Thursday, March 31, 2011

In the ghetto

Painful budget hearing

The chickens spawned by decades of malevolent dysfunctional management of Goochland County government have come home to roost and they are defecating all over the Board of Supervisors.
At the March 29 annual public hearing on the proposed county budget for fiscal 2011-12, citizens castigated the board for fiscal woes on several different fronts. The hearing was held in the high school auditorium and the supervisors brought their own sound system. Unlike school board meetings held in the same space, the proceedings were easy to hear from the back of the room.
The final vote on the county budget for fiscal year 2011-12 will be held at the 7 p.m. session of the April 5 supervisors’ meeting in the board room of the county administration building at 1800 Sandy Hook road in Courthouse Village.
From newcomers in the east end protesting steep increases in both water and sewer rates and the ad valorem tax levied on property in the Tuckahoe Creek Service District (TCSD) to parents from all over the county begging the supervisors to fund a flat school budget, people are mad and frustrated .
This does not bode well for incumbent supervisors seeking reelection and makes you wonder why anyone would want the job with its exorbitant $1,000 monthly stipend.
After at least two years of drastic declines in property values that generated fewer taxes, patience with the remedies for the shortfalls seems to be running out in some quarters.
County utility rates will increase again this year. Ad valorem taxes for property owners in the TCSD and James River Estates are also expected to rise. Due to an error in the advertisement of those rates, another public hearing will be held on April 5.
County administrator Rebecca Dickson explained that the increases are needed to work toward making county utilities self- supporting, a change from the creative accounting methods used previously for county utilities. Currently, those operating costs are supplemented by the county’s general fund. There has never been any money set aside for maintenance and upkeep either. She said that rates are expected to be increased for the next five years. This is yet more evidence of the incompetent management practiced by the previous regime. The rates in the TCSD also take the $21.1 million obligation to the City of Richmond into account, which were intended to be increased incrementally from the outset.
Dickson said that the rate structure will be evaluated each year. As new users are added to the system, the largest on the horizon being the West Creek Medical Center, the numbers could change.
Residents of Kinloch and the Parke at Centerville, both located in and served by the TCSD, protested the utility rate and ad valorem tax increase. One speaker complained that she was unaware of the ad valorem tax until she closed on her home. She said that the tax added $100 per month to her house payment. It is not the county’s fault that this person did not know about the ad valorem tax. Information about county tax rates has been on the county website,, for years.
A Kinloch resident declared that the TCSD is a water ghetto. He maintained that the extra tax, which makes his total property tax bill relatively comparable Henrico with none of the benefits, has devalued his property for every purpose except computing the extra tax and made it impossible to sell.
Several of these speakers seemed to believe that the TCSD debt, which is well over $100 million and whose interest is back loaded, will be paid by the 1,100 users of the system. Following a break in the session County Administrator Rebecca Dickson explained that in a numerological quirk, there are 1,100 Goochland utility customers, both on the TCSD and county systems, and 1,100 parcels of land in the TCSD. Dickson said that the ad valorem tax is levied on and paid by all land owners in the TCSD whether or not they are connected to the system. That land, she said, is valued around $700 million. Other users of TCSD services include: CarMax headquarters in West Creek; the 623 Landfill; industrial users along Ashland Road; Brookview Shopping Center and businesses in Centerville.
One Kinloch resident castigated the board for its lack of action on the economic development front, while it instead frittered away county resources on the persecution of a local business owner. He expressed the frustration of many TCSD landowners with the supervisors whose efforts to get information about the issues are responded to with “CONDESCENDING LECTURES, FINGER POINTING, AND OBFUSCATION.” He also raised the hope that the board would have different faces after November’s election.
Several TCSD speakers demanded that the entire county be required to pay off the TCSD debt because the “those who benefit from the TCSD will pay for it” puts an unfair burden on some landowners for the benefit of the whole county.
A resident of the upper end contended that she has no opportunity to connect to public utilities, no access to high speed internet and must drive long distances for daily needs and should not pay for the TCSD.
The bonds may be structured in such a way that prohibits spreading debt service to the entire county.
The lack of any coherent economic development plan or strategy was decried by many speakers. Indeed, the whole budget process has clearly illustrated that expectations of delivery of services by the county, including school funding, have risen far faster than the county’s ability to fund them. Even before the downturn it was clearly evident that the TCSD was dead in the water.
Although the initial strategy of “if you build it they will come” soon proved false, the majority of supervisors have shown little interest in marketing the TCSD, which is often referred to as the county’s economic engine, but in reality is the little engine that couldn’t.
Dickson explained that the county is on the verge of hiring a consultant to craft an economic development strategy. Michael McDermott of Maidens observed creation of that plan will take more time than Eisenhower needed to plan the D-Day invasion. An economic development plan and strategy should have been in place ten years ago while the TCSD was still in the talking stage and adjusted as conditions changed.
Many parents and a few students made heartfelt pleas for the supervisors to fund a budget flat with the current fiscal year. At hearing time, the school board’s proposed budget was still about $1.2 million more than money generated by all real estate taxes collected by Goochland County.
It’s too late to raise the real estate tax rate, but the supervisors could take more money from fund balance, essentially the county’s piggy bank, to make up the difference. Since the school board has repeatedly ignored requests from the supervisors for detailed budget information, it is somewhat doubtful that will happen. The board and taxpayers need lots of assurance that any extra appropriations will be used for teachers and programs not to fund more arrogant administrators.
It was good to see so many people take time to attend the hearing and comment on the budget. Unfortunately, many of those comments also displayed a great deal of ignorance. People are busy and a lot of these matters are “inside baseball” but still, there was an overall theme of “I want my thing and everyone else should pay for it.”
This budget mess must change. Regardless of who comprises the Board of Supervisors and School Board in 2012, realistic and detailed information about the school budget must be available for citizens to see. Both boards must come together for the good of all. Many speakers at the hearing mentioned the impact of good schools on property values. Taxpayers are willing to support good schools but need to feel confident that public funds are being used for teachers and students.
We need a coherent and aggressive economic development plant because even the most frugal budget based on mostly residential real estate taxes will not be adequate to pay for the services the citizens expect.
Hopefully, this unrest will translate into meaningful change after this November’s election.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Important notice

