Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Civic Virtue

Every day brings new allegations of the sleazy behavior of people in public life. Things are different here.

On Monday, December 11, Goochland County celebrated the career of Frances Carter Ragland, who retires at the end of 2017.  During her 25 year tenure as General Registrar, Ragland safeguarded the most precious rite of the American system—the vote—to  ensure honest, fair, and impartial elections.

The new parking lot in front of the county administration was filled with cars of friends and associates who came from near and far to pay tribute to Ragland.

Filling the boots of Frances Ragland will be a daunting task.

Ned Creasey, District 3, Chair of the Goochland Board of Supervisors, offered opening remarks:

 “We gather here to pay tribute to Frances Ragland, who has been the gatekeeper of the most previous thing we have—our vote—since March, 1992. This is not an easy task. She is a jewel. In addition to her duties as registrar, Frances has also been an active fire-rescue volunteer with Courthouse Company 5 as an emergency medical technician and running its yard sales. We wish her well.”

A resolution, unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors at its December 5 meeting unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors reads as follows:

WHEREAS, it is the desire of the Goochland County Board of Supervisors to give well deserved acknowledgement and recognition to Ms. Frances Carter Ragland who has rendered exemplary service to the citizens of Goochland County; Goochland County Departments, State and local Electoral Boards, State and local elected officials, Monacan Soil and Water Conservation District and others;

WHEREAS, Ms. Frances Ragland, after serving as an assistant to the then Goochland County Attorney, was employed as Assistant Voter Registrar in 1985; and WHEREAS, on March 1, 1992, Ms. Frances Ragland was appointed Voter Registrar to succeed Helen Dunn, and has served the voters of Goochland County with the utmost distinction for 32 years;

WHEREAS, Ms. Frances Ragland supervised seven Presidential Primaries, seven Presidential Elections, seven Gubernatorial Elections, fourteen House of Delegates elections, and countless elections for County Supervisors, Clerk of the Court, Sheriff, Treasurer, Commissioner of the Revenue, School Board, Monacan Soil and Water Conservation District, political party primaries, special elections for vacancies and the only audit of Optical Scan Ballot tallies ever approved by the State Board of Elections — an audit of hand-counted ballots that proved machine results to be 100% accurate;
WHEREAS, Ms. Frances Ragland established a sterling reputation among her fellow General Registrars, and especially among employees, and successive directors of the State Department of Elections in Richmond, for rigid adherence to the rule of law established by the Code of Virginia, despite all relaxed interpretations or suggested “alternate” procedures;

WHEREAS, Ms. Frances Ragland has burnished a reputation among Goochland County political party chairs, and candidates, for strict dedication to election laws, candidate deadlines and financial reporting that has eliminated the need for fines and penalties for late filings;

WHEREAS, Ms. Frances Ragland directed the creation and organization of the first Central Absentee Precinct in 2003 which provided for Absentee Ballots to be counted in one location, rather than at individual precincts on election night after close of polls;

 WHEREAS, Ms. Frances Ragland oversaw the change from Mechanical-Lever voting machines to Touchscreen DRE voting machines and then to Optical Scan paper ballot voting;

WHEREAS, Ms. Frances Ragland implemented Electronic Poll Books in every precinct, which greatly increased the efficiency of elections and reduced the time voters spend in line waiting to cast their ballots;

WHEREAS, Ms. Frances Ragland participated in and orchestrated three decennial redistricting’s of the county’s five magisterial districts, and now ten polling precincts;

WHEREAS, over the course of a quarter century, Ms. Frances Ragland personally taught, trained, improved, and inspired eight previous political party partisans to become impartial, non-partisan and effective Electoral Board members;

WHEREAS, Ms. Frances Ragland has created, encouraged, and sustained a culture of civic virtue that continues to inspire Goochland voters to achieve the highest percentage turnout of active voters among all jurisdictions in the Commonwealth.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Goochland County Board of Supervisors, on behalf of the citizens of Goochland County, hereby commends, recognizes, appreciates, and sincerely thanks Ms. Ragland for her exemplary and unremitting dedication and service to Goochland County and offers her best wishes for a well-earned and happy retirement.

