Monday, November 30, 2009

“Tis the season

Celebrate close to home this year

Now that we have given thanks for our blessings, it’s time to turn our attention to the Christmas season.

There are many opportunities to get into the holiday spirit right here in Goochland County.

Next week from Wednesday, December 2 through Sunday, December 6, Salem Baptist Church will present Bethlehem Walk. Come get a taste of what Mary and Joseph saw and felt as they sought shelter in Bethlehem on that wonderful holy night long ago. A visit in cold and wet weather gives new meaning to their experiences. The hours are: Wed: 6-9pm; Thurs 6-9pm; Fri. 6-10pm; Sat.4-9pm and Sun.3-8pm

Bethlehem Walk is located on the south side of Rt. 250 a few miles west of Centerville. Thanks to the folks at Salem and the Goochland Sheriff’s Department, traffic control is excellent with easy access and egress from the site.

On Saturday morning December 5, two county fire-rescue companies will open their stations for breakfast with Santa for children of all ages. Pancakes and other goodies will be hot off the griddle by 8 a.m. as Santa gets ready to listen to good little girls and boys.

Centerville Company 3 and Fife Company 4 offer the event as a way to say thank you to the communities they are privileged to serve and make sure that every child has a chance to chat with the Jolly Old Elf.

The delicious breakfasts are cooked and served by auxiliary members and volunteers. This is a great opportunity to nourish body and soul with food and fellowship with friends old and new.

The Centerville fire-rescue station is located at 52 Broad Street Road in Centerville. Company 4 is located on Hadensville-Fife Road about a mile north of its intersection with Rt. 6 in Georges Tavern.

On Saturday evening, December 5, the Field Day of the Past show grounds, decorated for Christmas, open at 4 p.m. Take a walk through the dusk to a time not so long ago when life was simpler. Stroll under the huge Field Days’ signature star and contemplate the real meaning of the season.

Goochland 2009 Christmas Mother Anne Larus Hardwicke will be on hand greeting people and accepting donations of canned goods for the hungry.

Don’t forget to contribute to the Goochland Christmas Mother. This non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, run by local volunteers, makes sure that everyone in Goochland has a Merry Christmas. Donations may be mailed, year ‘round to P. O. Box 322, Goochland, VA 23063.

All of these events are free for the enjoying. Stay close to home and celebrate the season.

(If any events were omitted, please submit information to the comment section.)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sleep well

The Goochland sheriff’s department is on the job

Goochland County is a pretty safe place. That’s no accident.

On Wednesday, November 18, alumni of the Citizens’ Academy, an educational program sponsored by the Sheriff’s Department, were reminded of the superb law enforcement organization that keeps our county safe during a reunion.

U. S. Postal inspectors D. M. McGinnis and M. J. Romano spoke briefly about identity theft, one of the fastest growing crimes in the nation.

They explained that, in this digital age, it is very easy for criminals to obtain private information and use it to set up accounts in your name that they control without your knowledge.

A regular check of your credit at, which is a free and secure service, can catch any irregularities before your hard-earned credit record can be destroyed.

They outlined some simple measures to safeguard personal information. Deposit outgoing mail only in large blue boxes such as those in front of local post offices. Raising the flag on the mail box in front of your house displays a “steal me” sign for anyone looking to obtain financial information McGinnis explained.

“No one writes letters anymore,” he said. “Most outgoing mail is bill payment.”

Those envelopes contain signed checks, which offer a wealth of opportunities for identity thieves. In addition to obtaining the electronic codes for your bank account, a check can also be “washed” and rewritten for the benefit of the bad guys.

Be very careful about giving out personal information including your name, date of birth, social security number (only intended for payment of benefits), your address, mother’s maiden name and account numbers over the phone or internet.

Banks do not lose your personal information, said Romano, and will not call or email you to ask you to help them restore their records. Never give any personal information over the phone unless you initiate contact such as ordering from a catalog.

Shred all credit card receipts and other documents with personal information on them to prevent thieves from going through your trash and obtaining the information.

