Monday, March 29, 2010

Crunch time

Budget hearing on Tuesday, March 30

The annual Goochland County budget process is almost over. A public hearing on the budget for fiscal year 2010-11, which beings on July 1,will be held in the high school auditorium at 7 p.m. March 30.

At this time, the supervisors will listen to citizen comment on the subject. The final vote to set rates for real estate and ad valorem tax and utilities will be taken a the April 6 Board of Supervisors’ meeting, which starts at 3 p.m.

Please try to attend both meetings. The supervisors need to know that large numbers of citizens, who pay taxes and vote, are paying close attention to their actions. If you can’t attend, please visit the county website and take a look at the proposed budget.

The document is well organized and includes a lot of good information about the county, a nice change from past practices. Notice the organization chart that places Goochland citizens at the top. Phone or email your supervisor with comments.

Based on comments made by County Administrator Rebecca T. Dickson at a March 23 workshop, the board seems to be considering either a two or four cent increase in the real estate tax rate and hefty hikes in utility rates, to begin to address shortfalls there.

Bear in mind that, thanks to drastically lower property assessments, an increase in the real estate tax rate will not necessarily mean a larger tax bill.

Most property owners in the county saw their land values fall after the latest reassessments. Other property owners, like those in upscale enclave of Kinloch, actually had increased valuations. In addition to higher real estate tax bills, should the supervisors decided to increase the real estate tax rate, the folks in Kinloch will probably also be hit with higher ad valorem tax and utility rates.

A four cent increase in the tax rate, again this would not necessarily translate into higher tax bills for everyone, would keep county spending pretty much in line with the current fiscal year. Because tax rates run for calendar, rather than fiscal years, this would also put a little extra in the pot to help make up shortfalls for the current fiscal year.

Dickson said that the four-cent option would restore some anticipated reductions in the budget for the Sheriff’s Department and Fire-rescue. There would be no furloughs for anyone involved in public safety.

The four cent option also includes retention of a ten-member planning commission.

While the cost for this is about $6,000, a mere drop in the bucket, there has been no public discussion about the matter, which places it squarely under the cloud of suspicion that obscured county operations for so many years. It is also a small, but perhaps quite telling, indication that the supervisors are sliding back to their old ways of the monkey business approach to conducting the people’s business. What other matters lurk in the shadows?

While most travel for county employees has been eliminated, a $6,000 plus item for travel remains under the supervisors’ budget.

This does show some restraint. They’ll only take their annual junket to the Homestead for the Virginia Association of Counties conference. Any county official who attends this event should make a public report on the meeting sessions attended. If they’re just going to schmooze, it should not be on the taxpayer’s dime. Remember the trip to Hawaii a few years back when we paid for all supervisors, the county administrator and county attorney to attend the National Association of Counties annual conference?

It was disappointing to see Dickson trot out the “if you don’t raise the tax rate, we’ll have to curtail public safety” gambit. If construction is way down, why do we need so many building inspectors, for instance?

Deputies, fire-rescue personnel and teachers, the front line providers for the health, safety and welfare of the citizens, should be at the very bottom of any reduction list.

Then there is the bottomless pit of the school budget. Members of the Goochland Education Parents Association have made several interesting suggestions about school transportation and maintenance (see for details) that the school board has ignored.

Perhaps school bus maintenance should be outsourced to a private company. This would create business opportunities n the county and remove health care costs and pension liabilities from the tax rate equation. Yes, a private contractor would factor those items into its costs, but it would not become an endless albatross around the county’s budget neck. As the school system expands and contracts— yes it happens — there would be no residual benefit liabilities and fewer overall county employees. It could also provide for competition, which could actually lower costs!

Credible arguments can be made for all tax rate options. The supervisors cannot raise the rate more than the four cents advertised.

Some parents advocate even higher rate increases to protect their children’s education. Some taxpayers believe that the 53 cent rate is too high and no further upward adjustments are warranted. Others feel that boosting the rates to generate the same revenues as last year is just about right.

Come listen to the discussion, add your two cents, or just make it clear that you are interested in your local government.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Skeletons emerge

Audit report preview

The long awaited report from KPMG, the auditors hired to take a comprehensive look at the county’s books and those of the school system, is almost finished. The process began last summer and was expected to take several weeks, not most of a year.

A status update that included an overview of the preliminary findings was presented to the supervisors during a March 23 workshop session. The final report will be presented to the supervisors at their May meeting and, according to County Administrator Rebecca T. Dickson, will be posted on the county website in its entirety.

It would seem that Goochland’s books were, up to the start of the current fiscal year, at best, a mess because no one in county administration had the accounting skills needed by a complex governmental organization. Years of slipshod practices condoned by the previous administrator resulted in a cumulative fiscal miasma.

Ron Churchman speaking on behalf of the auditing team reported that as of March 23, there were more than 40 separate and distinct restatements of balances in previous reports that affect every other report. No area was untouched by the restatements. That means they found more than 40 instances when amounts were misreported, put into the wrong place and so on.