Frances Ragland  with supervisors. (Photo courtesy of Goochland County)

The positive environment for civic engagement at the polls nurtured by Ragland encouraged and inspired Goochland voters to the highest percentage turnout of active voters among all jurisdictions in the Commonwealth of Virginia for many elections, especially presidential ones.

Robin Lind, current secretary of the Goochland Electoral Board, said that Ragland trained  many electoral board members to be impartial servants of the people. “This is a day of joy mingled with sadness,” Lind said. “Frances has been the rock upon which we based our foundation. She is self-effacing and lives the ideals of duty, trust, integrity, patriotism, and non-partisanship.”

Ragland, Lind said, is persistent, detail oriented, and follows all election law in the Code of Virginia to the letter. Her reputation for adhering to the letter of proper electoral procedure was such that people on the State Board of Elections in Richmond “did not relish a call from Goochland.”

“We are not likely to see a public servant like this again in our lifetimes,” Lind declared. “If we can emulate the civic virtue of Frances Ragland, we will achieve the highest standard that can be attained.”

Ever self-effacing, Ragland briefly thanked everyone for attending the event and their good wishes.

Heywood Pace, who was active in the 2011 redistricting after the last census, said that Ragland and her staff were always generous with their time in dealing with him. “I always left her office feeling good about our discussions.” He noted that during her tenure in office, Ragland presided over the election of the first African-American Governor of Virginia; first African-America President; and the first presidential election with a woman candidate.

Dr. Clara Belle Wheeler, Vice Chair of  the SBE said that Ragland brought integrity and honesty to the job of registrar and is a firm supporter of the Code of Virginia. She helped voters who needed guidance properly and correctly. “When I needed an honest assessment of real world conditions, I called Frances,” Wheeler recalled. “We need people with her strength of character in the election world. She leaves big boots to fill.”

Lind has said that it will be impossible to replace Ragland. The search is on for her successor, someone well-acquainted with Virginia election procedures. Finding the next Goochland registrar will be a daunting task indeed.

May the next half of Frances Ragland’s life be filled with joy and laughter.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The broken record plays on

Yet another residential rezoning case came before the Goochland Planning Commission at its December 7 meeting. This one, for a community called Swann’s Inn, seeks to rezone approximately 23 acres on River Road West in Courthouse Village, opposite Parrish Ford, to increase the number of homes from 16 to 30.

Rezoned for residential use in 2016, the  Swann’s Inn change seems to have been prompted by the availability of additional wastewater capacity from the treatment plant at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women, and perhaps, the chance to save some money. The application offered cash proffers of  $2,735 per home, far less than offered on the original rezoning application.  Smaller lots sizes are appropriate when municipal sewer is available. The revised density for Swann’s Inn is below the threshold for Courthouse Village.

Following the usual presentation about the dearth of comprehensive data about the fiscal impact of new homes on the county, the Commissioners voted 3-2 to deny recommendation of approval for the case. Commissioners John Shelhorse, District 4, and John Myers, District1, supported recommending approval of the plan. It will move to the Board of Supervisors in January, where it will probably meet the fate of other recent residential rezoning applications—deferral until the county has crafted and adopted its fiscal impact model, sometime early in the new year.

Director of Community Development Jo Ann Pointed out that the developers of Swann’s Inn originally hoped to create a 26 lot subdivision, but the number of homes on larger lots was reduced to accommodate septic systems.

There was no mention of the expected price of these homes, which according to the application, will feature Craftsman architecture, and be in the neighborhood of 2,000 square feet. As land in general is less expensive outside of the Tuckahoe Creek Service District and this enclave is close to three of the county’s five schools, these homes would, at the right price, be attractive to teachers. As high housing costs in Goochland are often cited as an impediment to retaining teachers, the expected price should have been mentioned.

Commissioners Derek Murray, District 3, and Matt Brewer, District 2, contended that they are charged with acting on the best interests of the county as a whole, and were not comfortable making any decision on residential rezoning cases without a clear picture of the consequences of adding more homes to the county.

