Monday, March 23, 2009

Summer is on the way

Of Gooch dogs and fireworks

Kudos go to John and Kristina Heidel for their display of American sprit. As the rest of the country whines about hard times, this couple rolled up their sleeves to figure out how to bring a family-oriented drive in theater to the Hadensville area. The drive-in will be located on the west side of Rt. 629 between Rt. 250 and Interstate 64.
The Goochland Drive-In will enhance the rural character that sets our county apart from its neighbors and add another layer of richness to living in Goochland.

The Heidels' optimism about the possibility of success for a small local business provides much-needed contrast to the forecast of economic doom and gloom spewed by the mainstream media.

Small business is the lifeblood of our economy and deserves our support.

A delicacy called “Gooch Dogs” will be on the menu. If half the people in the county eat just one, the Heidels will be off to a good start.

Paul Costello and Citizens Concerned with Goochland Growth (CCGG) also deserve praise for holding the feet of the developer of the land behind Satterwhites’ Restaurant in Centerville to the fire.

A second public hearing on the rezoning application to pave the way for a shopping center there, was deferred for 60 days at the request of the developer following a CCGG public meeting.

Thanks to all who pay attention, study a problem and raise thoughtful and specific objections. Keep up the good work.

The reason for this parcel’s inclusion in the Centerville Village has been lost in the mists of time. Located on the sensitive western edge of both the Village and the Tuckahoe Creek Service District public utility lines, this land should only be zoned transitional residential.

Making this property commercial is akin to jamming a square peg into a round hole. Should it ever be developed as a shopping center, a long shot given the over supply of retail space in Short Pump, there is way too much potential for it to become a derelict property.
It will be interesting to see how this one shakes out.

The board of supervisors seems to have taken the first steps to move the Fourth of July fireworks out of Hidden Rock Park. The Independence Day celebration there has gone off without a hitch for the past several years. The configuration of the park, essentially a hollow at the bottom of the large hill formed by the closed landfill, has always been a concern for public safety officials.

With only one access point to the area where folks gather to watch fireworks, the possibility of calamity is great. The road to the parking lot is narrow, winding and downhill. Due to the large number of people attending the fireworks, parking at field level has been restricted in past years. Most people park offsite and are transported by school bus to the field. (The supervisors are considered to be VIPs and get special permits to park at the bottom of the hill.)

So far, this has worked fairly well. Except for the time that a thunderstorm broke just after the fireworks ended. At that time, parking was allowed on what are now the ill-fated soccer fields at the top of the hill. People made it to their cars and waited in relative safety to leave the parking area.
The specter of thousands of people anxiously waiting to board buses in a thunderstorm is scary.
A new site, on the property roughly behind the high school, that the county bought last year for soccer fields, is under serious consideration as a fireworks site.
The board agreed to obtain bids to clear enough of the property to meet safety requirements for the fireworks at its March 17 meeting.
This is not a done deal by any means, but at least they are moving, albeit glacially, in the right direction.

Not only will this location provide multiple access points, it offers the opportunity for people to view the fireworks sitting in or near their cars at the high school, parking lot behind the administration building or other places in Courthouse Village.

It would be interesting to know how many people do not attend the fireworks because they are unable or unwilling to ride the bus. Some folks have trouble climbing onto the school bus. For young families burdened with strollers, chairs, children and other impedimenta, the event may be a logistical nightmare.

A creative proposal, currently in the thinking stage, to use the HRP location for a bus garage, county fueling station and other municipal uses makes a lot of sense. This would require land elsewhere for athletic fields, which are sorely needed for all sports, and other recreational use.

The county badly needs a new perspective on challenges both simple and profound. In the few short weeks that Lane Ramsey has been at the county tiller, the local government boat is on a true course instead of floundering around in circles. May this be the way of the future!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Creeping socialism

From Stone Soup to entitlement gruel

Fears that the Obama administration will impose a socialist regime on America are all over the place. As the stock market flounders, the funeral dirge for the free market system grows louder.

Yet, most everyone seems to be lining up for a taste of stimulus cash.

How did America, whose unique economic system transformed ideas into the most powerful economic engine the world has ever known, wind up here?