Preapproved checks from your credit card company and any preapproved credit card applications should also be shredded.
Internet commerce on sites that display a padlock symbol or that have https in the url line are very secure.

You email, however, can be accessed by identity thieves so be very careful what sort of information you transmit that way.

The Goochland Sheriff’s office is part of the Metro Richmond ID Theft Task force. Because ID theft is such an ethereal, anonymous crime, it can be difficult to catch and prosecute its perpetrators across jurisdictional lines, said Romano. By joining forces, law enforcement agencies in the Richmond Metro region are able to pool information and follow criminals as they target different parts of the area. The task force has been very successful in apprehending identity thieves and bringing them to justice.

This is one of many strategies employed by Sheriff Jim Agnew and his superb team to leverage limited resources and provide excellent law enforcement services for Goochland citizens.

Mike East, an investigator with the Goochland Sheriff’s office, is our county’s member on the task force. Its website has comprehensive information about identity theft and contact information.

Romano and McGinnis are available to speak to all interested groups. Their presentation is interesting and offers good information.

Citizens Academy alumni were also treated to a display of some new equipment the sheriff’s department has obtained through Homeland Security grants.

Perhaps most noteworthy is the communications trailer complete with a telescoping 110 foot antenna mast and state of the art digital radio equipment that creates a “tower of un Babel.” This equipment permits agencies from many jurisdictions to communicate with each other on a common radio frequency during emergency operations. This is a vital component of successful and effective response to widespread disasters be they weather-related or man made. The breakdown in communications caused by the lack of common frequencies was deadly during the 9/11 response in New York.

This is a huge step forward for emergency communications in the region and quite a feather in Goochland’s cap that the communications trailer was located here.

Other implements that protect deputies while gathering information about criminals was also demonstrated. This will undoubtedly be part of the next Citizens’ Academy, which Sheriff Agnew said will begin in early 2011.

This is a very interesting and worthwhile program that gives ordinary folks a look into law enforcement operations in Goochland.

Sessions include: speakers from the Goochland Courts and Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office; a visit to a local jail; a trip to the firearms’ range and a ride along with a deputy to understand first hand the challenges of keeping the peace in all of Goochland’s 295 square miles.

Vigilant citizens are a vital component of effective law enforcement. If you see something in your area that looks out of place or odd, inform the Sheriff’s office.

Recently, an observant citizen in the Fife area reported suspicious activity in the neighborhood. Deputies investigated and arrested a person casing Goochland homes who had committed break-ins in Henrico. Call 911 for an emergency or 556-5349 for the non-emergency line. The Sheriff’s Office is the only county department whose phones are answered by a real person 24/7.

Visit for more information about the Sheriff’s Department.

Sleep tight, Goochland, we’re in good hands.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sometimes you get rained out

Lessons of the helicopter incident

There’s a big flap going around the county about the use of a helicopter to dry out the Goochland High School football field so an important game could be played on schedule last week.

Reportedly, the cost of the helicopter, about $1,600, was covered by donations from private sources.

Head football coach Bryan Gordon contended that drying the field made play safer for the athletes and helped to protect the field surface from damage caused by play in the mud and prevent costly replacement of sod.

Meanwhile, the school system is threatening to lay off teachers due to the expected budget shortfall caused by declining property assessments.

Okay, no tax dollars were used to pay for the helicopter so it was just a problem solving exercise for the football coach.

Expect all accounts of this incident in the “local” media to be carefully spun by the school system’s public information person.

Perhaps a more important question to ask is what larger lessons did the incident teach our kids?

Before we get to all that, Gordon, his coaches, staff and the team deserve praise for their hard work that resulted in an undefeated season. This is especially noteworthy because Goochland moved up to face supposedly more difficult opponents.

We hope they repeat their win at the state level this year. Go Bulldogs!

But, after the cheering stops and they players move on to the next stage of their lives, what lessons will they take with them from this episode?