The Goochland Board of Supervisors' public hearing on the proposed budget for fiscal year 2012, which begins on July 1, 2011, has been moved. it will be held tonight, March 29, 2011 in the high school auditorium on River Road West beginning at 7 p.m.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

March madness

Of basketball and budgets

It’s that time of year again. We’re getting close to the final showdown. No, not to determine who will win the national basketball crown — go Rams, bring it home and kudos to the Spiders — but how the county budget battle will end.
The Goochland Board of Supervisors will vote on the tax rates for 2011 at its April 5 meeting. Next Tuesday, March 29, evening there will be a public hearing at 7 p.m. to listen to citizen comment on the proposed budget.
As usual the School Board and Supervisors are battling the amount of money that will be devoted to education. Last fall, the school system was notified of the approximate amount it could expect from the county. (The county school budget is typically a little more than the amount of revenue generated by the real estate tax.)
Instead of preparing a budget with that amount, the schools are requesting about $1.4 million than expected revenues. This year’s struggle, which is filled with inflammatory allegations, is more bizarre than ever. If you need a visit to the Twilight Zone, attend a school board meeting.
The fiscal 2011-12 proposed budget (see the county website for details) indicates that real estate taxes are expected to generate approximately $21.1 million, about 54 percent of the budget. Money to fund every other local government function comes from other sources, which have also declined.
While the school system threw its annual funding tantrum, other county departments sharpened their pencils and looked for ways to do their jobs with fewer resources.
On March 14 and 21 the supervisors had workshops to hear from county departments and the challenges they face in the coming fiscal year, which begins on July 1. This is the third consecutive year of fiscal austerity.
Following are comments about some of the presentations.
Several department heads reported that they are managing to do their jobs with reduced resources but cautioned that in the not too distant future they will be unable to continue to operate effectively without an increase in funding.
Sheriff James Agnew began his presentation by telling the supervisors about attending the funerals of two Buchannan County deputies who were recently killed in the line of duty. Agnew said that he was deeply moved by the profound respect the citizens had for their law enforcement officers and said that he believes the citizens of Goochland hold his officers in equally high regard.
Deputies and dispatchers are different from other government employees.
“We work 24/7 365 days a year,” said Agnew. “There are no holidays or snow days. We often miss family occasions and the danger we face is very real.”
He explained that law enforcement has critical needs that mean the difference between safe and unsafe for law enforcement officers and the public.
Goochland deputies normally patrol solo. Sometimes, the nearest officer on duty is at the other end of the country. Stretching the manpower too far could have dire consequences. Bullets travel faster than backup.
Agnew thanked the board for its support and said that he is mindful of the economic challenges faced by the county.
“Equipment, patrol cars and uniforms do not define the Sheriff’s Office,” said Agnew. “Integrity, hard work, dedication and service to the community do define who we are”
Agnew gestured to the uniformed deputies and dispatchers who filled the back of the board room and said that they personify those values. “These are the resources that matter to me and are absolutely necessary for the safety of our county.”
Training is vital to prepare for the wide range of situations that are part of law enforcement. Agnew explained that his department takes advantage of training offered by state and national agencies at little or no cost. In the past year, these training opportunities included a course sponsored by the Drug Enforcement Agency at Quantico to learn about dealing with meth labs. They also took training to help deal with citizens with Alzheimer’s disease.
Agnew shared the most memorable calls as described by deputies.
One deputy bought gas for people on their way to Charlottesville with money out of his own pocket.