The Commission then addressed “housekeeping” matters for  the 114 bed, 208,000 square foot Sheltering Arms Rehabilitation Hospital to be built in the Notch at West Creek, roughly opposite the Wawa, south of Broad Street Road. The certificate of public need (COPN) approval on this was issued earlier this year.  An arrangement to have the Goochland Economic Development Authority issue bonds for its construction  was approved last summer.

 The property recently changed hands and a parcel left over from construction of Rt. 288, was recommended for M-1 rezoning to conform to West Creek. A conditional use permit is required for heights exceeding 60 feet. Including the  parapet screen for utilities the new hospital is expected to be 86 feet from grade.  Matt Brewer, District 2, asked that the record note the 86 foot height. The staff summary includes a statement that Goochland Fire-Rescue has no issue with the plan and will be capable of serving the increased height of the building.

This structure will be the tallest in Goochland, its location, just east of Rt. 288, is in an area designated for prime economic development. The master plan includes potential expansion.   The commissioners also recommended approval of amending the West Creek master plan to include the Sheltering Arms project

This hospital has been in the works for the better part of the year, and is not another new hospital, as some confused media outlets seem to believe. The MEDRVA folks are seeking a COPN to add an outpatient surgery center to the existing facility in the Notch. These are all wonderful additions to Goochland, but nothing new.

Although a non-profit organization, the hospital will connect to the Tuckahoe Creek Service District and is expected to attract additional  for profit  development to the area.

A CUP for a pole vault training center in West Creek was unanimously recommended for approval following a brief presentation and no public comment. This will be in the Manakin Trade Center on West Creek Parkway, using 14,000 square feet of the space formerly occupied by Direct Buy.

The Commissioners unanimously recommended approval of a zoning ordinance amendment to require anyone offering short term rentals, less than 30 days, to obtain a conditional use permit to operate a bed and breakfast. This amendment removes “renting rooms to tourists” from the home occupation section. Short term rentals, said Hunter, will be addressed more comprehensively in the zoning ordinance rewrite underway. This change provides clarity in the meantime.  Citizens have expressed concern about transient, unknown people in neighborhoods when rooms or homes are rented short term.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Not your typical high school library

Learning is a little like breathing—you do it every day without realizing it, and, if you stop, the result is not good.

Today’s formal education still seeks to impart a basic body of knowledge to students and "soft skills" to successfully navigate the ever morphing world of their future.

There has been a great deal of recent discussion  about what Goochland schools will look like in the future to equip students for success in the twenty-first century job market.

The first step in that direction— a Learning Commons—was dedicated on December 6. The space formerly known as  Goochland’s High School Library, was transformed into a dynamic space that encourages collaboration among students, and offers a place for quiet reflections and even relaxation with video games.
Flexible furniture and large monitors provide opportunity for collaboration and relaxation.

(Before you complain about this, think about military drone operators, robotic surgery equipment, and  other state-of-the art technological wonders, that require the same hand-eye coordination and quick reflexes honed by video games. They’ve got to learn the basics somehow.)

Student artwork, a coffee machine, and old-fashioned magazines are features of the new GHS Learning Commons.

Dr. Jeremy Raley, Superintendent of Goochland Schools, explained that GHS students had been asking for this kind of space for a while. Their ideas, including color schemes and equipment, were incorporated into the design that became reality.

Books, the old fashioned kind with pages and covers, are still available, but so is WiFi for the online research that has replaced paging through encyclopedias whose information was sometimes out of date by the time they were printed. Walls of the smaller spaces are covered in white board to facilitate brainstorming. The furniture is flexible, its configuration limited only by the imagination of its users. Flooring is both carpet and wood. A charging station replaces overloaded outlets to provide “juice” for many devices at once.
The Learning Commons still has plenty of books.

Large monitors enable viewing of instructional videos and sharing work done on individual devices. A coffee machine, also a suggestion of students, is part of the attractive new space. The new color scheme, a welcome departure from the original gray that permeates the building, uses a range of hues to raise the energy of the Learning Commons.
This charging station can simultaneously provide "juice" for many devices.

GHS principal Chris Collins said that the Learning Commons is always filled with students, whereas the old library sparsely populated.
Funding for the transformation was provided by John and Amy Presley with a donation made through the Goochland Education Foundation,  to thank Goochland Schools for helping their son Max, who is deaf, reach his full potential. John said that area private schools had little interest in working with Max, contending that deaf children rarely graduate from high school.

