Wednesday, April 28, 2010

At long last May!

Come cultivate your local roots

May seemed impossibly far in the future as we watched the snow fall in January and February but it begins on Saturday..

There are lots of local activities on tap to help you feel part of the Goochland Community.

On Friday night, the Goochland Drive-In located just of Interstate 64 in Hadensville will feature a retro night with Planet of the Apes and Saturday Night Fever. Visit www. for a full schedule.

Saturday marks the start of the Goochland Farmers Market on the grounds of historic Grace Episcopal Church in the heart of Courthouse Village. The GFM will feature its wonderful selection of vendors, live music and wonderful atmosphere. Visit A new addition will be a booth sponsored by the Goochland Historical Society offering its wonderful calendars, featuring local photographs, and other publications for sale. Stop by and find out more about this information that is working to preserve the unique essence of Goochland. Pick up a flyer for the oral history program and sign up to have your recollections of the county recorded in your own words.

In addition, the Historical Society Headquarters located just south of Parrish Ford on River Road West, will hold an open house.

From 11-4 on the old football field behind the administration building, the Goochland Spring Festival will feature a classic car show sponsored by Jerusalem Baptist Church; the Goochland Fire-Rescue “fire house” exhibit where kids can try their hand at working a real fire hose; lots of activities for children and the county’s largest yard sale.

The Friends of the Goochland Branch Library, a very worthwhile organization, will sponsor a book sale inside the old high school gym lobby. This is a great place to buy inexpensive books to take to the beach and help the great group that funds library programs at the same time.

Goochland CASA will be selling raffle tickets for a beautiful hand made quilt at a dollar each.

Other groups will sponsor informational booths and there will be vendors galore!

Come connect with Goochland and grow your own roots. For more information visit the county website at

Rural character

Skills for self -reliance

Many people contend that they moved to Goochland for its rural character, a complicated concept.

One facet of rural character is the self-reliance of those who live a bit off the beaten path. That can take many forms, but in the most basic sense it means taking care of your household and pitching in to help neighbors in need.

For the most part, Central Virginia has moderate weather. Last winter was, hopefully, an aberration. Sometimes, however, our weather can be dangerous. Remember Hurricane Isabel in 2003? In a few short hours the beautiful trees that line our roads and dot the landscape became effective power line removal tools.

Along River Road trees and power lines were twisted into deadly heaps that took power crews many long days to untangle.

Did you take the lessons of Isabel to heart and stock up with supplies for days and maybe weeks without power? Once life got back to normal, did you give any thought to learning a few basic survival skills just in case?

Hazardous material spills that could occur on Interstate 64, Rt. 288 or the CSX tracks trace the James River on our southern border also pose a threat to our safety.

What exactly would you do if the power stayed off for months? What would you do if even more trees blocked roads so badly that first responders were unable to reach you for days?

Are you prepared to shelter in place for three days where you are right now?

How up to date are your first aid skills? Would you even have a clue how to help someone out from under a collapsed building if there was no one else to help?

Citizen Emergency Response Team (CERT) training includes lessons on all of those skills and a few more.

The CERT concept originated in earthquake prone Japan and was adopted by Californians, who also feel the earth move on a regular basis.

Following the 911 attacks, interest in CERT moved east and became part of the Citizen Corps movement.

Goochland’s Citizen Corps was formed in 2004 and sponsored by the county’s Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC). Many Citizen Corps members completed CERT training and help out during times of emergency.

Some Citizen Corps members have also completed additional training in operation of emergency shelters. They help man the county’s emergency shelter at the high school when it is opened to help those forced from their homes by bad weather or other adverse conditions.

An important component of Goochland’s emergency response capability is our local amateur radio group. They work closely with county emergency management officials to ensure that Goochland not lose touch. Radios and power supplies, funded by grants, have been deployed to each of the county’s six fire-rescue stations to be used by designated operators in emergency situations.