Churchman cited many instances where Generally Accepted Accounting Practices (GAAP) were not used. He strongly implied that no one handling county funds had any idea what role GAAP has in public financial management or, for that matter, what it is.

Cash reconciliations were not completed in a timely manner and were as much as six months late.

Items for the TCSD and Economic Development Authority were put into the wrong account. Since the county went to semi-annual tax collection, revenues were consistently misreported, a violation of GAAP, probably simple confusion about what went where.

Perhaps the most troubling information, which is not new, is that the previous auditors used by the county worked on the accounts and audited what they had done. This is the same firm that audited the utilities department for several years and failed to notice blatant inconsistencies there.

Churchman declined to pass judgment on Robinson, Farmer Cox, the firm that handled Goochland accounts for years, something of an irregularity in itself, but said several times, at least once in reply to a question from District 3 supervisor Ned Creasey, that “you shouldn’t audit what you prepare, which was done previously.”

Even if the county’s previous auditors and financial advisors could be held accountable for their actions, it is doubtful that a majority of the supervisors would vote to explore remedies for malpractice. Indeed, they seem more eager to sweep the whole mess under the rug and move forward. The role of the previous county administrator, who must have been responsible for at least part of the mess, will never be investigated either.

Stupid apparently is not criminal. The degree to which the county was mismanaged during the 23-year tenure of the previous county administrator is a grievous breach of public trust. The cavalier attitude of the supervisors who were in office before 2008, especially Pryor, Eads and Quarles and those who control them, is morally reprehensible.

It is hard to say if these supervisors were hoodwinked by the slick persona of the previous administrator, too dumb to figure out what was going on, or full partners in the debacle. We will probably never know.

Taking the supervisors to task for their role in county mismanagement will be left to the voters in November 2011.

Churchman’s comments did not seem to indicate any wrongdoing, beyond pernicious widespread, systemic incompetence and ignorance of proper accounting procedure. Unsaid, but worse, is that no effort was made by the previous county administrator or auditing firm to improve the situation, or even admit that it existed.

The full KPMG report will be presented in May and will include suggestions of corrective action to remedy the shortcomings. One recommendation made by Churchman is that the county must take steps to ensure a much higher level of accounting expertise among financial staff. He offered to assist with employee training efforts in this area.

Why is proper accounting so important?

Accurate accounting provides a concise picture of an organization’s financial situation. This is the most important tool in effective, efficient government. The county must know what its costs and obligations are when tax rates are computed. The level of debt service obligation lets the county know if it can afford to borrow additional funds. Without a very precise picture of the financial situation, planning is a shot in the dark.

Churchman mentioned the failure to list a $9 million TCSD debt as a liability on county books, which resulted in a $4 million decline in net assets for the entity.

When the county entered into a complicated agreement with Capital One and the state in 2001 that involved credits, pass throughs and other financial arrangements, no procedures for properly recording and tracking the new kind of transactions were put in place. The folks doing the books did the best they could, or, did what they were told.

Like mouse manure in a pantry, the fiscal fiasco of the TCSD fouls everything it touches.

Goochland needs highly skilled professionals to clean up the mess and the new management team seems to be off to a good start. Taxpayers have suffered long enough at the hands incompetent employees. It still remains to be seen if the supervisors will permit full disclosure of all the shortcomings or revert to their habit of cover up and hide.

Friday, March 26, 2010

On the job

Sheriff’s office makes arrest

Yesterday, March 25, Goochland Deputies arrested Vernard Jefferson Kirby, 47, of Old River Trail in Powhatan for soliciting sex from a person he believed to be a fourteen year- old Goochland boy.

According to a press release distributed by Goochland Sheriff James L. Agnew, Kirby faces a charge of using a cell phone to solicit oral sex.

The arrest was the culmination of an investigation set in motion when a Goochland citizen delivered a note found under the Rt. 522 Maidens Bridge written by someone soliciting oral sex from “white Goochland boys” to the Sheriff’s office containing several phone numbers.

Goochland deputies began a text message dialog with Kirby and set up a meeting near the Maidens Bridge for the afternoon of March 25.

An undercover Chesterfield County police officer posing as a 14 year-old met Kirby around 4:30 p.m. During the ensuing discussion Kirby “proposed oral sex and other sexual acts.” Deputies arrested Kirby shortly thereafter and transported him to the Goochland Sheriff’s Office and eventually the Henrico Jail where he is being held without bail.

Agnew, deputies and Goochland Commonwealth’s Attorney Claiborne H. Stokes and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Nancy Oglesby, will meet on Friday, March 26 to determine if Kirby’s actions warrant additional charges.

Kirby will appear in Goochland General District Court on Monday, March 29.

This rapid and effective response to a potential threat to our young people is but one example of the effective and comprehensive community protection provided by the Goochland Sheriff’s Department. It is also a good illustration of collaborate between citizens and local law enforcement.

