Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Final stretch of the FY2022 budget process

 

Goochland County supervisors held public hearings on the proposed FY2022 county budget, tax rates, and utility fees on April 6. The final vote to adopt the budget will be held at a 4 p.m. meeting on April 20. A generous increase in property values enabled new spending on county needs. Wise use of tax dollars is perhaps the most important job of elected officials. 

The all-in figure for the proposed FY 2022 budget is $139,741,345. For details, see page 230 of the April 6 board packet available at http://goochlandcountyva.iqm2.com/Citizens/FileOpen.aspx?Type=1&ID=1298&Inline=True.

This includes a county transfer of $34.5 million to schools.

This budget will probably be amended several times during the year as the county receives additional federal stimulus money and details as to how those funds may be used are clarified.

The real estate tax rate remains at 53 cents per $100 of valuation. This is technically a tax increase because the amount of revenue this rate generates using the 2021 county wide assessed valuation exceeds last year’s revenues by more than one percent.

Board vice chair Ken Peterson, District 5, contended that maintaining a level tax rate is revenue neutral in the long run, generating more revenue in good times and less in bad to avoid raising taxes during economic downturns.

The FY22 budget increases funding for public safety and education. Being able to offer salary scales and benefit packages attractive enough to enable Goochland to compete with neighboring jurisdictions for the best employees is a significant challenge.

An item on the April 6 consent agenda was an amendment to the employment contract of County Attorney Tara McGee “due to a change in the market value of the position.” As proposed, the FY22 budget showed no increase for this department. For all of the alleged “transparency” in the budget process, this amendment, which would seem to affect the final budget, is buried in numbers. McGee’s position, responsible for all county legal matters, illustrates the salary conundrum. She should be compensated to reflect her valuable contribution to the success of local government, as should all county and school employees. Paying for that is the tricky part.

School Board Chair Karen Horn, Vice Chair Mike Newman, and Jeremy Raley, speaking as a private citizen, advocated for funding to offer health insurance benefits to bus drivers and food service employees who are vital to the success of local education.

The public hearing was just that, the supervisors listened. Comments were accepted until April 12. The supervisors have a week to consider the budget and ponder citizen input before final adoption of the budget.

 

 

 

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Light at the end of the tunnel

 

Fiber optic broadband no longer a dream for western Goochland


Covid lockdowns highlighted the need for universal access to broadband. In Goochland, addressing the digital divide between areas with internet access and those without, became more urgent as school went online and people worked from home. Connectivity gaps can be found throughout the county but are most pronounced in the west. Wireless solutions have met with varying degrees of success. Starlink satellite service, which some residents will test later this year, could be another solution.

The supervisors understand the importance of universal broadband access to all Goochland residents, especially those who are un and underserved by broadband. Following a presentation at their April 6 meeting, they authorized the county administrator to execute a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Dominion Energy Virginia, Firefly Fiber Broadband, and Rappahannock Electric Cooperative to join a regional broadband initiative. (This document may be viewed in the April 6 board packet, available on the county website https://www.goochlandva.us/, beginning on page 127)

This brings the electric utilities that serve the county, Dominion, Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (CVEC), and Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC) together with Firefly Fiber Broadband, a private company that will serve as the internet service provider. The collaboration will leverage existing resources of these electric utilities, including rights of way for fiber installation. It is not anticipated that eminent domain— “taking” of private property for public projects—will be used in this process.

During the presentation Gary Wood, CEO of CVEC and President of Firefly, said that the idea for the regional initiative arose from the notion “if we can supply everyone with electric, we should be able to distribute broadband to un and underserved locations in our respective service areas.”

Firefly is already working to bring high speed internet access to its customers in western Goochland as part of an agreement it entered into with Goochland County last year. It hopes to connect all of those in its service area by 2022.

If all goes well, the end result will be a fiber to the premises “last mile” network to offer service to all underserved locations.

