Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Concrete discussions

On Tuesday, March 12, an occurrence rare as hen’s teeth among Virginia local governments, took place. The Board of Supervisors and members of the School Board sat down together for a cordial, yet hard conversation. The importance of the congenial relationship between the supervisors and school board cannot be over emphasized.
Collaboration between the Supervisors and School Board enables constructive discussions.

This environment, said School Superintendent DR. Jeremy Raley, “allows us to unpack our thinking and have a difficult discussion about a whole bunch of money in an amiable way.”

The topic was the county capital improvement plan (CIP), which includes estimated costs for long-lived items, including buildings, systems, and equipment, that cannot be fully funded in one budget cycle, and establishes a schedule to purchase or build and pay for them.

In 2017 Goochland crafted a 25-year CIP, an almost unheard-of task, used to create a capital impact model tool for evaluating land use decisions. As part of the annual budget process, a more detailed five-year CIP is approved.

A big part of 25-year CIP is the needs of the school division, which completed its own long-term CIP that included three enrollment projections based on high, moderate, and low growth rates. The out-year numbers were based on best guesses. The 2017 projected cost for a new Goochland Elementary School (GES), planned for FY2023, was based on moderate growth. District 2 School Board member Kevin Hazzard said attendance boundary adjustments will be made to take pressure off of Randolph and Byrd elementary schools until they too are replaced. Hazzzard also observed that using a four-season school year, which is NOT under consideration, could reduce school capacity to 75 percent.

When attendance projections were updated this year, it became clear, according to Raley, that actual growth is far more robust. (Note to supervisors, remember this during residential rezoning decisions). Instead of a 500 student GES, the March 12 proposed schools’ CIP included a 650-student school. Raley contended that enrollment at the 500 student GES would exceed capacity on opening day. The price tag for the larger school was estimated at $31.9 million versus the $24 million used in 2017. Raley predicted that enrollment will increase for each of the next ten years at every grade level; capacity is a division-wide issue.

"Education cottages" at Randolph Elementary School

Also included in the county long-term CIP for approximately the same time frame, the 2023 fiscal year, is a new $25 million combined courts building. The venerable Goochland Circuit Court building has been in use since 1827—Thomas Jefferson died in 1826—and is long overdue for replacement. A county space study conducted last year found that the existing court buildings will soon become inadequate for daily operation. At its March 5 meeting, the Board approved $620,000 to build a security screening addition for the Circuit Court building providing a bit of time flexibility on the court project.

District 5 Supervisor Ken Peterson quipped that the schools get points for the courage to ask for a $12 million CIP increase, and the supervisors get points for not covering their ears at the request.  “Courthouse security is a big issue, and schools have a greater need than they did only a few years ago. It’s helpful to go through the numbers to know how we got here,” said Peterson.

Adding up a more expensive than anticipated school, the courthouse, and other crucial items, the county will need a lot of money in the next five years. This will require borrowing. No decisions on the CIP have been made yet. It will be discussed at the current round of Town Hall meetings; a public hearing on April 2, and, perhaps before the board votes to adopt the budget and CIP on April 16. As the 53 cent per $100 of valuation has been advertised, the tax RATE will not increase for calendar year 2019.

The cost of the courts building, and new GES alone is roughly equal to the FY2020 general fund revenues for the entire county.

Last year was good for county revenues, which rose about nine percent due to higher property assessments, new construction, bank stock taxes, and earning a bit of interest on county money. Long term projections use a more conservative three per cent annual growth rate.

Stewardship of public funds and land use decisions are the most important duties of the supervisors. The ill-conceived Tuckahoe Creek service District, which almost swamped Goochland, is a cautionary tale, one these supervisors will not repeat.

Unlike their predecessors, who lacked the financial sophistication to understand the risk that borrowing a huge sum of money based on unsubstantial projections of seven percent annual growth forever, this board worries about what is over the economic horizon. Taking office when Goochland property values were declining—something virtually unknown for decades—this board understands what happens when there is too little revenue to fund core services. That is why funds are allocated every year to a “rainy day” account to smooth out the bumps of the next economic downturn.

