Sunday, July 23, 2017

Playing Chicken

At first blush, the 520 home 55 plus community planned by HHHunt, of Wyndham and Wellesley fame, seems to be a win for Goochlanders tired of large homes on acreage who want to stay in the county.

The residential enclave, as yet unnamed, offers the usual amenities associated with upscale senior communities found in other areas. ) see for details.)

It will be located east of Hockett Road in West Creek, convenient to Short Pump well away from rural areas. The community will add to the value of land in the Tuckahoe Creek Service District, and the county as a whole. It will bring more affluent  rooftops to the Centerville area. The community will add no children to our schools. GOMM is contemplating relocating its world headquarters there.

What’s not to like? Many Goochlanders would say “pretty much everything.” The drawbridge folks, those who believe “I’m here so pull up the drawbridge and don’t let anyone else in,” contend that Goochland is just find the way it is.

Traffic is increasing at an alarming rate in the east end. Any new project, either residential or commercial will just make it worse. Adding turn lanes, and traffic signals, all slow to appear thanks to VDOT rules, only help so much. According to information presented by HHHunt, traffic at retirement communities is spread throughout the day, rather than concentrated at peak hours, even though some residents may still work.

Given all of the onsite amenities, including a pool, fitness center, clubhouse, and walking trails, HHHunt officials contend that residents will find plenty to do within the community and spend most of their time there.

One reason to leave that few people contemplate is a medical emergency. Goochland is blessed with highly skilled emergency medical service (EMS) recognized often for its excellence. In May, Goochland EMS received  the Silver Mission Lifeline award for its demonstrated ability to deliver high quality care to their cardiac patients, providing life-saving care during transport to an appropriate care facility. But, our EMS is already feeling the strain of meeting increasing demand for service by a growing and aging population. 

Unlike Henrico, which has a long established career fire-rescue department, Goochland uses a combination career/volunteer service. As demand grows and volunteer participation declines, responding to EMS calls is a timely manner  is a challenge.

The need for a new fire-rescue station on a site proffered by West Creek, will be pushed over the tipping point by the advent of the HHHunt community.  According to information provided by Goochland County, in 2016, EMS transported 1,574 patients county wide. Of those, 932 were over 55 years of age, with an average age of 57. 

This major influx of new residents—Goochland currently has about 8,500 homes with more on the way, and 22,500 people—will further stress emergency services.

The cost of hiring new deputies and fire-rescue providers is assumed to be covered by the increase in real estate and other local taxes resulting from new construction. Potentially staggering capital costs of building  and equipping new fire-rescue stations ($4.3 million for the new Hadensville station, which already had apparatus) and buying ambulances (approximately $500 thousand fully equipped) and fire trucks is another matter.

Until 2016, when the Virginia General Assembly defanged cash proffer rules, localities, including Goochland, could accept “voluntary” cash payments from developers requesting residential rezoning to offset capital costs generated by their projects.

Maximum cash proffer amounts were calculated using demand generators like .3 children per home and so forth. In kind contributions, like widening Hockett Road in front of the Parke at Centerville, were also accepted.

In June, Goochland adopted a new cash proffer policy in line with the state law that requires applicants for residential rezoning—commercial projects are evaluated in a different manner—to submit a detailed plan to mitigate increased capital costs generated by their new homes.

HHHunt—and there are undoubtedly other developers behind them—hired a traffic engineer to review the impact of its new enclave on roads and a consultant to study the impact on fire-rescue services.

Given the vagueness of the new state proffer law, developers could sue the county if a rezoning application was denied because the supervisors deem that the mitigation plan inadequate. If the supervisors approve the rezoning without suitable funds for increased capital needs, a  tax hike could be in the cards for everyone.

It is in the best interests of residential developers to work with the county to ensure adequate fire-rescue  and law enforcement coverage. People moving to Goochland from Henrico, for instance,  expect an ambulance, fire truck, or deputy to arrive at their door in short order following a 911 call. Less than stellar emergency response could hurt sales.

Regardless of who pays, the supervisors must ensure adequate levels of law enforcement and fire-rescue services for the entire county.  Building facilities, hiring, training, and equipping the people who keep us safe takes time. Waiting until new residents overwhelm the system is playing chicken.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Mother may I?