Another ran into a field full of livestock at dusk to rescue a little boy who wandered away from home. Another recalled seeing a boy walking with an older person in a manner that raised concerns. After inquiring, the deputy learned that the boy had run away from home and helped return him to his family.
A call from a person who was concerned that a friend had taken an overdose and could not be located resulted in an effective collaboration between a deputy and dispatcher. They worked together to use a cell phone signal to find the person and probably save a life. In that case, the deputy was alone, late at night and anxious to positively resolve the situation.
Agnew said that his greatest concern about the budget is the failure to fund five additional deputy positions. He contended that the West Creek Medical Center, which is expected to open next year, will bring an influx of people in stressful situations. Incidents there will mean fewer deputies available to patrol the rest of the county.
Events surrounding the resignation of the treasurer in February threw a major monkey wrench in the county finances as employees from several departments, including the Sheriff’s, pulled together to serve citizens keep things running in the midst of a criminal investigation.
Bill Cleveland, the county Director of Information Technology, reported that his department is in good shape right now, but that many computers are nearing the end of their useful life and will need to be replaced at some time in the future.
He also explained that the county website is not as flashy those of other jurisdictions because many county residents have only dial-up connectivity to the internet. Cleveland also said that the information available on the county website, which gets approximately 2,000 hits per month, is constantly growing. Citizens are able to download applications and obtain information without a trip to the administration building.
In 2010, Goochland County’s website content was ranked fourth in the state. Cleveland said that the county check register, which was added to the website a few years ago, gets between 80 and 100 hits per month and generates about entries. According to Cleveland, the county received 800,000 emails last year, about 30 percent of which were spam and there were 480,000 inbound phone calls.
The Department of Community Development is expected to add an economic development director in fiscal 2012. The Department of Finance hopes to add a part-time CPA. The Clerk of the Court asked that a position lost last year be reinstated because the workload in the department, much of which is mandated by the state, has not been reduced.
As proposed, the budget contains funding for five rather than the current ten members on the planning commission. The board discussed this change a little. The cost savings are about $9,600, and will vote on that matter at its April meeting.
Restoring a full schedule at the convenience centers will cost about $76,000. Trash volume increased about 17 percent in the past year. The supervisors seemed more concerned about this than restoration of a 60 hour weekly library schedule, which would cost only $35,684. Could that be because the only five people in the county who do not use the library are the supervisors?
The board seemed impressed with the parks and rec presentation but bored with numbers from the library. Are we moving toward a midnight basketball mentality that perpetuates an ignorant underclass of people who are thwarted in attempts to enhance their God given intelligence and guided toward government sponsored playtime instead?
Affluent library patrons will find their books and information elsewhere. Economically challenged citizens who use the library for intellectual enrichment are most harmed by shortened library hours. Many people use the computers at the library to search for jobs.
District 1 supervisor Andrew Pryor seemed quite agitated about the school budget at the close of the March 21 session. Could election year pressures be starting to build at the upper end of the county? No matter how much money the schools get, they will always want more.
Budget decisions are hard in very lean years and tricky in election years like 2011. The supervisors have the duty to spend public money wisely and the opportunity to redefine how our government operates so it will be better prepared to function well in the future.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Textbook public hearing