A four session CERT class will begin on Thursday June 3 at the Henley Fire-Rescue Training Center in Maidens. Two classes will meet on Thursday evenings and two Saturday sessions comprised of hands on practical exercises are part of the class.

Skills taught in the CERT class include: making a disaster kit; how to perform simple search and rescue; how to use a fire extinguisher; how to perform basic first aid;, how to work as a team during an emergency and how to help someone who is emotionally upset by the disaster.

Call 556-5304 for more information or to register.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

On the goodness of America

Jim Agnew submitted this wonderful tribute to his late nephew.
This is a reminder of the caliber of the people who guard our freedoms and the true meaning of the word "patriot."

Please take a moment to read this and offer a prayer for those in harm's way on our behalf and those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our way of life. - SEW

A Tribute to Zach

On Monday, April 12, my niece, Sarah, received a call that all military spouses and family members dread. Her beloved husband, Ensign Zachary Eckhart, was missing as a result of a Navy plane crash in the mountains of northern Georgia. Navy officials told Sarah about 9:30 that night that Zach’s plane had crashed in rugged terrain. She learned that three servicemen were confirmed dead and one was missing.

As family members received the news, we prayed fervently and searched the internet for any information about the crash, all of us holding onto the remote chance that Zach, somehow, had survived.

Unfortunately, we learned the next day that all four aviators had perished in the T-39 aircraft based at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. Sarah, married for a scant 18 months to the love of her life, was devastated by the news.

Zach was an ensign in the United States Navy and he was nearing the end of his Naval Flight Officer training at Pensacola. From the time he was a little boy, Zach wanted to be a Navy flier like his dad, Brad, a retired navy commander. Zach knew what he wanted in life and pursued it aggressively. After high school, Zach enrolled at Virginia Tech where he majored in aerospace engineering and marched with the Highty-Tighties, the regimental band of the Corps of Cadets at Virginia Tech. He excelled in his studies and as a leader in the Corps. He also met a fine young lady named Sarah, whom he later married in a beautiful ceremony at the War Memorial Chapel along the drill field at Tech.

On that gorgeous southwest Virginia fall Saturday, I had the pleasure of witnessing the union of two very fine young people in a simple, yet majestic military wedding. I was struck by the camaraderie of their friends, those who had endured the rigors of the cadet corps. They proudly wore their uniforms, some still in the uncomfortable looking cadet dress blues and others, recently graduated, in the uniforms of all of our armed services. I was struck, too, by the memorial to the seven VA Tech graduates who had won the Medal of Honor, an enormous number from one school. There was no doubt in my mind that Zach would uphold the honor of the Corps of Cadets and the names of those seven men on the wall of the chapel.

On the following Friday, we gathered with Sarah again, this time at the base chapel in Pensacola to say goodbye to Zach and the other three men who perished on the T-39. Family members and friends from around the country; Navy, Marine and Air Force aviators; and all the members of Zach’s squadron gathered to honor the memories of these fine men and to give solace to one another. Retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles McDaniel, Marine Capt. Jason Paynter, and Marine Lt. Shawn Nice also gave their lives in the accident.

Navy and Marine speakers at the memorial service reminded us that members of our armed forces are incredibly stoic about the dangers they face. While their mission is perilous, their job is to complete that mission despite the dangers, despite the arduous hours, despite the toll on family relationships, and despite the distance from home. The assembled family members were stoic too; at least until a formation of Navy jets flew over us as a bugler finished “Taps”. When one of the aircraft peeled off in the missing man formation, we gasped simultaneously, and most wept openly.

While I feel a deep and intense sadness over Zach’s death, I know that he understood and accepted the risks of defending us, and I am greatly encouraged about the future of our country. The men and women I met in Pensacola are the very best the United States has to offer. It was an honor to have been in the presence of such fine, dedicated, and highly motivated patriots, people who consistently put themselves in harm’s way to defend the freedoms that so many of us take for granted.

