Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Odds and ends

Another “smart growth” session will be held at the Company 3 Fire-Rescue station at 52 Broad Street Road in Centerville on Wednesday, April 27 from 7 to 9 p.m.

This program, the third on the Goochland Village series, will focus on balancing rural conservation and economic development as well as community design goals and processes.

Sponsored by the Partnership for Smarter Growth, the event will include remarks by Goochland County Administrator Rebecca Dickson; Dan Holmes, director of state policy for the Piedmont Environmental Council and Rachel Flynn, former director of planning and development for the City of Richmond and Lynchburg. Citizens Concerned with Goochland Growth; the Goochland Chamber of Commerce; The Capital Region Land Conservancy and the 35 Mile Drive Club collaborated on the presentation.

While “smart growth” is neither the panacea its supporters claim nor the evil plan for population control as seen by its detractors, it provides a useful platform for high density land use discussions.

The ink is barely dry on the county budget for 2011-12 and Goochland is advertising for an assistant county attorney and a director of human resources.

This may be part of the cryptic “county administrator’s reorganization plan” that had no impact on the county budget. It looks like action reallocated the cost of recently terminated employees and used it to fund other positions.

Norman Sales, Goochland’s legal counsel, does have a lot on his plate. Adding another lawyer to this county government function makes a lot of sense. However, on March 21 a presentation on the county attorney function was an eleventh hours addition to a supervisors’ budget workshop.

At that time, Sales’ department was planned to have three employees in the next fiscal year with a slightly smaller annual budget thanks to a decline in benefit costs.

It would be interesting to know why the addition of an assistant county attorney was handled under the radar and so soon after the budget vote?

The job description for the new position requires knowledge of land use issues. Could it be that the county is anticipating more rezoning and other land use activity, or just more lawsuits?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


The devil is in the details

To comply with the “one person one vote” mandate of the United States Constitution, the Commonwealth and the rest of the county is involved in redrawing electoral districts using updated population information from the April 2010 census.

In the past few weeks, meetings were held around Goochland County to discuss shifting of voters required by the process. Transcripts of all of the meetings are available on the county website
Some Districts, notably 5, 4 and 2 have more than the ideal 4,343 voters while District 1 and 3 have fewer voters.

To try to equalize the number of voters in all districts, some voters were moved from District 5 into District 4, some from District 4 into District 3 and some from District 2 into District 1. Given the long narrow shape of the county and widely disbursed population, making the changes was difficult and some of those who would have been affected were not pleased by the changes, so additional tweaking was done.

In addition to moving voters into different districts, the proposal includes moving some polling places and moving voters to different polling places in an attempt to equalize the number of voters at each precinct.
In District 4, the Crozier precinct has been eliminated because all of Goochland will now be represented in the State Senate by Walter Stosch. So, the voters from Crozier will be added to the Centerville precinct, which will be moved to St. Matthew’s Methodist Church. Company 3, which has been the Centerville polling place for many years, is no longer suitable due to the widening of Broad Street Road.

Moving a polling place off of a main road is a wise decision that has worked well in Hadensville and Manakin. The only problem with this move is that far too many people,more than 3,000, are designated to vote there.

District 4 needs a second polling place to the west of Centerville. Either Jerusalem Baptist Church on Three Chopt Road or the Redeemer Assembly of God on Cardwell Road come to mind for this use as does the new multipurpose room at Randolph Elementary School.

It is easy to envision voters unable to find a parking spot at St. Matthew’s deciding not to bother casting a ballot. A second site would eliminate this difficulty. District 4 supervisor Rudy Butler, who has long advocated moving the Centerville voting precinct to St. Matthew’s, believes that the location has more parking and better lighting than Company 3, but concedes that a second precinct will be needed in District 4 for the 2012 presidential election. Electronic voting books speed the polling process, said Butler, which he believes will prevent long lines. We’ll see because it may be too late to add a second precinct in District 4.

Redistricting is perhaps the most unpleasant and visual part of governmental sausage making. Incumbents are allowed to protect themselves in future elections by ensuring that areas that support them are not taken out of their districts. Most voters will not be aware of any change until they receive notice that they will be casting ballots in a different location and perhaps a different district than last year.

The supervisors, who make the final decisions about this process, will hold a public hearing on the plan at their May 3 meeting. Time is of the essence in this process, because the whole thing must be approved by the United States Department of Justice before implementation to ensure timely elections in November.

Speaking of elections, where are all the candidates?

Lots of people have been muttering about cleaning house on the Board of Supervisors and School Board. Indeed, a significant change in the composition of both boards might well be the tonic that Goochland needs. For that to happen, however, someone needs to run for office.

According to county registrar Francis Ragland, so far only a few people have filed their papers to run for office. These include two candidates for supervisor in both District 1 and 5; two for the treasurer; one each for school board in Districts 1, 3 and 5 and one by the incumbent Commissioner of the Revenue. As of this date, no incumbent school board members have filed their electoral papers.

In order to run for office you must be at least 18 years of age; a resident of Virginia for one year; a resident of the district in which you seek office; not a convicted felon or denied voting rights due to mental incompetency and, in the case of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, must be licensed to practice law.