County and school officials meet with Del. Lee  Ware and Senator Mark Peake 

Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, which means that localities like Goochland County have only those powers given to them by the General Assembly. The Virginia General Assembly consists of 100 delegates and 40 senators. It is a part-time legislature, meeting 60 days in even number years and 45 days in odd numbered years. Each years, thousands of pieces of legislation are considered.

Our population of approximately 22,000 earns us a three representative delegation to the GA: 65th District Delegate Lee Ware; 22nd District Senator Mark Peake; and 56th District Delegate Peter Farrell, who announced his retirement earlier this year.

A June primary selected two candidates, Democrat Melissa Dart and Republican John McGuire, who will run to replace Farrell in November. Francis Stevens will oppose Ware. All candidates attended.

To ensure that its concerns about the ramifications and unintended consequences of existing laws and pending legislation, Goochland holds an annual meeting between our supervisors, school officials, constitutional officers, and county and school staff and legislative delegation. This year’s event occurred on Tuesday, June 11 and lasted for about two hours in late afternoon.

Topics on the agenda underscored state involvement in local governance and ranged from expansion of broadband, a priority item for both the county and schools, to the ability of the Goochland Drive in Theater to place a directional sign on Interstate 64 and the need for Goochland to request an annual waiver to start the school year before Labor Day.

Ware praised Goochland for its proactive legislative stance, stating that our county is a model for other localities. He mentioned some accomplishments of the 2017 GA session including salary increases for Virginia State Police, deputies, and state employees. The law enforcement pay situation was particularly dire as starting troopers and deputies with families qualified for food stamps.

Virginia, said Ware, was also able to repay a 2008 loan to the Virginia Retirement System. The VRS recently announced a more than 11 percent return, more than the seven percent assumed interest rate, which has put the system in a good situation. Now the GA needs to move state employees to a defined contribution retirement benefit so Virginia does not find itself downing in a tsunami of unfunded pension liability.

Peake, who succeeded Tom Garrett on the first day of the 2017 session after winning a special election, echoed Ware’s contention that trooper and deputy pay adjustments were a “big issue” directly connected to the perception of Virginia as a good place to do business. Peake said a sound budget is of utmost importance and that the GA should never borrow from VRS again. He commended Goochland schools and the county for their accomplishments and fiscal discipline.

Goochland County Administration John Budesky thanked Administrative Services Manager Paul Drumwright for organizing the meeting and being county point man on legislative activities.

Robin Lind, secretary of the Goochland Electoral Board, once again asked that the state reimburse localities for the entire cost of electoral board mileage and General Registrars as required by the Code of Virginia. Lind pointed out that “money that balances the state budget often is taken from localities.” He also repeated his “forlorn hope” that the GA will find a way for political parties to select their candidates on their own dime instead of holding primary elections funded by localities.

Given the amount of money that political parties spend on television ads, robo calls, and endless mailers, they should be able to spare some change to fund their own primaries.

Lind supported a Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) study and thorough audit of the state department of elections to restore accountability.

Ware concurred about the local election funding mandate and importance of the integrity of the electoral process and said he would be glad to carry that bill.

Peake asked is all elections cost the same? Lind said the cost depends on the number of officers of elections that need to be retained. Ware commended Lind and Goochland General Registrar Frances Ragland—the best in the Commonwealth—for providing excellent information about the cost of elections that he uses to engage and inform his colleagues about related matters.

Peake said that he does not know much about “ag matters” as he did not have time to prepare.

One “evergreen” item on Goochland’s legislative agenda is sludge, the end product of municipal wastewater treatment plants. A few years back the GA decided that counties could not prohibit the practice of spreading sludge on fields within their borders.

This year’s sludge issue is transportation related. Sludge applied to fields in Goochland originates at wastewater treatment plants in northern Virginia. It is transported in large trucks that travel during predawn hours. The rumble of these trucks on narrow county roads is a nuisance to those who live along the roads, and the trucks exceed the speed limit and drive in the middle of the road. In the past year, some of those trucks have overturned spilling their cargo into creeks.

The large trucks deliver the sludge to a storage site in Goochland for local distribution, often via “farm” vehicles that are not required to be licensed, inspected, insured. Goochland would like regulation on the time of transport and local vehicles.

