Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A look back at 2009

What a difference a year makes

It’s time to bid farewell to 2009 and not a moment too soon. This was a year to remember and forget.

The year began with an attempt to spread a shroud of repression over all county government operations. This included threats of immediate termination for any county employee who spoke to a supervisor without the knowledge and permission of the county administrator.

This followed revelations of as many as four years of incomprehensible mismanagement in the public utilities department.

By the end of January, the county administrator had a sudden urge to retire and followed Elvis out of the building and was allegedly feted at several retirement parties.

The consequences of his administration will affect the county for a long time.

The Tuckahoe Creek Service District, created to attract economic development to the eastern end of the county has become like a toothache that will not go away.

The wayward check matter was the tip of the iceberg for TCSD issues. During the 2009 county budget process, it was discovered that routine utility maintenance costs were never factored into rate computations. The dearth of customers for sewer service is expected to result in significant rate increases going forward.

In mid-December, a section of the fiber reinforced pipe used for the sewer force main, which was the subject of costly litigation, shredded like a piƱata in the rain spewing raw sewage along River Road across from the entrance to Randolph Square. Repair costs are not covered by insurance.

A narrowly focused forensic audit of the utilities department revealed no evidence of criminal activity. A countywide comprehensive audit, whose results are expected by February, will paint a clear picture of past county operations and include suggestions for improvement.

Rebecca T. Dickson was sworn in as Goochland County administrator on July 20. She rolled up her sleeves and got right to work trying to clean up the mess. She knows her stuff and, if given full support by the supervisors, will bring Goochland up to speed. The process will be painful and messy, but well worth the result.

In May, the supervisors “requested and received” the resignation of the county attorney.

Norman Sales, the highly experienced and well-qualified former city attorney for Richmond, will take over that key position on January 18, 2010.

The most significant change in 2009 was an enthusiastic increase in public expression of citizen concern about the manner in which our county is run.

Supervisors’ meetings in the early part of the year were attended by standing room only crowds that listened to what was said and made it clear that they were not buying the carefully crafted, but absurd, contentions put forward by the old regime.

The supervisors realized that their constituents were paying attention and have changed their tune.

These same citizens let the board know that they preferred a local pharmacy when rumors that Walgreen’s wanted to buy the Fairgrounds property. The supervisors decided to take a pass on the sale of that parcel and the county kept a valued small business.

Citizen made thoughtful and constructive comments about land use issues that included rezoning and a proposed recreation master plan. They turned out in large numbers for community meetings and public hearings. Though some were discouraged that they did not win the day, their involvement put developers and county officials on notice.

Goochlanders are finally paying attention and demanding accountability and transparency in government.

A good first step was the inclusion of check registers for both the county and school system on the Goochland website Take a look and see where your tax dollars go.

The meltdown in the financial sector plagued the county in many ways.

A dramatic decline in property values is translating into far less real estate tax revenue to fund county services. The grim reality of drastically smaller budgets is just coming into focus and underlining the importance of meaningful economic development.

High methane levels from the closed landfill under Hidden Rock Park cancelled the spring soccer season for many county kids. Installation of a new venting and monitoring system made it safe by the fall season.

The Hidden Rock Park debacle motivated the supervisors to begin work on a new soccer complex near the high school. While it won’t be ready for play for a while, the new soccer field was the site of the Fourth of July fireworks, which could be viewed from many locations throughout Courthouse Village. This move eliminated the traffic bottleneck and other safety concerns at the park, which only has one entrance.

Goochland’s other new public space, Tucker Park at Maidens Landing, will finally give county residents access to the James River. This park will be developed under the auspices of a public/private task force, a concept with much promise.

We had no hurricanes in 2009, but heavy snows on March 1 and the week before Christmas kept us aware of who is in charge. Our deputies and fire-rescue volunteers did an outstanding job in the emergencies, guided by the terrific, and all too often unsung, team in Goochland dispatch who keep them all on track.

Our sports teams made us proud, but not enough to justify the cost of a helicopter to dry off the football field, no matter who picked up the tab.