There is no filing fee to run for office. An application, including signatures of 125 registered voters in the jurisdiction in which you seek office (voting district for supervisor or school board, Goochland County for Constitutional Officers) must be completed. Ragland suggests gathering 200 signatures to be on the safe side because sometimes people sign more than once. This documentation must be filed by August 23, 2011 in order for a name to be placed on the November ballot.

Local political parties have their own rules for candidate selection, so check with either Alan Tucker of Goochland Democrats or Ben Slone of Goochland Republicans for details.

Gathering the signatures may seem like a burden, but it is an ideal way to make personal contact with voters. Goochland is still small enough that candidates can and should make the effort to meet everyone they want to represent.

This includes school board candidates who have a tendency to ignore citizens without children in county schools. As the school system spends the lion’s share of county revenue, the school board has the responsibility of justifying the expenditure.

Goochland County still faces many obstacles. Years of too many uncontested elections have put up into this mess. We need vigorously contested elections to ensure a thorough and public discussion of the challenges we face.

Let the games begin!

History comes to Goochland

The sesquicentennial of the Civil War is coming to Goochland this Saturday, April 16.

According to the Goochland Historical Society newsletter, from 9 to 4 on Saturday, archivists from the Library of Virginia, who are working with the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission (Commission) to preserve materials for a statewide collection on original Civil War manuscripts, are coming to Goochland.

A team of these archivists will be at the Grace Church Parish House on River Road West in Goochland Courthouse Village to scan privately held Civil War era materials for inclusions on the website of both the Library of Virginia and the Commission.

To schedule an appointment for a scanning session, please call the Goochland Historical Society at 804.556.3966.

They are looking for materials that reflect the social, political, military or religious life of Virginia during the period the Civil war (1861-65) and the early reconstruction period. These materials may include letters, pension documents, military passes, discharge papers, diaries, and hand drawn maps and so forth. Items must be owned by the individual presenting the materials for digitization.

This is a great opportunity to share family documents and have them digitally preserved. Visit the Library of Virginia website for additional information.

This event is the product of much hard work by the Goochland Sesquicentennial Committee, which includes: Phyllis Silber and Dr. Bruce Venter from the Goochland Historical Society; Paul Drumwright from county administration; Peter Gretz from Goochland Public Schools and Marion and Richard Turner of Goochland.

Even if you do not have any family documents to scan, please plan to visit the grounds of Grace Church on the same day where F Company of the 21st Virginia Infantry will be encamped in a living history exhibit.

According to Venter, F Company is a non-profit living history re-enacting group that is headquartered in Richmond but has members from Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. The group is dedicated to the study of army life during the Civil War period. They will be sharing their knowledge of uniforms, equipment, training and army experiences. This is a great way to bring history to life for children of all ages.

The original F Company was formed in 1859, serving the 1st Regiment of Virginia Volunteers that was sent to Harper’s Ferry (then a part of Virginia) during John Brown’s raid on the arsenal there. In June, 1861, the Company was transferred to the newly formed 21st Virginia Infantry. In 1862, the 21st Virginia fought under “Stonewall Jackson” during the Valley Campaign. F Company saw action in many of the major battles of the war and only a corporal and three privates surrendered at Appomattox.

Living history helps us to understand that wars are fought by ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Their experiences put grand themes into personal perspective.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Pennies from heaven

The sausage is cooked

Goochland County has a budget for fiscal year 2012, which begins on July 1. The real estate tax rate will stay at 53 cents per hundred; water and sewer fees were raised and the schools got more than they were initially told to expect, but not as much as they wanted. The Board of Supervisors voted on the budget and set tax and utility rates for 2011 (budgets run for fiscal years, tax rates for calendar years) at its regular monthly meeting on April 5.
There we so many eleventh hour adjustments to the budget that the proceedings seemed like a shell game. Some supervisors, who supposedly have been perusing this budget since February, acted as though they were seeing it for the first time. Actual figures rather than estimates on some items freed up money allocated to one category to be used in other places.

County administrator Rebecca Dickson commended Lisa K. Beczkiewicz, CMC, Administrative Asst., Deputy Clerk to the Board for her hard work in the timely completion and posting of minutes of the many meetings held during March. She is also responsible for compiling and posting the complicated informational packets for those meetings.

Garfield Randolph of Oilville was recognized by the supervisors for operation of Randolph Oil a local landmark in Oilville since 1950. Mr. Randolph has lived the American Dream and is an example for those who follow.

Nancy Oglesby, Goochland’s Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney was commended for receiving the Virginia S. Duvall Distinguished J & DR Prosecutor Award from the Virginia
Association of Commonwealth's Attorneys, which consists of all elected and Assistant Commonwealth's Attorneys in the state. Oglesby is in the company of her peers in both Richmond and Norfolk. In addition to her work in Goochland, where she prosecutes cases in the Goochland Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courts, Oglesby has trained other attorneys and served as a special prosecutor in other jurisdictions. She serves on
Various Boards around the state and was recently appointed to the Virginia Domestic Violence Prevention Board by Governor McDonnell. She has also helped set up the Goochland Multidisciplinary Team for response to sexual assault and domestic violence.