The nationally renowned Goochland Drive-In theater near Hadensville ( wants to announce its presence to motorists on Interstate 64. For some bizarre reason, drive in theaters—according to District 1 supervisor Susan Lascolette, there are only six in the entire state—are not on the approved list of businesses that can use the signs announcing attractions at an exit.

The drive-in owner, explained Lascolette, will gladly pay the cost of installing the signage. Once again, silly regulations with no clear purpose throw roadblocks in the path of small business. Peake said that matter could be brought up at the next meeting of the Commonwealth Transportation Board to start the conversation about resolving the matter administratively.

Broadband expansion was mentioned by both the supervisors and school officials. Among the impediments to expansion is the prohibition for providers other than Comcast and Verizon to operate in Goochland. Easing regulations that prevent competition could help solve the problem.

School Board Chairperson Beth Hardy, District 4, seemed to allude to a comment made by Peake during a January candidate forum when he dismissed broadband as an entertainment medium when she stated that access to broadband is an important educational and economic issue. While Goochland schools do not assign homework that requires internet access, students without are at a significant disadvantage to their peers able to go online for research, creating a big gap between students and teachers in the eastern and western ends of Goochland.

Goochland School Superintendent Dr. Jeremy Raley said that as the number of k-12 students rises, it is harder to attract and hire teachers. He asked for greater flexibility to apply credentialing criteria that maintain high standards to address the teacher shortage.

Raley contended that communities and their school divisions know best how to run their schools and asked that the post Labor Day start requirement be relaxed. (This was put into place some time ago to boost late summer attendance at state amusement parks.)

Raley said that new regulations regarding student discipline “handcuff” school administrations from addressing the individual needs of students. “There is no one size fits all approach to discipline. We know our students and we know what is appropriate.”

Peake concurred saying that localities should be in charge of their school districts and employ common sense and discretion in dealing with students that do not fit in. The new rules, he said, are well intentioned, but misguided.

Other issues touched on were the certificate of public need (COPN) policy, which requires healthcare providers to justify the need for expansion of hospitals and other care facilities. Legislation to either repeal or reform this practice, which stifles competition, is badly needed.

The hastily passed and poorly written legislation concerning proffers passed in 2016 was not addressed in the 2017 session leaving localities like Goochland twisting in the wind as they seeks ways to mitigate the impact of new residential development. Ware said that this and the COPN issue need to be addressed.

Peake was unfamiliar with the proffer issue but said that the COPN matter must be addressed.

Ken Peterson , District 5 raised concerns about the state’s financial positions. Even though Goochland is experiencing an economic resurgence, Virginia as a whole is slipping. The state’s Standard& Poor’s rating has declined in the past few years, making it more difficult to compete with the like of North Carolina. He asked what will happen if gridlock in Washington results in another sequestration.

Ware contended that Virginia is competitive with nearby states, working hard to remain a low tax state and maintain a fiscally responsible tradition. The GA will responsibly handle fiscal matters that come before it.
The county and schools will refine their legislative wish list over the next few months before submission to the delegation at the end of the year.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

After the fireworks

In honor of Independence Day, the July meeting of the Goochland County Board of Supervisors was held on Wednesday the fifth.

County Administrator John Budesky thanked all who made the fireworks a success, especially the Goochland Sheriff’s Office, which safely handled a massive influx of traffic. Budesky apologized to those who were unable to access Courthouse Village as roads were closed after parking lots filled, and suggested that they arrive earlier next year.

The afternoon agenda was short, culminating with closed sessions to discuss the performance of the county administrator—undoubtedly his “annual review” at the end of his first year in Goochland—and to discuss the purchase of property for public use and not disclose information that would interfere with the county’s bargaining position.

Kathleen Kimmel, treasurer of Friends of Goochland Parks, gave a brief recap of the James River Rundown, a 120 mile paddling event held on June 24 and 25 that began in Lynchburg and concluded at the east side of Tucker Park at Maidens Landing. Vendors and an LL Bean outdoor class were highlights of the finish line. Participants, aid Kimmel, were favorably impresses with Tucker Park.