My heart grieves for Sarah and Zach’s family, but I am comforted that so many young American men and women are willing to serve us. They and their families deserve our unending prayers and our undying support and respect.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The new normal

Following many months of warnings that money would be tight for the foreseeable future, comments at the April 13 school board meeting indicated that county education administration is finally going to “look” at ways to economize.

Following the adoption of the county budget for fiscal year 2010-11, the school system was told that it must identify additional budget reductions to the tune of $317,099 and present them at the June Board of Supervisors’ meeting.

For a full recap visit Andrew Meng, District 4, was not present.

The recognition period at the start of the session provided a reminder of what the whole enterprise is about — the kids.

Perhaps school superintendent Dr. Linda Underwood is required by law to formally notify the school board of the supervisors’ budget action. Her remarks sounded as though she believed that the school board had been out of town, on Mars for instance, and had no knowledge of the vote on the tax rate prior to the April 13 meeting.

In fact, Underwood and the board acted as though the budget process was a bad dream , best forgotten.

Board chair Raymond Miller, District 2, reported on the drubbing he took from certain supervisors following an eleventh hour plea for full funding of the proposed school budget. He also recommended that, in the future, the schools should prepare a contingency budget if requested to do so by the supervisors within the confines of the law.

Underwood said that the school system has hired consultants to find ways to economize on energy use and that sometimes “you have to spend money to save money.”

Perhaps they could start with on/off switches.

On Sunday, February 28, for instance, all of the computers in the high school media center were turned on, turning the electric meter. Could no one turn the computers off on Friday afternoon and start them up on Monday morning?

Why do school board meetings need to be held in the high school auditorium with all of the lights on? Surely there is a more modest space that could be used for these meetings that rarely draw more than 30 people.

This is one more indication that Underwood did not, as prudent practice would seem to dictate, examine all school system expenditures and identify ways to economize. The school board should have at least asked if Underwood sought energy saving strategies when she complained about the high cost of electric in her budget. This would have been more effective than spreading rumors that popular programs would be cut to enrage rather than engage parents.

In addition to saving precious dollars, wasting energy is contrary to lessons about “being green” and sends a mixed message to students.

Assistant superintendent Gretz and faculty member Grace Creasey presented the proposed school calendar for 2010-11. They worked with a group comprised of parents and teachers to provide a thoughtful approach to scheduling the needs of students, families and faculty.

Why was the school administration as a whole not able to sit down with parents and work through a school budget in the same manner?

For all of the arrogant pronouncements that school administration knows best what needs to be funded, the budget process was conducted with so much obfuscation that it is hard to believe that much thought was given to any item beyond that which administration wanted.

Greater inclusion of any parents, including those pesky GEPA folk who tend to ask detailed and embarrassing questions, could well have resulted in a budget that better serves both the students and taxpayers.

Underwood and the school board act as though they successfully whistled past the graveyard and it’s back to business as usual. Perhaps it will be. Attendance at the meeting was abysmal. It will be interesting to see if entreaties to post proposed changes in the bus schedule, such as staggered pick up times, on the school website will bear fruit. It’s also time for greater inclusion of all parents in the school budget process.

It is the school board’s job to work with the supervisors. Relations between the two boards could be better. The arrogant conduct of the school board weaves a web of suspicion about school funding instead of building bonds of trust with the supervisors and community.

Both boards should use this budget crisis to find common ground and work together for the benefit of the community.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Dealing with reality

Zero property tax rate increase

The budget process is over. At their April 6 meeting, Goochland’s supervisors voted to keep the real estate property tax rate at 53 cents per $100 of valuation. The Board also voted to remove $800,000 from the county reserves to ease the pain of shortfalls.

During the discussions leading up to the vote, county administrator Rebecca T. Dickson indicated that the county’s reserves, which were about $25 million in FY 2008-09, are now less than $14 million. Dipping into the fund balance in hard time is not good fiscal policy. However, had our reserves not been drained by abysmal management, the county would have been in better shape to weather this storm.

The board did raise the ad valorem tax for land in the Tuckahoe Creek Service District four cents per $100. That levy is expected to be hiked every year for the next few years to ensure that the county can meet its debt service obligations.