The MOU is the first step of the first phase of the plan. This will identify areas where the service is needed, jump through regulatory hoops at the state level, design, and estimate build out costs. Then, funding sources, including applicable grants and amounts of local contributions will be identified. Goochland has a $10 million placeholder for broadband expansion in its capital improvement plan.

If all goes well, the pieces of this important puzzle will fall into place to provide reliable broadband at an affordable price—Firefly offers two packages, $49.99 and $79.99 monthly. (See https://www.fireflyva.com/for details.)

Goochland joins other counties in Central Virginia, including Louisa, in this endeavor.  To be sure, the MOU is the first step in a complicated journey to universal broadband, but this collaboration a leap in the right direction to provide high speed internet access to all of Goochland sooner rather than later. The light at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train.

 

 

 


Monday, April 5, 2021

Of Covid and financial matters

 


The virtual town hall meeting held by Goochland County outlined the proposed budget for FY 2022, which begins on July 1, discussed vaccinations, and included a presentation by School Superintendent Dr. Jeremy Raley about local educational achievement. To watch the session, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZ1RKqD66P4.

Tax rates will likely remain unchanged from last year. However, because revenues generated by the 2021 assessed valuations will be more than a one percent increase over 2020, keeping the rate steady is a tax increase.

(Public hearings on the proposed budget; utility rates, and fee schedule adjustments will be held at 6 p.m. on Tuesday April 6. The meeting is open to the public. Alternate participation options including Live stream and Zoom are at https://goochlandcountyva.iqm2.com//Citizens/detail_meeting.aspx?ID=1326)

Vaccinations in our county are proceeding at a brisk clip. As of April 4, according to the Virginia Department of Health, (go to https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/covid-19-in-virginia/ for details) 15,669 “shots” have been administered to Goochlanders, putting us in the top tier of vaccinators. There is still much work to do. If you know of anyone in groups 1a, b, or c seeking a vaccine please ask them to preregister at www.vaccinate.virginia.gov or call 1-877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682). They can also call the district’s local call center at 804-365-3240 (open Mon. – Fri. from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.)  Goochland County 65+ COVID Hotline | (804) 556-5828 for those without internet access. Leave a message and a volunteer will call you back.

 

County Administrator Kenneth A. Young gave a brief overview of the proposed FY 2022 budget at the beginning of the town hall meeting. In essence, the county plans to increase spending on public safety and education. Financing capital improvements, including a new 650 student Goochland Elementary School, circuit courthouse, and a West Creek fire-rescue/public safety facility could involve a bond referendum. A decision on a possible bond referendum will be made in the coming weeks. A three percent merit increase will be given to all county and school employees who went above and beyond the call of duty to deliver governmental services during the pandemic.

In addition to the strains placed on their workload by the pandemic, our intrepid LEOs, led by Sheriff Steven Creasey, dealt with protests in Courthouse Village last month, which diverted deputies form other duties to keep order in Courthouse Village.

The proposed budget (go to https://www.goochlandva.us/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/1925 for complete document) includes funding for seven of the eight deputies requested by Creasey. When all new positions are filled, the Sheriff’s Office, the primary law enforcement agency for Goochland, will have 48 full time and one part time employee to provide 24/7 coverage for the entire county, whose land area is slightly larger than that of Henrico County.

The FY22 proposed budget also includes seven full-time and five part-time fire-rescue employees, one of which will be a battalion chief.  Fire-Rescue and Emergency Services Chief D.E. “Eddie” Ferguson, Jr. explained that, as his agency adds career personnel to the combination (volunteer and paid providers work in concert to serve the citizens) responder corps, middle management is needed to ensure effective operations.

Go to https://www.goochlandva.us/943/Video-of-Past-BOS-Meetings  beginning at the 1:42 mark for budget presentations made by Creasey and Ferguson at the February 16 supervisors’ meeting.

A major challenge, going forward, contended Young, is Goochland’s ability to attract and retain highly qualified employees, which are in short supply across the board.  Henrico, our main competitor for workers, recently announced that it will increase salaries for all government employees, including teachers, to attract the best talent. Raley’s presentation includes proposed school salary scale adjustments to address the pay disparity issue between Goochland and its competition.