Law enforcement in Goochland is far more complicated than writing traffic “tickets” and catching burglars. We have the same kind of crime that is found in larger jurisdictions and fewer resources to for its prevention. In order to effectively remove bad guys from society, deputies must work closely with the Commonwealth’s Attorney to ensure that charges meet standards set forth by the law while protecting the rights of the accused.

We are fortunate to be served by a Sheriff’s Department that uses innovation to leverage limited resources for the good of the community.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Community participation needed

Census and Google want to hear from you

Many of us move to Goochland to be left alone. We hunker down in our homes, be they starter castles or doublewides and commune with nature, or whatever.

Every once in a while, though, it is mutually beneficial to join others for the good of the community.

Two matters need your participation now.

The first is a countywide initiative to convince Google that Goochland is the place that it should bless with ultra hi-speed internet. To let Google know you want them to bring blazing fast broadband to Goochland, go to the county website and follow the instructions in the center of the page. The deadline is soon, so please do it now.

What are our chances of being selected? Well, it’s a little like the lottery, you can’t win if you don’t buy a ticket. (Apologies to those on my blog notification list, you saw this a few days ago. Thanks for your response.)

The next item is the US Census. Yes, another decade has rolled. Please make sure that you fill out the forms you should have gotten in the mail and return them.

In 2000 Goochland’s rate of census participation was 72 percent. We can do better than that this year. Census data is the basis for all sorts of things from electoral redistricting to distribution of federal funds. (Let’s get as much of that money we all send to Washington back in Goochland.

Census representatives will be present in the County Administration Building from March 19 to April 19, 2:00pm to 5:00pm. They will be located on the main floor near the Board of Supervisors meeting room. Signs will be up, directing citizens to their table for any census questions, concerns, paperwork completion, etc.

This coming Saturday, March 27, the county will be holding an ecycling event from 10 to 2 at the Fairground Building near the Courthouse Commons Shopping Center in Courthouse Village. Clean out your closets and bring your old computers, cell phones and other electronic gadgets, including televisions and multi function copiers. For a complete list see the county website or contact Leigh Dunn at 556-5850 or

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Name calling a poor substitute for thoughtful comment

It’s good to see people jumping passionately into these discussions with a wide range of opinions.

Some of the recent exchanges, though, have gotten a little off the point.

It’s disappointing when people resort to name calling instead of crafting thoughtful rebuttal to opposing viewpoints. Save that for Twitter, please.

Anyone who takes the trouble to articulate a thoughtful comment should be respected, even if you believe the remarks are way off base.

Exclusive association with like-minded people is a good way to ensure that brain rot sets in. Thoughtful opposition provides the opportunity to examine and amplify your positions, or maybe revise them.

Discourse in America is degenerating into sound bites, the verbal equivalent of digital gestures that feel good for an instant but shed little light on the matter at hand.

The problems before us are complex as are remedies. There is no quick fix to anything. Let’s keep the discussion open and civil. We’re all in this together. Sharing ideas while pointing out strong points and flaws can help us find our way through the mine field of life.

Who really pays the freight?


The yin and yang of Goochland is never more apparent than during budget time when everybody wants the other guy to pick up the tab for county services.

While no one really enjoys paying taxes, most of us acknowledge that we have an obligation to put something in the pot for the general good. The rub comes when someone else decides how much the contribution should be and, more important, how it will be spent.

Real estate taxes generate about half of county revenues. The school budget normally gobbles up more than that. All other local government services: law enforcement; fire-rescue (whose costs, thanks to the dedication of our fine volunteers bear little relation to the value of those services); the library (heavily used by everyone but the supervisors); animal control; parks and recreation and the convenience centers are funded by revenue sources including the county’s portion of state sales taxes, fees and so forth i.e. the scraps.

In past years, real estate assessments soared. Beginning in 2007, the land value balloon plummeted. So did county revenue, to an unprecedented degree.

Thanks to a frequently cited piece of fatuous journalism, many folks believe that Goochland is replete with rich folk. While the county does have a generous handful of super-affluent residents including professional athletes, corporate bigwigs and old money, we have many homes with no indoor plumbing and a large number of families whose meager incomes qualify their children for free meals at school.

Whenever a service is curtailed for dearth of funding, someone always wants “those rich people” to pick up the slack.

The rich people already do pick up a big piece of the tab. Those massive expensive homes on the River Road “gold coast” are taxed at full value, while landowners with large tracts of land, many of whom farm for the IRS, are taxed at land use rates.

The justification for land use is that agricultural and forestry endeavors preserve open space and cows don’t need schools. Farmers, land use taxation (LUT) advocates contend, need all the help they can get to keep putting food on the nation’s table at a reasonable cost.

Under current land use, however, only relatively large scale operations are eligible for LUT. Tiny farmsteads, whose products are sold locally, operate on paper thin margins and could really use the break afforded by LUT, are not eligible if they have fewer than five acres. Maybe the rich folk who benefit from LUT should put more into the revenue pot.

A fascinating argument for the elimination of the LUT can be found at under “Hide the Money.” Wat Ellerson has taken considerable time to research the matter and put forth some interesting observations.