Ann O. Casey, Executive Director of Goochland’s amazing court appointed special advocate (CASA) unit thanked the supervisors for their financial and in kind support of her organization. Casey said that, due to the confidential nature of the work of CASAs, details of their cases cannot be shared. The daily dedication of these intrepid volunteers, said Casey, helps children caught up in the justice system through no fault of their own find safe and permanent homes.

Though one of the smallest non-profit organizations in Goochland, CASA has a huge impact on some of our most at risk children. (For more information, go to

Marshall Wynne of the Virginia Department of Transportation reported that preliminary work on improvements to the Rt288/250 interchange in Centerville is in progress and that he may have a better idea of completion in coming months. He also reiterated that Blair Road will be repaved this summer and a speed study will be done on Pagebrook Road.

In a follow-up to a policy change enacted last month to allow a deputy to supplement Worker’s Compensation payments with unused vacation time, the supervisors unanimously voted to amend the worker’s comp policy to allow all county employees to use unpaid accrued leave to supplement the two thirds of salary covered by worker’s comp for a maximum of 120 days. If the disability lasts longer than 180 days, the employee will receive only the two thirds covered under the worker’s comp insurance policy. The policy for sworn deputies approved in June remains unchanged.

Even though staff was asked to include the cost of expanding the worker’s comp policy to the supervisors, there was no mention of the cost of the newly adopted policy.

The highly touted state grant of $250,000 to Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery announced in May, required Goochland County to match those funds. Under the agreements (see the board packet available on the county website for the documents) the Goochland Economic Development Authority will act as the pass through entity for state funds. Goochland’s contribution will take the form of rebates of incremental increases in real estate and machinery and tools taxes for the next five years. Lickinghole, which expects to invest approximately $12 million in site and other improvements to expand its manufacturing capacity, will continue to pay local taxes on property and machinery and tools on values as of January 2017. Should Lickinghole fail to meet performance targets, including creation of 36 new jobs, outlined in the state grant, the arrangement is voided.

May the success of Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery continue.

The new approximately 13, 941 square foot animal shelter is moving right along. The supervisors authorized Budesky to execute a construction contract with BFE Construction for up to $4,409,000 with an additional $592,000 appropriated to cover furniture, sewer connection, security system, special inspections, and project management. Completion of the new facility is expected to take 15 months.

A 15 month bridge loan of $1.2 million to Goochland Pet Lovers was also approved by the supervisors while this non-profit concludes its fundraising efforts. The county also committed $100,000 to this group. (See Board packet for construction contract details. No documentation of the GPL agreement was included in the packet.)

During the evening session, the supervisors approved a zoning change to allow Goochland Free Clinic and Family Services to operate emergency housing apartment on upper floors.

To no one’s surprise, the board approved a rezoning application filed by Drive Shack to build and operate a sports related entertainment venue with restaurants, event space, and other accessory uses on 13.6 acres just east of Rt. 288 and north of Richmond Audi in the eastern part of the county. Improvements associated with this will be a 60,000 square foot building. This is an excellent use for a somewhat unusual parcel of land.

Bob Minnick, District 4, which includes the subject property, said that Drive Shack has brought a lot of positive attention to Goochland. He also noted that the applicant and land owners worked well together as he moved for approval.

A conditional use permit was granted to the Boy Scouts of America to operate campgrounds, summer camps, rifle ranges skeet shooting ranges, and other places of public assembly at Camp Brady Saunders on Maidens Road.

The initial application was for renewal of a CUP for sporting clays shooting events, held annually in the fall as a fund raiser, which generates about $100,00 used to fund the camp. The application requested permission to hold up to three sporting clays events per year.

As the scout camp began operations before the county adopted zoning laws, most of its activities are grandfathered.

Board Chair Ned Creasey District 3, disclosed that his property adjoins the camp. County Attorney Tara McGee opined that Creasey did not have a conflict and was not bared from participating in the vote.

Another adjacent land owner stated that the noise of the sporting clays event is a terrible noise nuisance. She contended that it is not a camp activity for kids. A nearby resident pointed out that sound carries and gunfire has a terrible hard impact.

After a bit of discussion, the supervisors granted the CUP with a maximum of two sporting clays events per year.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Radio Days

So far this year, the weather has played nice. A little over a year ago, powerful thunder storms hammered the region leaving many without power for days. Utility crews worked around the clock to get people back on line.

