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.

No comments: