Thursday, January 7, 2010

Welcome to 2010

Highlights of the first supervisors’ meeting

In addition to choosing a new chairman, the board of supervisors started to address issues facing the county in 2010. Their most important is how to determine what services are essential and how to fund them.

County assessor Glenn Branham presented a summary of the latest reassessment of county property. Real estate taxes provide the single largest revenue source for Goochland.

Overall, land values declined by 8.2 percent or $451,043,600. Residential assessments decreased by 7.7 percent. Commercial assessments for 2010 declined by 11.5 percent due to increased vacancy rates, lower rents, difficulty in securing financing and overall negative economic conditions.

According to a reassessment overview distributed by Branham, the county’s commercial tax base is about 15 percent of the total real estate tax base. There are currently 717 commercial properties in the county. Of those 385 are improved and 332 are vacant.

Land use values will not change for 2010. Agricultural land will remain at $220 per acre and forestal at $613. The deadline for applying for land use taxation status for 2010 is February 16, 2010.

Notices of reassessment will be mailed on January 15, 2010 and property owners will have until February 16, 2010 to appeal that assessment.

The supervisors will set the real estate tax rate, currently 53 cents per $100 of valuation, on April 6 and the first half tax payments are due on June 5.

The board’s meeting schedule includes several possible dates for additional meetings to work on the budget. They’ve also built some time before meetings for workshop sessions as needed.

Sheriff Agnew reported that as a result of multijurisdictional cooperation among Goochland, Louisa and Hanover law enforcement, suspects in the rash of break-ins have been arrested and charged with the crimes. He warned that citizens should still be on guard and lock their doors and not leave keys or valuables in vehicles.

Agnew said that, in spite of rewards, there are no leads about the disgusting vandalism of Second Union Baptist Church on Hadensville-Fife Road last fall. Anyone with information about this crime is asked to contact the sheriff’s office at 556-5349 or crimestoppers at 780-1000.

The county faired well in the recent snowstorm thanks to citizens staying home and driving carefully when they did venture out, said Agnew. He said that VDOT got the main roads clear promptly and did as good a job as possible on secondary roads.

D. E. “Eddie” Ferguson, Jr. Deputy Chief-EMS said that Goochland’s fire-rescue volunteers spent hundreds of hours in their stations and responding to emergency calls during the storm. EMS volunteers operated under storm procedures that included deploying four wheel drive winch equipped “brush trucks” with ambulances to deal with unplowed roads and driveways.

Wayne Allen will serve as interim fire-rescue chief until a permanent chief is hired. Ferguson will supervise all fire-rescue personnel who are county employees. Anthony “Tony” Gordon, former Courthouse Company 5 District Chief, will assume the duties of Deputy Chief-operations, a volunteer position. The changes follow the retirement of Ken Brown as fire-rescue chief on December 31.

To accommodate land owners, action on the proposed Oilville pre-zoning and establishment of a utilities service district there has been moved back to the spring.

Needed roof repairs provoked yet another discussion about the fate of the old middle school, which has been vacant since June 2007. The county received some money as part of a class action lawsuit about a portion of the roof.

Suggestions for its future include renovation as a new elementary school, a community center and site for a fire-rescue station in District 2. This is yet another issue that generates much smoke and little light.

County administrator Rebecca T. Dickson offered to include a plan for its use when restored to a useful condition in the next capital improvement plan.

During the citizen comment period preceding the evening public hearing, several parents of students in Goochland schools implored to supervisors to tread lightly when dealing with the school budget.

These parents, mostly of children who attend the gifted center, a rumored target of budget cuts, offered some tasty food for thought.

Jo D. Hosken suggested that the board enact a temporary auxiliary land tax of $25 per acre for the next three years. She contended that this would generate sufficient revenue to cover the expected shortfall in the school budget.

Hosken said that school parents will not support elected officials who do not support a school budget that funds essentials.

“You opened this box, now it’s time to think outside it,” she said.

Temporary taxes have a nasty habit of becoming permanent, like the temporary tax levied on phone use to fund the Spanish-American War in 1898 that was only eliminated a few years ago.

More important, because Virginia operates under the Dillon Rule, localities only have the powers given to them by the General Assembly. The state folk guard their power to tax carefully and the supervisors are not able to add new methods of taxation at will.

While there may well be ample justification for an upward adjustment in the real estate tax rate this year, there is just not enough available information about what is essential and what is fluff to make that call just yet.

Carolyn Elliott asked the board to videotape its meetings and put them on the internet for people unable to attend. Supervisors’ meetings are recorded and CDs of the meetings are available for a modest fee from the county.

It would be nice if school board meetings were at least recorded for those unable to attend. While the school board does post minutes of their meetings, they tend to be brief summaries of the proceedings and do not record verbatim statements of those present. As the board room in the administration building is set up to record meetings, it would make a lot of sense for school board meetings to be held there.

Elliott observed that the $3 million the board recently loaned the Tuckahoe Creek Service District to build a water line extension entirely in Henrico County is a bit more than the $2.9 million the school system was asked to cut from its budget.

“It would have been nice to have had that money available for the schools,” said Elliott.

Although the $3 million will be repaid to the county’s general fund, with interest, and the money will be used for capital costs rather than operating expenses, her comments were on target.

Elliott said that a 15 percent reduction of the school budget is more than the system can sustain. She supports cutting wasteful spending and implementing economies of scale including the combination of county and school employees in the same health insurance plan.

She also said that she had been pleased to notice some supervisors attending school board meetings and commended Dickson for her the prompt and helpful response to some earlier questions.

“This is change,” said Elliott.

Elliott characterized moving the required date for approval of the school budget to the end of January from December 31, “when it was approved in the dead of night just before Christmas” as a step in the right direction.

The meeting also marked the departure of Barbra Rose, who served as interim county attorney since early summer. Ms. Rose gracefully applied her broad knowledge of law and procedure to Goochland government at a time when it was badly needed.


Anonymous said...

Great summary Sandie.

My comment has to do with the parents whose children attend the "gifted center."

When things are tight, or when you have an emergency situation the cardinal rule is 'greatest good for the greatest number.' When you let special interest groups get special consideration, you're headed down the path of no return - that's why our country is going broke.

If the kids are gifted and the parent feels they need something extra then educate them at home or send them to a private school. It's not up to the rest of us to support a minority, when the most important obligation is to the community as a whole.

Kristin said...

Great summary! Thank you.

To Anonymous -- your statements could be said word for word for special education students. If you need additional or different instruction -- go to private school. Yet few of us have the luxary to afford that individually. And federal mandates require our schools to provide an education for all students. (like it or not . . . I am aware of the burden this puts on school systems)

The parents of students at the gifted center have certainly been most vocal, and I think it's a shame. Every student in the county is affected by this, and I want parents to stand up! We don't want ANY teachers cut, whether for special ed, regular curriculum, or gifted. Certainly not while there are other viable alternatives, of which I strongly believe there are.

Hope to see you tonight.