Water and sewer rates were increased, especially those in the TCSD. This painful but necessary measure will begin to address a $21.3 million dollar obligation to the City of Richmond for wastewater treatment, an item that sort of appeared on the books during the recent audit.

A $30 processing fee will be levied on delinquent taxpayers who fail to contact the treasurer’s office and make alternate payments agreements before the due date. The county is eager to work with taxpayers in these difficult times.

Both the county and school system must identify additional cuts to their proposed budgets. Those details will be presented to the supervisors at the June meeting to be implemented at the start of the next fiscal year on July 1.

District 1 supervisor Andrew Pryor made a motion to increase the tax rate to 57 cents, which was seconded by District 2 board member William Quarles, Jr. who is currently chairman. In a rare show of unity, the three supervisors who ran as Republicans voted to hold the rate steady.

During recent months, and at the April 6 meeting, many people spoke out against a tax rate increase. Most of them seem to live in Districts 1 and 2, which tends to be the least affluent part of Goochland. Yet, their supervisors ignored the pleas of their constituents and voted for higher taxes.

Pryor said that, although no one likes to raise taxes, he hated to penalize the county’s excellent sheriff’s department, outstanding fire-rescue and schools by further budget reductions.

The board can, however, choose not to impose further public safety cuts. It must give citizen safety priority over less critical functions of government.

Rudy Butler, District 4 adamantly opposed an increase in the real estate tax rate because at least 350 homeowners in his district were facing four different rate and tax increases thanks to the utility mess.

“We’re not going to get out of this by cutting or taxing, “said Butler. “We’ve got to grow our way out.”

The board also voted 3-2 to retain a ten member planning commission with Butler and Ned Creasey, District 3 in dissent. Jim Eads, District 5 and Quarles contended that a large planning commission provides opportunities to include greater number of people in county service.

Interestingly, the board voted against adding two alternates to the board of zoning appeals to avoid tie votes if a member was unable to attend a hearing. A tie vote at a BZA hearing upholds the county side of the dispute.

At the start of the meeting, school board chairman Raymond Miller, District 2, presented another set of strange numbers in an eleventh hour attempt to justify the proposed school system budget. If the numbers are so clear and compelling, why were they not introduced earlier in the budget process?

Following the March 30 budget hearing, a formal request was made to the superintendent Dr. Linda Underwood for a detailed breakdown of a multimillion line item in the school budget for salary and benefits related to instruction. No mention was made if it was received by the supervisors.

Although it was an optical illusion, as Underwood assisted Miller in setting up his presentation, it looked as though she was going to slip her hand inside the back of his jacket as though operating a puppet.

Miller said that the proposed school budget was supported by 99.9 percent of the constituents.

Let’s see, there are about 20,000 people in the county. Subtract the 2,000 or so inmates at the local Department of Corrections facilities and you’ve got about 18,000. One tenth of one percent of that number is 18. GEPA has a petition signed by several hundred citizens. If Miller’s math skills are that bad it’s no wonder the school budget is such a mess.

He also told the board that the school budget was crafted with “the participation of all those who had the desire to participate.” Once again, he dismissed the careful, thoughtful and constructive input that GEPA provided. The school regime apparently only acknowledges “participation” as groveling agreement with any statement issuing from the mouths of the anointed ones.

Miller contended that the cost per pupil in Goochland is lower than those in most surrounding jurisdictions.

Butler pointed out that Miller’s figures, unlike those of our neighbors, do not include capital costs. When capital costs are included, contended Eads, Goochland spends more per pupil than any nearby jurisdiction except for the City of Richmond.

The final proposed school budget did not include removal of any of the admnistrative positions that GEPA ( contends are less necessary than classroom teachers.

If these positions are so vital to the school system, a few declarative sentences about the purpose and value of each job in question would have given the school system argument some credibility.