The Commonwealth of Virginia does not restrict the amount of debt a locality can issue, so bad local financial decisions can lead to big money problems solved with higher taxes. To further protect the county coffers, this board adopted a policy limiting the amount of debt the county can incur relative to its general fund expenditures to a target of 10 percent with ceiling of 12 percent.  Current conditions fall well below the target. (See http://goochlandva.us/DocumentCenter/View/4422/Goochland-Financial-Management-Policies-Effective-May-1-2018 for the entire policy.)

According to the county capital impact study, “Cash proffers are a small part of an overall funding strategy and should not be regarded as a total solution for infrastructure financing needs. Therefore, other strategies and revenue sources are needed to offset the impact to infrastructure from new growth.”

This board wants to wait until existing debt other than the TCSD is retired before taking on more. They are committed to keeping the real estate tax RATE steady at 53 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. Note, burgeoning real estate valuations last year resulted in a tax increase, because the flat rate generates more revenue. (The more of the one hundred dollars you have, the more 53 cents you pay.)

For the past several years, the county budget has included CIP appropriations for the new GES and Courthouse. In essence, saving up for a down payment to reduce the amount borrowed, which in turn, reduces the debt service.

Finding balance between “we need it now” and let’s not get too deeply into debt is a tricky maneuver. County Administrator John Budesky suggested options, which include delaying the courthouse project a few years

Other factors are in play. Budesky observed that borrowing for this CIP will occur in about three years, when another board will be in place. Understanding how money works and the consequences of taking on debt is a vital skill for anyone seeking elected office this year. Sadly, few candidates bother to attend these sessions and listen to substantive discussions on the subject.

Why not just float a large bond issue to fund all the things in the CIP at once? The east end of the county is growing like a weed increasing real estate tax revenues to service the debt. Goochland has two high bond ratings to help get better interest rates, so what’s the problem?

The good times will not roll forever. If the county incurs more debt than it can comfortably handle tax rates will rise, for everyone.  If we use the reserves as a larger down payment, the county’s metaphorical cupboard could be left bare in case of another economic downturn, or a “Black Swan” event that comes out of the blue, like the 2011 earthquake that destroyed two schools in Louisa.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Aligning goals

Aligning goals

Today’s high school students have more career opportunities than ever; many of them will have satisfying employment in jobs that do not yet exist. Businesses struggle daily to find qualified applicants for existing job openings. Fixing this mismatch is complicated.

On Wednesday, March 6, Goochland County Public Schools held its latest business roundtable workshop with local employers and high school students to learn where the needs of business and aspirations of students intersect.

GHS students mingled with local business people to learn what  employers are looking for in their workforce.

View https://youtu.be/qpaSxL7chV0 to learn about some of our students.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jeremy Raley began the session, which included representatives Goochland County economic development; Chamber of Commerce; Reynolds Community College; and many local businesses, large and small.

“We’re developing a workforce for you,” Raley said. He contended that a well-trained sustainable local workforce will buy houses and cars, pay taxes, and contribute in many ways to a vibrant community well into the future.

“Our Bulldogs are doing awesome things every day, but we want to hear from you about what kinds of readily transferrable skills they need to prepare for success in their careers,” said Raley.

Dr. Steve Geyer, assistant superintendent for instruction gave a brief overview of the Profile of a Goochland Graduate  Please take a look at http://goochlandschools.org/hendron/Profile2.html . “Goochland takes a harder, and more personal, path,” said Geyer. “We want to know what you—employers—want from our students beyond content mastery. Ours (standards) are not measured by the state accountability system and are hard to evaluate. We want our graduates to leave school prepared to be successful in life.”

Dr. Paula Pando, president of Reynolds Community College—J.Sarge was dropped a few years ago—said she is still transitioning to her new position after a move from New Jersey and described herself as “a little bit Yankee, a little bit y’all” as she began her remarks.

