulkas highlighted a series of “moon shots” — projects, initiatives and other accomplishments — from the past year.
He recalled President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 challenge to the nation to put a man on the moon — “not because it was easy — but because it was hard.”
“What President Kennedy said — and what our Board [of Supervisors] has focused on — is the simple notion of a moment in time,” Vithoulkas said. “What will we do with our moment in time? That is all we have and all that matters. What will we do?
“The thought can be exhilarating or terrifying,” he added. “In Henrico, we choose to be unafraid. In a figurative sense, we choose to go to the moon.”
With that mindset and a commitment to collaboration and engagement that extends from elected officials and employees to the community, anything is possible, Vithoulkas said. Accomplishments cited from the past year include:
- The start of construction on a new J.R. Tucker High School and a new Highland Springs High School and a plan to expand Holladay Elementary School;
- The acquisition of 1,200 acres at Wilton Farm for future uses, such as recreation, schools, economic development and a history museum;
- A thriving tourism program, with sports tourism at county facilities generating more than $66 million in visitor spending during the year — a 23% increase from 2018;
- Development of an indoor sports and convocation center at Virginia Center Commons for tournaments and other events, including high school graduations;
- A commitment to fiscal discipline that has allowed the county to maintain its triple AAA bond ratings and healthy cash reserves and to reduce — but not increase — the real estate tax rate for 41 consecutive years;
- The installation of solar panels atop the Henrico Area Mental Health & Development Services East Center and the Libbie Mill Library at no cost to taxpayers — an effort being extended to four additional buildings;
- A strategy to promote growth and investment by reducing BPOL (business, professional and occupational license) taxes. As a result, 14,000 businesses — 75% of all licensable businesses — will be exempt from BPOL taxes, beginning next year;
- Private investment at White Oak Technology Park, where Facebook is building a $1.5 billion data center and QTS has submitted plans for a project on a similar scale;
- Development and redevelopment throughout the county, including at Westwood, Libbie Mill, Regency, Rocketts Landing, Fulton Yard and Innsbrook;
- Partnerships with community groups to develop two swimming facilities, on North Laburnum Avenue and at Regency;
- Economic development announcements representing capital investments of more than $131 million and about 500,000 square feet of space as well as more than 1,800 jobs with annual wages of $115 million;
- Strong public support for education, including for school operations and facilities as well as teachers and staff;
- A focus on housing and neighborhood revitalization that has secured improvements to about 1,000 subsidized apartment units at no cost to county taxpayers; and
- A thriving Richmond International Airport with nearly 4.3 million passengers — an all-time high.
Vithoulkas credited the Board of Supervisors for being able to advocate for their districts and the county overall and for unifying “behind a goal of absolute excellence and service for our residents and businesses.”
He cited the county’s diversity as a strength and noted how officials joined the Henrico branch of the NAACP in condemning KKK flyers that were distributed to homes in late summer.
“A welcoming community is a thriving community,” he said. “It attracts a great workforce and great companies. It teaches a love of our fellow man that can guide everything we do — if we open our hearts to it. Our employees are in public service for a reason. They are wired to be givers.”
He highlighted Police Officer Brendan Kelly, who noticed a Sandston resident and stroke survivor was struggling to maintain her property. After working an overnight shift, Kelly “took it upon himself to cut down small trees, pull weeds and mow overgrown grass,” Vithoulkas said. “He’s still doing it.”
As a community, Henrico has plenty of work ahead of it, Vithoulkas said, “but knowing the human capital — the heart — that we have at our disposal, we could not be in a stronger position to succeed.”