Friday, August 20, 2010

Don't stop thinking about tomorrow

Commission on the future revisited

District 4 planning commissioner Bob Rich revisited the Report issued by the Commission on the Future, which he chaired, on its fifteenth anniversary at the August 3 meeting of the Goochland Board of Supervisors.

Created at the urging of the late District 5 supervisor Eva Foster, the Report, crafted by a wide range of Goochland citizens, was a clear agenda for moving Goochland into the 21st century. (A copy of the Report is available at the Goochland library in the historical reference section to the left as you enter the main library entrance.)

Commission members were drawn from every part of the county and all walks of life. Additional citizens served as task force volunteers and addressed several arenas of concern for the county. These were: economic development; education; government; leisure services; public safety; utilities and human services.

The Report makes fascinating reading. Some of the goals have been achieved, some ignored, others, including meaningful economic development, have been so badly botched the results would be comical were they not so important to the county’s future.

Painting a beautiful picture the vision statement says: “In the year 2010, Goochland County is a community of which all its citizens can be justifiably proud. We have a cooperative alliance of public citizens and elected officials whose implementation plan for orderly growth has preserved the rural character of the County while maintaining the fiscal integrity of its government. We have a superior school system, kept pace with the growing demands of public safety and provided citizens with the opportunity for compassionate care and leisure time activities such that Goochland County is an enviable place for its citizens to live, work and enjoy life.”

Some of the goals, like a paid fire-rescue chief, are in place. The excellence of our school system may be in the eye of the beholder, but is far better than it was in 1995. Economic development might as well be a phrase in Urdu for all of the attention or understanding it gets from the supervisors.

Each category was examined separately. While this provided a snapshot of major facets of our community, it failed to address the importance of their interconnectedness.

Economic development, the source of funding for the Commission’s worthy goals, was treated as though it was in place and assumed that education, law enforcement, fire-rescue and utilities would have ever increasing funding.

When the Report was written, the Motorola chip to be built in the West Creek office park was just over the horizon. Everyone assumed this plant would fill county coffers and act as a magnet for additional investment in Goochland. The future was bright, but there was no Plan B and stuff happens.

Unfortunately, those oft counted chickens never hatched. The good news is that the county is not stuck with a white elephant manufacturing plant. The bad news is that West Creek looks more like a nature preserve than an economic engine, although the two are not mutually exclusive, and the county is scrambling to find new revenue sources.

While Motorola never came, the completion of Rt. 288 as a four lane limited access road brought eastern Goochland closer to all portions of the Richmond metro area providing a different set of possibilities. The Report’s generic warnings about growth pressures in eastern Goochland became all too true as “beautiful downtown Short Pump” morphed from ironic comment to bounteous reality.

The most cautionary comment is in the Report’s executive summary that recognizes a need to move beyond “personal preferences, individual differences and past ways of doing business” by means of a “cooperative effort between the citizens, their elected representatives and county officials” to create a “sense of total community spirit” to fulfill the destiny of Goochland.

Until the loose thread of stale checks in the utility department began to unravel the fabric of stranglehold by a few individuals on county government and policy there was no chance that such cooperation would materialize. Now there is hope and change has begun.

There is still much to be done.

Goochland needs a comprehensive county wide utilities plan more now than in 1995. The Report was the first formal mention of transforming the county government system to one with a county manager eliminating the elected Treasurer and Commissioner of the Revenue. This matter comes to the fore every few years and crawls back under the table after meaningless discussion on the part of the supervisors.

By state law, the county’s form of government cannot be changed without public hearings and approval by voters in a ballot referendum.

The Report envisioned an excellent school system with “cost efficient management and cost effective facilities.” We still have no clue if the schools have cost effective management and taxpayers need a greater degree of trust that their money is being well spent for education, which is a worthy use of public funds.

As to facilities; not too long after the Report was issued, there was a movement for a new high school/middle school complex. During one session of public comment on the subject Andrew Pryor District 1, who was not convinced of the need for a new high school, asked for the number of children in the third grade. He applied the drop out rate, which was abysmally high at the time, licked his pencil, carried the two and declared that, given the number of third graders and drop out rate, there would be plenty of room in the high school for years to come. Oddly, no one gasped when the drop out rate was mentioned.

Current Board chair William Quarles Jr. should recall the discussion because his God daughter made eloquent remarks in support of a new school.

It is long past time for Goochland elementary school to be replaced. Aside from school system needs, GES would be an ideal location for a community center and provide eventual expansion room for county administration. Economic conditions will prevent this from happening in the near future, and band aid solutions will cost more in the long run than building a new elementary school a few years ago.

The Report urges increasing availability of natural gas in the county. Although several natural gas pipelines traverse Goochland, only one subdivision is connected. If the county had any say in the location of these pipelines, why didn’t it insist that landowners be able to tap into them? Has anyone investigated locating a natural gas electricity cogeneration plant here?

Going forward, lack of broadband options for a large portion of Goochland is of greater concern than natural gas. When the Report was issued, the internet was in its infancy. This is an area where local government’s role should be that of a catalyst to create an environment that attracts private sector investment rather than becoming an ISP with tax dollars.

One goal that Rich said he never thought would come to pass was an additional James River access point for recreation. The nascent Tucker Park at Maidens Landing proved him wrong.

Paul Drumwright of the county staff ( has been charged with compiling a list of unmet Report goals and adding new ones. He will Report back to the supervisors later in the year with his findings.

As we near the end of the first decade of the new century, it is definitely time to put on the face of Janus and simultaneously look back and forward to figure out how we got off course, where we need to go and, more importantly, how to get there.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The answer is the Board of Supervisors and certain citizens have used their influence and power to try and limit growth in ways that would protect their interests, and to satisfy a small number of citizens who espouse a drawbridge mentality of we are here and we do not want to see anyone else live in Goochland.