The Presley family came to GHS and spoke with then principal Mike Newman, who was present for the event.  Long story short, Max enrolled at GHS and will not only graduate with the class of 2018, but will go on to attend Randolph College where he will play tennis and go on to bigger and better things in life.

School Board Chairperson Beth Hardy,  joins John and Amy Presley as they applaud the cutting of the ribbon by son Max. The rug is indicative of the new color scheme.

Everyone wins here, especially Goochland students. Thanks to the Presley family for its generosity and best wishes to Max for a successful life.

(If you have an extra bean or two that you’d like to donate to a worthy cause, please consider the GEF.  It is a 501 c (3) organization and you can see your money put to good use in your community. Visit for more information.)

Thursday, December 7, 2017


Goochland’s supervisors remained consistent as they unanimously voted to defer, until March 13, 2018, a decision on a residential rezoning application for more than 500 homes in West Creek at their December 5 meeting.  Another rezoning case, for Reader’s Branch, a 300 home  subdivision, was deferred to March, even though its applicant requested only a 30 day extension.

This was the latest episode in local governmental heartburn caused by a poorly drafted state law regarding cash proffers.

The deferral followed a detailed presentation by HHHunt Land for Mosaic, a 55 plus community on land just east of Hockett Road and south of Tuckahoe Creek Parkway, and a public hearing.  Board Chair Ned Creasey, District 3, presided over the meeting after a health related absence last month.

Mosaic, and Reader’s Branch were forwarded to the supervisors from the Planning Commission after tie votes in November.

At issue in all recent residential rezoning cases is the unknown fiscal burden  additional homes place on the county. Revisions in state cash proffer laws enable developers to address only potential capital impacts directly attributable to their projects. Before the new legislation was enacted on July 1, 2016, cash proffers could address countywide needs.

The County is in the process of developing a 25 year capital improvement plan (CIP) as part of a fiscal impact model to provide data to evaluate the cost of the “digesting”  new residential development. The sobering numbers presented on November 28 by the school division for its CIP—just under $200 million system- wide over 25 years—was fresh in the minds of the supervisors. On December 11, they will hold a workshop on CIP  projects from other county departments.

Main sticking points of the Mosaic application were Hockett Road traffic, and adding hundreds of older people, who may be more likely to need emergency medical services, to an already stressed fire-rescue system. Cash proffers included in the application exceeded the amount allocated for public safety in the county’s “old” proffer calculation. This amount would help fund a new West Creek Fire-Rescue station, but not new apparatus including ambulances and fire trucks. Recurring employee costs like salaries and benefits will be funded by increased real estate tax revenues.

No one under age 19 will be permitted to live in Mosaic. In addition to adhering to Federal rules for age restricted communities,  a deed restriction will be placed on each lot in Mosaic to that effect. County Attorney Tara McGee explained that the rezoning application, if approved, becomes county law. The age restriction, to be confirmed by a biennial census, is enforceable as zoning law with sanctions for violation.

HHHunt presented reports from traffic and other experts to support its contention that the hefty increase in tax revenue will offset needs of new residents and not overburden Hockett Road traffic. It offered to pay for a review of its traffic study by an impartial third party to confirm its results.

Traffic engineer Erich Strohhacker  acknowledged that Hockett Road traffic is the “800 pound gorilla in the room” but that congestion there is caused by background traffic from Capital One and CarMax and that Mosaic’s impact will be negligible. He said that the traffic mitigation plan for Mosaic had been approved by VDOT. Manuel Alvarez, Jr. District 2, quipped he was “..not sure that VDOT’s approval made him comfortable.”

The supervisors, while not hostile to Mosaic, could not quite bring themselves to approve it without more information. One again, the frustration with the proffer policy situation was evident on all sides.

Board Vice Chair Ken Peterson, District 5 told the HHHunt team: “…we’re all business folks and we understand that time is money. The Board of
Supervisors is charged with protecting the best interests of the whole county.”  The capital impact model under construction will list all of  future expenditures, put them together and make a budget for all the costs, not just the “profferable” ones, he said. “Staff does not have the data to weigh costs and benefits and this board cannot take action on this behind closed doors.”