The land use tax rate is computed by acre and set by the state each year, currently $220. A nice savings for the landowner, but a definite hit to the tax base.

During budget season, speakers often contend that Goochland has decided that there will be no economic development therefore the tax rate must be set high enough to fund all necessary services. Our rates, they contend, are so much lower than Henrico, whose citizens also enjoy a much wider array of public services.

In actuality, no such decision was ever made because the supervisors are incapable of planning further in the future than lunch.

Had the board in fact decided that there will be little growth in the county and had the courage to tell citizens that the tax rates will be high forever, things would be very different today.

Few of the pesky newcomers who demand good schools, better services and more transparency in government would live here. The high school middle school complex would not have been built. The library would still be crammed into the old bank building. Volunteer firefighters would be using apparatus with faulty brakes.

The problem was that the supervisors, especially the omniscient triumvirate sometimes referred to as the “three Blind Mice” and their controllers, were unable to translate the notion of economic development to enhance the county’s tax base into a workable plan of action. They ignored the need for higher density housing options including townhouses and the dreaded apartments so teachers, deputies and county employees can afford to live where they work and become part of the community.

It’s hard to know if the mess that is the Tuckahoe Creek Service District is the result of abysmal mismanagement or outright sabotage to ensure that Goochland reverts to the times when those who lived here were either very wealthy or dirt poor with the former having absolute control over the latter group.

The distress of the TCSD is the result of poor planning and dreadful execution, not a bad economy.

Those are all discussions for another day. The pressing task of the moment is crafting a budget for the next fiscal year.

The supervisors cannot increase the real estate tax rate more than four cents this year. They need to start thinking hard about next year because real estate values are expected to continue their downward trend.

It will also take years for meaningful economic development initiatives to bear fruit.

Perhaps the county should petition the General Assembly to repeal its exemption of banks from paying personal property tax. This would put more revenues in localities with the stroke of a pen.

In Goochland, Capital One would have to cough up tax revenue on all of its computers, a nice chunk of change. It seems that when the county was bending over backwards assembling incentives to bring Capital One to West Creek someone failed to notice that organization is considered a bank and would therefore pay no personal property taxes. About the only benefit Goochland realized from the advent of Capital One was the completion of Rt. 288, which is a mixed blessing indeed.

Perhaps next year the board should increase the tax rate by 25 or more cents to catch up with funding shortfalls. An increase of this sort should include a cap on the increase in the school budget to ensure that all other county services, those used by most taxpayers, are fully funded for a change.

Public education is a worthy and vital function of local government that will perpetually ask for more. Our current school board and superintendent have done little to forge a bond of trust with citizens that tax dollars are wisely and well spent. Once again they are attempting to extort more money from the board of supervisors with little justification.

The current fiscal crisis should be a wake up call for government leaders at all levels. It is time to prioritize the functions of government and fund them wisely.

In Goochland, the health, safety and welfare must come first. That means law enforcement, fire-rescue and teachers, the front line people who make a difference every day in the lives of all citizens must not be tossed aside as unnecessary expenses.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hard Choices

Painful county budget process continues

At a budget workshop, attended by so few citizens that it could have been a closed meeting, Goochland supervisors listened to entreaties from county departments for funding.

There are no easy choices this year, but the drastic revenue shortfall provides an opportunity for the supervisors to take a fresh look at each government function and prioritize them for the benefit of citizens.

Given the past history of this bunch and the blatant power plays that are a feature of every board meeting, it is doubtful that enough supervisors have the will or intelligence to make changes.

Unlike other departments, County Sheriff James L. Agnew declined to bludgeon the board into a number-induced stupor with charts and graphs.

Off duty deputies and dispatchers attended Agnew’s presentation in uniform. They filled the back rows of the boardroom, mute testimony to the dedication to excellence in public service that they display when they pin a target over their hearts in the form of a badge before going on duty. Much of the work of local law enforcement officers and dispatchers is done out of sight, so it’s easy to overlook or forget the vital role they all play, every day, in keeping everyone in the county safe and secure.

Instead, Agnew reminded the supervisors of the wide array of functions performed by the sheriff’s department, including county dispatch which fields after hour calls for all county departments because it is the only Goochland governmental agency where a person answers the phone 24/7.

Agnew declared that public safety—law enforcement and fire-rescue—the folks who save lives and protect property for every citizen in the entire county all day every day, is the most important function of local government.

Because Goochland dispatch already has a lean staffing policy in place, further cuts, or furloughs will have a negative impact on public safety.

During a major event like bad weather or a large wreck on the interstate, our dispatchers answer 911 calls while simultaneously dispatching responders and documenting all activity. They do it all from a tiny room deep beneath the courthouse complex.

Our deputies do far more than issue traffic tickets, said Agnew. The workload of law enforcement, including apprehension of DUI offenders has risen dramatically in past years. While Goochland is a pretty safe place, gang activity, drugs and the poor economy have increased the law enforcement workload, which, contended Agnew, is a manpower intensive function of government.