The school board continued true to form by rubber stamping the superintendent’s proposed school budget without asking the hard questions. Education is an expensive business and Goochland has good schools. There’s just not enough information available to judge if the proposed expenditures are justified or fluff.

Rumors of county-funded IPhones and IPods, and justification for all of the employees in the central office need clarification.

Parents are putting on their critical thinking caps and questioning information put out, often through rumor, by the superintendent and the school board. They’ve stopped acting like automatons deployed to terrorize the supervisors at budget time. Parents and taxpayers have a right to detailed information about the expenditure of public money.

We can only hope that the results of the comprehensive audit, which included the schools, shed some light on this.

Goochland may be on the right track after many years of wandering in the wilderness. Here’s to a healthy and prosperous 2010.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

I mean no disrespect

It’s that awkward time of year again. Not that long ago, we wished each other Merry Christmas, or perhaps Happy Hanukah or Kwanza.

Schools had Christmas concerts and vacations. There were lots of manger scenes in public places and no one thought much about it.

Somewhere along the way, the political correctness movement arrived and now we’re so afraid of offending some nameless person, that we mumble meaningless gibberish like happy holidays or season’s greetings. Those catch phrases have become knee jerk faux manners, often with as much sincerity as the air kisses politicians and celebrities aim at each other.

Generic well wishes should offend everyone regardless of how, or if, they mark the season.

One of America’s strengths is that we are a melting pot of cultures, a mongrel race thriving with hybrid vigor. For the most part, we’ve learned to live side by side with people who do things differently than we do with mutual respect.

Unlike Northern Ireland or the Balkans, for instance, we don’t kill people who practice different religions, or no religion at all. Our military has chaplains for many faiths. Al Qaeda probably has no Christian or Jewish chaplains.

For all of our pretended sophistication, at heart we’re primitives worried that the sun will disappear as the days grow shorter regardless of the global warming nonsense.

The dark days of the year touch something primordial in our beings. We need to celebrate and praise a higher power as the days begin to lengthen by minutes. What better excuse than to celebrate the birth of a savior?

Our modern Christmas culture is an amalgam of customs. The inclusion of pagan practices into Christian ritual is perhaps the most effective marketing campaign of all times.

Mistletoe, for instance, was sacred to the Druids who ruled the forests of Britain before the Romans arrived. (Rumor has it that there are some Druids in the Gum Spring/Sandy Hook part of Goochland County who harvest and sell local mistletoe in December.)

Christians adopted mistletoe when converts refused to abandon its use. There is something miraculous about a plant that grows green and flourishes at the top of dormant oak trees in the dead of winter.

Science tells us that mistletoe is a parasitic plant whose roots creep beneath the tree bark to steal nourishment. Its seeds are planted by birds who eat the berries and rub a sticky binder off of their beaks while sitting in the tree tops. Not all that mysterious, but why go to all that trouble for a plant?

Perhaps that is God’s way of planting seeds of belief in powers far greater than man’s intellect. As we grew more sophisticated, we held to our beliefs because, well, there’s no rational explanation for the existence of something like mistletoe.

Once they decided to end the ban on Mistletoe, the early Christians adopted it in a big way. Some even contended that the true cross was made out of mistletoe wood.

A hearty Merry Christmas is the ultimate love bomb. Why are people offended when someone wishes them, literally, everything that is goodness, peace, redemption and hope? Hold fast to this traditional greeting and make sure it lasts throughout the 21st century.

Merry Christmas to all!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Grinch after Christmas

School board abdicates responsibility

Happily, Goochland is replete with dogs and ponies. They will all get a good workout before the coming painful budget process is complete.

With the release of the proposed school budget for fiscal year 2010-11 on December 14 the school board indicated that it will follow its practice of past years by laying the blame for school budget cuts on the board of supervisors.

On Tuesday December 15, the school board held the first of several public hearings on next year’s proposed school budget, which was posted on the school website only the day before the hearing.

Held in the high school auditorium, the hearing attracted about 75 people including school officials; law enforcement; interested citizens and a handful of concerned parents.