What if the power stayed off for a very long time? What if communications infrastructure was damaged? How would we keep in touch with the outside world?

Can’t happen, you say. Remember Hurricane Katrina?

A group of intrepid amateur radio operators, sometimes known as hams, use their interest in communicating outside of the usual ways, to provide a “just in case” alternative to cell towers and satellite signals.

Part of ARRL, the national association for amateur radio, the Goochland Amateur Radio Team (GART) Team and the Henrico Amateur Radio Response Team (HAART) set up their equipment at the Courthouse Company 5 Fire-Rescue station on June 24 and 25 to join 40,00 other hams participating in the nationwide amateur radio field day, which has been an annual event since 1933.
Radios attached to computer monitors have replaced telegraph keys

In addition to practicing deployment of communication equipment able to operate from remote locations using emergency and alternate power sources, Field Day also provides an opportunity for the community to see what amateur radio is all about.

If you passed Company 5 on the last weekend in June, you may have noticed the enormous generator in the parking lot. While the GART equipment was hooked up to the generator, which is owed by emergency services and stored in Goochland, the amateur radio group used a fraction of the available power. As the radio event happens around the June 1 start of hurricane season, it’s a good time to test the emergency equipment.
This emergency services generator was being tested for readiness.

GART equipment can run for hours using a simple gasoline powered generator that can be easily transported wherever it is needed.

The “keys” that tapped out messages in Morse code are rarely used these days, having been replaced by radios connected to computer monitors that display the call letters and locations of other hams as contacts are made.

As with traditional field days that include different kind of competitions, the ARRL Field Day awards points for various activities, including the number of contacts made with other participants in the event.

Buckmaster antenna can be easily transported.

An antenna that can be easily transported and deployed is essential to ham operations. One of the visitors to the GART Field Day was Jack of Buckmaster antennas, whose equipment, was being used to send and receive radio signals. He swapped tales with GART assistant coordinator Lee Maddox.
Lee Maddox, center, swaps tales about ham operations with representatives of Buckmaster Antennas.

Amateur radio has a place in modern communications. For more information visit

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Workin' on the railroad

Mike East, Supervisory Special Agent for the Florence Division of CSX Railroad Police, discussed his job at a meeting of the Central Virginia Chapter of Sisters in Crime ( Saturday, June 24.

Many of you may remember East from his days as a fire-rescue volunteer, dispatcher, then deputy with the Goochland Sheriff’s Office. His background, work ethic, and skills gained dealing with situations in remote areas undoubtedly helped him beat out five hundred applicants for the position.
Supervisory Special Agent MIchael A. East CSX Railroad Police

During his four year tenure at CSX, East has not only earned a master’s degree, but attended the Virginia Forensic Science Academy to enhance his investigative skills. As East usually works alone, being able to evaluate and process a crime scene increases the odds of a successful prosecution. He participated in security during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last summer and the 2017 presidential inauguration. Trains can be an attractive target for terrorists.

The railroad police is comprised of appointed and commissioned sworn officers empowered by the United States Congress to enforce the laws of every jurisdiction where the railroad owns property. Railroad police, said East, go back to the days of the Pinkertons who were charged with foiling train robberies perpetrated by the likes of Jesse James, who had kin in Goochland County.

Cargo theft is still major concern for CSX, especially at Christmas time when UPS and FedEx add rail capacity to get all of those Amazon packages under the tree in a timely manner.

The James River is Goochland’s southern border. Except for a small patch at Maidens Landing, CSX tracks parallel the river, so we’ve got a lot of exposure to the railroad.

CSX railroad tracks, East explained, are private property. Accessing the tracks, except at marked road crossings, and walking or sitting on them is trespass, a crime. If caught, the railroad will press charges against trespassers. It is also dangerous and, well, stupid.

Modern railroad tracks are welded together so trains glide along, which enhances their efficiency, making railroad transport the most cost effective methods of moving freight. Gone is the “clickety clack” of old that announced the approach of a train from a long way off. Today, they move fast, are very quiet, and hard to stop. Putting an ear on a rail to listen for an oncoming train could well cost you your head. East said that young people walking the tracks using earbuds to listen to music have been killed by oncoming trains that they never heard approaching. “Trains and people don’t mix,” said East. “Being hit by a train is the worst way to die.”