He shared anecdotes of recent incidents including a hostage situation that was resolved peacefully and safely because there were enough law enforcement officers on duty nearby. During nighttime shifts, deputies patrol alone, often many miles and too many minutes from back-up.

Bank robbers and other criminals that plague our county have been arrested thanks to the skilled work of our deputies and investigators.

Because all deputy cruisers are equipped with automatic electronic defibrillations, deputies have saved lives by reaching stricken people even before rescue squads could arrive.

Agnew spoke of the recent medical emergency experienced by a deputy. His life was saved, said Anew, because both career and volunteer EMS providers were in the county at work (the volunteers are employed by the county in other capacities). Had they been off on a furlough day, the outcome would have been different, not just for the deputy, but for anyone who needed the assistance. Agnew implored the supervisors not to furlough any EMS providers. To do so will imperil the lives of everyone in the county.

Part of the presentation made by D. E. “Eddie” Ferguson, Jr. Deputy chief-EMS for Goochland fire-rescue addressed the concept of cost recovery, charging for EMS calls, as a way to recoup some of the ever-growing expense of rescue squads.

Ferguson estimated that fire-rescue volunteers currently save the county at least $1,506,546 annually. This number was computed by multiplying the number of on duty rescue hours (81,060)reported and fire call hours (2,637) by an hourly rate of $18. This statistic is extremely conservative.

Ferguson cautioned that, while a cost recovery program, which bills health insurance for EMS calls, could bring in an estimated $400,000 to $650,000 annually, it must be carefully explained, understood and supported by the volunteers and citizens. Ferguson contended that any revenues generated by a cost recovery program be dedicated to volunteer incentives and offsetting some cost of career providers.

Implementation of this process, said Ferguson, will require a coordinated public information campaign to be successful A third party would handle the billing.

Neither Agnew nor Ferguson addressed the economic development aspects of public safety. As Goochland tries to attract businesses large and small to the county, we must be mindful that companies will look elsewhere if they do not believe their customers and employees are adequately served by law enforcement and fire-rescue.

Several other departments discussed their achievements and cost cutting strategies, which included ways to generate revenue, which will probably translate into fees of some sort.

The final presentation was made my school superintended Dr. Linda Underwood. After coming under heavy fire by a large group of uppity parents that dared to question the school budget, Underwood finally offered some justification for the classification of some employees as instructional instead of administrative.

Earlier in the year she stated that, because she has a PhD she is best qualified to decide how school employees should be classified.

Underwood contended that information obtained through a FOIA request and published on a local newspaper website had been changed since publication. She presented, with an attitude as smug as a cat that has swallowed a passel of canaries, the taxonomy of school division accounting codes as required by state law.

These are, in descending order, fund, category, function, object codes, cost centers and program codes.
Part of the confusion was caused, said Underwood, because an account to track grant funded positions had not been created when the FOIA request was made and some grant funded positions were temporarily “parked” into the instruction category.

If this explanation was so simple, why was it not offered in January when the questions about the budget were first raised? Underwood is no fool, so why did it take so long for this set of explanations to surface?

It would be interesting to know just how much all of this state mandated reporting costs school systems. This is more money that spawns bureaucrats instead of educating children.

She did not explain that the school system expends more that $50,000 annually for a person whose main function is to ensure that the schools get only positive mention in the press and only Underwood is quoted. That could be why there has been little mention of drug and gang activity concerns.

Following Underwood’s remarks, school board chairman Raymond Miller, District 2, delivered prepared remarks contending that the school board’s primary task is to hire a superintendent and make sure that student achievement goes up while per pupil cost decreases. He only needed prompting from Underwood once as he declared her competent in both areas.

When Miller and board of supervisors’ chairman William Quarles, Jr. also District 2 smiled at each other in way that indicated they had both consumed large amounts of mouse manure, it became abundantly clear that the rest of the budget show is a sham. The tax rate will increase by four cents, the reign of terror in the schools will continue and Goochland has returned to the good old boy days.

The tax rate increase will benefit only the schools, which normally gobble up more than the county collects in real estate taxes. The rest of the departments, which provide services for all county citizens, not just the 2,100 or so school children, will do the best they can with decreased revenues generated by other sources.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Say what?

Say what?
School board meeting a tangle of contradictions

Beneath a carefully constructed veneer of normalcy, the March 9 Goochland school board meeting was very strange theater with horrible sound.

Once again, the sound system in that technological marvel, the high school auditorium, did little to broadcast the comments of the school board.

While several school board members, especially chairman Ray Miller, District 2, are soft-spoken by nature, the manner in which Jim Haskell, District 1 repeatedly turned away from the microphone while speaking was blatant arrogant contempt for those who would question the actions of the school board. Why is the school board unable to hold a meeting in a venue where the public can hear its deliberations?

The sound was so bad that following the open meeting the school board held a closed session at the front of the auditorium while citizens chatted near the door.

