For some local officials living in small town America, having a Wal-Mart supercenter is a status symbol — something that puts them on the map. Dayton, Virginia is a tiny community of only 1,347 people. Over the past 6 years, the population in Dayton has increased by only 3 people — so there is no new retail market demand in the area. But town officials have come up with an immediate way to attract a Wal-Mart supercenter — annex one. The Daily News Record uses the word “adopt” to describe what Dayton wants to do with the Wal-Mart superstore currently in Rockingham County. The Town of Dayton is one of the oldest settled communities in Rockingham County, and is the County’s second oldest incorporated town. The Dayton area was first settled in the mid 1740s. The town says today it “still bears many signs of its rich past and history… The real beauty of the town is its people. Dayton is a blend of families who can trace their ancestors to a time when this community was just a stop on the Warm Spring Turnpike to those who have in recent years brought cultural richness of their own to the town.” But now this historic community is looking to update its image by attracting a superstore, even though it doesn’t have the population base to support one. There are already two Wal-Marts within 5 miles of Dayton — both of them in Harrisonburg. Virginia. But Dayton Mayor Judy Way, who was elected in November of 2006 with 302 votes, based her campaign on the continued growth of Dayton as a top priority. “I want to help Dayton move forward into the future,” Mayor Way said. “I’d like to see us annexing a little farther out.” The town and Rockingham County had agreed to expand Dayton’s borders by roughly 18 acres. But the town had much bigger plans to add 1,400 acres of land in Rockingham County, which happens to include 20 acres of land on John Wayland Highway, which technically is in Harrisonburg. The town has no chance of building its own Wal-Mart, so the plan is to take the existing superstore from Harrisonburg. The annexation would bring additional revenue from business licenses, property taxes, and a new business districts, Mayor Way told the newspaper. “It would be very nice for the town, a way of gaining revenue rather than [collecting] from the citizens… ” Town officials also note that adding businesses like Wal-Mart would mean more work for the Dayton Police Department, which would patrol the annexed land.
Dayton has been trying annex its way to growth since 1989, according to the Daily News Record. The original annexation plan did not include the land that Wal-Mart now sits on. The supercenter currently gets its water from Dayton, but the sewage services come from the county. Last year the county said it wanted to reduce the annexation by some 460 acres, and the town agreed. The county wanted to protect some agricultural districts from development. “It’s protecting the farmers and we’re understanding what the county says,” a town official said. “We want to respect their rights to farm and not be concerned about development.” Dayton then asked for 2,400 acres to be annexed over 20 years, including the Wal-Mart site, but the county felt giving over that much land was “too aggressive” the newspaper said. The county said it wanted to see a plan that provided for “orderly growth in that area,” according to the county’s Administrator. As things stand now, Dayton has now lowered its annexation goal, and promised to monitor population growth and implement “smart growth” around the town. Wal-Mart may represent growth, but there’s nothing smart about it. If the county agrees to this latest proposal, Dayton will get its supercenter. The town would get along with their Wal-Mart the responsibility for providing police, fire, sewer and other services to the site. The Mayor says the new plan will give Dayton the space and the money its requires to grow. Readers are urged to leave a message for Mayor Judy Way at 540-879-9538 about her dreams of a Wal-Mart annexation. Tell her: “Mayor Way, Wal-Mart is the wrong way for Dayton to go. Adding Wal-Mart to your tax base comes with significant expenses as well, most prominently police and fire costs. Your community is very small, and has seen no real population growth in the past six years. Transferring the Wal-Mart store from the county to the town means no new jobs, no new revenues, just a change of jurisdiction. Dayton will be responsible for more services, but this shift is no growth engine for the town, and it certainly is not smart growth. If your commitment is to help Dayton “move forward into the future,” then come up with an economic development plan that adds new value to your town — not that merely tries to annex its way into prosperity. All over America local residents are opposing these supercenters, because all they do is increase a community’s traffic and crime rate. Annex what you will — but leave Wal-Mart sitting right where it is. Right now your residents can shop there without picking up the full cost of servicing it. Leave well enough alone.”