Belleview Gardens defines civic engagement

The Goochland County Planning Commission unanimously recommended denial of an application filed by Goodwill Industries to rezone land currently designated R-1 residential to B-2, business limited at its Thursday, March 17 meeting.

Located just north of Broad Street Road and east of Rt. 288, the property in question consists of four lots, two with frontage on Broad Street Road, the other two front Mills Road.

Goodwill wants to build a 17,450 square foot building, whose height would not exceed 40 feet, for “retail and related uses” there. The application includes two access points to a 78 space parking lot from Mills Road and one exit onto westbound Broad Street Road. The county ordinance for B-2 zoning, however, says that the maximum height permitted in that land use classification is 35 feet.

Counsel for Goodwill James Theobald explained that, even though Goodwill is a non-profit organization, it would pay real estate, ad valorem (it’s in the Tuckahoe Creek Service District) and sales taxes to Goochland County.

This all sounds great, the only problem is that it’s in the wrong place.

Mills Road is the sole access to Belleview Gardens, a community of about 37 mostly new and upscale homes. About seven years ago, the subdivision, which was originally platted in the 1950’s but had many lots that failed to perc, was rezoned to permit smaller lots served by water and sewer.

In the interim, the county’s comprehensive land use plan, a purposely nebulous document, which can be used to support or refute any land use change, was updated. The last revision left unchanged a designation of the land west of Rt. 288 north of Broad Street Road for flexible use, which is not intended for homes.

It’s pretty clear that in the latest review of the comp plan the new and improved Belleview Gardens was overlooked. The supervisors pledged to revisit the comp plan between the mandatory five-year reviews and make changes to reflect actual conditions. Belleview Gardens would be a good place to start.

Currently, Belleview Gardens is a peaceful and private enclave with a convenient location. It also sits between Broad Street Road and a large tract of raw land whose value would be enhanced by access to Broad Street Road through Mills Road.

When the residents of Belleview Gardens learned of the pending rezoning application they organized and took action. Some retained attorneys.

Although the public hearing on the rezoning matter had been advertised, Goodwill requested a deferral to the next scheduled meeting of the Planning Commission on May 19. In spite of notification of the request for deferral, Belleview Gardens residents filled the board meeting room and convinced the commission to hear the case. They were well prepared.

Planning Commission chair James Melton, District 2 permitted public comment on the deferral request before the commission voted 8-2 to hear the case that night. Bob Rich, District 4 and James Atkinson, District 1 cast the dissenting votes.

There were contentions that the owners of the lots in question planned to amend the restrictive covenants and remove that land from Belleview Gardens if the hearing was delayed.