“We are in the fourth industrial revolution,” Pando contended. “Jobs are going away but new jobs are being created in their place that require some sort of post-secondary credential.” The Virginia Community College system is working to find affordable ways to help employees train to fill those job vacancies with better prospects.  One of the challenges, said Pando, is that federal programs like Pell grants, fund degrees that are not in high demand. (Unlike student loans, these grants, available to qualified low income candidates, do not saddle recipients with debt.) There are no federal fund programs for developing programs in high demand skills, she said.

Beginning this summer, RCC will offer a commercial driver’s license (CDL) program costing approximately $1,500, which could be as little as $450 for those with financial need. “These in demand jobs pay $60,000 and up right out of the gate. That can be life changing for a family,” Pando said. “I had a Daddy who put three kids through college driving a truck.”

Pando said that the partnership with Goochland Schools whereby qualified students can earn an associate’s degree before they graduate from high school—Reynolds commencement falls earlier in the year that GHS graduation—and start college as academic juniors has been successful. This gives students a head start on college success and eases the financial burden on parents.

There are the other students who do fine in the classroom who may struggle with homelessness and never finish their programs. They need extra support to find their place in the world of work.

Reynolds Goochland Campus will host an open house on Thursday, April 25 beginning at 5:45 p.m., which will include recruiting for the initial CDL class cohort. See http://www.reynolds.edu/who_we_are/outreach/pdf/Reynolds-Open-House-Agenda-GC-EC-final.pdf for more information.

Raley then asked the attendees for their input to help students contemplate their lives outside the classroom. “We need your help because we value your experience and insight.” He asked for volunteers to help with mock interviews to help student better prepare for the real thing.

Breakout sessions followed where representatives from local business discussed their challenges finding employees with the skills they need. A group of seniors listened attentively.

The feedback followed common themes. Many reported difficulties in finding employees with requisite licensure in a particular field. Others commented on the dearth of “soft skills” among young people who would rather text than deal with clients face-to-face.

One group lamented the lack of early emphasis on trades. The current fashion of parents shaming each other if their children do not go to college does not reflect the reality that people can be successful in many ways. (The recently revealed college entrance cheating scandal gives credence to the absurdity of this.)

Lack of personal skills, the ability to interact with customers and fellow employees were common complaints. The ability to define and solve common problems; be properly respectful; basic leadership; good phone skills; and being well-rounded were described as desirable traits in employees.

Stan Corn, proprietor of Alarms, Inc. commended the Career and Technical (CTE) programs offered by GCPS. He is on its advisory committee, which provides business people a place to be heard about what they need in employees. Corn also offered sage advice to young people, who, he contended, must be taught how to work. “Be willing to work. Stay out of trouble and keep your fingerprints out of the FBI database. Background checks look at social media. You’re killing yourself with your stupidity.”
Stan Corn of Alarms, Inc. offered common sense advice to young people.

Everything in life, Corn contended, is about selling. “You need to know how to present a concept and get others to accept what you have to offer.”

Even first graders in Goochland schools get a taste of CTE programs. Expanding the universe of career opportunities is key to matching talents with skills and fulfilling the division’s goal of maximizing the potential of every learner.

Monday, March 11, 2019

March Board Highlights

March Board highlights

The Goochland Supervisors’ March monthly meeting was less contentious than anticipated. The Board will address the rezoning application for Tuckahoe Bridge, an up to 147 home subdivision, on property between Manakin and Rockville Roads on June 4, and the rezoning application for Reed Marsh, a 67-lot subdivision on land next to the library on May 7.  A public hearing to amend an ordinance dealing with video monitoring on school buses was also deferred to June 4.

Spring Town Hall meetings re just around the corner. The District 2 and 3 meeting is scheduled for Wednesday March 13 at Central High School Educational and Cultural Center on Dogtown Road. The District 1 meeting will be on Monday, March 18 at the Fife Company 4 Fire-Rescue Station on Hadensville-Fife Road. Districts 4 and 5 will meet on Wednesday March 27 at the Hermitage Country Club on Hermitage Road. All meetings begin at 7 p.m. and are open to all. The format will explain the budget for fiscal year 2020, which begins on July 1 and other topics of local and countywide interest.