The ad valorem tax levied landowners in the Tuckahoe Creek Service District will remain at 32 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. Revenues generated by this tax pay debt service on TCSD bonds. It is hoped that the TCSD debt will be retired in the next decade or so, eliminating the tax. Rates paid by utility customers will increase modestly to ensure that the utility system is self-sustaining financially.

Young said that the county has set aside $10 million to help partners expand broadband. He said that the county had mixed success with grant applications for more broadband coverage, details to be revealed in the near future.

The virtual town hall was a good faith effort by county government to engage with the citizens. Let’s hope by fall that we are able to gather by district to discuss matters of concern countywide and of more local interest.

 

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

A legacy

 

When Derek Stamey came to Goochland County in the fall of 2009, the Great Recession was beginning to take hold. Dramatic declines in local government revenues, caused by plummeting real estate assessments, made “do more with less” the order of the day. Today is his last day as an employee of Goochland County. Though he will continue to live here, Stamey leaves for a similar position in Hanover County. The Board of Supervisors recognized his service at its March 9 meeting.

Derek Stamey


Stamey’s position of Director of Parks and Recreation soon added responsibility for cutting grass and clearing snow from all county as school property as services were consolidated to streamline operations and reduce costs. By the spring of 2011, facilities management was added to his title to reflect countywide maintenance duties undertaken by his department.

He was named Deputy County Administrator for Operation in 2016 and served as interim county administrator between June and September of last year keeping Goochland government on track during the pandemic and a hurricane.

Stamey oversaw the rebirth of Central High School from a derelict building into an attractive community resource that includes expanded office space for the Extension Office and Monacan Soil and Water Conservation District, renovated gym and outdoor recreation areas. Ball fields to replace those at the corner of Sandy Hook and Fairground Roads are under construction.

Eagle Theater at the Central High School complex.


A place to teach blacksmithing at the agricultural center.



When Stamey came to Goochland, the county had a few parks with basic amenities. New locations added include Leake’s Mill Park with regionally renowned mountain bike trails; Matthews Park; and Tucker Park at Maidens Landing with a dog park, canoe launch, trails, and riverfront connector under construction. These facilities joined Hidden Rock Park with its trails, dog parks, and ball field that hosts tournaments; Courthouse Green; and other facilities to provide Goochlanders a gracious plenty of recreational opportunities. Stamey worked with private sector groups and secured grant funding to bring these to fruition and build strong community coalitions.

Walkway to connect both sides of Tucker Park under construction.


Stamey’s accomplishments earned him several awards including seven from the Virginia Recreation and Parks Society; the 2019 Marsha Mashaw Outstanding Assistant Award for Deputy County Administrator of the Year; and the 2019 award from the VCU Douglas L. Wilder School of Government excellence in community enhancement; and two Governor’s environmental excellence awards.

When congratulated on these recognitions, Stamey always gave credit to his team for accomplishments.

In addition to the parks and rec improvements, Stamey presided over construction of the animal shelter and courthouse security annex; as well as extensive renovations of existing buildings for the general registrar; the business center; the history center; and recently completed offices of the Treasurer and Commissioner of the Revenue and many other improvements.

The new quarters for the registrar competed for the 2020 election.


Stamey expressed gratitude, admiration, and appreciation for his staff who pivoted during the pandemic to provide extra cleaning for all public buildings; install drop boxes, safety shields; social distancing markers; and pitched in to help sign up people for vaccinations. He credited teamwork and dedication of his staff for every accomplishment.

Just completed renovations to offices of the Treasurer and Commissioner of the Revenue


Somehow Stamey found time to volunteer with Goochland Pet Lovers; GES PTA; Central High School Committee; Friends of Goochland Parks; and the Goochland Youth Athletic Association.

The supervisors’ resolution commended Stamey for his ability to engage, expertise, initiate and willingness to take on large challenges as a testament to his ability to lead and inspire.