Some speakers discussed the consequences of the pending Goodwill rezoning application on their lives and property values. They made it quite clear that the proposed rezoning has adverse consequences for homeowners in Belleview Gardens.

Other speakers contended that Goodwill had ample time to prepare for the public hearing and there were no new issues to address. Any delay would only exacerbate the anguish of homeowners.

Principal planner Tom Coleman presented an overview of the application. He said that the planning staff believes that Goodwill needs to offer more protection for Belleview Gardens and reduce the impact of its facility on that community. He offered no suggestions about achieving those goals.

District 3 Commissioner Bill Neal asked if the two lots fronting Broad Street Road, which were reduced in size when that road was widened about eight years ago, were large enough to be built on as a stand alone project, Coleman replied that he did not know.

Questioning by Neal and Eugene Bryce District 1 revealed that there may be some interest in developing the large parcel of land north of Belleview Gardens, which is currently zoned for agricultural use. Coleman said that land could be split into by right divisions without rezoning and that Mills Road could provide access to Broad Street Road.

Neal then asked why Goodwill was seeking B-2 zoning. Coleman said that B-2 is a “less intense” use than B-1.

Undaunted, Neal contended that B-2 uses are intended for neighborhood scale shops. A 17,450 square foot Goodwill facility does not fit B-2 criteria.

Courtney Hyers, District 1 waded in to support Neal’s argument by adding that B-2 zoning, which excludes odors, dust, large vehicles and long hours of operation, is inconsistent with the proposed Goodwill facility.

James Theobald, counsel for Goodwill, said that the B-2 zoning was selected on the advice of the Goochland planning staff.

Neal asked if any of the “room full of folks” on the planning staff with whom Theobald conferred believed that the proposed location was a conflict. Theobald said “no.”

Theobald explained the planned facility will be a retail operation that also accepts donations of used items for resale. Of the proposed building’s 17,450 square feet, 11,000 square feet will be used for retail purposes and the remainder will be used for offices. Hours will be from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. The facility is expected to have between 12 and 15 full time employees.

Only one daily truck delivery is anticipated, said Theobald and the exit onto westbound Broad Street Road is intended to reduce traffic on Mills Road. The proposed facility is expected to generate about 500 vehicle trips per day for customers and people dropping off items.

Goodwill was attracted to the site, said Theobald, because of its location on the corner of a main road with proximity to Interstate 64 and Rt. 288 with a daily traffic count of approximately 11,000 vehicles. The 2.8 acre parcel is served by public water and sewer and was available at an acceptable price, which was not disclosed.

Theobald characterized contentions that Goodwill employs convicted sex offenders and felons as slander. The organization provides jobs and keeps unwanted items out of landfills, he said.

During the public hearing, which lasted about 90 minutes, about 25 people spoke. Each made thoughtful, civil comments about the proposal.

A recoding of the meeting is available on the county website It is well worth the time to listen to the this public hearing. Every comment presented on behalf of Belleview Gardens was thoughtful, well articulated and covered a different facet of the situation.

The proposed Goodwill facility is far too large an entity to “shoehorn” onto a modest two-lane road at the entrance to a neighborhood. It will be in line of sight of at least two homes and no amount of fancy landscaping will be able to mitigate that intrusion.

If the people who own the land behind Belleview Gardens want access to Broad Street Road, they need to build their own road.

This entire episode seems to have been the result of a lot of bamboozling. In recent years, the four lots in question were purchased by the same individual operating under different limited liability corporations.

While it is unrealistic for the residents of Belleview Gardens to expect that there will be no commercial development on land fronting on Broad Street Road near Mills Road, development there should be of a scale appropriate to the entrance to a neighborhood.

This application is very troubling. The premise that locating a large retail operation — an upscale store would be just as objectionable — is appropriate for the entrance to a subdivision with no regard for its impact on the property values of nearby homeowners seems contrary to good planning practices.