Railroad tracks are private property and dangerous places. Trespass is a crime.

CSX deploys cameras on locomotives and tracks, heat sensors to detect people on tracks, and other technology to leverage the relatively small number of railroad police. Drones, however, may not currently be used by law enforcement agencies. Locomotives also carry the equivalent of a “black box” to record travel data used when something goes wrong.

AMTRAK is a federal agency that uses track owned by CSX. Passenger trains travel at a higher rate of speed than freight trains. Crossing gates are timed for passenger trains, which is why the gates can be down for a long time before a freight train rolls through. Running the gates is also dangerous and stupid, East said. The weight differential between a car and a train is about the same as between a soda can and a car.

Given the small number of railroad police—East is based in Richmond, but his territory stretches into Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and North Carolina—collaboration with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies is vital for success.

East was dispatched to respond to the oil tank train derailment in Lynchburg a few years ago. As it took him a few hours to arrive—he is based in the Richmond area—local law enforcement initially secured the scene. The case wound up being handled by the National Transportation Safety Board. When multiple agencies are involved, said East, there can be a lot of “head butting” over which entity will oversee an investigation.

All sorts of things ride the rails, including military vehicles and ordinance. Railroad police cannot be everywhere at once, so they cultivate relationships with rail enthusiasts, who love to watch and photograph trains. Their observations and can be invaluable when investigating, and sometimes preventing, railroad crimes.

If you should see suspicious items, people, or criminal activity, near or on a track, call the CSX emergency number 1-800-232-0144 and report and record as much information as possible. Blue mile marker signs are displayed along tracks to pinpoint the location of incidents. If you see something, say something, to keep the trains safely rolling along.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

In the line of duty

Last week’s shootings at a ball field in Northern Virginia remind us of the danger that our law enforcement officers (LEOs) can encounter in the most innocent of settings.

The amazing people who work in public safety, LEOs, fire-rescue providers, and animal control officers, make it possible for us to go about our daily lives with little thought to “what if?” Our LEOs, who pin targets over their hearts before going to work, seem especially vulnerable these days.

Clearly, they don’t do what they do for the money, or even glory, but because they want to help people. We owe them, at the very least, every possible support should they become injured on the job.

At their June 6 meeting, Goochland Supervisors revised county policy on worker’s compensation supplementation for deputies.

The revision, initiated by Board Chair Ned Creasey, District 3, was sparked by a county deputy, injured on the job, whose worker’s compensation benefits expired before the deputy was able to return to work. The result was an unexpectedly shrunken paycheck, which placed hardship on the deputy’s family.

After quite a bit of discussion, the Supervisors voted to adopt, as policy, as section of state law that permits sheriff’s deputies to use accrued leave to supplement worker’s compensation payments. This applies only to sworn officers.

Staff will report back to the Board within 60 days with cost analysis for extending this policy to all county employees, or just public services employees, whose jobs place them at greater risk of workplace injury.

An initial policy revision that included fire-rescue and animal control employees was rejected after Susan Lascolette, District 1, said it was discriminatory because it did not treat county employees the same. “I want to get to yes on this, but I believe that it is bad public policy to craft changes to remedy a specific situation.”

County Administrator John Budesky said that existing county worker’s compensation policy, which he followed, does not permit any employees to use accrued leave to supplement their payments.

Creasey contended that the county spends a great deal of money training public safety employees and they should be made whole if injured on the job.

Director of Human Resources Kelly Parrish said that public safety employees are treated differently, citing the Line of Duty Act, and have greater difficulty obtaining supplemental insurance due to the nature of their work. Creating light duty assignments as transition between injury and regular work tasks for them is also difficult.

Creasey said he would favor extending the supplement option to all county employees, contending that there have been few on the job injuries and that the cost would be manageable.

Budesky said that the county’s worker’s comp premiums are experience-based on the previous three years. He also said that the county’s insurers advised against expanding supplementation.

Goochland Sheriff James L. Agnew contended that state law is clear on the matter, and the deputy in question will be made whole.

As adopted, the new policy will address the pending situation. The supervisors will revisit the matter in the next two months with an eye toward adopting a more comprehensive policy.