Ignoring a mound of smoking gun allegations about inappropriate actions of superintendant Dr. Linda Underwood, the school board acted as though all is right with the world and the board of supervisors will fund the school budget.

Are they whistling past the graveyard or is there behind the scenes canoodling among members of the school board and supervisors?

Members of the Goochland Education Parents Association (GEPA) raised many issues during the public comment periods.

A recap of the meeting can be found at

These allegations paint a scary picture of dreadful management at best. Underwood seems to be wielding a cudgel of job loss to prevent teachers from having contact with GEPA parents.

Particularly troubling are the suspicions that the school administration took active steps to help drug using students circumvent visits by drug sniffing dogs.

Although Underwood contended that she received only ten minutes’ advanced warning of the drug dog visit, the timing of the airing of the video about those dogs is hard to ignore.

Goochland schools must have a firm, clear, well-articulated anti-drug policy. If that means starting with random unannounced testing of all employees from Underwood down, so be it. Our children must have an environment free of the degenerative effects of substance abuse to achieve their full potential. Sweeping the problem under the rug is not the answer.
Drug use in our schools is not acceptable to any degree. Pretending that it doesn't happen, sets a dangerous precedent. Our kids near clear heads to learn and achieve their maximum potential. (Edited segment SEW)
Underwood put a positive spin on the distribution of letters informing some teachers that they could lose their jobs by reporting that action helped update administration records as to certifications and experience. Shouldn’t one of the many people in central office be doing this on a regular basis?

During a mid-year review, Underwood reported that, while most of the system’s students were doing well and working hard, there were some concerns about progress in the some elementary grades for black and special education students.

The small class sizes in our schools have been a significant factor in the system’s improved results in recent years. Reducing the number of teachers and increasing class sizes will have a negative impact on the students that need small classes, with maximum teacher contact, most.

Teachers from all three county elementary schools report that Goochland schools cannot be equated with those in Henrico’s west end, for instance.

A significant number of Goochland students come from single parent families so busy struggling to survive that there are few resources to reinforce school achievements at home. These kids need more teacher attention, not less, to ensure that they succeed.

A speaker from the Virginia Advanced Study Strategy, an organization that works with school districts to prepare and encourage students to take advanced placement courses in high school. Elimination of the gifted center, another goody in the proposed school budget, removes a proven conduit that prepares students at the elementary level to move toward this achievement at the middle and high school level. Perhaps if the kids in the gifted center didn’t have such uppity parents this program would not have been targeted.

In response to a request from GEPA that Underwood’s performance be reviewed by the school board and the results made public, Miller stated that the school board follows state law and has reviewed Underwood’s performance. He did not say when the last review was performed and declined to comment on the making it public part.

Then school board members turned their attention to the long running farce known as the bus garage. Currently, the bus maintenance facility, located opposite the old football field on Sandy Hook Road, is in a sad state of repair and has been for some time.

Air must be let out of bus tires to get them into the maintenance garage and mechanics often work outside in the elements. Its drain field is failing. It has needed to be replaced for a long time.

For at least eight years, the school board and supervisors have tap danced around the matter, with the county spending at least $250,000 in design fees about three years ago on a central garage that was intended to service all county vehicles. That proposal was abandoned when the estimated cost exceeded $12 million.

Initially, a new bus garage was to be located on the 100 or so acres around the high school/middle school complex. When the supervisors deemed the cost of necessary site work, $600,000, too high, everyone went back to the drawing board.

Last year, the county suggested that a prefabricated metal building be used as a temporary measure in spite of the fact that metal buildings are not permitted in village overlay districts, which includes the existing bus garage.

After the county’s design review committee rejected the metal building unless sheathed with acceptable materials and heavily screened, which would add as much as $100,000 to the cost, the school board is considering vital repairs that would keep the existing facility limping along for another few years.

Very recently, the county has suggested that the bus maintenance function be relocated to the old middle school.
The school board, properly, wants more information before endorsing this proposal. Stay tuned. The bus garage adventure has more twists and turns than the Sopranos!

This should be old news for the school board, the issue was on the table long before Underwood arrived.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Heroes among us

Ordinary people who do extraordinary deeds daily

Goodness filled the lodge at the Cub Scout Camp on March 6 as Goochland’s fire-rescue volunteers gathered for their annual dinner meeting.

These folks are the best of Goochland. Their ranks include Goochland deputies and teachers, people who believe in community service and lead by example. Our volunteers are teenagers and senior citizens. They come from all walks of life and work together to make Goochland a good place to live and work.

Last week, a deputy had a medical emergency. His life was saved on a Wednesday morning because trained EMS providers, career and volunteer, were there and did their usual amazing professional job.

This emergency hit very close to home for the wonderful folks who bring help and comfort on the worst days of our lives. The fact is they do this all the time.

Our volunteers are very matter-of-fact about their service to the community, but without them, there would be many empty seats at Christmas dinner.

Started in 1952 by a group of local young men, many of them veterans, Goochland volunteer fire-rescue has a long, proud history of the most basic kind of community service.