How did the self-reliance that forged a new kind of civilization out of wilderness morph into a “where’s mine” attitude?
Why does a significant portion of the population expect and demand that the government to protect us from ourselves and fulfill our every need?

Perhaps some of the current economic heartburn is part of the long overdue hangover from the excesses of the New Deal and price controls imposed during World War II.

Those strange times tied pensions and health care to employment. As the government grappled with distortions of normal economic forces resulting from a national emergency, there was little time or inclination to worry about the long term unintended consequences of polices spawned by the world’s flirtation with socialism in the 30’s.
Overdue fallout from the Great Society could also be a culprit.
Had that scheme worked as advertised, it should be out of business by now. Wasn’t Head Start intended to give economically deprived children a leg up so they could compete academically and take part in the American Dream? If that was the case, why is it still going strong? Shouldn’t the early generations whose academic playing field was leveled by Head Start have become parents who are willing and able to provide necessary intellectual stimulation for their own children?
Instead, it seems like each year there are more kids, at all socioeconomic levels, who need extra help just to keep up in school.

Maybe the cause for hand outedness(HO)is closer to home. It may simply be a manifestation of heightened expectations brought about by the excellent standard of living that most Americans now take for granted.

Or is it just the desire to have some part of the huge sums we pay in tax used for something that affects our daily lives?

Public schools are wonderful, in theory. As America grew westward, settlers pooled their resources to build schools, hire teachers and bring civilization, as they defined it, to the frontier.
Somewhere along the way, parents abdicated responsibility for instilling cultural values into their children to the state as the public schools took on the responsibility of teaching far more than reading, writing and ’rithmitic.

Americans have big hearts and are generous to those in need. Long before there were departments of social services, there were local churches to help the unfortunate.
The local pastor or parish priest knew who was truly in need and identified the malingerers so that help got to where it was truly needed.

Now, in addition to churches and other philanthropic organizations, we have governmental bureaucracies. Instead of providing a safety net to help people through a bad patch, governmental welfare organizations ensnarl those down on their luck into bureaucratic mazes that offer higher levels of “service” in return for absolute dependence.
Much good has come out of these programs, but the expectation bar has risen higher and higher. In spite of a bewildering maze of government bureaucracies, more and more people “Fall through the cracks.” After paying their taxes, Americans open their wallets to help charities and causes they support. Will that continue as tax rates rise and income falls?

The stimulus packages are billed as one time measures to deal with what is being hyped as a crisis, yet they keep on coming.

Each time the government steps in to “fix” a problem, the light of the free market and personal liberty dims. Are our current woes dire enough to justify the remedies? It’s hard to tell. A certain outcome will be greater government involvement, and control in our all aspects of our lives.

At the end of the day, will we still freely toss our portion into the pot for the good of all, or after it is all taken away from us hold out our bowls and ask “Please, Sir, may I have some more?”

Monday, March 2, 2009

Marching toward a new fiscal year

What do the budget numbers really mean?

Before we get into money talk, let’s take a minute to recognize and express our gratitude to the people that keep the county safe regardless of weather. Our amazing fire-rescue volunteers have been scooping people out of wrecked cars since the snow started to fall while continuing their role of transporting the sick to area hospitals on dangerous roads. Our wonderful deputies keep the peace and also respond to hordes of weather-related vehicle wrecks. We need especially to honor the county dispatchers who are the calm at the eye of the storm answering many frantic 911 calls while they ensure that helps gets where it’s needed. Thanks to all of you for protecting us from ourselves.

Now to money.