Expected revenue shortfalls for the fiscal 2010-11 county budget are no surprise. County administrator Rebecca T. Dickson publicly informed the school board last fall that significantly less money will be available in the next budget cycle. She asked the school board to trim $2.7 million dollars from its spending plans.

The proposed budget is $25,339,366 versus last year’s $26,090,510, a reduction of $756,744.

Exacerbating the whole process is the delay in information about the magnitude of reduction in state funding. The good news there, if there is any, for Goochland is that we get only about 20 percent of our operating needs from state funds.

School board chairman Raymond Miller, District 2 read a prepared statement at the start of the meeting. This is available in its entirety on the school website.

Miller’s carefully scripted remarks ignored specific questions posed by parents at previous meetings. School superintendent Dr. Linda Underwood listed the strategies used to reduce the proposed 2010-11 budget.

These included eliminating the high school receptionist position and the Tender Tots program. Using attrition rather than lay offs to reduce the number of teachers. Contract employees who work more than 200 days per year will take two days of unpaid furlough. Underwood also said that the budget included a 12 percent increase in the cost of health insurance.

Only three people spoke during the public hearing.

Jo D. Hosken, a parent, observed that the current revenue shortfall puts a terrible burden on everyone. She said that better and more open lines of communication between the school board and parents are needed to enable them to work together to find compromise solutions. Hosken contended that there are many competent professionals in Goochland ready to pull together in “any way, shape or form” to find workable solutions to the fiscal challenges. Her comments fell on deaf ears.

Jane Christie, another parent, asked why the athletic coaching budget (line items 217 and 218) had been increased by about $150,000. She also wanted to know why the administrative staff was reduced by one percent while the instructional staff was cut five.

In some parts of the world, when money for schools is tight, the first item to be sliced from the budget is athletics.

In spite of all the exhortations that children need to be more active, just how many students participate in those athletic programs or are they reserved for a small elite? If that is the case, perhaps the athletic program could be funded by private sources.

Maybe the generous donors who paid to have a helicopter dry off the football field would be willing to cover the cost of the coaching staff.

Although Underwood has commented often that significant increases in health insurance costs have further complicated crafting the budget those increases are not clearly outlined in the proposed budget.

Christie asked why, if it is such an important issue, health insurance is not itemized in the proposed budget. It seems to be part of the broad category titled salaries and benefits for a total of $16,162,528 versus $16,945,899 in the current year’s budget (line item 8.)

Seeking to clarify one of the many budget rumors, Christie wanted to know if the health insurance premiums are expected to increase to $1 million or by $1 million.

Miller asked for questions in writing. Christie may get a personal written response, but that kind of information should be posted on the website.

Addressing other budget rumors, Christie asked why positions at the Maggie L, Walker Governor’s School, at approximately $8,000 annually per student were ever considered for elimination when the county spends about $10,894 annually per student. At that rate, why isn’t the county trying to send more students there?

The proposed budget indicates that about $130,000 is spent on summer school (line items 102,107,111,113,135,395 and 412) not including electricity. How many students attend summer school and is it a cost effective program?

Underwood contended that increases in water and sewer $2,250, (line item 457;) heat $45,000(line item 456) and electricity $33,630 (line item 455) were significant, yet together are less than the jump in the cost of the coaching staff.

The proposed school budget is not “a responsible budget to move Goochland forward” as Miller said in his remarks. Rather, it displays arrogant disregard for the fiscal realties of the times and blatant refusal on the part of the school board to operate in a transparent manner.

The next public hearing on next year’s proposed school budget will be held on Tuesday, January 12, 2010.

Please look at the proposed school budget and draw your own conclusions about the way our tax dollars are being used. A secret decoder ring should not be needed to decipher the school budget.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Good reasons and real reasons

More churches for Goochland

Goochland has been called God’s county perhaps because there are so many churches here. Two more are on the way.