A rabies clinic will be held on Sunday, April 7 in the lower parking lot near the intersection of Fairground and Sandy Hook Roads from 2 to 4 p.m. The fee is $10 per animal. This is a good time to make sure your four-legged children are protected.

The supervisors approved a resolution of appreciation for Past Chief of the Department of Fire-Rescue Bill MacKay. He led our intrepid first responders from June 2010 until retiring on January 31. MacKay thanked the Board for its support during his tenure in office and said that the strides the department made were the result of the hard work of hundreds of people. He also thanked the Goochland Sheriff’s Office and the School Division for their partnership in public safety activities.

Marshall Winn, VDOT Ashland Residency Manager, reported that improvements for the Rt. 288/Broad Street Road interchange are on schedule for advertisement in January 2020 but could be moved up. Construction should start about three months later.

In response to a question from Ken Peterson, District 5, Winn said he will send Deputy County Administrator Todd Kilduff, a schedule of planned roadwork. We hope this helps avoid a repeat of the mess caused last year when these was no warning about the resurfacing of Broad Street Road west of Oilville.

Winn told Bob Minnick, District 4, that repairs to roads in the Parke at Centerville are due next year.

The supervisors authorized County Administrator John Budesky to execute a real estate purchase agreement for a building owned by Goochland Cares at 2948 River Road West in Courthouse Village. The purchase price of $450,000 is in line with the current assessed valuation of $449,500. A lease in place with the medical practice of Dr. Bain’s Goochland Family Practice will remain.

The county will purchase this property from Goochland Cares.

Authority was also granted for Budesky to execute a contract for $620,000 to construct a security screening building for the existing courthouse. Currently, a tent serves this purpose. The Veteran’s Memorial will be relocated on the Courthouse green. This 1,047 square foot building will include both indoor and outdoor spaces and ramps to bring it into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. The structure was designed with input from the Sheriff’s Office; Circuit Court Clerk; Historical Society; and approval from the Virginia Department of Historical Resources.

An addition will provide better Courthouse security than this tent. The memorial to the left will be relocated.

The county long term capital improvement plan includes a replacement for the existing circuit house, which was built in 1827—no that is not a typo—and has served Goochland well, but cannot meet contemporary security challenges.  The new courthouse is expected around 2024.

A policy to create road service districts was adopted. This creates a mechanism for the county to collect private funds to bring existing roads up to state standards and   be conveyed to VDOT for maintenance. Please see the board packet for March 5 on the county website http://goochlandva.us/ for details. This policy will address the road situation in the Bridgewater subdivision, but may be applied to other unpaved roads throughout the county. Goochland does not build or maintain roads, that function is handled by VDOT.

The supervisors approved petitioning the circuit court not to hold a special election to fill the office of Treasurer and to vest Chief Deputy Treasurer Pamela Duncan with the powers to perform all the functions of that office. Current Treasurer Pamela Johnson announced her intention to retire at the end of the current fiscal year, June 30. As this is a local election year, county treasurer, a constitutional office will be on the ballot; incurring the expense of a special election does not seem warranted.

Under housekeeping matters, the Board authorized the refund of an erroneous business license payment made on February 11. Policy requires refunds in excess of $2,500 to be authorized by the supervisors after having been verified by the Treasurer.

The school budget was presented to the supervisors and will be discussed in a separate post.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Stop hot car baby deaths

Last summer, a horrifying occurrence hit far too close to home. A 17-month-old baby was discovered dead in his car seat on the top floor of a parking deck at the Capital One campus in West Creek. His father, for whatever reason, did not drop the child off at daycare before heading to work on a hot August day. When a call from the daycare alerted the father to the situation, it was too late for the baby.

Everyone who heard about the event wondered how it could happen. Midlothian teenager Hannah Rhudy rather than casting blame, channeled her sadness to devise a simple way to help parents remember to check for babies on board before leaving their cars.