Thank you for all you have done for Goochland Derek. God speed in all of your future endeavors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Over the horizon

 

Covid has taught us that life changes on a dime. Planning for the future has always been both art and science, but as the pace of change accelerates, it’s a leap of faith. Educational institutions need to prepare students for jobs that do not yet exist.

Every day we hear about good jobs that go begging because there are not enough workers with the right skills to fill them and young people drowning in student debt incurred to fund degrees for which there is no demand. Something is seriously out of whack. Conversations about the cost versus the value of a college education are far too rare.

Interest in mastery of practical skills that are in great demand in the labor market is growing. College students banned from in person learning during the pandemic have been exploring other options.

For the past few years, Goochland schools have held business roundtables where employers and educators discuss how to prepare our kids for good jobs to enable them to have fulfilling and prosperous lives without a four-year college degree.

Goochland High School has a Career and Technical Education (CTE) department, under the direction of Bruce Watson, that prepares our graduates to go on to the military and the world of work if they chose not to continue formal education.  Through apprenticeships and on the job training in addition to coursework taught in very special classrooms, graduates have learned skills and earned certifications that led to good paying jobs right out of high school.

The CTE curriculum includes a wide range of offerings including advanced agricultural concepts; building trades; computer aided drafting; culinary arts; diesel mechanics; and military science in the Marine Junior ROTC program. (For the complete list of CTE and other GHS course offerings go to https://drive.google.com/file/d/1KQaU8iTfRrzqKIG-KMOMcXOQjdX1Qwl3/view)

During the latest business roundtable held virtually on March 11, Watson announced a new offering, The Academy for Sustainable Energy. Governor Northam’s recently announced goal for Virginia to be fully powered by renewable energy by 2050 creates challenges and opportunities in this field.

Wind turbine technicians will be needed for renewable energy.

Watson explained that student interest in sustainable energy as well as opportunities for partnerships with local community partners and colleges lead to creation of this CTE career cluster. He said that one third of Virginia’s current energy workforce is expected to retire by 2025, creating a need for skilled workers. Jobs in solar energy alone, said Watson, are expected to increase dramatically in the next few years. Virginia wages for solar thermal installers and technicians, for instance, are higher than the national average. The average annual salary for a wind turbine service technician is $76,250.

Virginia ranks tenth for the number of clean energy jobs. A survey of Goochland students indicated that there is sufficient interest in an instruction “energy cluster” to create the option. This is expected to include a certificate/degree program to move students who complete the requirements to move directly into the workforce upon high school graduation without pursuing a four-year degree.

Energy courses will be woven into a curriculum that includes traditional subjects like history, English, and “soft skills” of resume writing, interviewing, conflict resolution, and social skills. These areas of instruction are geared to producing well-rounded individuals prepared to take their place in the workforce.

Dr. Paula Pando, President of Reynolds Community College—it dropped the J. Sargent a few years ago—also addressed the roundtable. (http://www.reynolds.edu/) Reynolds CC is a valued partner in Goochland education. A dual enrollment program allows GHS students to earn an Associate’s degree before their high school diploma (Reynolds’ commencement is a few weeks before local graduation) so they can enter qualifying four-year colleges as academic juniors, reducing the cost of higher education.

Community colleges provide opportunities to obtain necessary post high school credentials in many fields. Students who successfully complete these programs realize the personal satisfaction of a lucrative career by developing individual talents to support businesses that form the foundation for healthy communities.

Enrolment at Virginia’s community colleges declined during the pandemic lockdowns, as did the number of students completing the programs. A system-wide look at why student fail to complete programs, and what changes are needed to foster greater student success is underway, said Pando.

The focus of programs at the community college level is middle skill jobs, which Pando contended, will be 45 percent of job openings in the immediate future. Course offerings at Reynolds include a wide array of skills in the fields of healthcare, human services, information technology, and skilled trades.

