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.


Anonymous said...

The not-so-veiled threats from Underwood and now Dickson are more of the same old garbage we've been getting from government at all levels for years: "If you taxpayers don't pony up more, we're going to cut public safety/education/the military/ whatever" but never the unnecessary or simply annoying functions that government has assumed, such as the guy who kills development because it might inconvenience a snail darter.

It's reminiscent of the stories they used to tell us in Naval ROTC about how the Air Force builds its bases. First, you build the Officers Club, then the golf course, then the NCO clubs, etc., until at the very end you build the air field. That way, if the project goes over budget, congress wouldn't dare deny additional funding to finish the air field.

Anonymous said...

IF the BOS plans to fund Underwood's budget as-is, then I will withdraw my child from the Goochland public schools because I don't want her sitting in a classroom with too many students to be taught successfully by the too-few, demoralized teachers who will remain after Underwood fires their peers.

What if 100 --or a 1000-- parents realized that their child's best option would be home-schooling, and we all notified the BOS of our intention BEFORE April 6?

If the Goochland citizens only sent, for example, 70% of the student body back to school, then how could the county justify funding Underwood's budget?

Perhaps this is the only way left to the citizenry to effectively veto Underwood's wrong-headed budget. Should so many students announce withdrawal from the schools, then the #s wouldn't justify paying the salaries of the extra layers of administration that Underwood refuses to eliminate.

The options for parents of school children are grim. We can watch the BOS first fund a school budget that reduces our children's education & then raise our taxes. Or we can try desperate measures, such as threatening to shrink Underwood's kingdom to a little school system with a fraction of the students it once had. After the fat layer of the administration melts or slinks away, then with luck we'll get someone smart at the helm to beg the same teachers to return.

Anonymous said...

Everybody wants to blame government.

But who elects the government?

Who therefore deserves the blame? Did you vote for the incumbent school board member in your district in the last election?

What to do about it?

Send a message. Vote out ALL incumbents.

There is no short term solution. Our elected school board supports the Superintendant and they can keep her in position until we decide to vote them out. They can even renew her contract just before they leave at the end of their terms to provide one last present to their constituents. Forget Underwood; she's a hired gun, here for the duration. She reports to the school board.

The question is - how many parents who are unhappy with the current conditions are calling on the school board?