As the country’s economy continues its freefall, Goochland is weathering the storm, so far.
While Congress talks about trillions of dollars, Goochland’s proposed $57.8 million dollar budget seems trivial by comparison. However, those local tax dollars hit close to home and provide some vital services.
During budget discussions on Monday, February 23, the board of supervisors seemed cautiously optimistic that the county tax rate will remain at 53 cents per $100 of valuation.
The budget workbook, which was posted on the county website after way too many secret squirrel maneuvers, has lots of numbers and little detail. Please take a look for yourself.
Hopefully, the supervisors have more detailed information on which to base their fiscal decisions.
Because the property valuation as a result of the latest countywide reassessment increased less than one percent, the county is not required to reduce the tax rate so that it takes in the same amount of money as it did before reassessment.
Warned last fall to prepare flat budgets, county department requests produced a proposed budget slightly smaller for fiscal 2009-10 than of the current fiscal year 2008-09. The county’s fiscal year begins on July 1.
The school system stepped up to the plate and presented a budget request less than for the current year.
Budget talks between the schools and supervisors tend to be filled with drama, a result of a system that makes the schools beg for every penny from supervisors who are under pressure to keep tax rates low. This is exacerbated by the county’s failure to encourage economic development so it can keep pace with increasing infrastructure needs.
The supervisors, expressing their continuing support for the county’s teachers, wisely want to know exactly how many people on the school system’s payroll are actively involved in instruction, a number that has been elusive.
Goochland is blessed with many very fine teachers at all grade levels who use their training, dedication and skill to prepare our students for the challenges they will face as adults. They deserve our respect, gratitude and support.
If all those people on the central office payroll are vital to the operation of county schools, justifying their roles should be simple and straightforward.
A cloud on the horizon is the uncertainty about actual amount of state money that will flow from Richmond to Goochland. A silver lining to that cloud is that, due to the arcane method used by the state to determine how much money returns to localities, Goochland gets only about 20 percent of its school funds from the Commonwealth.
Happily, the General Assembly has reached budget accord in March so that localities across the Commonwealth are not groping in the dark as they try to figure out how much money will be flowing from Richmond.
Let’s hope that this year’s budget hearing is free from the theatrics annually ginned up by the school board to shame the supervisors into fully funding the requested school budget. Last year following the usual histrionics, District 4 supervisor Malvern R. “Rudy” Butler, told incensed parents that the school budget had indeed been fully funded.
The notion that slowing the rate of spending increases constitutes a budget cut is pure semantic nonsense.
The supervisors are prudently concerned about fiscal year 2010-11, which may well be worse than this year. By then we will have a much better idea how deep and how long the whatever it is we are in will be.
Yet while the board continues to tweak the budget for fiscal 2009-10, they will probably vote to approve an additional $3,727,461 in expenditures (see below) for the current fiscal year. The current year’s budget, approved last March, was $58,440,672. So that means, with the additions, this year’s budget is $62,168,133. About a million dollars will come out of the county’s fund balance and half as much will come from “other” sources. The $2,059,827 will pay for construction of a section of water line in Henrico that will ensure optimal capacity for the Tuckahoe Creek Service District.
This is pretty much business as usual for the county. A budget is crafted, tweaked, presented to the public and voted on by the first week in April. The ensures that the annual tax rate, effective January 1, is in place to calculate property tax bills, whose first half is due in early June. It seems like the tax rate was decided on around October and the budget process worked backwards to agree with that rate.
Somewhere during the course of the fiscal year, needs for funds not identified in the budget arise and the board votes to appropriate additional money that seems to have magically become available.
Why does this happen each year? Are the budget projections that inaccurate, or are they relatively meaningless? Just how accurate a reflection of the county’s income and spending is its annual budget?
Of course, no one can predict the future. To some extent any budget is at best a guest mate. However, a supplemental appropriation of close to $4 million for a $58 million budget seems like a lot.
Last year’s unprecedented high fuel costs, for instance, could not have been predicted when the school system was compiling its budget.
Each department should have the flexibility to manage its own budget, but the supervisors, who provide the money for expenditures, must have a pretty good idea of the amount and purpose of overall fund requests.
Fiscal oversight is perhaps the most important duty of the supervisors. They need both the information and judgment to do it well.


General Fund Balance $1,052,625
Federal 4,839
State 51,392
Water/Sewer 2,059,827
Other 558,778
TOTAL $3,727,461

General Government $ 49,931
Judicial 38,986
Public Safety 55,516
Public Works 14,700
Human Services 8,974
Education 649,424
Parks/Recreation 11,686
Community Development 152,169
Water/Sewer 2,059,827
Capital 686,248
TOTAL $ 3,727,461