During a budget presentation earlier this year, Parrish said that the county’s most expensive assets, its employees, walk out the door every night and it’s administration’s job to get them back the next morning. Finding a way to help employees injured at work pay their bills until they are fit for duty is a big part of that notion.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

In the weeds

Had any of the candidates seeking nomination to represent the 56th District in the Virginia General Assembly attended the Tuesday, June 5 meeting of the Goochland Board of Supervisors, they would have gotten a taste for the wide range of issues addressed by state legislators.

At a June 3 forum (see GOMM Choices) most of the hopefuls touted their adherence to their party’s principles. It would be interesting to ask how a conservative, liberal, or progressive would apply those principles during a discussion of changing state law to permit localities to designate running bamboo as nuisance vegetation, or the merits of lifetime dog licenses.

Then, there is the proffer legislation enacted during the 2016 session, that illustrates the quip “legislate in haste, repent at leisure” that left localities like Goochland, scratching their head about zoning issues.

Goochland County Attorney Tara McGee presented a proposal to amend the county proffer policy. She contended that the existing proffer policy does not align as much as it should with the proffer legislation passed during the 2016 General Assembly session.

The proposal recommends that each developer, on a case by case basis, provide a detailed impact statement outlining how their project will impact county services and infrastructure and what remedies they will offer to mitigate those burdens. The Board will no longer accept a set dollar amount.

Before July 1, 2016, Goochland had a cash proffer policy that allowed developers to pay a specific amount per home—business projects were never subject to the cash proffer policy—payable when the certificate of occupancy was issued. The amount of this cash proffer was calculated using a formula with specific amounts for schools, parks, road, and fire-rescue. At one time, library costs were part of the equation, but were removed. Proffer dollars may only be used to offset costs of capital projects. Ongoing expenses, such as salaries for county employees, are considered to be funded by increases in real estate tax revenues generated by development.

Susan Lascolette, District 1, confirmed that this policy is a work in progress. McGee said that the Board has the power to deny any project if it believes that the development will have a negative consequence on the county.

The Board unanimously approved this policy change. ( For details, please see pages 97-103 of the June 6 Board packet, available on the county website under the Supervisors’ tab.)

McGee later presented legislative authorizations granted by the 2017 General Assembly session to localities to add to their local laws, if the governing board deems them appropriate. (Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, which means that local government has only those powers specifically ceded to them by the General Assembly.)

The Board was asked to refer those items to specific departments for further review and consideration.

The lifetime dog license option— “While the dog owner is in Goochland and while the rabies vaccine is current”; up to $50 per animal versus the current annual fees of $10 for unspayed  or $5 for spayed—was referred for further consideration. Manuel Alvarez, Jr., District 2, asked that the feasibility of requiring animals to be microchipped also be investigated.

McGee explained that state law now allows localities to amend language addressing liens imposed to recover the demolition of unsafe structures or cutting excessively tall grass from “local” taxes to “real estate” taxes to obtain payment priority when the property is sold. Board Chair Ned Creasey, District 3, cast the sole vote in favor of moving this forward.

Creation of a registry for short term rentals, which are currently only permitted under Goochland ordinances with a conditional use permit, was not referred. Board members preferred to have the entire short term rental issue, like Air BnB, addressed in the ongoing comprehensive revision of zoning ordinances.

Exemption of property tax for the surviving spouse of officers killed in the line of duty was referred for additional study. Creasey asked that the addition of animal control officers be added to the study.

The option to increase transient occupancy tax on hotels and bed and breakfasts from the current two percent to five percent mandating the additional funds be dedicated to tourism was not referred. Creasey was alone in dissent.

Adding running bamboo, which is not a problem in Goochland, to the excessively high grass, was also rejected.

A mandatory change passed by the GA to clarify the definition of a dangerous dog, was set for a public hearing.

The usual VDOT reports and a public hearing on the Secondary Six Year Plan for rural rustic roads were also part of the Board agenda.

Let’s hope that whoever represents the 56th District in the Virginia General Assembly for the next two years realizes how their actions trickle down to the weeds in localities and be very aware of unintended consequences of ill-conceived and poorly drafted laws.

If you are so inclined, don’t forget to vote in Tuesday’s primary.