Goochland needs economic development, but not at the expense of our citizens. There are many parcels of land for sale that could suit Goodwill’s purpose as well as the Mills Road property. Goodwill cited an acceptable land price as one reason for its interest in the Mills Road land. The cost to our citizens in this case, is just too high.

Friday, March 18, 2011


According to Paws Inn owner Debbie Gibson and her attorney, Goochland Circuit Court Judge Timothy K. Sanner initally granted Goochland County's motion to nonsuit with prejudice, but later ammeded that to without prejudice.

Hopefully, the county will let this sleeping dog lie and move on to more pressing matters.

Sorry for the confusion.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Paws Inn can stay

After more than a decade of legal wrangling, Goochland County withdrew it latest litigation against the Paws Inn kennel in Centerville.

On Tuesday, March 15, 2011 Goochland Circuit Court Judge Timothy K. Sanner granted a motion by the county to non- suit its current case against Paws Inn that would have essentially closed the business. The action was taken “with prejudice,” which means that the suit cannot be brought again.

Depositions in the matter given by current and former county employees on February 18 seem to have undermined the county’s contention that Paws Inn violated zoning laws.

Comments made during court proceedings seemed to indicate that a former county employee told the truth, the whole truth and then some under oath while being deposed on February 18, 2011. Statements made by other individuals that same day seem to have, as Judge Sanner put it, “tanked” the county’s case. Counsel for Goochland County carefully avoided revelation of specifics of those depositions in open court.

A motion made by Paws Inn counsel to sanction the county to pay legal fees incurred by Paws Inn owner Debbie Gibson was denied.

At issue, allegedly, was whether or not the kennel is permitted to be located on one acre in a B-1 zoning district.

Over the years the county contended that it had no knowledge that Gibson planned to open a boarding kennel, even though she obtained building and health department permits from the county.

At one point, the county claimed that the zoning administrator had made a mistake by approving the Paws Inn and that did not bind the county to allow Paws Inn to continue operation.

By all accounts, Gibson runs a successful business with many satisfied customers. Goochland has way too few businesses so the maneuvers to make Gibson shut her doors are all the more puzzling.

There have been complaints of barking dog noise, escaped animals and so forth. One acre on Plaza Drive, regardless of zoning laws, is an unlikely location for a kennel. Gibson has testified on numerous occasions that she was guided to that site by county planning officials.

More sinister motives behind the county’s relentless persecution of Gibson are unrelated to barking dogs.

The Paws Inn property is located near Interstate 64 and utility lines. It is also on the edge of several other parcels that could be combined to provide a site for a larger business. Some have speculated that there may have been plans to locate a hotel there, if only that pesky Paws Inn would go away. Forcing Gibson out of business could have made her eager to sell the property for a depressed price just to get out from under.

Had the county been proactive, it would have worked to match Gibson with another landowner with property in a place more suitable for a kennel and helped to broker some sort of swap. Then the county would have solid evidence that it is pro business.

Instead, those with power and influence seem to have worked behind the scenes to drive Gibson out of business.

Using its customary ham-fisted approach to this matter, the county is left with egg dripping down its chin, again.

The county’s handling of this matter has much larger implications. Why would anyone in their right mind want to open a small business in a place that treats people like Paws Inn?

Lawyers representing Goochland and county employees were doing what they were told. It is still unclear who is behind the curtain pulling the strings on this puppet show.

Hopefully, this chapter is not only closed, but one of the last illustrations of the embarrassing and unethical behavior that has come to be identified with Goochland County.

To the gentle reader who classified GOMM as an idiot for not being sensitive to discomfort of living behind a kennel, where were you when all of the property lining Plaza Drive was rezoned for business? What would you do if your livelihood was threatened so someone could make a buck?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Important Information

Redistricting meetings

Goochland County has published the schedule for community meetings to explain proposed changes in electoral redistricting. This could include changes in precinct boundaries and polling places.