A challenge faced by Reynolds and the Goochland CTE program, is a dearth of qualified instructor to teach the next generation of workers.  Skilled workers nearing retirement, who are well-equipped to share their knowledge and experience could be the answer. However, overcoming regulatory hurdles to get these people into the classroom could be an obstacle. For instance, should completion of college level education courses be required to teach welding?

Pando said that Reynolds and other community colleges are taking a hard look at what they need to offer to fill their role in education. Hard questions are being asked, which, hopefully, will lead to productive answers.

Reynolds’ Goochland Campus in the heart of Courthouse Village is a beautiful but underused facility. Pando believes that it can become a region-wide educational resource, playing a larger part in the community college system. How that will happen has not been identified. Pando hopes to lead community conversations on this topic. Stay tuned.

Reynolds' Goochland Campus is an underutilized asset.

These business roundtables are another way that Goochland Schools works toward its goal of helping every student achieve maximum potential.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Post Covid land use battles

 


An initial community meeting to discuss a proposed subdivision on the west side of Hockett Road south of Songbird Lane was held at the Pickle Barrel restaurant on March 16. The meeting was well attended by engaged citizens; Supervisors Don Sharpe District 4; Neil Spoonhower District 2; Planning Commissioners John Meyers, District 1, Curt Pituck, District 4; Director of Community development Jo Ann Hunter; and representatives of the developer including legal counsel Jennifer Mullen of Roth Jackson Gibbons Condlin, PLC.

Kudos to organizers of the meeting for making it accessible via Zoom for those unable or unwilling to attend in person. The information was presented by the developer. If the application proceeds through the rezoning process, county staff will analyze the proposal and present a summary of its findings for the planning commission and supervisors. At least two public hearings will take place before any vote by the supervisors. Additional community meetings could be held before the proposal moves forward in the process. This is not a “done deal”.

Proposed Songbird community. Hockett Road is to the right.


Every property owner has the right to petition government for zoning and/or changes in permitted land uses. No matter how much money the property owner spends on preparing proposals, there is no guarantee that the request will be granted. The Board of Supervisors has the final say on these applications. While the Planning Commission makes recommendations on these applications, the board does not necessarily heed them.

According to Goochland County Attorney Tara McGee, each rezoning is treated as unique by the law and does not create a precedent for future land use change applications.

Community meetings are the opening moves of a land use change chess game that involves developers, county regulations, and citizens. Approved projects are often very different from their initial proposals. Many factors are taken into account during the process, not least of which is the county’s comprehensive land use plan (https://www.goochlandva.us/250/2035-Comprehensive-Plan) a guide crafted to foster orderly development.

The Songbird Lane preapplication proposes to build 137 single family detached homes on approximately 64 acres on the west side of Hockett Road. There would be two access points, one from Songbird Lane, the other from Hockett Road, in the approximate center of the development.

According to Mullen, lot sizes would be no smaller than 70 by 130 feet. Homes sizes would range from 2,500 to 4,000 square feet and price points are expected to range from four to six hundred thousand. Homes will feature first floor master suites. This pricing may be low as currently surging lumber prices drive new construction costs higher.

Mullen speculated that buyers of the homes would tend to be families whose children are out of school or younger people who have not yet started families. Using the county’s projections, the proposed community would produce 27 school aged children. When this number was challenged by an attendee, Spoonhower said that actual numbers of school aged children resulting from new development is a bit lower than projections.

People interested in sending their children to Goochland schools might prefer homes further west. Randolph Elementary School is about ten miles from the subject property, the high school/middle school complex at least a 16-mile trip.

The proposal requests that the zoning be changed from its current A-2 agricultural, which would allow no more than ten homes, to residential planned unit development (RPUD), which permits up to 2.5 units per acre and allows town homes. It was unclear if the applicant will proffer (promise) to build only single family detached homes. The Comp Plan indicates that this area is low density residential. Mullen contended that it is in a designated growth area. West Creek, prime economic development location, is on the opposite side of Hockett Road. The area currently has farms and homes on large parcels of land.