Bob Minnick, District 4, echoed Peterson’s reservations that, without a better idea of long term costs of growth, he could not support a vote on it. Mosaic, he said, is an attractive concept for a number of people, but there is not enough data to evaluate its long term consequences for the county.

Kinloch, which was rezoned at the end of the last century, before the county adopted a cash proffer policy, is not yet fully built out, Minnick observed. HHHunt projects an eight year build out for Mosaic, but an economic downturn could delay that.

Creasey contended that, since the county retained a consultant to prepare the capital impact model, residential rezoning decisions should be deferred until “we can line everything up.”

Citizen comment was balanced. Some people spoke in favor of Mosaic, citing the need for a dedicated 55 plus community in Goochland and HHHunt’s long and excellent track record of developing attractive, functioning communities. Opponents contended that housing density this intense has not place in Goochland and that West Creek should be used for its intended purpose of business development.

These rezoning cases bring to mind a situation in the early days of the century, when rain was scarce and concerns about the adequacy of ground water for new subdivisions using wells were raised about every rezoning case. Developers retained hydrologists who, without exception, contended that there was more than enough water to serve every new home under consideration without adversely affecting neighboring water supplies. At least one planning commissioner at that time contended that the county needed its own water experts to help them evaluate developers’ data. While the question this time—how much will these new homes cost the county—is different, the need for a clear and unbiased picture of capital costs is more important than ever.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Not your mother's schoolhouse

Good news, the new, enlarged parking lot in front of the Goochland County administration building is finished and open.
The new parking lot is ready to receive cars!

For quite some time, the conventional wisdom about new schools in Goochland was that a new, generic elementary school needed to be built somewhere in the east end. The latest county capital improvement plan (CIP) includes a $35 million “placeholder” to pay for it.

The cost of needed school facilities is a significant component of the fiscal impact model and a 25 year CIP that the county is building to provide realistic data on which to evaluate the consequences of  land use decisions. To that end, the Board of Supervisors appropriated funds for the School Board to retain consultants to complete a comprehensive  long-term facilities master plan.

A the end of September, the consultants, who worked closely with a steering committee comprised of schools staff, parents, and interested citizens, presented their recommendations.

On November 28, the Board of Supervisors and School Board held a joint workshop to share and discuss the findings. (The School Board is expected to adopt these recommendations at its December 4 meeting.)

The meeting was notable because our current supervisors and school board have a cordial relationship that enables open and honest discussion. This is a rarity among jurisdictions in the Commonwealth.