Eads also took Miller and the school board to task for failure to prepare a contingency budget that trimmed $2.9 million. Speaking for himself, Eads said that he has zero confidence in the manner in which the school board spends its money.

Miller then arrogantly threw the budget in the lap of the supervisors trying to lay the blame for cuts at their feet. (When it is available, please download and listen to the recording of this meeting. It will be on the county website at under the board of supervisors’ section.)

Apparently, the school board defines negotiation as total abdication by its opponents. Some supervisors indicated that they might have been persuaded to vote for some tax rate increase had the schools thinned the herd in the central office as a show of good faith.

The arrogant disdain in which Underwood and the school board have held GEPA and its specific constructive criticisms of the school budget is outrageous. Apparently, there is little that anyone can do to keep this bunch in line.

Fiscal year 2010-11 will be a challenging time for Goochland government and schools. The choices facing the supervisors this year were awful. Next year, when all local officials will stand for reelection, will be worse.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Coming events of note

Spring is here — time for fun stuff!

The snow is gone, the sun is high and everything is in bloom. Gesundheit!

Three events warrant your consideration this month.

The Goochland Republican Women will host Kate Obenshain at its meeting on Friday, April 9 at 11 a.m. at the Manakin Company 1 fire-rescue station on Rt. 6. She will speak about 'The Importance of Leading Women in the Conservative Movement.'

Obenshain is a conservative commentator (Fox News and others), Vice President of the Young America's Foundation and former chairwoman, Republican Party of Virginia

On Saturday April 24, Goochland CASA is holding its second annual Goochland 5K in West Creek. Walkers are also welcome in this fun and worthy event to raise funds for the Goochland Court Appointed Special Advocates.

This organization provides trained volunteers who serve as the eyes and ears of juvenile court in cases involving children caught in the maze of the court and child welfare system. CASA volunteers, appointed by the Juvenile Court, gather information about the child and their living conditions and prepare reports to help the judge determine the best outcome for the child. Without CASA volunteers, children have no voice in legal proceedings affecting their lives.

Donations and sponsorships are also welcome. Make checks payable to Goochland CASA and send to P O Box 910, Goochland VA 23063.

Registration fees are modest, no more than $25 for an adult on race day. Race registration begins at 6:30 a.m. at the Farm Bureau headquarters in West Creek. The race begins at 8 a.m.

Call Geri Venable, Goochland CASA at 556-5876 or race coordinator Rob Astrop at 833-5732 for more information. Register online at or

For the “dirt under the fingernails” crowd, the annual Spring Garden Fest, sponsored by the Goochland-Powhatan Master Gardeners will also be held on April 24 at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Goochland Courthouse.

Garden Fest offers a fascinating selection of classes and workshops that include worm composting; container gardening; basic organic gardening; rail barrels; landscaping with edible plants and many more.

For complete information and to register, visit

If you can’t stay for the whole day, stop by to shop at the interesting array of vendors. Plants grown by JSRCC students and GPMGA members will also be offered for sale. These plants are an amazing value and expect to find items not offered in local garden centers.

All of these activities provide an opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones to grow our community!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The budget hearing

A slice of life in Goochland

The annual Goochland County budget hearing was a snapshot of the unique character of Goochland replete with homespun wisdom. Citizens from all parts of the socioeconomic spectrum commented about the proposed budget and tax hikes.

Unlike past years when crowds of parents and school children pleaded and demanded that their taxes be increased and school budget be fully funded, the 2010 hearing message was “don’t raise the tax rate.”

The high school auditorium was less than half full, a good indication that most citizens believe that little has changed in county government and the budget is a done deal completed behind closed doors.

We did learn that it is possible for that sound system, also used during school board meetings, to be adjusted so everyone in the room can hear what is going on. This is more evidence of the deplorable conduct of our school board.

The school board and superintendent Dr. Linda Underwood sat together in arrogant aloof disdain for the proceedings.

It was evident that many speakers failed to do their homework by their uninformed comments. Thanks to an effort in governmental transparency, the county’s check register, budget documents and recordings of past meetings are on the county website ( for citizen review.

