Thursday, September 24, 2009

Toward a prosperous Virginia

Stop strangling the goose

Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling visited the Virginia Farm Bureau headquarters in West Creek on Monday, September 21, to chat with a handful of local business leaders about the economy. William Quarles, Jr., District 2, was the only member of the county board of supervisors in attendance.

The meeting was part of Bolling’s Jobs for Virginia Tour. He’s traveling around the Commonwealth meeting to explain how he and Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell plan get the Virginia economy moving.

“If the people of the Commonwealth elect us, I will become the chief jobs creation officer,” he told. “My job will be to do whatever it takes to get people back to work and get the economy moving again.”

Creating jobs, contended Bolling, is the key to turning the economy around and positioning Virginia to take full advantage of an economic recovery.

He outlined a commonsense array of policies (see for details) on everything from energy to education.

These include immediate pursuit of drilling for fossil fuels, mostly natural gas, off the Virginia Coast. This would create jobs, generate revenues and bring investment to the Commonwealth. Tax credits for creation of green jobs and investment in alternative fuel research are also included as are expansion of nuclear and clean coal energy sources.

Offshore drilling should be a no brainer for Virginia. Natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel and the technology to create natural gas powered cars exists.

The Republican education policy advocates an increase in the amount of money that goes into classrooms in the form of higher teacher salaries and smaller class sizes while decreasing administrative funding. It also includes increasing opportunities for charter schools and vouchers, which, Bolling contended, echoes Obama administration initiatives.

Bolling believes that creation of appropriate educational opportunities for all students will ensure that graduate skill sets match the needs of the workforce.

How refreshing! There are way too many young people today with lots of degrees and few marketable skills while high paying technical jobs go begging. Not all students need to go to college, but every high school graduate should be well prepared to succeed as the next level of life be it college, the military or a job.

Bolling contended that the legislation coming out of Washington resembles a policy to destroy American business.

Goochland’s own Wayne Pryor, President of the Virginia Farm Bureau, which endorsed Bolling, concurred.

Pryor said that the proposed cap and trade legislation is a massive tax that will do little but drastically increase already punitively high fertilizer and fuel prices. Although not reflected at the grocery checkout, Pryor said that commodity prices have declined between 40 and 60 percent in the last year.

Unfunded mandates from clean water and other regulatory legislation hurts farmers. Congress assumes that the cost of implementing those measures would be covered by price increases, said Pryor, but that cannot be supported by prevailing market conditions.

Expanded Chesapeake Bay Act regulations, intended to clean up that body of water, have become an onerous burden on several fronts.

Pryor said that the current glut of milk in the marketplace has already cost Virginia 15 to 20 percent of its dairy farmers. The remainder cannot afford to comply with the Bay Act rules and stay in business.

New storm water runoff controls required by the latest iteration of the Chesapeake Bay regulations, for instance, would make existing retail and business centers that provide jobs and sales tax revenue economically unfeasible to build today, one businessman contended.

Another attendee observed that regulatory creep, the unintended consequence of good intentions, puts a serious damper on economic activity. Regulations expand, he believes, because bureaucrats need to justify their existence.

Bolling contended that the increasingly onerous Bay Act regulations are the result of resume building by Governor Tim Kaine rather than the original intent of the law’s sponsors.

He pledged to examine the entire state regulatory scheme to ensure a proper balance between citizen protection and economic activity. Regulatory reform, he said, is critical to position Virginia for economic growth so it can retain its position as a business friendly state and attract, rather than repel new investment and jobs.

Quarles brought up a subject dear to the heart of many Goochlanders— universally available broadband. Bolling did the usual tap dance stating that there is no money in the state budget for rural broadband, but there might be some federal stimulus money available.

That could be beneficial in the long run. It could well make more sense for the county to provide an atmosphere to entice private sector providers than spend tax dollars to make broadband a public utility.

Bolling’s plan to move the Commonwealth forward is straightforward and doable.

Business is the engine that powers America’s largesse. We’ve got to stop strangling the goose that lays the golden eggs or we’ll all go hungry. We also need to put those eggs in many baskets to lessen the impact of future economic contractions.

Virginians want to get back to work so they can pay their own way and determine their own destiny.

Friday, September 11, 2009

September anxiety

We are fat, dumb and vulnerable

Today is the eighth anniversary of the most vicious attack ever perpetrated on the United States by a shadowy enemy that used our own machines to murder Americans in the centers of our economic and political power.

