County plans various initiatives

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Inspired by the county’s comprehensive plan, administrator says committees will explore options for Grayson

By Shaina Stockton

The Grayson County Board of Supervisors has approved a list of county-wide initiatives proposed by County Administrator Bill Shepley, for further study by a selection of committees. The initiatives directly align with the county’s comprehensive plan, and, according to Shepley, are ideas that will be explored by not just county officials and staff members, but the community as well.
Based on the county’s main goals moving forward, Shepley hopes to find solutions to energize the county as a whole. Efforts to address internet access, job creation, healthcare, businesses and other needs within the county are reflected in these initiatives.
“I’ve been county administrator for the past five months, and during that time I’ve studied the comprehensive plan that was created for the county several years ago,” Shepley said in a recent interview with the Declaration. “Using the comprehensive plan, I’ve mixed some ideas I’ve come up with, with other suggestions made by people in the community.”
The county board has approved further exploration of these ideas to determine their feasibility. All ideas are in their early stages at this point, and no funding has been approved by the county at this stage to move forward with any projects, Shepley noted.
Shepley summarized the list of ideas that have been approved for further study at this stage. They include:

1. Placing a major emphasis on determining ways to increase access to broadband internet across the county.
“This affects virtually everything else we want to do,” Shepley told the paper. “We can’t leave our kids unable to access the internet at home when they are doing their homework. We can’t entice new businesses here, when we have no internet to offer. And we can’t entice people to move into the county for that same reason.”

2. Improving access to healthcare facilities in Grayson County. The plan at this stage is to seek funding for a federally-qualified health clinic (FQHC).
“We feel that there is access to excellent healthcare in Grayson County; we just don’t have enough access,” Shepley said. “At this point, the average citizen in Grayson County has to drive 30 minutes for healthcare here.”
Shepley shared that he recently visited Bland County, which received grant funds for a FQHC. After doing some research, Shepley discovered that they were eligible in terms of need for a facility in Grayson.
“We are actually more qualified than [Bland County] was,” Shepley said, noting that their chances of receiving a grant for the project is also very good. “We don’t know where this facility would be, but we want to provide something in an area that would service the most people possible.”
He added that he has also reached out to Alleghany Memorial Hospital, Twin County Regional Hospital and health department, and that each were supportive of the idea.
“This isn’t a competitive effort with anyone; this is just to ensure that healthcare is more available to our community,” said Shepley.

3. Creating a wellness program for county employees, teachers, and the Grayson County Sheriff’s Department; and for the rest of the community, a wellness center.
“Insurance costs are skyrocketing these days, and we want to see people get healthier,” said Shepley. “We are working with Twin County Regional Heathcare and the health department to create a wellness program for our employees.
“For the public, we want to create a wellness center where people can come together and improve their health with the added benefit of a social aspect,” Shepley continued. “When the comprehensive plan was first created, having a wellness center was the number one thing the people in Grayson County asked us for. We want to seek out the possibility of making that a reality.”
The center, if it is built, will be located somewhere in the town of Independence.
“I’ve had the chance to lead the effort in creating wellness centers at the beginning of my career. That’s what I used to do. So I’ll have a chance to use what I picked up during that time to help this effort,” Shepley said.

4. Seeking interest from a retail chain to build a new store in the Mount Rogers area.
“Right now, people are having to drive up to 50 minutes just to get things like groceries,” said Shepley. “There are a few smaller stores available; but coming off of that, the other thing we want to do is take a close look at all of the things we can do for that part of the county.”
This includes coming to a decision about how to properly utilize the former Mount Rogers School building. The building is currently owned by the county, but it is utilized each year by the Mount Rogers Volunteer Fire Department for the Whitetop Maple Festival, their biggest fundraiser of the year.
“There are a lot of ideas about what could be done, but I want to go to the people who liver there, listen to what they have to say, and see about making their suggestions into reality,” said Shepley. He stressed that the committee that will be put together for the school building’s discussion will be made up of people from the Mount Rogers area. The effort will be assisted by the new supervisor Tom Revels, who represents this region.

5. Gathering information for the Grayson County Career and Technical Education (CATE) Center from local businesses to determine what skillsets are needed in the area.
“One of the things I learned when I came into this job, is that we may not have enough people who have gained the necessary skills to fill the job slots that are available here. We want to work with businesses and the school system, so that students are turned out with the skills they need to work in this area,” said Shepley.

6. Forming an agricultural advisory council made up of agricultural experts in the community, to explore ways of making the county more inviting for agricultural opportunities.
“We want to create incentives for more farming and agriculture-oriented activities. Agriculture is our biggest industry, so we want to capitalize on this if possible,” said Shepley. “We want to hear from the people who are experts and live an agricultural-ortiented lifestyle, and learn what we can do for them to make their jobs easier while expanding agriculture here in the county.”

7. Promoting tourism in the area.
The county is working with Kevin Spurlin of the Grayson Agricultural and Technical Education (GATE) Center, who has put together a team to explore how to comprehensively market the tourism aspects of the county.

8. Providing a new community for senior citizens.
“We want to look into the possibility of putting together a village of small houses — about 1000 square feet apiece — for members of our senior population,” Shepley said. “We want this to be a gated community, with a medical team on staff at all times so there is easy access to healthcare.”
The community, he explained, would offer the same services as a nursing home, while still giving seniors an autonomous lifestyle in their own homes.
If made a reality, Shepley added that they would want the homes to be built by the county’s CATE students, to support the school’s building trades program.
“What brought this idea to mind was learning that in the western part of the county, around 50 percent of people who live in that area live alone. A lot of them live in houses that are too big for them now; and while they want to be with other people, they still want their independence.”
Shepley hopes to see this idea offer a variety of opportunities; not just for senior housing, but for jobs and partnerships to provide the seniors with activities within the community.

A few more ideas are still in the works, and Shepley assured that he will provide more information on these and other initiatives as it becomes available.
“In order for these things to work, I need as much input from the community as possible,” he said. “As always, I welcome input from the community on these or any activities the county has going on. Let’s capitalize on what our amazing county has to offer, and build on the traditions of the past without altering the culture of the county. I want to enhance Grayson County, and give us better opportunities to shop, hold cultural events, and interact with each other in a matter that makes this an even better place to live.”