Speakers who blather on about themselves or matters unrelated to the topic at hand only waste time and embarrass themselves.

Nevertheless, those that attended made some fascinating comments.

Jason Chavis equated the revenue shortfall resulting from plummeting real estate assessments with a good dose of castor oil for bloated county and especially school budgets, which he likened to a fat cow.

Michael Carter, holding a sleeping child in his arms as he spoke, who urged the board to make up the shortfall from the general fund. He quoted scripture and contended that the county’s problems were the result of its wicked ways. He has undoubtedly been following reports of the county audit and school budget.

His comments did raise the question of just how much is in the county’s general fund. County administrator Rebecca T. Dickson said that the county still does not know exactly how much is in the general fund but estimated it at about $15 million. What???

After most of year’s worth of auditors examining all county fiscal affairs, it seems as though there may still be additional outstanding financial obligations that never found their way on to the county’s books.

The Goochland Parents Education Association (GEPA) made careful, observations. Visit their excellent website for an overview of the hearing.

According to GEPA speakers, school superintendent Dr. Linda Underwood ignored repeated requests for detailed information about recent internal changes in the school budget resulting from the finalization of the state budget.

District 3 supervisor Ned Creasey asked Dickson to request a line item breakdown of the instruction category portion of the school budget, which describes a $17 million item simply as “salaries and benefits.”

In spite of all the budget kabuki in recent months, the exchange between board of supervisors chairman William Quarles, Jr. and school board chairman Ray Miller, both of District 2 at the March 23 workshop, made it clear that a deal of some sort has been struck on the school budget.

The outrageous disregard of Underwood and the school board for the genuine concern of GEPA about working with school officials for the benefit of the children and fiscal health of the county will haunt them for many years.

The value of a large, motivated and involved cohort of parents to the excellence of a school system is significant. Not only are Underwood and the school board ignoring this, they are attempting to punish parents for asking embarrassing questions. You’d think they would be eager to explain things if there were on the up and up.

Underwood’s current reign of terror and her “the beatings will continue until morale improves” management style will bear poisonous fruit. What good educator would consider working in a system that puts teachers at the bottom of its priority list in hard times?

Doug Pruiett said that people who work in the private sector have been dealing with a significant decrease in their standard of living for several years. Goochland County government, he said, is just beginning to appreciate the struggle that many of its taxpayers face by learning to live with less and grow stronger in the effort. He contended that it is time for the county to learn to be innovative in order to be successful.

Wendy Hobbs said simply that people are not getting any raises and cannot afford any more taxes.

Anne Rockecharlie said that because the county has done such a poor job of stewardship of public money, according to the auditors’ report, it does not deserve more tax money.

In addition to the property tax rate, fee increases and consolidations will be voted on at the Tuesday, April 6 board meeting.

Also, changes in water and sewer rates and the ad valorem tax rate for the Tuckahoe Creek Service District were on the table.

Hefty rate increases in TCSD user rates are needed to make up for a dearth of users in order to meet debt obligations to the City of Richmond. Planned rate increases that should have been imposed ever year since the inception of the TCSD were not implemented.

The two options presented by Dickson were for a two or four cent increase to the tax rate. Several speakers blasted the notion that an increase in the tax rate really isn’t a tax increase because most property tax bills would still be smaller than last year.

Rudy Butler, District 4, said that at least 231 homes in the TCSD will be hit with three other tax rates and he will not vote for a property tax rate hike.

Dickson did not present a zero increase option but hinted darkly, in a way disappointingly reminiscent of Underwood, that more drastic cuts would be needed if the rate remains at 53 cents per $100.

The supervisors could also raid the general fund to make up shortfalls. This is not a sound practice in normal times. However, the general fund has contributed generously to the TCSD (motto those who benefit from the TCSD will pay for it,) so may it’s time for the taxpayers to get some benefit for their money.

Tuesday, April 6 is decision time. No matter what the supervisors do, some people will be mad.