Backed not by a mighty military–industrial complex but powered instead by evil ingenuity, a handful of suicidal jihadists killed thousands of innocent Americans whose only crime was to go to work on that perfect September day. They felled skyscrapers, wounded the Pentagon and destroyed American innocence in a short minutes on that Tuesday morning. The only ones who had the opportunity to fight back were the passengers of Flight 93.

America troops were quickly deployed to Afghanistan and later, Iraq. Soon, military efforts were bogged down in political conflicts at home. Along the way, Americans lost sight of the fact that there are still very bad guys out there who want to kill us and destroy our way of life.

In our innocence and good will, most of us simply cannot believe that people on the other side of the world want us dead because of our value system. Unfortunately, we only have to look to the vile destruction of Second Union Church in Western Goochland to see evidence of that attitude in our own community.

During the last eight years, America has returned to what has become the new normal. We shuffle through airports shoes in hand hoping that the “enhanced security” practices will keep us safe. The absence of further attacks has lulled us into complacency.

Today, we’re more worried about the economy than terror attacks, but other threats lurk all too close to home.

Six years ago, Hurricane Isabel blew through Goochland. Many people were without power for a long time. Henrico's water system was disrupted because there was insufficient generator back up at the pumping station.

At first, the power outage was a kind of forced camping trip. As the days wore on, it got old and tempers frayed.

If our enemies want to destroy America, all they have to do is turn off the power, we’ll self-destruct.

In a fascinating novel, One Second After (ISBN-13:0978-0-7653-1758-2) available at the Goochland Branch Library, William R. Forstchen takes a detailed look at what could happen to America if the power is turned off long term.

An electro magnetic pulse, set off using relatively unsophisticated technology, probably already possessed by North Korea and Iran, destroys all electronic devices not shielded from such an attack.

The power goes out immediately. All devices with any sort of computer chip are instantly fried.

In the aftermath of 9/11, the nation was glued tearfully to television sets. In a few days we knew far too many details of that horrific day. What would you if the power went off and there was no information from the outside world?

Following deployment of an EMP, all communication stops. No one knows what happened. There is no way to ask for help and the whole country is in a world of hurt. There is no one to bring help.

Unlike previous disasters including 9/11, Katrina and earthquakes in California, help was quickly on the way, because America is a big and neighborly nation and the disaster sites relatively small.

Forstchen paints a terrifying picture of what could happen if there was no one there to help. He describes how the malfunction of those ever present chips rule our lives.

Planes, including Air Force One, crash as their computers go offline, people are stranded on an interstate when their upscale rides becomes useless lumps of metal. People turn on each other for food.

We give little thought to our interdependent society that provides strawberries in January and moves supplies of everything from popcorn to pharmaceuticals from one end of the country to the other.
What if all that were to stop. How long could you survive?

In the weeks and months after 9/11, flags flew and the country united. People wanted to get involved in their communities.

The Citizen Corps was created and helped people organize Citizen Emergency Response Teams (CERT) to teach basic first responder skills so people could take care of themselves and their neighbors until help arrive. Goochland has one. As time passed, however, we lost interest.

We Americans are notorious for our optimism. We also used to value our self-reliance. Now, we’re too busy Twittering to care about much else.

News about the H1N1 flu is everywhere, but most people figure they’ll be all right if they get a flu shot. The warnings are exaggerated, we believe.

The flu shots are a best guess effort. What if they guess wrong and huge numbers of people get sick? In an extreme case, things will pretty much shut down. Emergency responders, like our wonderful Goochland rescue squads, will soon be overwhelmed. As the first responders become sick themselves, ambulances will sit idle. It won’t matter because hospitals will overflow and be unable to properly treat patients.

Food supplies will dwindle and so on.

An exaggeration? Perhaps, but we all need to be a little more prepared.

Could you survive for three days where you are right now as you read this? Does your family have an emergency communication plan in case you cannot get home? What would you do if your cell phone didn’t work?

There are huge amounts of information about emergency preparedness on the web. One of the most comprehensive is Take a look and think about your own situation.

The world, including your own back yard, is a very scary place. Take a few minutes to plan for the unthinkable.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Water torture

It just keeps dripping along

Discussions about water, public utility water, dripped on the conversation throughout the September 1 meeting of the Goochland Board of Supervisors.

A proposed rate increase for all county users of county water and sewer drew concerned citizens to both the afternoon business session and evening public hearing.

