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Ralph Stanley House.
Typical Pork-Barrel Waste in Southwest, Virginia

County Misuses VDOT and Economic Development Funds for Library

by Lewis Loflin

Damascus Virginia is getting a new library! Washington County Virginia is handing out $419,000; the Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, that was supposed to provide jobs and health care, is porking-out $100,000; and the town of Damascus donated the land and is providing $30,000. To pay for the furnishings, etc. they are running a raffle with a prize is $2,000 in gasoline. The big side of pork was a $580,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Transportation. Note the per capita income in Damascus continues to decline after the almost $1 million has been spent on the Creeper Trail.

How did they get economic development grants and highway funding for a library? Because it "will double as an innovative tourism office for the town..." Like the Appalachian Trail and the Virginia Creeper Trail, no verifiable jobs or income will be generated, other than a couple of government positions. But to quote VDOT spokeswoman Michelle Earl, "The big thing about this center is the tourism aspect because it's a tourism facility that will draw people to the region." So tourists already beat down the doors of the much larger county library in Abingdon? Not according to the people I talked to that worked there. They thought the idea was absurd.

Let me get this correct. They are calling it a "tourism facility" that will draw outside people to visit it where they can't check out a book? I believe I understand now. So they are going to stay at the Holiday Inn to visit the library? Oh excuse me, we don't have one in Damascus because they are not stupid enough to waste their money. Tourism development in this region means pork-barrel. In fact they had to hand-out corporate welfare just to get a supermarket to open there. These grants (VDOT) are being used to quote, "improve non-motorized transportation, enhance the public's traveling experience, revitalize communities and improve the quality of life..." So we are driving bumper cars down the library aisles?

A 2008 report from a blue ribbon panel for the Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission has questioned the use of public funds in this manner. In other words, the money is being wasted and not producing the promised results. It also turns out from the tobacco commission annual report shows this tobacco grant was to promote education, not tourism. Nobody is questioning this misuse of public dollars. Ref. BHC July 25, 2008

Update 2010, the library has still not been built. They might start in 2011.

BudgetSite Preparation & Parking $ 208,108 :
Building Construction $ 899,836
Contingency $ 15,000
TOTAL $1,122,944

Funding Sources
Maximum VDOT Funding $ 580,000 :
County of Washington $ 419,500
VTC Funding $ 100,000 (Virginia Tobacco Commission
Washington County Library Foundation $ 15,000 TOTAL $1,124,500

Board of Supervisors Washington County Virginia 10-26-2010

Consideration of Authorization to Bid Construction of Damascus Visitor's Center & Branch Library Project Washington County Public Library Director Charlotte Parsons addressed the Board explained the construction of the Damascus Visitor's Center & Branch Library Project has been long awaited, and she appreciates the Board's support and attention over the past few years for this project. Ms. Parsons introduced members of the Washington County Library Board of Trustees in attendance; Ms. Debra Osborne, Vice-Chair and Mr. Kenny Shuman, Chair. Ms. Parsons also introduced Mr. Jeff Johnson with McCarty Hostaple McCarty Architects in Knoxville, TN.

Mr. Jeff Johnson addressed the Board and provided a brief review of the Damascus Library and Visitor's Center Project. Mr. Johnson reviewed the site plan for the library explaining the library would be constructed near the intersection of Water Street and Beaver Dam Avenue; and will be located 100' from the Appalachian Trail. He explained the library would face Water Street with parking in the rear of the building. Some improvements will be made to the Wilson Street.

Mr. Johnson next reviewed floor plans for the interior/exterior of the building. The new library will have a community room, circulation desk, technical offices for the library staff, children's and adult areas. Also, a key component of the new library will be the visitor's center. Mr. Johnson explained the design of the new library and visitor's center was inspired by the historic architecture in the area, specifically the old train station. Mr. Johnson next reviewed the budget and funding sources for the project as follows:

Mr. Johnson concluded his presentation by explaining the drawings for the project have been approved by the Washington County Building Officials. The plans were submitted to VDOT on October 21, 2010, for final approval. The Board of Supervisors is now asked to approve for advertisement of bids for the project. He explained once VDOT grants their approval of the plans; the advertisement for bids will be issued.