Hannah Rhudy and Goochland Sheriff James L. Agnew display baby in baby out hang tags.

Goochland Sheriff James L. Agnew, who responded to the West Creek scene and has young grandchildren, introduced Hannah at the March 5 Board of Supervisors’ meeting to tell her story.

“Always look before you lock,” is the slogan emblazoned on simple hang tags, lime green on one side, bright pink on the other, designed for display from a rear-view mirror.

“We want to make checking the back seat before locking cars as much of a habit as wearing seatbelts to ensure that the precious cargo of a baby is not forgotten,” Hannah said.

A video, narrated by a local pediatrician, explained why hot cars are so dangerous for youngsters. A child’s body overheats three times faster than that of an adult;  heat stroke begins when the child’s body reaches 104 degrees; death can occur at 107 degrees; the internal temperature of  a locked car can increase up to 20 degrees in ten minutes; cracking car windows or parking in the shade does not slow the heating process; and an average of 37 children die each year according to statistics from the safety organization Kinds And Cars (www.kidsandcars.org).

Hannah plans to distribute the free hang tags at locations around the Richmond area. She brought a bundle of them for Sheriff Agnew to hand out at his office. Hannah hopes to work with tech students to create an app with a heat sensor alert for parents.  Visit her website at www.babyinbabyout.org for more information.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Hidden in Plain Sight

On Wednesday, February 27, the Rural Substance Abuse Awareness Coalition held a daylong seminar to raise awareness of substance abuse at the Central High School Cultural Arts Center and help curb this scourge on our society. Hallmark Youthcare, a residential treatment facility in West Creek

The program was sad and depressing, yet hopeful that the knowledge participants carried away with them could begin to address the problem of substance abuse.

“Hidden in plain sight” refers to the many ways that drugs and alcohol are concealed in everyday objects and emphasize the fact that addicting substances are everywhere today.

A display created by the Culpepper Police Department was shocking in its ordinariness. An innocent bag of gummy bears—the candy kind, not those laced with controlled substances—could be soaked in vodka and taken to school as a seemingly innocent snack. A highlighter that comes apart to reveal marijuana pipe; containers for things like suntan lotion and soft drinks made to hold hidden compartments are readily available on the internet.

This highlighter hides a marijuana pipe

Compressed air, used to clean computer keyboards, is sometimes “huffed” by kids with deadly results. Opening a seam in the back of a beloved teddy bear creates a hidey hole for a pill bottle. A pocket concealed in the crown of a baseball cap could be a handy place to store keys while jogging or secrete an illicit substance.

Dangerous cargo hidden in Teddy Bear

While the skyrocketing death rate from the opioid addiction epidemic is getting lots of attention, more “traditional” addiction, to street drugs and alcohol ruins lives of young people and adults.

Two videos put the issue into human terms.  The first-person story of a woman who became addicted to opioids following an injury and served time in prison, not for addiction, but for crimes she committed to feed her habit.  She told of attending open houses to steal drugs from medicine cabinets. “I knew I was going to end one of two ways, “she recalled. “I was either going to overdose or get shot by someone whose home I broke into.” She got clean and works every day to stay that way.

A heart-rending recollection of a mother who lost her daughter to an overdose segued into the informational portion of the day.

Brian C. Moore, a special agent with the Virginia State Police assigned to the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Drug Enforcement Section for District 5, presented a terrifying overview of the issue.
Virginia State Police Special Agent Brian C. Moore

Drug addiction causes heartache; increases criminal activity and kills. Addicts come in all shapes, sizes, ages. They could be the person next door, Moore said. “Pain pills are so easy to get that some people pop them like Skittles. When they can no longer obtain them with prescriptions, they turn to street drugs, like heroin, which is a more affordable alternative when you’ve been hooked.”

Moore told of a colleague who used pain medication recovering from an injury and progressed to hard drugs. He spent all of his money, including a second mortgage on the family home, to feed his habit before he got help.