The Goochland planning commission recommended approval of an application for a conditional use permit filed by Springfield Baptist Church to build a church on an approximately nine acre parcel of land on the east side of Manakin Road just south of Interstate 64. The 8-2 vote —James Atkinson District 1 and Ty Querry District 2 in dissent— came after nearly two hours of public hearing on December 10.

The board of supervisors, expected to vote on the application at its February 2010 meeting, will have the final word on the matter.

Allegedly at issue was the appropriateness of the project for the location. Sadly, in this season of peace on earth, the goodwill to all seems to have translated into goodwill to all as long as they look like me.

Nearby residents trotted out the usual objections to rezoning applications. These include increased traffic, threats to ground water supplies and a building not in keeping with the rural character of the area.

The cemetery on the property was addressed in the application. No one mentioned a deleterious effect on seasonal bird migration.

If every one of the 200 members of Springfield Church uses the bathroom once on Sunday, the church will use about 32O gallons of water. The average home uses about 400 gallons of water every day.

Had Springfield Church kept the size of the proposed building under 10,000 square feet, there would have been no need for the hearing or permit.

Wanting to be open and above board about their intentions, the good folks of Springfield presented the county with a comprehensive master plan for the property looking well into the future. This included an eventual church far larger than the 10,500 square foot phase I structure presented in December. The square footage will be doubled when the congregation has the funds to finish the basement.

Currently, the congregation of Springfield Baptist Church is homeless. Short Pump development gobbled up the site where their church stood for more than a century. That building is now on the Field Day of the Past show grounds on Ashland Road in Centerville.

Although most members of Springfield Church live in Henrico County, their roots are in Goochland.

Detractors pointed out that because the members do not live in Goochland, the church should not be here. They contended that the presence of Springfield Church would exacerbate the burden on law enforcement and fire-rescue volunteers.

Those detractors, many relatively new to the county, seemed unaware that a significant number of the Centerville fire-rescue volunteers, who respond when they call 911, do not live in Goochland either.

Opponents of the project seemed to believe that a 24/7 mega church was to be planted in their midst. In reality, the congregation has about 200 members who plan to worship on Sunday morning and one night midweek.

District 4 planning commissioner Bob Rich, who lives on Rockford Road and travels Manakin Road every day characterized the traffic complaints as a “red herring.”

According to VDOT studies, the traffic count on Manakin Road between Seay Road and Rt. 250, said Rich, is 1,900 vehicles per day. Springfield Church would add les than two percent to that number. The intersection of Manakin Road and Rt. 250 is a mess during weekday rush hour. The members of Springfield Church will not add to that problem with their Sunday morning use of the road.

Rich said he believes that the church is a perfect fit for that parcel of land, which is not suitable for residential use, and that he looks forward to seeing the church built there.

The CUP application included a payment of $5,000 toward funding the eventual traffic signal at the interchange.

It was interesting to note that people who spoke against granting the CUP to Springfield Church said that they were in favor of residential development with a density of one home per two acres. It will be interesting to see how much enthusiasm they can muster when rezoning plans for several hundred homes on the east side of Manakin Road materialize. That kind of development will shovel lots of cars into rush hour traffic and have a significantly greater impact on ground water than the church.

District 4 planning commissioner Jim Crews complained about the blue standing seam metal roof on the proposed church. He thought it should be a different color or shingled. Because the church is outside the Centerville village overlay boundaries, it is not required to adhere to any set of design standards. It is not appropriate for planning commissioners to address such matters.

Did anyone bother to listen to the architect for the project when he explained that the metal roof was chosen for low exterior maintenance on a heavily wooded site?

Detractors, who presented a petition against the CUP contended that the design of the proposed church is not in keeping with the rural character of the area.

There is a relatively new home on Manakin Road whose size, according to county property records it is 4,499 square feet, has no effective vegetative screening and is of modern design. Its owners were well within their rights to build their house as they saw fit and plunk it in plain sight.

Tucking the proposed Springfield Church in a wooded area hard by the interstate will have far less negative impact on the rural character of Manakin Road than the McMansions that have sprouted in plain sight there in recent years.