To accommodate small lots the proposal assumes that the land in question would be added to the Tuckahoe Creek Service District.

Created in 2002 to provide water and sewer service to the eastern part of the county the TCSD was intended to support economic development. The TCSD includes part, but not all, of the West Creek business park, and is generally bounded on the west by the east side of Hockett Road, the south Rt. 6, and the Hanover County line to the north. A 32 cent per $100 of assessed valuation is levied on all land in the TCSD whether it has access to utility service or not in addition to the county-wide real estate tax. Much of the TCSD remains undeveloped. The ad valorem tax and connection fees are used to service debt incurred by the county to build the utility system.

The proposal includes open space and buffers between the homes and Hockett Road and surrounding parcels. Existing trees, many of which are pines, constitute part of the buffer. Sidewalks and street trees will be installed in front of homes as will walking trails in the open space.

Traffic concerns were expressed by many attendees. Eric Strohacker, a traffic consultant retained by the developer to study the impact of the proposal on Hockett Road traffic, said that the Songbird community would generate 1,390 vehicles trips per day. This number, said Strohacker, was arrived at using databases for similar communities.

Folks who live in the Hockett Road corridor said that the traffic is horrible during rush hour, especially at the south end as home bound commuters seek short cuts to turn east on Rt. 6. Strohacker, who has worked with other communities in the area contended that congestion at Rt. 6 will be relieved by a traffic signal. The Hockett/Broad Street Road intersection in the Centerville Village is already “failing” said Hunter. She reported that a realignment to connect Hockett and Ashland Roads has been approved and funded and is expected to be built in approximately five years.

Goochland roads are built and maintained by VDOT—the state agency whose motto is “Oops!”—and it decides when traffic signals are needed. According to Strohacker, VDOT uses a 24-hour traffic count to determine when a traffic signal is warranted. He did suggest that the county request that VDOT do a traffic study of Hockett Road between Broad Street Road and Tuckahoe Creek Parkway to determine if a lower speed limit is appropriate.

The Songbird project will pay maximum permitted cash proffers of $9,810 per home. Go to https://www.goochlandva.us/DocumentCenter/View/4330/Goochland-Capital-Impacts-Study?bidId= for the study used to compute this amount. The county was divided into east, central, and west zones to determine appropriate amounts.

This money is used to fund capital projects for education, public safety, transportation, and parks. In 2017, Goochland County crafted a 25-year capital improvement plan to identify and put a price tag on big ticket items needed during that period. The total was more than $146 million. Even with the built-in cost escalators, the price of some of those items, like the new Goochland Elementary School, have already increased dramatically.  The $1,343,970 in proffer dollars that would be generated by 137 homes on Songbird Lane is a mere drop in the proffer bucket. The new West Creek fire-rescue station planned for a parcel on the east side of Hockett Road just north of Tuckahoe Creek Parkway to be built in five years or so, is the next capital project in the eastern zone.

Residential development consumes more than one dollar in governmental services for each dollar it generates in taxes. New homes bring no monetary benefit to the county.

Perhaps the most important question asked at this meeting is what benefit this 137-home proposal brings to Goochland County.

There will be additional, hopefully constructive, discussions about this issue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, March 15, 2021

Debt

 

 

It’s been a year since the black swan of Covid pooped on the world. Drastic cuts were made to the FY2021 Goochland County budget in anticipation of significant revenue pandemic generated shortfalls that never materialized. Since then, the Board of Supervisors has been cautiously adding things back as actual income permits.

Looking ahead to hopefully more normal times, the FY 2022 budget, currently under review pending approval in April, is based on this year’s very healthy increase in property assessments bolstered by a lot of new construction. As reflected in the FY22 proposed budget, the supervisors plan to invest heavily in education and public safety.  Salary enhancements, raises, additional positions, and new equipment that were not funded last year, are proposed for FY’22.

There will be a virtual town hall meeting on March 23 at 6 p.m. at which time the supervisors, school board, and staff will discuss the budget for FY 2022, which begins on July 1. (Go to goochlandva.us/Calendar.aspx?EID=4786&month=3&year=2021&day=23&calType=0 for participation details.)