Revenues generated by the proposed rate increase were intended to pay for upkeep of the county utility system. It seems that no thought was ever given to future maintenance when the systems, especially the Tuckahoe Creek Service District, were created.

To their credit, the supervisors concluded that they need more information about the utility system before they vote on a rate increase. Another public hearing will be held before any rate changes are voted upon and an entirely new approach to the problem may emerge in the meantime.

Comments made by supervisors and citizens alike make it clear that few people understand the Goochland public utilities system, especially those who approved the agreements that created them in the first place. More troubling is that some supervisors seem unable to differentiate between capital cost and operating expense.

One citizen was concerned that the board was preparing to impose a county wide ad valorem tax on all public utility customers. Ad valorem taxes were never part of the proposed rate change.

As the details about the Goochland public utilities department (PUD) continue to float to the surface, the whole thing, especially the Tuckahoe Creek Service District, is starting to resemble a rotting onion peeled layer by putrid layer.

Perhaps that is why former county administrator Gregory K. Wolfrey slithered out of office. The county seems to have been run using a Louis XV, whose motto was “after me the flood,” operating system during his tenure. Things are starting to overflow.

The rate increase was first proposed by interim county administrator Lane Ramsey earlier this year. He explained to the board, several times collectively in public and no doubt individually in writing, that the terms of the $63 million borrowed by the county from the Virginia Resources Authority to finance construction of the TCSD require annual certification by the county administrator that the project is able to service its debt and generate sufficient user revenue to pay maintenance costs.

Ramsey indicated that his initial review of the TCSD and other county utilities revealed no maintenance provisions and insufficient operating revenue to fund necessary upkeep. These costs could include chemicals to treat wastewater, pipe and meter repair.

New county administrator Rebecca T. Dickson, like Ramsey undoubtedly accustomed to following proper government procedures, concurred with the proposed rate increase for all county users of public utilities, not just those in the TCSD.

Oddly, no supervisor asked if certifications signed by Wolfrey in previous years were accurate reflections of the fiscal condition of the TCSD.

District 5 Supervisor James Eads expressed his opposition to the universal increase. He also reiterated his position that there cannot be a unified county utility system until users in Courthouse Village have paid “their fair share” of the cost of building the infrastructure.

Detailed documentation of the PUD is so confusing that there is some question as to the number of systems that exist.

The TCSD, James River Sanitary District and Courthouse Village system are the three generally recognized systems. Then there are the separate arrangements for water systems made by residents and developers in the River Road corridor and the West Creek Business Park. Because these lines are interwoven like a nest of snakes there is some question about which source supplies which line.

There could be as many as 12 discrete utility systems in the county. At this point, no one seems to know for sure.

Arthur Myers, a retired attorney and longtime resident of Lower Tuckahoe, told the board that he was involved in negotiations between Lower Tuckahoe and Henrico County to obtain water service. Residents took matters into their own hands about 30 years ago after the board of supervisors, which included current chairman Andrew Pryor, allegedly told the Lower Tuckahoe citizens that the county did not want growth and would do nothing to provide public utilities. Myers presented Pryor with a copy of that contract to refresh his memory.

Myers and other River Road corridor residents said that they paid their own way, incurring no debt, to install their water lines and were outraged by the proposed rate increase. They objected to paying for the dysfunction of the TCSD with increased rates.

Water users in the TCSD pay a lower water rate because the TCSD funded a portion of the construction costs of the Henrico County water treatment plant and are not charged the capacity fee paid by other Goochland users of Henrico water.

If TCSD users had been charged the same rate from the outset, there might be enough money in the kitty to pay maintenance costs. No one seemed to look, or think, that far in advance.

Water and wastewater treatment in Courthouse Village are provided through agreements between the county and the Virginia Department of Corrections.

The big picture, however, is very confusing.

During the afternoon session, for instance, the supervisors declined to approve a credit for a homeowner in the Rivergate subdivision who is in the process of installing a bathroom that will require a one inch, rather than the customary residential five-eighths inch water line. This will provide a 50 gallon per minute flow of water.

That’s a lot of water for one bathroom. Average daily household use is considered to be 400 gallons. The one- inch line can consume 500 gallons in 10 minutes. If the water capacity for the River Road corridor is limited, where is all of that water for that bathroom going to come from? Is Rivergate somehow connected to TCSD water lines? Is someone using TCSD water without paying the ad valorem tax? If so, it is probably the result of confused plumbing and not a dastardly conspiracy, but it should be clarified.