Even though the project is required to build only a right turn lane, that little bit of road improvement will make more room for traffic near the Rockford/Manakin Road intersection.

Presumably all residents of the subdivisions on Manakin Road south of I-64 understood that they would be living in enclaves with a single point of main road access and moved there anyway. Why are they worried about that now?

Querry said that he believes that the proposed structure is too large for the area that he could support a smaller building.

Supporters of Springfield Church spoke with gentle dignity about the positive aspects of the church. Members pledged to be good neighbors and a blessing to the community.

Perhaps the most interesting comment came from a Goochland resident who lives near the Hindu Center on Three Chopt Road. She remarked that religious enclave is a very quiet and good neighbor that has not had a negative impact on area traffic nor the neighborhood in general.

Those who spoke against the CUP were well within their rights to object. However, too many of the comments seemed tinged with hidden meaning for comfort. The objections raised to Springfield Church could apply to any of the residential communities in the same area.

On that same night, the commissioners considered another CUP application for the Grace Chinese Baptist Church to build on 22 acres on the north side of Broad Street Road just west of its intersection with Rt. 612. Grace Baptist plans to build on an open field at grade with a main road.

Again, neighbors of the property raised concerns about the size of the proposed building, 11,680 square feet; traffic; a natural gas transmission line that transects the property and drainage issues.

Ken Joyner, who owns the adjoining property to the east, reminded the commission that he was required to go to great lengths to preserve the existing rural character of the area when he sought a CUP and asked that the same standard be applied to Grace Baptist.

Gary Clower, a landscape architect who lives on Shallow Well Road, observed that the proposed structure is very imposing and not in keeping with the architectural vernacular of a farm community. He suggested a cluster of smaller buildings on the site.

Because many details were not addressed, and the application did not include a site plan, the commission voted to defer action on this CUP until its January 21, 2010 meeting.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Where is all that transparency

Reflections on a murky school board meeting

The December 8 monthly meeting of the Goochland School Board was an interesting gathering.

About 45 people braved a driving rain to see what the school board had to say about the budget situation.
These included interested citizens, concerned parents; three supervisors (William Quarles, District 2; Ned Creasey, District 3 and Rudy Butler, District 4) who did not come from the east bearing gifts and the county administrator Rebecca T. Dickson.

The school board managed to conduct most of its business in plain sight, yet it might as well have met behind closed doors because few people in the high school auditorium could hear well enough to follow most of the proceedings.

Three badly positioned microphones did a poor job of picking up the comments of the five school board members and school superintendent Dr. Linda Underwood, all soft-spoken individuals.

Folks sat forward hands cupped behind their ears straining to hear what was being said.

The meeting included two public comment periods, one before the start of business, the other at the conclusion of the public portion of the meeting.

Most of the speakers were parents whose children attend the gifted center. This program brings together bright elementary students who benefit greatly from an enriched curriculum and each other’s presence. There were many glowing anecdotes of the excellence of this program.

Indeed, Goochland schools have come a long way from the years when they were an embarrassment. They now rank, according to state statistics, among the best in the Commonwealth. Families from all socioeconomic levels send their children to our public schools and are well pleased with the result.

The gifted center parents, acting on what seems to be a rumor that the center will be closed to deal with county revenue shortfalls, urged the school board too keep the center open. There seemed to be little detailed information about the cost of operating the center.

Speakers also wanted information and offered some creative suggestions to the current budget dilemma. They decried the lack of meaningful answers to budget questions.

One rumor is that the heath care costs for the school employees will increase significantly to more than $1 million next year.

John Wright, an accountant by trade, suggested that the school board investigate the use of health savings accounts to both provide cost effective health insurance benefits for school employees.

School board members reacted to Wright’s suggestion with bored, deer-in-the-headlights expressions.

Everyone who spoke implored the school board to cut teacher jobs only as a last resort.

The school board made no response and instead looked aloof, arrogant and aggrieved at the comments.

No new information, beyond that the county has pushed back the submission date for the fiscal year 2010-11 school budget for to the end of January. By that time, the county will have final numbers on county real estate assessments.