Preliminary figures from the 2010 census indicate that Districts 2 and 5 have more than the ideal number of voters to ensure equal representation for all voters. This will mean that district boundaries will need to be adjusted.

The meetings will all begin at 7 p.m. The basic content of the meetings will be the same, but each is expected to address matters pertaining to the district in which it is held. More details about the census and redistricting are available on the county website for your review.

Please plan to attend at least one meeting.

The schedule, which is also posted on the county website is:

District 1:
March 22, 2001 at County Line Baptist Church, which is located at 4070 County Line Road.
March 24, 2011 at the Fife Company 4 Fire-
Rescue Station, which is located at 2397 Hadensville-Fife Road.

District 2:
March 30, 2011 at the Goochland Recreation Center, which is located at 2415 Sandy Hook Road.

District 3
April 6, 2011 in the board meeting room of the county administration building at 1800 Sandy Hook Road in Courthouse Village.

District 4
March 28, 2011 at Randolph Elementary School, which is located at 1552 Sheppardtown Road.

District 5
April 7, 2011 at the Manakin Company 1 Fire-Rescue Station at 180 River Road West.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

In like a lamb

March Board meeting

The March 1 meeting of the Goochland Board of Supervisors was relatively free of drama. Following the stunning revelations about the former Treasurer just after last month’s meeting, a return to the perpetual budget angst was a relaxing change.
One troublesome development was a personal attack on a supervisor made during the citizen comment period. These remarks were beyond the scope of good taste and completely unacceptable. To be useful, public discourse must remain civil. Citizen comment period is not the place to perfect stand- up comedy routines but rather an opportunity to address matters of concern regardless of the agenda.
The Tuckahoe Creek Service District (TCSD) continues to be a toothache. The supervisors unanimously authorized County Administrator Rebecca T. Dickson to execute a contract for a sewer line on Hockett Road, which is on the south side of Broad Street Road in the Centerville area. This utility work will be paid for with county funds under the capital improvement plan, a departure from past practices.
Owners of property on the north side of Broad Street Road expressed dismay that they were not informed of this work and the change in county policy. The supervisors approved using about $220,000 for this project last year.
Under the previous regime, all TCSD property owners were expected to pay construction costs for utility line extensions and did so at a dear cost. The issue of easements was also a source of extreme heartburn and is believed to have been exacerbated by vague language in the original ordinance. The county is expected to address deficiencies in TCSD ordinance later this year.
The county and supervisors need to do a better job of keeping all TCSD landowners informed of policy changes. District 4 supervisor Rudy Butler said that the TCSD needs customers and the county needs to do what it can to attract customers. Goochland’s history of failing to collaborate with all TCSD property owners since its inception created a miasma of distrust that will be hard to dispel. It’s past time to bury all of those hatchets and move forward for everyone’s benefit.
Board Chair William Quarles, Jr. District 2 is to be commended for recusing himself from the public hearing on a conditional use permit for Dominion Virginia Power to build a substation on Rockville Road to avoid conflict of interest. Quarles recently retired from Dominion.
The item matter of greatest concern to all county citizens is the upcoming redistricting necessitated by population changes as recorded by the 2010 census. The initial numbers were received in early February. An overview of the redistricting plan is available in part a of the March Board packet, which is available at the county website on the supervisors’ page.
The numbers show that districts 1,3 and 4 have fewer than the ideal 4,343 citizens per district and districts 2 and 5 have more. To ensure as even a representation of citizens as possible, district lines will probably be changed in the next few months and voters may cast their ballots at precincts different than those used in the past.
A series of six meetings, to be held at locations throughout the county between March 24 and April 7, are planned to discuss and explain the redistricting process. Basic information about redistricting and proposed boundary and precinct changes will be presented at each meeting. Supervisors are expected to attend the meetings in their Districts as only they can explain how boundaries will be moved. The goal of the Goochland redistricting team, which is comprised of representatives from county staff, the electoral board, the county registrar and the school board, is to relocate as few voters as possible.
Every change must be approved by the US Department of Justice under the Voting Rights Act. To further complicate matters, we have local elections this November, so there is little time to work through this important process. Once Goochland has a plan in place, it must be approved by the Virginia General Assembly before moving on to the federal government.
Postcards announcing the redistricting meeting schedule will be mailed by the county in the next few weeks. Please keep an eye out for them and make every attempt to attend one of these sessions. Voting is the most important duty of a citizen and we must all pay attention to the electoral process to safeguard our way of government.
The supervisors will hold a work session at 1 p.m. on Monday, March 14.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Dollars and sense