Illegal drugs, including high quality meth, heroine, and the deadliest of all, fentanyl, are being made in China and flooding into America from Mexico and Canada, Moore said. Fentanyl, intended to relieve severe pain for advanced cancer patients, is 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Sometimes, explained Moore, heroin is “cut” with fentanyl with deadly consequences. The substance is so toxic, that law enforcement officers carry overdose reversing Narcan with them in case they accidentally come into contact with fentanyl, which could kill.
the size of a deadly dose of fentanyl

“Home cooked meth” can be made almost anywhere, also with deadly outcomes. “If you suspect you are around a meth lab, turn around and run the other way,” he said. The process can be very volatile causing burns and inhalation injuries. People have been known to cook meth in soda bottles while driving down the road and toss them out the window if they begin to explode, creating deadly roadside litter.
“We don’t want to put addicts in jail, we want them to get treatment and get back into society,” said Goochland Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Caudill. “Addicts go to jail for the crimes they commit to feed their habit. If you sell and distribute drugs, you will go to prison.”

Michael McDermott of Maidens, who works with the McShin Recovery Resource Foundation said that addiction is a human problem.  McShin (www.mcshin.org) which offers same day no charge service. “There’s no reason not to get help. No more obituaries,” said McDermott.

Michael McDermott (l) with the McShin Foundation and Goochland Commonwealth's Attorney Mike Caudill (r)

Other local sources of funded treatment are the Goochland Powhatan Community Services Board(http://www.gpcsb.org/), and the Rural Substance Awareness Coalition (http://rsaac.org).

“Drug addiction is an affliction I would not wish on my worst enemy,” said Caudill. He urged those present to keep a watchful eye on the activities of their children to prevent addiction and get help if needed.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

How much is too much?

People who work in Goochland want to live here

We want to attract, and keep, the best deputies, firefighters, and teachers for our community but seem to have trouble filling vacancies. Candidates for these jobs like to live among the people they serve but lament that they cannot afford homes in Goochland.

Developers seeking to build high density residential communities in parts of the county served by water and sewer contend that they will provide “affordable” residences with “price points” in the $400k range.

What is the sweet spot for home prices for those who serve our community? Some people equate the notion of “affordable” housing with low income housing, which opens up a whole ‘nother can of worms.

The advent of apartment communities in West Creek—one roughly opposite the Wawa, the other off of West Creek Parkway—do provide more options but are not inexpensive and may not be ideal for young families.

During the Tuesday, February 19 Board of Supervisor’s’ budget workshop, Kelly Parrish, county director of human resources, said that the average salary of county employees for 2018 was $54,911. As averages are computed by dividing the total of all salaries for all employees—including the county administrator and county attorney— by the number of employees, the usefulness of this statistic is limited.

For illustration though, let’s use $54k. Monacan Soil and Water District Commissioner Jonathan Lyle, who worked in the mortgage industry in another life, shared some seat of the pants calculations and thoughts on the subject.

For illustration purposes, Lyle used the $400,000 “price point” for homes proposed for the Reed Marsh property opposite the county administration building in Courthouse Village. (Public hearings on this rezoning application and one between Manakin and Rockville Roads will take place on Tuesday, March 5 at the 7 p.m. portion of the Board of Supervisors’ meeting.)

Lyle said:
“When I was at Southern Bank (last century...in the 1970's/80's) we used a loan-to-income ratio of about 25% - 30% for housing (rent/mortgage) as affordable/prudent.

With the Reed Marsh rezoning request, I took their $400,000 number, and used a mortgage calculator for a 30-year fixed at a VERY favorable 3.92% mortgage rate.  For simplicity I used the entire $400,000 as the mortgage amount.

A 30-year fixed rate $400,000 mortgage at 3.92% results in a $1,891 monthly payment ($22,692/year).  If that $1,891 is 30% of the household income, that buyer will need to have a $76,000 household income.

So.  If a Goochland "average" employee is in a two-income household, and the second income is say 70% of the $54,000 average (~$37,800) that gives them a household income of $91,800. That would make the mortgage payment about 24% of the household income.  Is that affordable?