How will they handle situations when, after working as hard as they can toward a particular goal, through no fault of their own, there is no happy ending? Adults instinctively want to protect the young and insulate them from the nasty bits in life. This can be carried too far.

There are lots of rainouts in life. Stuff happens that is no one’s fault, but has consequences.

Learning how to deal with failure and disappointment is part of growing up. It hurts, but it builds the character skills that get us through the tough times that are part of life.

Like it or not, at some point there will be no one there to smooth the way for the football team members, to metaphorically dry off the field so they can go on to glory. Will the helicopter incident give members of the football team a misplaced sense of entitlement throughout their lives?

If there is so much fiscal enthusiasm for Goochland High School football, perhaps the entire program should be funded by private donations.

Then, there are the environmental concerns.

Our school curriculum undoubtedly devotes time and energy to blathering about global warming and the importance of reducing our carbon footprint.

A helicopter hovering over the football field long enough to dry it out left a huge carbon footprint as it burned through many pounds of aviation fuel.

People who under usual circumstances would raise concerns about polluted the air, distressed migratory birds and a deleterious effect on ground water recharge by changing runoff patterns were silent.

The incident is a case of good intentions run amok. Of course we want our team to win, but it’s about more than winning football games.

Creating an environment for children that is so protective that it eliminates all possibility of failure or disappointment will only lead to bigger failures later on.

The whole thing was a massive lapse of judgment. Regardless of who paid for the helicopter, authorizing that kind of an expenditure in these economic times is yet another example of the arrogance of the school system.

Would the world have ended had the game in question been postponed? Where was the school board in all of this? We want our children to receive an excellent education. We also want our tax dollars to be spent wisely.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

So proudly we hail

Honor our veterans

When the world was younger, it paused at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month to pay homage to those who died in the “war to end all war.”

As the bloody century ground on, that war became the first of many as millions more died in subsequent conflicts pitting evil against good.

At the end of the day, after the lofty words of politicians and stirring oratory of generals faded into history, the veterans of those wars walk among us. We often forget they are there.

Now, November 11 is set aside to pay tribute to all veterans. For too many people, it’s just another day off, a day with no mail delivery.

Perhaps the shrinking number of veterans the past few decades explains why things seem to be on a downward spiral in our society.

It’s way too easy to forget about the sacrifice that every veteran and their families made for our country. We owe them a debt and need to treat them with honor. The deplorable treatment received by returning Vietnam vets must never be repeated.

Many veterans came home with physical injuries, others returned with wounded souls that may never heal. Some seemed unscathed not realizing that they harbored a time bomb that would end their lives far too soon.

Agent Orange, the herbicide that defoliated the Vietnamese countryside denying the Viet Cong a place to hide, turned out to be a curse upon American troops.

Sailors who patrolled the Mekong River in their youth find themselves stricken with terrible terminal diseases in late middle age robbing them of the precious years to see grand children grow up. We don’t know what threats those currently in uniform will face decades down the road.

Veterans came home changed by their military service. They matured, gained confidence by being a part of something larger than themselves. They learned the value of being able to depend on their buddies and understood the obligation of being depended upon.

When veterans return to civilian life, those new attitudes shape the way that they conduct themselves and in turn better our nation.

They value good character and live lives worthy of emulation.

And they pitch in to make their corner of the world a little better.

Grasping the intuitive wisdom of a philosophy that mandates “officers east last,” many a self-involved young junior officer honed leadership skills that carried over into civilian life after military service.

We all know about the heroes who won the medals and the wars. It’s far too easy to forget about the scores of support personnel who made the heroism possible.

World War II was fought by boys who left farms, offices, factories and unemployment lines to defend their country. Some with physical difficulties that could have earned them a 4F draft deferment, connived their way into uniform.

The tasks they performed, keeping the morale up on troop ships crossing the submarine infested Atlantic Ocean, for instance, took them into harm’s way. They would have been just as dead as the heroes of Dieppe, but gotten little notice.