Water capacity along River Road is very limited. One developer made his own arrangement with Henrico for an additional 100,000 gallons of water per day even though his project required only about 34,000 and gave the remainder to the county. Irrigation systems in new River Road communities cannot use public water.

The Partridge Hill community was given the last of that allocation a few years ago. Its residents paid the cost of installing the water lines and connecting to lines along River Road.

When the supervisors granted this allocation to Partridge Hill, one resident whose property is part of that subdivision declined to connect, but asked to be permitted to connect should his well fail. The board granted that request even though the water allocation was exhausted. Their attitude was that they would worry about that when the time came, assuming that Henrico would agree to an increase in the River Road water allocation.

Other residents in Partridge Hill believe that all available public water has been allocated and those who did not connect are out of luck.

As Ramsey noted in his initial discussion of utility rate increases, the county is still trying to figure out if some utility users in West Creek that are not part of the TCSD were improperly included in the calculations for maintenance costs.

Pryor tasked Dickson with obtaining more comprehensive information about the situation by the next board meeting.

While restructuring the TCSD debt might be possible, it will not fund operating expenses. Getting the TCSD back on track requires a serious effort by the county to attract development there and a paradigm shift in attitude by several board members.

But wait, as they say on late night cable advertising, there’s more.

During the afternoon session, the board voted to loan the TCSD no more than $3 million from the county’s general fund. The money will fund construction of a waterline between the water treatment plant on Gaskins Road and another line on Thamesford Way along Three Chopt Road in Henrico County.

A part of the original TCSD agreement with Henrico, the county is obligated to pay for the line. If it is not built, the county will not be able to obtain the eventual 25 million gallons on water per day it expects to need sometime in the next decade or so.

The line was not built during the initial construction phase because Henrico wanted to postpone construction until it widened that stretch of road and the TCSD ran out of money.

The good news is that the original cost estimate was about $5 million.

Thanks to District 2 supervisor William Quarles, Jr. for stipulating that the loan include a three percent interest rate to give taxpayers a little protection.

Quarles commended the speakers for their interest and civility during the public hearing. To function properly, democracy requires informed citizen participation.

The real mystery is why have the supervisors been so inattentive to public utilities, especially the TCSD?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Dark days

Goochland will not tolerate hate

Second Union Baptist Church on Hadensville Fife Road in western Goochland has a proud history and prouder future.

Long a beacon of faith and bastion of goodness in the African American community and the whole county, Second Union was desecrated by vile and cowardly predators. These despicable vandals broke windows and caused other damage to the church and historic Second Union School.

All citizens of the county, especially those in its western reaches, are outraged at the actions of these animals who can find no better use for their energies than to maliciously damage a place of peace.

Goochland is a safe haven in our crazy world. It’s a good place to raise children and grow old. Community is a way of life here, not a buzz word in a developer’s brochure.

When an event like this abomination shatters the peace and security that usually calls Goochland home, we fear that it is the end of a good thing.

Authorities seem to be debating whether or not this heinous offense constitutes a hate crime. It surely was not an expression of love.

The perpetrators of these contemptible deeds must be caught and brought to justice. The loathsome creatures that took pleasure in the damage inflicted on Second Union Church must be severely punished.

Whatever sentence is handed down by the justice system, Goochland citizens must make it clear to all that respect for the universal freedom to worship and sanctity of private property is not only the law, but a way of life in Goochland.

This kind of outrage against our community will not be tolerated

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Hickory Haven pays its own way

According to Cindy Wright, who served as president of the Hickory Haven Homeowners’ Association for about 15 years, the information presented in the previous post was incorrect.

Property owners in Hickory Haven, Sammary Forest and on Whippoorwill Lane, approximately 56 homes, were charged a total of $112,000 to connect to the Tuckahoe Creek Service District water line. Homeowners pay an additional $60.29 on each bimonthly water bill to pay off that charge until May, 2010.

The private system that was created when these homes were built, about 40 years ago, was functioning well, but had been abandoned by its original owner and was being operated by the homeowners. Connection to the TCSD water line helped the county by providing users on a line that needed frequent flushing to prevent the water in the under used lines from becoming stale.
Because the water system was already in place, the county needed to make a single connection betweeen the TCSD lines and the exisitng system.
Business owners in Centerville, in contrast, must pay all costs to connect their property to TCSD lines.

These property owners pay the full ad valorem tax, currently 23 cents per $100 of assessed valuation even though they have water service only.