If the home is $300,000, at the same 3.92% mortgage rate, the payment on a 30-year fixed rate loan is $1,418 (~$17,000/year.)  With the same $91,800 income, that mortgage payment is 18% of the household income.”

Lyle also considered apartment rates in Goochland. According to their websites, monthly rent for two-bedroom apartments in The Retreat (opposite Wawa) start at $1,643. Rents at 2000 West Creek, near Capital One and the Hardywood Park Brewery start at $1,650 for a slightly smaller unit.

As Lyle pointed out, his mortgage figures assume no down payment, which would reduce the monthly payment. These numbers are just for housing, they do not take into account other financial obligations including car payments and student loan debt.

This is an open question to all of our wonderful deputies, teachers, fire-rescue providers and county employees, what do you consider “affordable” housing for your situation? It’s time to get some input from the people who make Goochland the special place it is.

Developers want to build houses and make money, there is nothing wrong with that. Maybe it’s time to look at denser options in appropriate places. For instance, would townhomes clustered on the less swampy portion of the Reed Marsh property, which would require shorter roads and utility lines, reducing construction costs, result in a “price point” closer to $300,000? Would that be attractive to Goochland’ workforce? Is that feasible?

Maybe it is not economically possible for builders to bring an “affordable” product to market and make a profit, so that they are able to stay in business and build more homes.

Please chime in with your thoughts. All civil, constructive comments will be published. Thanks to Mr. Lyle for his thoughts on this matter.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Budget first look

On Tuesday, February 19, Goochland County Administrator John Budesky presented his recommended budget for fiscal year 2020, which begins July 1, to the Board of Supervisors. The total budget amount of $87.5 million represents a $2.3 million or 2.6 percent decrease from the current year. The general fund of $57.5 million is a $3.1 million (5.8 percent) increase from the current year.

The proposed FY 2020 budget is available in its entirety on the county website http://goochlandva.us and is well worth your perusal. It contains information about county revenues and expenses in great detail. Director of Finance Barbara Horlacher and her staff worked closely with all county departments, Constitutional Officers and the school division to compile this document. Budesky said that all budget workshops will be livestreamed with recordings of past meeting archived on the county website.

Real estate tax revenue, based on higher valuations, are estimated to increase by 5.1 percent ($1.26 million) over the current year. Personal property tax is up approximately $1 million, or 8.2 percent over the FY2019 budget. (Could this be related to the opening of Audi of Richmond?)
Audi of Richmond showroom

As presented, this budget is based on retention of the current 53 cents per $100 of assessed valuation for real estate tax. Personal property tax rates are reduced to $3.95 per $100 of valuation and the annual vehicle license fee, the “county sticker” tax, has been eliminated. The ad valorem tax paid on property in the Tuckahoe Creek Service District will remain at .32. To ensure adequate funding for maintenance and repair of public sewer and water infrastructure, a rate increase of 5 percent for water and 6 percent for sewer, which is estimated. at an average bimonthly increase of $5.21. Connection fees will rise by 10 percent for water and 5 percent for sewer. Utilities are considered a self-sustaining enterprise.

Budesky said that Goochland’s median income of $86,652 is the second highest in the Commonwealth. While that number seems impressive, Budesky cautioned that the income of some residents is far less, and the county must be sensitive to those who struggle to pay their taxes. Seeking balance in taxing and spending is a delicate task.

Tax relief for the elderly and disabled is proposed to increase by $100 and reduced personal property tax rate for disabled veterans of $2 per $100 of valuation is also part of the proposed budget.

To simplify the business license tax schedule, the threshold for gross receipts fees is proposed to rise from four to ten thousand dollars to encourage small businesses. A new personal property tax rate for data centers of 40 cents per $10 of valuation is proposed to invite development in this area. (Could a data center be the business that the Economic Development Authority has been discussing in closed session recently?) Fees for conditional use permits for communications towers will be reduced to entice providers to expand broadband availability.

The focus of the budget remains in core areas, education, which accounts for 42 percent of annual expenditures; and public safety, which includes law enforcement and fire-rescue and emergency services; and community health.