A public hearing on the FY11 budget is on the schedule for next Tuesday, December 15. How can the school board hold a public hearing on a budget whose details are being circulated among parents and citizens by mostly unsubstantiated rumor?

Several parents advocated an increase in property tax rates contending that following declines in property values an increase in the rate would generate more revenue for the county that keeping the rate steady and would still result in lower dollar value tax bills for most landowners.

They seem to believe that because the schools are doing a good job they should get every penny they requested, that nothing can be pared from the proposed school budget, whatever that may be, without having a negative impact on the quality of education.

That is putting the cart before the horse.

The school board has a history of declining to provide details about how it spends its money, an amount slightly more than all of the property taxes collected in normal years. In recent years, its budget was around $27 million

The school board spends public funds and taxpayers have a right to know where their money goes.

Declarations that Goochland provides an excellent education at a lower per student cost than neighboring jurisdictions are all well and good. Perhaps some of that money could be better spent to further enrich the quality of education.

The real question here is one of accountability.

If the county schools consistently rank in the highest achievement categories of many standards should citizens just give the school board a blank check?

No. Taxpayers, especially in difficult economic times, have the right to now how their money is spent.

A detailed proposed school budget should be on the county website for review long before any action is taken. The economic difficulties have been brewing for a while and the school board should have been looking for ways to cut costs since the beginning of 2009.

About two years ago, District 5 supervisor Jim Eads asked for detailed information about school administrative personnel. He wanted to know what those people do and how much they are being paid. Eads wanted an explanation for a discrepancy between the supposed number of jobs and the number of W-2 forms issued by the schools. The school board has repeatedly failed to supply Eads with that information.

The recently published reduction in force policy seems to address only teachers. (This information is on the schools website

Parents at the meeting wanted to know how many jobs in the central office are under consideration for elimination.

Parents also have a right to know which services could be eliminated from a tight school budget.

Much of the information circulating about the expected shrunken school budget consists of rumors carefully placed to motivate parents to besiege the supervisors with demands for full funding.

Parents of children in the gifted center tend to be engaged people who care deeply about the success of their kids in particular and the school system overall.

Using emotional blackmail tactics to manipulate them into demanding higher taxes, is deplorable. Threatening to eliminate the program that is helping their children to achieve their full potential when other cuts could be made is shameful.

If the school board truly believes that every employee is vital to the delivery of an excellent education, explanations of what they do and why they command a particular salary should be easy to document and defend.

The school board’s total lack of accountability to parents and citizens is disgraceful.

Hopefully motivated parents and other interested citizens will run for those seats at the next local election in November 2011.

Goochland taxpayers want good schools and will pay for them if they truly believe that their money is spent wisely.

The regime of fiscal smoke and mirrors is over.

Goochland citizens are not stupid. Why does the school board treat us like imbeciles?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Second jobs

More baskets, more eggs, less pain

The current economic downturn affects everyone. The financial sector meltdown has hobbled the very affluent, often the sole segment of society most insulated from fiscal turmoil.

Local government is caught in the crossfire.

Goochland County is not immune from any of this grief. For many years we coasted along on ever-rising property values to fund county services as though the good times would never end. Although the county boasts the lowest tax rate in the region, 53 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, burgeoning assessments translated into significantly higher tax bills for most landowners. While some tout our low tax rate, others find the burden hard to bear.

The supervisors seemed to be operating on a whistling past the graveyard fiscal planning system falsely assuming that there was no end to rising land values. This year, they are getting a very rude awakening as the latest assessed valuations, expected to be mailed out after the first of the year, will fall drastically across the board for the first time in recent memory.

As the county scrambles to provide core services with less revenue, the absence of a clear vision for Goochland, and the consequences of that deficiency, is coming into unpleasant focus.

County officials have compared balancing the county budget to that of a household. When times are tough, you just cut back and things will be all right. When things are very tough, however, many people look for a second job.

Economic development should be the county’s second job. In good times, it provides money for extras, in hard times, it keeps food on the table and pays the light bill.

