Sunday, November 13, 2011

The morning after

Taking on the TCSD

As winners bathed in the afterglow of victory after Tuesday’s elections and caught up on their sleep, the problems they will face in January continue to fester.

At an infrequent meeting of the Tuckahoe Creek Service District Advisory committee, comprised of major landowners, held on November 10, supervisors elect got a glimpse of things to come. This was the first time the TCSDAC met since March of 2010.

Also in attendance were some TCSD property owners who expressed outrage at the TCSDAC for its alleged failures. Creation of the TCSDAC was mandated when the TCSD was created in 2002. Neither Kinloch nor the Parke at Centerville existed. Charter members of the TCSDAC were owners of large parcels of land in the TCSD.

According to Tommy Pruitt, the county approached major TCSD landowners around 2000 with a plan to provide water and sewer to the TCSD and wanted the landowners to put up their land as security for the bonds to fund the infrastructure.

Pruitt recalled that none of the landowners liked the resulting plan but, as it was the only possibility to bring utilities to their land, they “held their nose and went with it.”

Pruitt observed that because the TCSD was such a large undertaking by such a small county, it was important at the outset to have a landowner advisory committee with a seat at the table to know what was going on.
He said that now he would not be bothered if the TCSDAC were to go away because he is far more comfortable with the administration that is currently overseeing the project.

The early meetings between the TCSDAC and county administration including the former county administrator, county attorney, county engineer and director of economic development, all of whom have followed Elvis out of the building, were pro forma exercises in obfuscation. They featured progress reports illustrated with brightly colored graphs and timelines with optimistic completion dates that were rarely met.

The project budget, which seemed to have been written on mirrors with smoke, seemed fluid at best. Every time a TCSDAC member asked a question about the budget it was answered with a plethora of buzzwords and more projections but few hard facts or simple numbers.

It is no wonder that several of the original TCSDAC members resigned, it was clearly a waste of their time.

In 2004, the TCSDAC asked the supervisors to grant a brief tax amnesty to attract new landowners to the district. This request was granted but had little impact.

The county held a few seminars for all TCSD landowners in 2004 to explain the process and rewards for rezoning land in the TCSDAC. Indeed, except for West Creek, a significant portion of the land in the TCSD is still zoned agricultural.

Many landowners were unwilling or unable to undertake the cumbersome and costly rezoning process with little clear idea of what sort of zoning to seek.

Members of the TCSDAC repeatedly requested that the supervisors permit higher densities in all zoning categories for the TCSD but were ignored.

Indeed, at the November 10 meeting, Sid Stern, a TCSDAC member said that times and trends have changed. Goochland still has 1950’s zoning, which makes developers go elsewhere. The TCSD, he said, must be run like a business or it will fail. It must be competitive and that includes having zoning options sought by developers.

Scott Gaeser, chair of the TCSDAC observed that the meeting was held to reestablish a relationship with Goochland. Everyone needs to work together to find a way to pay for the lines in the ground. The debt, Gaeser said, is not going away.

He observed that the recent extension of sewer and water lines to the extreme northeast corner of the TCSD, which were not built at the outset because the county ran out of money, was simplified by having a local government that wanted to work with him.

Jeff Wells, a Kinloch resident asked why West Creek is the best kept secret on the east coast because it is never mentioned in economic develop circles. He said that West Creek must get onto these radar screens immediately and something must be done about the “draconian” ad valorem tax that puts the TCSD at a competitive disadvantage.

County administrator Rebecca T. Dickson explained that Goochland is not a member of the Greater Richmond Partnership, a regional economic development consortium that markets the greater Richmond region to the world, because we cannot afford the $390,000 annual membership fee. That is a huge number, more than a penny on the real estate tax rate.

Dickson reported that the county has engaged a recruiter to find a competent economic development director to attract new business to the TCSD. A job description has been crafted and posted in places likely to attract the attention of appropriate candidates. She hopes to begin interviews after the first of the New Year.

The Kinloch residents asked for at least one seat on the TCSDAC, which members indicated would be beneficial for all concerned.

Another meeting was tentatively scheduled for some time in February after the new board of supervisors has taken office.

In fact, the TCSDAC was pretty much ignored as the TCSD lurched from crisis to crisis. The county established an adversarial rather than collaborative relationship with the TCSDAC that deteriorated over the years.

The atmosphere of positive collaboration at this meeting to get the TCSD on track is nothing less than a positive paradigm shift in attitude that has been long overdue.

To be sure, choices are ahead for our new supervisors, but they are up to the challenge.


Anonymous said...

Becky t is wrong. Goochland can't afford Not to be in Greater Richmond Partnership.

Jen said...

$390,000/annual dues to the Greater Richmond Partnership? For what? Our county name & info listed in a directory somewhere? Marketing and development advice? 24-hour access to their website and a subscription to their newsletter? Entrance to exclusive seminars & conferences?

The cost outweighs the benefit - short term & long term. For $390,000/year we could hire a small team of economic developement directors and marketing professionals solely dedicated to promoting Goochland.