School Board Chairperson Beth Hardy, District 4, opened the meeting with the following remarks, reprinted, in part, with her permission:
“…Six years ago when all of us took office, things were very different. Since that time, you all have done a tremendous job of turning things around for the County. Thanks to your efforts, Goochland now holds an enviable financial rating status and is seeing tremendous growth with great economic development opportunities. 
Likewise, during that time, our schools have experienced a Renaissance of sorts. Our Vision is “to inspire and prepare the next generation to have a positive impact.” We are doing just that. With your support over the years, Goochland is now a leader in academic achievement in the region and beyond, and we are a beacon of innovation across the Commonwealth. We want to continue this trajectory of excellence. 
When we talk today about “investing in our schools,” we fully acknowledge that we are talking about spending money. We have worked hard, along with your Board, to provide fiscal transparency and show that we are good stewards of the taxpayers’ money.  All decisions are based on the best interest of our students. So when we bring our recommendations to you today regarding specific needs, we know that we are talking about real dollars that we need to plan for in the coming years. Money will be spent on the schools - whether it is via maintenance or building new schools. We hope that our presentation today can help guide you in those decisions. 
Some may think that the schools are “good enough” - that we are doing just fine in our current facilities. We believe that we are achieving “in spite” of the facility conditions, but we are reaching a point of diminishing returns. We have three elementary schools that are 60+ years old and even with the addition of some space in recent years, we are at or beyond capacity at those schools.
We come to you today as partners. We take our job very seriously in providing you with information that will help direct your capital investments in the coming years. We realize you have to balance numerous needs county-wide - fire & rescue, utilities, and other county services, and it is our hope that what we share with you today will clearly identify the schools’ needs so that you may plan pro-actively for the K-12 educational needs of a growing, high-achieving, leading community in central Virginia. Goochland values that we are a leader in education and their input during this process validates that. This is not just the desire of our respective boards; this is a vision shared and embraced by the community.  
Years ago, architectural drawings were developed for a new Goochland Elementary School. The number associated with that project has become a bit of a placeholder for us - even though we all knew the number to be outdated. However, that was for one project and was developed in a bit of a vacuum without the broader context of  the needs of the entire community, expected growth, and the estimated cost of maintaining other older facilities. And that is exactly what our study these past several months provides - context. The needs are great and varied, and the recommendations are thoughtful and measured and realistic. 
The information we are presenting to you today is credible - using a thorough and thoughtful process; it’s data-driven - based on enrollment forecasts and industry standards regarding facility conditions; and it is inclusive -  engaging numerous stakeholders across the community. The resulting recommendations are, we believe, very realistic needs that the schools have - some of which are quite urgent based on school capacities and conditions.  
New construction and/or renovations will provide program enhancements for our students and meet the pressing need to create spaces that reflect how people work and learn today. Replacing aging facilities is integral to our plan to continue leading in busting out of the confines of an outdated approach to K-12 education - which is our bigger goal. It also provides intangibles like safety, energy efficiency, teacher retention, and accountability to the community we serve.”
School superintendent Dr. Jeremy Raley said that the workplace where our students will spend their futures is changing. Education, he contended, is more than bricks and mortar. “Good can be the enemy of great and we cannot be satisfied with the status quo.”
Consultant Tracy Richter, whose firm completed the study, explained that the results used student enrollment projections for moderate and high growth rates over the next decades. The high enrollment, shows a total of 3,178 students in the school division for the 2026-27 school year.  See for the complete report.
Richer said that he has great confidence in the numbers for the next five years “not so much” for the out years. “Right now, all elementary schools are at capacity. They can handle it, but at some point, it will become unmanageable.” Analysis of the yield by subdivision an ongoing process. Data in the report suggests that higher-priced homes, in general, yield fewer public school students.
Architect Mike Ross, who was part of the study team, explained that buildings are comprised of structure and systems. All county elementary schools are about 60 years old, but it is about more than the age and capacity of the structures, he contended. Systems including roofs, HVAC, and bathrooms need replacement before structures. But, said Ross, there are times when it makes more sense to replace, rather than fix, an aging building.
The report includes many components in several phases over the next  20 years. First up is a replacement of Goochland Elementary School on a new site.  The high/middle school complex is on a more than 100 acre parcel owned by the School Board. While no specific location was mentioned, this seems most likely.
Options for the other two elementary schools, Byrd and Randolph, include total replacement or significant renovation and expansion on the same site. The plan recommends that Goochland have only three elementary schools, albeit with higher capacity. At some point, this could require attendance boundary adjustments to move students from the Randolph zone to GES. Note: THIS IS NOT ANTICIAPATED FOR SEVERAL YEARS.
Richter contended that there is no correlation between class and school size in the quality of education. (Larger schools) means two to four more teachers per grade and permit more efficiency in full staffing. He contended fewer, larger schools “is not a big issue.”
Other facility improvements include moving career and technical education to the high school for easier integration into student schedules; expansion of space for athletics and fine arts, and dishwashing equipment for the GHS/GMS cafeteria.
Currently, Richer said, square footage of Goochland elementary schools is below state minimums, but this is offset  by small  class sizes. Students no longer learn sitting in neat rows of desks. Larger classrooms that allow flexible configurations are needed to accommodate today’s teaching methods.
The supervisors listened attentively to the presentations. Since taking office, they have supported school initiative when fiscally feasible.
Board vice-chair Ken Peterson, District 5,  observed that there are “a lot of moving parts” to the report. “We could get into trouble building all new everything at once.” He said that Goochland tax rates are competitive and cannot be increased. We need to determine the highest and best use of resources and that there are tradeoffs. High quality schools is where it all starts. We want to build on the great work  you’ve (schools) already done, as we optimize use of tax dollars.”
School Board member John Wright, District 5 said the plan will require tough decisions  among quality options in a (fiscally) digestible manner.
Goochland County Administrator John Budesky said the supervisors share citizen concern is this the right thing to do? Doing nothing also has a cost and the county must move forward. The constraint of available resources, he said, takes work to prioritize in the next five years. Goochland cannot bite off $50 million in school projects. Other items, including a new courthouse is a major cost driver that must be put into context. All of the valuable projects put forth by the schools will help craft a road map for the county’s collective needs over the next 25 years.
The supervisors will hold another CIP workshop for county departments on December 11 at 3 p.m. A pubic hearing on a proposed 25 year CIP is excepted to take place in January.