If the board really wants to keep the entire county very rural, it needs to have the courage to inform citizens that property taxes will continue to be the primary revenue source for all county services.

Then, if residents want excellent schools, law enforcement and other services including well-staffed career fire-rescue, all landowners will pay for it, not just the rich folk on the gold coast.

Don’t expect this to happen any time soon. One of the great things about living in Goochland is the accessibility of our elected officials. Many return phone calls and answer emails. Because of this, they take lots of heat about tax increases. People who would never bother to phone or email elected officials at the state or federal level happily buttonhole supervisors to complain about higher taxes.

Meanwhile, the supervisors pretend to favor economic development yet put measures in place to hobble landowners who would like to bring business to the county.

Development per se is not evil. Indeed, in some areas, like the Tuckahoe Creek Service District, the county should be joined at the hip with the landowners to attract business. Instead, the county has taken an indifferent, if not hostile, stance toward some major landowners. The result is that West Creek looks more like a nature preserve than an economic engine generating tax revenues and jobs.

Last week, the board approved the intent to prezone some parcels of land near the Oilville Interstate 64 interchange and create a service district there to provide water and sewer infrastructure. No county funds would be spent before significant commercial development exists and the landowners chip in with a substantial cash payment. An ad valorem tax to help pay for the utilities will also be levied on parcels inside the district.

Proposed wastewater facilities will be self-limiting to prevent development from creeping into the rural areas.

The concept will spend about the first half of 2010 working through county processes, but, at long last, the county is going in the right direction.

The real question is why were steps to provide utility service at Oilville not taken a decade ago? Indeed, the county’s Industrial Development Authority, now the Economic Development Authority, funded feasibility studies that were presented to the board twice, 10 and six years ago. Both studies were dismissed out of hand.

It is very hard to comprehend why the county did not plan for development at each I64 interchange when the road was first built. Plans need to be made now to identify and craft strategies to encourage creation of commercial nodes at the interchanges so the county can capture revenues from vehicles riding down the interstate. The jobs those businesses will create are also badly needed.

When the board approved the latest iteration of its comprehensive land use plan it had no trouble including an eleventh hour provision to permit relatively dense residential rezoning in the vicinity of the Shannon Hill interchange. Yet nothing was added to encourage commercial development there beyond general blather that the area is suitable for commercial use.

Right now, there is no development at all near the Shannon Hill interchange. Given the economic activity underway at Zion Crossroads, that could change quickly once the economy recovers. Will Goochland be behind the curve and miss out on commercial revenues that could provide more revenues for schools and other vital services again?

As the supervisors agonize over revenue shortfalls resulting from shrunken property values and resulting budget cuts, they need to look eastward and emulate Henrico whose commercial and industrial tax base help ease the pain in hard times.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

On the first of December

A thumbnail sketch of the December board of supervisors’ meeting

Once again, the regular monthly meeting of the Goochland Board of Supervisors was short and to the point. This is a welcome change from the day-long marathons that characterized the previous administration.

The big news of the meeting was the board’s unanimous vote to appoint Norman B. Sales, currently the City Attorney of Richmond, as the new Goochland County Attorney. He will join the county staff on January 18 and will be a welcome addition to the new Goochland management team being put in place by county administrator Rebecca T. Dickson. Barbara Rose, interim county attorney, graciously agreed to serve until Sales comes on board.
Sales’ experience dealing with the sometimes high weird of Richmond government is excellent preparation for the Goochland County Attorney post. Other city alumni on the Goochland staff include Don Charles who has done an outstanding job as director of community development and Gary Duval our new county engineer who is busy sorting out the public utilities department.

Thanks to the outstanding efforts of Goochland Fire Marshal Phil Paquette and Dave Duffy and his staff at the county office of permits and inspection for their efforts to comply with continuing education, the Goochland County Board of Supervisors and County Administrator are recipients of the 2009 Virginia Building and Code Officials Association President’s Award for supporting Paquette and Duffy in their endeavors.