The Board also recognized the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Goochland Recreation Center in Sandy Hook for its contribution to the community. As a private sector organization, the “Rec Center” is a great example of what can be accomplished by citizens working together without putting their hands out to government.

It was so nice to be reminded of all the good things that happen in Goochland every day.

At the start of the evening session, Ms. Pamela Cooke Johnson was introduced as the county’s interim treasurer. She was appointed to the post last week by Goochland Circuit Court Judge timothy K. Sanner and will hold that office until a permanent treasurer is elected in November. Johnson has also filed papers as a candidate for that office.

In a brief statement to the assemblage, Johnson pledged to work closely with county administration to ensure that Goochland finances are handled with accuracy and integrity in a timely manner. Johnson also stated that she is working with the treasurer of Chesterfield County to get acclimated to the position.

The main focus of the day was the budget. In the afternoon session School Board Chair Ivan Mattox, Sr. made a rather disjointed statement to the supervisors pledging that the School Board would, in the future, provide the supervisors with “suitable” information they request to make fiscal decisions in an undefined “reasonable time frame.”

He rambled on about the importance of good communication between the two boards. Unfortunately the lack of responsiveness of the school board to requests for detailed information by the supervisors has been ignored for at least the last decade or so.

At the end of the day, the county found an $795,519 for the school budget, including $50,000 from the county’s general fund. This is still less than the original request, but more than the initial funds that were identified as being available for schools.

An indication of the skepticism of the supervisors of the school board’s intentions appeared in the aptly named section 8 of the budget. This would enable the supervisors to withhold $500,000 in school funds if the school board fails to supply requested information in a timely manner. This should not pose a problem to a new school board.

Early next year, when hopefully, there will be a significant number of new faces on both boards, a public and detailed conversation must take place about the quality of public education that will be offered in Goochland, how much it will cost, and where the money will come from.

The most fireworks of the day occurred during the second public hearing about increases in both the ad valorem tax and water and sewer rates.

Residents of Kinloch and the Parke at Centerville, which are both in the Tuckahoe Creek Service District, made their displeasure with the increases known. An exhibit presented by the county before these public hearings illustrated the impact of the increases in ad valorem tax coupled with decreases in property values on homes at three different price points. In most cases, the total tax cost to homeowners was a little lower or about the same.

Homeowners characterized this presentation as more “smoke and mirrors” trotted out to obscure the mismanagement of the TCSD financing. They likened the increased in the ad valorem tax to putting a Band Aid on a gaping wound while the county is not even getting close to paying off the massive debt that looms over everything.

One speaker asked about the TCSD that went straight to the jugular. She contended that the TCSD has generated more questions than answers. Her queries included: who wrote the bond; who educated the supervisors about the bond and its implications for county finances going forward; did the county attorney review the bond; did the vote to incur the debt receive a majority the first time it was presented; why was the bond written in such a way the precludes refinancing; does the Kinloch land perc and if so could it have been built without water and sewer; with the debt hanging over its head is Goochland able to borrow money to build schools and fire-rescue stations and who were the supervisors that voted for its establishment.

Another speaker wanted to know if the county ever considered the unintended consequences of the TCSD financing scheme and if the county was prepared to handle a worst case scenario.

These excellent and long unasked questions were not answered during this hearing, but, as the county is expected to rewrite the TCSD ordinance sometime this year, that information should come out. The Kinloch and Parke at Centerville residents will undoubtedly be loaded for bear at those public hearings.

A few speakers cautioned that the increase in ad valorem tax moves eastern Goochland tax rates close to those of Henrico. In reality, comparing the tax rates of the two jurisdictions is like comparing apples to aardvarks. Henrico residents get extraordinary value for their taxes including good schools; excellent paid fire-rescue whose services carry no extra fee; lots of nice libraries and they also take care of their own roads. Goochland residents with no school children get use of the transfer station (hours reduced) and single library (hours reduced) for their tax dollars.

One man suggested trying to sell the TCSD to Henrico.

Several speakers took the supervisors to task for their failure to put any economic development strategy in place. In the afternoon, Dickson announced that the search for a consultant to prepare an economic development plan for the county had narrowed to two candidates. If a contract is awarded by the supervisors at their May meeting the plan should be completed by October. Who knows how long it will take for that plan to be implemented in a meaningful way.

District 4 supervisor Rudy Butler voted against increases in both the ad valorem tax and sewer and water rates. He too decried to county’s failure to pursue economic development. Butler cited the supervisors’ failure to: approve a prezoning initiative at the Oilville I-64 interchange; join the Greater Richmond Partnership to promote the county and put mixed use and high density zoning in areas served by water and sewer as contributing the current fiscal shortfall.

No mention was made of the approximately $424,000 the county was forced to spend to figure out its own utility system in 2009.

Right now it’s hard to see how the supervisors will be able to avoid significant tax increases next year. It will be interesting to see how this budget kabuki will translate into changes following the November elections.