More recently, Goochland’s own Aaron Boyd, who was a Navy cook on an aircraft carrier following the 9/11 attacks, did his bit by making sure that pilots found fresh chocolate chip cookies waiting for them when they returned to the ship.

Bobby McCormick, who has served several tours of duty in Iraq, is the new young face of the American veteran. He left his beautiful family to fight for his country.

Our veterans represent the best of America. They put their lives on the line to defend freedom and our way of life. There are no words to adequately thank them, but do it anyway.

American Legion Post 215 will hold a Veterans’ Day observance at 11 a.m. on the Courthouse green weather permitting. In case of rain, the event will be held at the high school.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Chickens come home to roost

Walking the razor’s edge at budget time

The November supervisors’ meeting saw the first skirmishes in the budget battle for the 2011 fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2010.

County administrator Rebecca T. Dickson, during the evening portion of the meeting, presented and explained the county’s current and expected fiscal position. She was careful to point out that the numbers are preliminary, but they did give everyone a good idea of the magnitude of the financial shortfall the county faces due to declining real estate values.

Dickson said that she expects revenues for 2010 to fall about 12 percent, drop another five percent in 2011 and remain flat the following year.

Goochland, like most jurisdictions, is trying to find its way through the minefield of challenges caused by the economic meltdown. Unfortunately, in past years, our board has used a whistling past the graveyard method to deal with problems, so we may be caught more flatfooted than most.

The failure of the county to attract meaningful economic development puts the burden of the shortfall squarely on the backs of land owners with property tax still the significant source of county revenue.

Predictably, the board room was filled to standing-room- only capacity mostly with parents and teachers passionately concerned about the prospect of significant reduction in teacher ranks. The school budget consumes about 55 percent of the county budget.

Teachers are a vital resource to a school system. Think about the teachers that changed your life. They helped you tap your own resources to find the path to success in life. How would your life have been different if they had not been there?

The county school system has about 400 employees, 200 of them teachers. It’s hard to understand why the teacher corps is not at the very bottom of the list of proposed cuts. One reason is that a threat to fire teachers strikes a powerful emotional cord in parents that motivates them to action.

Unfortunately, this tactic has been used, successfully, so often in the past that it’s lost its authenticity.

Goochland schools have morphed in the past seven or so years from an embarrassment to one of the best districts in the region. This is accomplishment is the result of hard work by the school system, teachers, parents and students.

Good schools are an expensive proposition.

Several speakers cited the curious factoid that Goochland has one of the highest per capita incomes in the country. Everyone wants to hit up all those rich people, all 30 or so, to fund whatever they’re passionate about.

Those figures are based on an average. Teachers should know that when you have a relatively small population —Goochland’s is around 21,000 including the 2,000 or so inmates at our prisons — and you divide that number into the total annual income of all residents, it doesn’t take very many households with seven figure incomes to skew the result to a number that does not paint a true picture of conditions on the ground.

For the past few years the school system has aggressively pursued its funding with the board of supervisors. Using carefully choreographed demonstrations at the annual budget hearing school proponents passionately protest proposed budget cuts when the supervisors attempt to slow the rate of increase of the school budget.

The schools usually get most of what they request.

Excellence in local education is a very fine goal, but it’s never been quite clear if the supervisors and citizens agree that funding excellence in education should take a top fiscal priority.

This year, things are different. The expected shortfalls are the worst in recent memory.

The supervisors will have to make difficult and delicate choices about use of public dollars.

They can keep the 53 cent tax rate in place, which will result in lower property tax bills for some landowners. They can use part of the county’s fund balance, which Dickson estimated at approximately, $14.2 million. They can raise the tax rate on the reduced assessed valuations or they can slash spending to meet the expected county income.

None of those choices are happy ones. No matter what the board does, some citizens will be angry.

Although several speakers at the board meeting urged the supervisors to raise property taxes to prevent budget cuts, many people in the county are hurting financially.

Businesses are closing. Homes are in foreclosure. People are losing their jobs or not getting raises. For many people, money is very tight.