Sheriff Jim Agnew reported that seasonal thieves are active gain and daytime break-ins, especially in the Oilville/Hanover area are on a seasonal upswing. Agnew said that deputies are setting up roadblocks in the area and checking all vehicles. On a recent day, 500 cars were stopped and resulting in several arrests.

Observant citizens are vital to helping stamp out this kind of crime, said Agnew, who urged residents to report any unusual behavior to his office. The non-emergency number is 556-5349 or call 911.

The Goochland Electoral Board commended Bill Cleveland, the county’s information technology director and Cecil Youngblood, director of buildings and grounds for their assistance in the recent gubernatorial election.

Herb Griffith, Electoral Board secretary especially commended Mark Troy, a member of the information technology staff, for his technical assistance with the preparation, programming and testing of the new electronic poll books. He contended those services place Goochland’s electoral processes far superior to most other jurisdictions.

The board approved an annual legislative agenda that outlines its position on a variety of issues addressed by the general assembly. Those items include support for granting counties the same power to levy excise taxes currently enjoyed by cities and towns.

It also supports excusing rural areas from designating urban growth areas with permitted density at least four times that of surrounding areas. The board needs to understand that higher densities are needed in a few select areas well served by roads and public utilities, which right now means Centerville, to jump start meaningful economic development in the Tuckahoe Creek Service District.

See the board packet on the county website at for details.

The board voted unanimously to refer rezoning of approximately 132 acres on the east side of Oilville Road both north and south of Interstate 64 for rezoning from A-2 and B-2 to B-3, which will could support a hotel, to the planning commission.

A public hearing on the creation of a service district at the Oilville I-64 interchange, to be held on March 2, 2010 was also unanimously approved. The service district plan states that the county will not incur any debt to build wastewater treatment and water supplies until $1 million is contributed by landowners in the district and $14 million of development is in place.
All land in the district must be out of land use, zoned for commercial or retail and be assessed for the ad valorem tax, which is currently estimated at 40 cents per $100 of valuation before the county will consider construction of utility infrastructure. Landowners must donate a lot for the location of the wastewater treatment plant and reimburse the county for construction of an access road to the plant. Also, a plat must be submitted to the county clearly designating about 36 acres on the eastern boundary of the land north of I64 for residential use. This property abuts existing residential property.

A resolution in support of the Oilville actions from the Economic Development Authority was read into the record.

By March, the fate of the Oilville I-64 rest stops should be clear.

The board went into closed session to obtain legal advice concerning the Tuckahoe Creek Service District and certain vendor information. When the board emerged from closed session, Eads announced that the board declined to act on requests to add certain parcels of land to the TCSD. The board has traditionally addressed requests for parcels of land to enter or leave the TCSD at its December meeting. The lack of action may be related to the exhaustive review of the District by county staff currently in process.

During public comment at the start of the meeting and following the closed session concerned parents passionately urged the board not to cut core programs and services out of the school budget.

Several speakers suggested that the board raise the tax rate to cover the expected shortfall caused by declining real estate values. One contended that surrounding jurisdictions have higher tax rates and that a rate in Goochland of up to 67 cents per $100 would not be unreasonable.

These parents seemed to believe that the supervisors are demanding that teachers be fired and core programs, including the gifted center, be eliminated because of the financial downturn.

Why are these intelligent, engaged parents not demanding that the school board protect teacher jobs and core programs and instead address the shortfall by trimming administrative personnel and ancillary services? Why do parents permit themselves to be manipulated by the schools who claim that the only way to deal with expected revenue shortfalls is to eliminate the items that will generate the most outrage?

The school board does not seem to understand that it has an important part in the careful stewardship of tax dollars. Its job is to make sure that the school system spends the money wisely, not just rubberstamp whatever the superintendent wants. There are still a lot of questions about the proposed school budget for fiscal 2011 caused largely by a lack of transparency on the part of the schools.

All Goochland students should receive an education that well prepares them to meet the challenges of the next phase of their lives. Taxpayers, however, should have confidence, currently lacking, that their education tax dollars are spent wisely and well.