Wayne Allen, interim chief of the department, looked out over the gathering of 228 that included volunteers and family members, recognized long-time members and welcomed young newcomers, the leaders of tomorrow.

Howard Henley, a founding member and past volunteer chief of the department, was recognized along with the other past volunteer chiefs, Tommy Carter, Frank Wise and deputy chief Tucker Hill. Together, they bring more than 250 years of experience to the department and remain actively involved.

Some volunteers in attendance represented third generation members, a phenomenon fast disappearing as new residents shy away from becoming fire-rescue volunteers. Life is busy, but still, our volunteers make time to help others.

They regularly leave their warm beds to go in harm’s way to scrape people off the interstate following nasty wrecks or provide comfort and care to the sick and injured. It’s hard, dangerous work but they do it gladly with skill and grace.

Did you know that in addition to saving lives and fighting fires, our volunteers are often the folks who clear fallen trees from roadways after storms after storms? Did you know that Goochland has an active and well-trained water rescue unit that rescued people stranded by flooding in Richmond and Henrico?

The meeting program listed hours served by each volunteer, a staggering number especially when you understand that most volunteers have families and hold jobs too. The amount of money that our fire-rescue volunteers save county taxpayers is huge but the value of their commitment cannot be measured.

Our volunteers give freely of their time and talents to help their neighbors. It is a vocation, not a job. Citizens are always amazed at the competent and professional quality of the service provided by our volunteers.

Attaining the high level of skill required by Goochland fire-rescue is not easy. Hundreds of hours of professional quality training, the same as that completed by career personnel in neighboring jurisdictions, must be successfully completed to be classified as a basic EMT of firefighter. Continuing education to enhance and maintain skills is mandated training in addition to running calls.

Volunteer night crews often respond to calls in the wee hours of the morning, and go on to put in a full day’s work at their jobs.

The teamwork by the county administrative staff and each of the county’s six volunteer fire-rescue companies at Manakin, Crozier, Centerville, Fife, Courthouse Village and Hadensville is extraordinary and effective.

Our volunteers and deputies work closely and well together dealing with the challenges presented by a long narrow county and limited resources.

Four members of the board of supervisors were in attendance. District 3 supervisor Ned Creasey has a family emergency. County administrator Rebecca T. Dickson was unable to attend due to a previous commitment made before she came to Goochland.

Allen thanked the supervisors for their support of the volunteers.

Courthouse Company 5 received the Chief’s Award for its outstanding on duty record and tradition of service. Having the largest first due territory in Goochland, members of the Company 5 rescue squad responds to many calls, 793 in 2009.

During the deputy’s medical emergency last week, Company 5 volunteers were among the first on scene and played an important part in the proceedings. This what all of our fire-rescue volunteers do every day. They get little credit or recognition for their skillful dedication to the most basic form of public service.

Margaret Heinrich of Centerville and Chris Jones of Courthouse were made life members of the organization.

Service awards for five year milestones were presented as follows:
Five years: Meredith Newton; Melissa Fivecoat; Steve Young; Taylor Richardson; Claude Parrish; Kevin Jones; Ashley Cousins; Joseph Cicero; Michael Reazin; Elizabeth Chenault-Brown; Dorothy Brown; Ty Querry and Kelly Woods.

Ten years: Walter L. Branch, Jr.

Fifteen years: Margaret Heinrich; Michael Burnette and Christopher Jones.

Twenty years: Kenneth Atherholt; William McGuire; Barbara Sensabaugh and Vernon Crumpler.

Twenty-five years: Anthony Trapani, Jr. and John Trent.

Thirty years: Willis Dunn.

Thirty-five years: Dean Dunn.

Forty-five years: Fred T. Carter.

Eddie Ferguson, Jr. Deputy Chief-EMS reported that the Michael G. ”Tink” Sims Scholarship program, established through an anonymous grant to assist fire-rescue volunteers with education leading careers in public service made its first awards.

Our volunteers are our treasure. Join them. Training is free to all members. Call 556-5304 or visit

Friday, March 5, 2010

In like a lion

March board meeting

The Goochland board of supervisors moved toward the county budget deadline at their March 2 meeting. They voted to advertise a proposed property tax rate of 57 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to give themselves some wiggle room, but made it very clear that may not be the adopted tax rate for 2010.

According to state law, the governing board may adopt a tax rate lower than advertised.

During a workshop, held before the meeting, supervisors heard presentations from some county departments outlining their achievements and budget streamlining strategies.

The Department of Community Development, according to its director Don Charles has been reorganized and will include the utilities department, oversight of the county’s two convenience centers and economic development.

Bob Hammond, who ahs been the county director of planning and zoning will retire.

Over the past year or so, said Charles, DCD devoted countless hours and resources sorting out the mess in the public utilities department to enable it to become a self- sustaining enterprise operation.

The DCD has also assumed responsibility for grounds maintenance, which will consolidate personnel and equipment and result in cost savings.