Thursday, November 30, 2017


On Tuesday, November 28, Goochland’s Board of Supervisors got some good news. It held a special meeting to hear the presentation of the  county’s certified annual financial report for fiscal year 2017, which ended on June 30. Mike Garber, a principal of PBMARES, of Harrisonburg, the county’s auditor, announced that this year’s CAFR was clean. One more audit without any material misstatements, and Goochland will no longer be considered a high risk auditee.

Fiscal anomalies discovered nine years ago in the county’s utility department were the first revelations of abysmal disregard of proper internal controls and generally accepted accounting practices. The CAFR for fiscal 2010 contained 40 material restatements. The following year, the county treasurer was convicted of embezzling county funds and went to prison.

In January 2012, the current board took office and worked with County Administrator Rebecca Dickson to dig Goochland out of the hole in which it found itself. A reworking of the massive debt incurred to build infrastructure for the Tuckahoe Creek Service District utility project helped to stabilize county finances.  By 2015, Goochland had earned a AAA Standard and Poor’s bond rating, a rare achievement for a jurisdiction with fewer than 25,000 people.

The county and school division have also received awards for the high quality of their budget documents during the same period. No more wondering what local government is doing with our tax dollars. Budgets, CAFRS, check registers, and credit card statements are all on the county website for inspection.

The 2017 CAFR represents an untold amount of hard work and dedication by officials elected and appointed, and all members of the county and school division staff  every day. All of this effort has helped restore public trust in the management of  local government resources—stewardship—perhaps the most important task of elected officials.

Available in its entirety on the county website under the financial services section of the “your government” tab, the 2017 CAFR, and those of the previous five years, are well worth a look. Even if you are not interested in the “weeds” of the numbers, they all contain a great deal of interesting information about the county and its finances.

Engaged citizens are a vital component of good government. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Not your father's fire service

Before we go any further, please check your smoke alarms to make sure they work. If you do not have at least one smoke alarm in your home, preferably near bedrooms, put them on your next shopping list. They are inexpensive and save lives.

In recent months, there has been a  great deal of discussion about the amount of growth, especially residential, that Goochland can “digest” without placing a serious fiscal burden on all taxpayers. The county is in the process of crafting a model to help the supervisors evaluate the cost—if any—of new development.

Each year, county department heads address the Board of Supervisors about the achievements of, and challenges facing their departments. (The “slides” of most of these are now available on the county website under the “transparency” tab. These files contain lots of good information and are well worth perusing for a better understanding of the many functions of county government.)

Goochland Fire-Rescue Chief Bill MacKay gave the supervisors an overview of his department at their November 8 meeting. He began his remarks with “’s not your father’s fire service.”

The duties assigned to fire-rescue, which in Goochland includes emergency medical services (EMS), are very different than they were even a generation ago. Today, contended MacKay, fire-rescue is an “all hazards” mitigation service.

Fire-Rescue’s job is to identify anything that threatens the health, safety, and economic well-being of citizens and businesses in Goochland. Things are changing rapidly. “We don’t know what’s coming next,” said MacKay.

Education to prevent incidents is ongoing  and important. “The best (fire) is one that never happens,” the Chief declared.

Recent hurricane devastation illustrated the importance of assistance during disaster, but, just as important, MacKay said, is recovery. “Fifty percent of all small businesses never recover from a disaster,” he said.  “We want to prepare the citizens and business of Goochland  to respond to and recover from them.”