To give a modicum of relief to some business owners, the board voted 4-1 with Jim Eads District 5 dissenting:

“ to extend its deadline for payment of business personal property taxes for ninety (90) days without incurring the 10% late penalty. However, interest will accrue beginning January 1, 2010. The new deadline for paying business personal property taxes will be Friday, March 5, 2010. After this date, penalty is 10% of the uncollected balance. Interest begins January 1, 2010 and is not included in the extension.”

Although the picture is grim Dickson and the supervisors are right to publicly discuss the impact of the expected shortfalls now. This action represents a significant change in the county budget process. Dickson’s predecessor rarely, if ever, presented the county’s financial picture at open meetings. The budget was always an inside baseball behind closed doors activity with only carefully orchestrated glimpses permitted before the public hearing.

The 53 cent tax rate, which has been in effect for several years, is the result of a projection based on steady growth in population and property values. Indeed, it seemed like the budget was crafted by multiplying the total assessed valuation of all of the land in Goochland by 53 cents to determine the total budget. Then, working backwards to allocate that amount of money to various departments regardless of their budget requests.

During the fiscal year if a department ran out of money, supplemental appropriations were made. In all it was a very magical process with probably little basis in generally accepted accounting principles.

All that has changed. Everyone says they want transparency. Well, here it is, warts and all.

No one wants to pay higher taxes. However, if there is such a thing, local taxes may be the best kind. Those dollars stay close to home and fund things that make our community work.

It’s time for some citizen input. How would you instruct the supervisors to deal with the budget shortfall? Which items should receive funding priorities?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

On elections

You don’t have to vote

Tuesday, November 3 is Election Day.

We Americans are not forced to vote. In some countries, suffrage is mandatory. Not here, you can vote or not, as you choose.

Perhaps there is no requirement for participation in elections because it never occurred to the founding fathers that anyone given the opportunity to select those who govern them would not be ready, willing and eager to vote.

You don’t have to vote. In most elections there are at least a few candidates that are embarrassments to their parties. Sometimes all choices are bad and it is hard to see how it matters who gets elected.

You don’t have to vote, but every vote counts. In the past decade elections at all levels have hinged on a very few ballots. The people who stayed home could have changed everything.

Government at all levels is a mess and not likely to improve any time soon regardless of the annual pledge of candidates that this time things will change for the better.

Lately it seems like both parties want to drive everyone except their most ardent and easily controlled supporters away from the political system.

You don’t have to vote, but if you do research your choices first. Don’t vote for someone because of an endorsement by a movie star or athlete or your next-door neighbor. There is plenty of information on the internet about all the candidates running this year.

Just in case you missed it, Virginia is electing a governor lieutenant governor, attorney general and the entire House of Delegates. Both the Republicans and Democrats have a full slate of candidates. Goochland is part of the 56th District for the House of Delegates. If you have time to find this blog while doodling around you have time to research the candidates.

You don’t have to vote, but if you pass on the election, make it a conscious decision. Voting may be a bit inconvenient. Perhaps is should be.

It was definitely inconvenient for those who died in battle to protect our right to vote. It was certainly inconvenient for suffragettes to battle the establishment to secure voting rights for women. It was doubtless inconvenient for the civil rights protestors who routed the evils of racial discrimination at the polls.

New procedures at Goochland polling places should move the lines a lot faster than last year.

Absentee ballots are easily obtainable, but it’s too late to do that now. Plan ahead for next year.

You don’t have to vote, but if you do, be sure to bring a picture ID. It’s hard to understand why anyone would not be proud to be identified as a legally certified voter to ensure the sanctity of the whole process.

You don’t have to vote, but if you do, you will join Goochland citizens who last year set a record with their voting percentages.

You don’t have to vote, but if you do, be sure to thank the election officials who make it all possible. They sure don’t do it for the money. County registrar Frances Ragland and electoral board members Shirley Christian, Robin Lind and Herb Griffith work hard year round to ensure that all elections here are well run.

You don’t have to vote, but if you don’t, you can’t complain about whoever gets elected.