County engineer Gary Duval reported further on the DPU. He stated that Goochland may have the largest wastewater pumping station on the east coast, if not the entire country,to serve about 3,000 customers. The DPU is still searching for undocumented customers.

New meters to prevent water theft will be installed.

Sally Graham, executive director of the Goochland Free Clinic and family Services reported that her organization is busier than ever. GFFS works with county residents who cannot get aid from the Department of Social Services.
Possible approval of health care reform, said Graham, will have no impact on the population that needs the medical and dental services provided by GFFS

The workload of the Department of Animal Control is also rising as resources decline. According to animal control officer Tim Clough, the county has 21,441 human residents and more than 150,000 domestic animals.

Unfunded state mandated documentation increases the workload, said Clough.

Public comment before the afternoon session and evening sessions illustrated the wide disparity of citizen views about the county budget.

Carol Salmon of Maidens said that she is appalled at the arrogant attitude of the school board. She said that even though school enrollment has declined 12.5 percent the school board wants more money every year.

Salmon said that she does not want soccer fields or a recreation department. She does want a department of social services that can help local citizens remain in their homes instead of being forced into nursing homes.
Salmon said she wants full funding for the sheriff’s department and fire-rescue volunteers who show up when they are called and do an amazing, professional job.

Karen Myrick, also of Maidens, repeated her plea to increase the tax rate by at least five cents and perhaps more to ensure that Goochland retains the excellence it has achieved. She urged the board to look for greater economies in operation but, above all, to save teacher jobs.

Jo D. Hosken, a representative of the Goochland Education Parents Association ( was concerned that the supervisors vote to advertise the proposed school budget indicated the school budget has been accepted as presented.

Dickson explained that the school budget can be amended before the final budget is adopted by the supervisors. Dickson also stated that she expects to receive a revised proposed school budget in the next week or so, which should include adjustments resulting from the final state budget numbers.

Hosken said that if the board adopts the proposed budget as presented, it would be a death knell for the jobs of as many as 100 teachers.

Kevin Huff of western Goochland urged the board to retain the 53 cent rate because many people are struggling to make ends meet and cannot afford any extra financial burdens.

Dickson stated that the specifics of the final budget have yet to be determined.

During the afternoon session, Dickson introduced John Wack at the county’s new deputy county administrator and finance director. He has been working as a consultant on the TCSD mess since November.

Herb Griffith announced the new officers of the Goochland electoral board. Following last November’s gubernatorial election that board now consists of two republicans, Griffith as chair, Melinda Sledd, vice chair and Robin Lind, the sole democrat as secretary. Shirley Christian, who was the other democrat, retired after many years of excellent public service.

Griffith told the board that the county’s voting equipment is in excellent condition and the fewest number of people will be used in the 2010 elections, which are expected to be light.

The 2011 election by contract will include state and local candidates and some constitutional amendments.

Goochland Sheriff James L. Agnew reported that his department functioned well in the recent snowfalls and observed that county citizens did their part by staying off the roads or driving more safely than in previous storms.

Agnew pointed out that law enforcement concerns in Goochland are no longer driven by local people and events. A few years ago, when local Muslims held a religious observation in Goochland that included ritual sacrifice of animals, his office was contacted by PETA representatives from Seattle and warned that an animal rights demonstration would take place.

Earlier this week, he was notified that a Kansas based hate group’s list of targets in the Richmond area included the Rudlin Torah Academy in eastern Goochland. Agnew dispatched two deputies to the site to protect the school. No incidents occurred.

Investigator Mike East, who works on computer crimes including identity theft, presented an overview of gang activity in Goochland, another facet of his crime fighting duties.

Currently, said East, local and national gangs, including the Crips, Bloods, Vatos Locas, Sureno 13 and Dogtown gang, have active members in the county. In 2008, there was a gang related drive by shooting in near Centerville. This resulted in arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators who are currently incarcerated.

A happy by product of land clearing near the high school for soccer fields was the elimination of a favorite meeting spot for gang members.

Gang members tend to be involved in sales of illegal drugs and guns. They recruit heavily and start to indoctrinate children at an early age. East showed a photo of local toddlers wearing gang colors. In recent years gangs have migrated to rural areas where it is easier to avoid detection as they continue their criminal activity.

Following a public hearing on a conditional use permit for the Grace Chinese Baptist Church of Richmond to build a church of about 11,900 square feet on an approximately 22 acre parcel of land on the north side of Broad Street Road just west of its intersection with Three Chopt Road (Rt. 612), the supervisors voted to approve the CUP. Conditions include construction of both left and right turn lanes before a certificate of occupancy is issued and replacement of any existing trees on the eastern boundary of the property disturbed during construction.

Supervisors stated that other churches that have been granted CUPs on Broad Street Road were required to build turn lanes as part of initial construction. Comment by church members during the public hearing seemed to indicate that they believed that their church was being singled out for the turn lane requirement.

The supervisors adjourned until March 15, when they will hold another budget workshop.

The proposed budget is available on the county website at