The financial realist

by Olivia Hampton

Buena Vista needed a man with a plan when Jay Scudder was hired as city manager in 2011.

To some, Scudder wasn’t an obvious choice for the job. Though he had 20 years of civil service experience in planning and economic development in Virginia, he had never been a city manager. 

Scudder says he had wanted to go into management for years, but Buena Vista gave him his first opportunity.

“It’s been hell ever since,” he joked. “But it’s rewarding. I like what I do.”

 

Jay Scudder came to Buena Vista at the height of their economic distress in 2011.

Jay Scudder came to Buena Vista in 2011 as it faced economic troubles. The Rockbridge Report

Scudder’s big opportunity in Buena Vista was accompanied by even bigger challenges. The city was defaulting on a massive loan for its Vista Links golf course. Businesses were quickly clearing out of the once thriving little city.

Scudder dove in head first, hoping to help the city get beyond the golf course mess. But he says the mistakes of the past have affected citizen morale ever since.

“I think B.V. folks are pretty positive, but the golf course has been a stigma,” he said, using a nickname for the city. “I’ve heard people ask me if the city is going to go broke. No, it’s not going to go broke.”

City Council Member Steve Baldridge says Scudder has faced a reluctant community.

“People feel the anxiety of so much change,” Baldridge said. “And this is not an environment that is known for gracefully handling change.”

Despite the backlash, Baldridge says, Scudder’s financial approach was needed to turn the city around. He says Scudder’s detailed approach to the yearly budget, including meeting individually with each department, has been beneficial.

Scudder says his slow-but-steady approach should put the city in good financial shape in five to eight years.

“We’re in better financial shape than we’ve been in eight years,” he said. “And it’s only going to get better, if I have anything to do with it.”

Baldridge shares Scudder’s optimism.

“We’re definitely making choices that put us in a stable position,” He said. “But it doesn’t happen all at once.”

Scudder thinks the better-informed residents of his community understand that it will take time for things to turn around.

“People that have thought things through think we need to hold down the fort, manage what we can,” he said. “Not going out there to try to do anything big, but trying to maintain the city and stay on a controlled path for the next eight years.”

But he’s not as certain about his own future with the city.

“That’s a big question,” he said. “Stay. Go. I don’t know. I like it here. But it’s tough if someone comes along and offers you 50 to 60 thousand more a year.”

Meanwhile, he is proud of the work he has done in Buena Vista.

“We have been grounded, we have been big thinkers,” he said. “I’m humbled that people around the state say that I’m responsible for helping B.V. through this time.”