The elephant in the room when the budget is discussed, however, is the capital improvement plan. This is a strategy to fund big ticket items that have a useful life of more than five years. In response to dreadful proffer legislation passed a few years ago by the Virginia General Assembly, Goochland crafted a 25-year CIP to identify needed capital projects and their best guess costs until 2046. The long-term CIP is revisited every year during the budget process, which includes adoption of the current year’s piece of the plan. Depending on conditions, some items are moved up, others delayed. The operating budget is funded by annual tax revenues, capital projects, due to their cost and life span, are often funded by debt.

During a March 9 workshop, county leaders discussed the CIP and how to fund it. (Go to https://www.goochlandva.us/943/Video-of-Past-BOS-Meetings and click on March 9 to hear the entire presentation and discussion.)

Goochland has a lot of capital needs. The most expensive are replacements for Goochland Elementary School and the Circuit Court House. Discussions about a new GES have been ongoing for most of the 21st century.

The courthouse, in use for almost 200 years, is long overdue for a replacement. A security annex, added in 2019, solved some of the issues with the historic structure. Recent incidents of civil unrest in the Courthouse complex, underscore the need for a modern facility to conduct safe and efficient criminal justice operations.

A new GES figured prominently in the 25-year CIP. As conditions on the ground changed, school officials decided that a larger—650 student capacity—GES was needed. The increased cost moved the new courthouse back a few years. The larger GES will require redistricting bringing some students that now attend Byrd and Randolph to the new school, which is expected to open in 2024.

A West Creek fire-rescue station; renovations to the “new” high school; and Bulldog Way improvements connected to the new GES could be funded by the county taking on $96 million in debt. Those items are the tip of the iceberg. The near-term county laundry list of needed capital items includes information technology upgrades, vehicle replacements for the county, sheriff, fire-rescue, renovations, upkeep, and maintenance of county facilities, and repairs to the fire-rescue training center on Maidens Road.

Longer term needed expenditures, more than ten years out in the CIP, include replacements for Randolph and Byrd Elementary schools; a district 2 fire-rescue station; and replacements for other fire-rescue stations.

Goochland County, which hopes to add a third AAA bond rating to the two it has already secured—making it the smallest jurisdiction population-wise in the nation to do so—should be able to secure attractive borrowing terms. With interest rates at record lows, why not hold a bond referendum and borrow all the money needed to pay for these things sooner rather than later?

There’s the rub. After avoiding a debt disaster with the Tuckahoe Creek Service District financing, the supervisors adopted a debt policy target capping debt service at a ratio of debt service to general fund expenditures of ten percent, not to exceed twelve percent. The policy also states that new debt, including leases and general obligations, should not exceed 2.5 percent of the market value of taxable property.

Director of Finance Barbara Horlacher reported that, at two percent a twenty-year loan costs approximately $600k per $10 million of debt. She recommended borrowing no more that $100 million to keep annual debt service at or below $6 million. This could be “smoothed” out depending on the timing of debt issuance and payment structure. Borrowing for a longer term, say 25 years, would lower annual payments. There was little support among the supervisors for incurring the maximum amount of debt permitted under the policy.

“We need to have some wiggle room,” observed District 5 Supervisor Ken Peterson. He advocated for flexibility and perhaps sequencing debt incurrence as the trend in assessed valuations becomes clearer. This year’s total county valuation saw a healthy increase, due in large part to new construction. Long term property owners in Goochland also may have noticed higher valuations, but many have not returned to the high-water mark reached in 2009 before the Great Recession.

Horlacher said that the county has several borrowing options. However, if the supervisors decide to pursue issuance of general obligation bonds, which would require a bond referendum on the November ballot, the decision to do so must be made in the next few weeks.

Incurring long term debt, the rough equivalent of taking out a mortgage, is a serious undertaking. The supervisors have important decisions to make about how your tax dollars will be used.