Goochland fire-rescue providers, whether they be career (paid) or volunteer are all well-trained professionals who “treat all people with compassion, dignity and respect when we meet them on the worst day of their lives.”

A wreck on the interstate can easily morph into a hazardous materials incident if leaking fuel or mechanical fluids threaten groundwater. Goochland firefighters  are trained to contain those spills before the reach streams.

Even your basic house fire can be a toxic situation as many of today’s building materials are derived from hydro carbons, which MacKay has described as “solid gasoline”.

Saving lives and protecting property is an expensive proposition. Gone are the days when the alchemy of community spirit could translate spaghetti and chicken dinners; Brunswick stew sales; raffle; and Bingo into ambulances and fire engines.  A fully equipped ambulance costs approximately one half million dollars, fire vehicles, especially ladder trucks, multiples of that. Aging, high mileage ambulances are out of service for repair for longer periods as parts become more difficult to find.

MacKay said that Goochland Fire-Rescue seeks to performs its functions “in a fiscally sound manner respecting the citizen investment made in our department”.

Early ambulances were little more than a means to get a patient to the hospital quickly while performing advanced first aid in the back. Today, they equip our well-trained and  highly-skilled EMTs and Paramedics with sophisticated live-saving tools, including telemetry to transmit vital data, like EKGs, to hospitals while en route.  This enables immediate delivery of appropriate treatment when the patient arrives at the emergency room.

Life safety services are a risky business. In addition to the obvious dangers of entering a burning structure, or stabilizing an overturned vehicles to free entrapped occupants, more subtle perils plague providers.

Cancer, said MacKay, occurs at a rate six times greater in firefighters than in the general public due to contact with toxic substances. Steps being taken to protect our firefighters include a ventilation system at the new Hadensville Company 6 station to vent diesel fumes. Washing machines to clean turnout gear after fires also reduces exposure. Upgrades of the self-contained breathing apparatus (air, not oxygen, bottles and filtering mask units)is vital for the health, safety, and welfare of firefighters.

The emotional toll of responding to serious incidents is also a concern.

MacKay sang the praises of our amazing fire-rescue volunteers who work as equal partners with the career staff. Currently, said MacKay, four of the county’s six fire-rescue stations are manned 24/7 with at least two people.  Extra resources are deployed in the more heavily populated east end of the county. All stations are now equipped with dormitories, kitchens, and showers to enable round the clock shifts.

Calls for service increased 5.13 percent in the past year. Overall, response times are shorter. MacKay explained that a typical EMS call involving transport takes approximately three hours or longer. Our ambulances log many miles taking patients to hospitals in Henrico, Richmond, and Charlottesville, so they wear out quickly. Maintenance of aging fire-rescue vehicles, that takes them out of service is a concern. The average mileage of the ten unit Goochland ambulance fleet is over 128,000, said MacKay.

Creative leveraging of available resources to enhance coverage includes creation of a “flying truck” where volunteers from different companies form crews to respond whenever and wherever they are needed. The county is able to access the Med Flight air ambulance thanks to D. E. “Eddie” Ferguson, Deputy Chief—EMS, who serves  as an air medic with Med Flight.

Volunteer EMS hours are declining at a precipitous rate—23.82 percent in rescue duty hours in the past 12 months for instance—and have been for some time. The reasons for this include increased training and certification requirements and demands of daily life. Fewer people are willing or able to commit to a rigorous schedule of training in addition to  being on call to respond to emergencies.   This has  created a leadership vacuum in most of the county’s six companies. Volunteers who run calls—many of whom live outside Goochland—show little interest in serving as company officers.

Newcomers to Goochland show little interest in becoming fire-rescue volunteers. They have neither the time or inclination, or somehow feel that this most vital of local volunteer opportunities is beneath them. Not that long ago, a daytime weekday EMS Centerville crew was comprised of “country club” ladies from Broad Run who wanted to serve the community.

MacKay praised members of the fire-rescue team, both volunteers and career who continue the tradition of saving lives and protecting property begun in 1952. We cannot underestimate the contribution that these volunteers have made by freely giving their time, talents and treasure for the well-being of the county.

Fire-rescue is just one core service impacted by growth. The supervisors must ensure adequate resources to protect the health, safety, and welfare of all.