Excellence in customer service is a core strategic goal, which can only be proved by skilled and dedicated employees. The proposed budget contains a three percent merit-based salary increase for county employees. The proposed school budget also includes salary increases.

Agnew commended Budesky for “being all business and no games” during budget discussions. He said that is mad no sense to request additional positions, except for the recommended crime analyst position to assist in crime prevention. A salary scale adjustment requested to bolster recruitment and retention of law enforcement personnel is included in the proposed budget.

“Our budget was a tradeoff. We are carrying positions that we are unable to fill and have changed the emphasis to revamp our pay scale.”
Goochland Sheriff James L. Agnew

The Sheriff referenced media reports of a 67 percent decline in the pool of applicants for law enforcement jobs on the east coast, fewer, he contended, are qualified.  Attracting people into “this wonderful job” is a challenge. Goochland competes with larger neighboring jurisdictions for applicants. Offering a competitive salary will help encourage applicants to look at Goochland, “a good place to live and work.”

In addition to enforcing the law, the Sheriff’s Office participates in the community. Crime Stoppers, the anonymous tip line, now has a P3 app, which allows informants to submit information via text. Agnew displayed a photo of student Trayvon Harris, who won its $500 poster contest prize. They also provide scholarships.

The bi-annual drug take back events co-sponsored with the DEA are very successful. In 2018, citizens turned in more than 500 pounds of drugs at the West Creek ER and Company 5. The drugs are turned over to the DEA for destruction.

Fishing Day in partnership with the Boy Scouts at Camp Brady Saunders is back thanks to Corporal Harrison Hankins.

“Refuse to be a victim,” which teaches people to be more aware of their surroundings at no cost to the county has been very successful. Agnew hopes to hold more sessions this year. It is sponsored by the NRA but is not about firearms. The open house held last August was very successful. It showcased the new communications center, but Chase, Goochland’s K9 officer, was the star of the show. Agnew hopes to make this an annual event. For the past 26 years, the Sheriff’s Office has delivered Christmas Mother presents.

Turning to a more somber topic, Agnew said that his office partners with Virginia State Police, Goochland Public Schools, and fire-rescue for active shooter drills to formulae plans and strategies. Drills are not held when school is in session; Agnew declined to divulge specifics but said that the simulations are ongoing. Pray that lessons learned in these drills are never needed.

Agnew explained that dealing with sensational crimes, which may be in the media for a few days, is a long-term involvement for local law enforcement. A murder in Sandy Hook last August, for instance, is not quite solved and has required many interviews and trips to the grand jury. Agnew said that the marijuana trade may have been a factor

Troy Skinner, the New Zealand man shot by a Goochland resident after he broke into her home last June, will stand trial later this year. “The lady who dealt with Mr. Skinner did exactly the right thing to protect her family,” said Agnew.

A toddler who died after being left in a hot car last summer consume d a lot of local law enforcement time and was a tragic no win situation. Agnew is working with a young woman who has devised a simple system to help parents and others be aware of children in car seats.

In 2018, 21 drug search warrants were served. Regardless of your opinion of marijuana, said Agnew, its distribution is very dangerous and fraught with violence. This activity takes a lot of people and time to plan and execute.

The sheriff’s office also serves court papers, a function becoming more complex and sometimes dangerous; provides court security; and moves people from jail to court, all man power intensive activity.

Nothing has changed in the area of mental health matters, Agnew contended. “This is not something that law enforcement should do, but we sometimes spend upwards of ten hours in an emergency room with someone experiencing a mental health crisis because there are no resources to deal with it adequately. It’s not helping the patient, it’s not helping us because we’re off the road, and it’s not fixing the problem. I hope that someday the General Assembly will fix it and have a place where these people can be helped because they’re not being helped now.”

Agnew said that there are many parts to the sheriff’s job that people do not understand. He thanked the board for its support in helping to recruit and retain good people to handle the authority granted to law enforcement officials.

Next week’s budget workshop will deal with county staffing, revenues, and the capital improvement plan.