Budget follies continue

Linda Underwood was right. The Goochland board of supervisors did, for all practical purposes, set the 2011 tax rates at their Tuesday, March 1 meeting. The tax rate to be advertised in coming weeks remains at 53 cents per $100 of assessed valuation the same as last year even though county revenues are expected to decline further from their 2010 levels.
The supervisors have backed themselves into a tight fiscal corner. Worse, they’ve made a mockery of their supposed conversion to governmental transparency. Several budget workshops on the capital improvement plan are scheduled for March as is the formal public hearing on the budget.
These are all window dressing because the only change they can make to tax rate when the official vote is taken on April 5 is to approve an even lower rate. Although there are opportunities for the public to express opinions on the prosed budget, the vote to advertise the 53 cent rate signals that it is a done deal.
In previous years, the supervisors have advertised a higher rate than that which they eventually adopted providing a little eleventh hour wiggle room.
The proposed budget for fiscal year 2011-12, which begins on July 1, 2011, is available on the county website Please take some time to review this document. It contains a great deal of interesting and useful information.
The proposed school budget, which was not based on expected revenues, is not so easy to find. The supervisors complained that they found the school budget documents submitted to them was difficult to understand and not organized by line item. The proposed school budget is not prominently displayed on the school website
Both citizen comment periods included advocates and detractors of a tax rate increase. Parents of children in county schools implored the supervisors to fully fund the proposed school budget, which requests more than $1 million more than expected revenues from the 53 cent rate.
Wayne Allen, a lifelong fire-rescue volunteer, told the board that the proposed fire-rescue budget would force volunteers , who already devote a huge amount of time to training and responding to calls, to spend even more time raising money to fund their respective fire-rescue companies. He voiced concern about the lack of contingency funding for unforeseen emergencies.
Another speaker contended that Goochland spends about $11,000 per student, which should be enough to fund an acceptable level of education. That seems to be a reasonable statement, but unless you’re a school budget wonk, it’s hard to know if that is so. Goochland’s school system is relatively small, about 2,000 students, so economies of scale that help larger systems like Henrico or Chesterfield are not applicable here.
Other department heads seemed resigned to function on shriveled budgets.
Little consideration seems to have been given to the possible impact of soaring gasoline prices on county operations. Are we going to return to the bad old days when the supervisors approved a budget that seemed fiscally prudent on the surface but when a department ran low on dollars, made supplemental appropriations to keep things running?
Perhaps this draconian budget will be the two by four that gets the board to seriously consider investigating options for legal remedies to recover the cost of the county’s fiscal dysfunction from the former auditing firm.
Recovering at the least the cost of the 2009 Comprehensive Annual financial Report (CAFR) and the $424,000 the county was forced to expend to understand its own utility system would slow the financial bleeding in the FY 2012 budget. However, any additional revenues that flow into county coffers must be expended proportionally, not given exclusively to the school system.
Once again, the lack of a coherent economic development plan was brought into sharp relief by the budget. As the incredible shrinking budget degrades county service levels attracting the kind of economic development needed to pull Goochland out of its fiscal dilemma becomes less possible.