Friday, March 30, 2012

88 days

Hitting the ground at a gallop

If the District 4 town hall meeting held on March 29 at the Centerville Fire-Rescue station is any indication, Goochlanders are staying engaged with local government.

Hosted by supervisor Bob Minnick and school board chair Beth Hardy, the meeting included an overview of the proposed budget presented by County Administrator Rebecca Dickson and Deputy County Administrator John Wack.

Hardy said that the meeting was the fulfillment of a campaign promise to provide more opportunities for dialog between elected officials and the community. She also said that the good relationship between the newly elected school board and supervisors is beneficial for everyone.

When crafting the proposed school budget for fiscal year 2013, said Hardy, every decision tries to move money back to the classroom. The school board is also mindful of its charge to be good stewards of tax dollars. This year’s budget restored some furlough days and fine arts without cutting any teacher positions.

Dickson observed that she has never seen two boards work as hard as these have going line by line through their respective budgets seeing how things connect.

Perhaps the folks in District 4 have more to vent about that other areas of the county. In addition to being home to all of the residential customers of the TCSD, this group deals daily with the heartburn of the Broad Street Road widening.

Representatives from VDOT were present to hear firsthand the frustrations of residents who have been dealing with the construction mess for more than a year.

One VDOT representative mastered the art of understatement when he observed that “the job is not going as well as we had hoped,” trying to explain why the project is taking so long to complete.

Rob Crandol said that VDOT is “doing the best we can to give everyone a quality product and keep the traveling public safe,” in response to comments about the difficulty of moving through and around Centerville.

Rather than accept the misalignment of the ugly concrete median that cuts off the Shell station from westbound traffic, Minnick and Dickson have been working with all involved parties to craft a workable and immediate solution to the problem.

Minnick said that an engineering solution supported by all involved parties should be in place very soon.

Dickson observed that the episode resulted in “a nice resolution with everyone coming to the table.”

This represents a huge positive shift in attitude on the part of county government and bodes well for the future.

The good news is that the paving should be completed in the next few weeks and the barrel maze will be gone. The next step is to craft a village plan for Centerville to ensure attractive and appropriate development that will enhance the appearance and attract new business.

Dissatisfaction among TCSD homeowners with rising ad valorem taxes and utility rates adds urgency to the need for new business in Centerville. Dickson tried her best to explain that the creation of a service district enables a locality to levy a separate tax for services there.

Residents of new communities in Centerville were concerned and some downright angry that they are forced to pay an additional tax. They questioned the fairness of the entire matter.

The ad valorem tax is a very thorny issue that will receive a lot of scrutiny by the new board in coming months. Hopefully, the supervisors can find a way to mitigate the issue without spreading the tax burden to every landowner in Goochland.

Every comment and question was received with interest and courtesy. Minnick, and the rest of the supervisors, all of whom were in attendance, seem eager for citizen feedback. They are trying to identify issues of countywide concern and put all of the pieces into context to help them make good decisions.

In office just 88 days, the new board has already gone a long way to eliminate the trust deficit it inherited from the former regime.

There will be lots of hard decisions to make in the months ahead. Based on their initial actions, it looks like the supervisors will give each matter thorough and impartial consideration to foster results that benefit the county as a whole.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sins of the fathers


As the newly elected Goochland Board of Supervisors moves toward approving the fiscal year 2013 budget, it continues to grapple with inherited issues.

The biggest leftover gorilla in the corner is the impact of the Tuckahoe Creek Service District, which hangs over county finances like the sword of Damocles.

A close second is the dithering of self-absorbed legislators in Richmond who would rather pay power games than serve their constituents and pass a state budget forcing localities to guess at their bottom lines.

At a budget workshop on Monday, March 26, the supervisors sought ways to keep current with service on the enormous debt and mitigate the financial burden on TCSD landowners. They also explored options for dealing with expected mandated changes in the Virginia Retirement System.

There are no good choices, only less bad.

Landowners and residents in the TCSD face drastic increases in sewer and water rates on top of a higher ad valorem tax. These folks contend that, since the whole county will benefit from growth in the TCSD, all Goochland landowners should chip in.

They argue that higher tax and user costs in the TCSD make it unable to compete for new business with Henrico. If the solution to the TCSD debt conundrum is growth, this argument may have some merit.

However, all county landowners have contributed to TCSD debt service since the 2004 benchmark reassessment. Only 45 percent of the increase in valuation of land in the TCSD over 2004 generates real estate tax, the rest goes for debt service.

The county’s general fund also kicks in about $400,000 annually to pay for public utilities. This is county wide money. So, the entire county is “sharing the pain” of the TCSD.

But is it enough? At inception, the amount borrowed was touted to be about $63.5 million, including an arbitrage account that generates about $320,000 annually. As things unraveled, we learned that a $21.3 million “promise” to the city of Richmond for wastewater treatment was never reflected in any repayment plan. Now the total cost, including interest, in closer to a quarter of a billion (yes, with a B) dollars.

There are fewer than 1,200 public utility customers in the entire county, 345 in the TCSD. Their rates are going through the roof due to the inefficiencies of a small system.

These folks are understandably unhappy. Will the rest of the county be any happier to foot more of the bill?

Alternatives to increases in rates and the ad valorem tax presented by staff included using an additional $345,000 from the general fund. Some of these dollars could be redirected from other budget items. Increasing the portion of revenue sharing is also an option, which would require a public hearing and ordinance amendment.

Bob Minnick District 4, whose constituents include all of the TCSD residents, said that it seems unfair to expect users of such a small system to foot the entire bill. He wanted to know how many customers are needed to make the utility system self-sufficient. That information was not readily available.

Manuel Alvarez, Jr. District 2 asked why utility rates in Courthouse Village were higher than those in the TCSD.

County administrator Rebecca Dickson said that she does not know the reason for the inequity. Because there was little documentation of the decisions making process that created and operated the TCSD by the former regime, the new board is groping in the dark for information that should be readily available.

Board vice chair Ken Peterson District 5 observed that the agreements creating the TCSD, which were drafted in 2002, included no flexibility to deal with the realities of the cost inefficiencies of a small system.
Rising ad valorem taxes coupled with declining real estate valuations have created a dreadful, and seemingly unanticipated, situation.

The choices before the supervisors to keep the county afloat in this very fragile economy are not pleasant ones. Indeed, the current budget has something in it for everyone to dislike. This probably means that staff and the supervisors are doing what is best for the whole county.

A public hearing on the 2013 budget will be held next Tuesday, April 3 at 7 p.m. at the high school. It will be streamed live on the internet for those with broadband. The proposed budget is available on the county website

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Country roads

We have a plan!

The March 16 Goochland Planning Commission meeting was the first such session to be streamed live over the internet.

The only public hearing concerned an application for a conditional use permit to operate a landscaping supply business on a floodplain fringe located on the north side of Patterson Avenue on the site of an old drive-in theater. The CUP, which received unanimous recommendation for approval, is required by county ordinance.

Commission chair Courtney Hyers District 5 was reelected over an objection by outgoing District 4 commissioner Joe Andrews.

The most interesting part of the evening, however, was a community meeting for both Goochland and Powhatan facilitated by the Richmond Regional Planning District Commission ( on the 2035 rural long range transportation plan.

Only a small handful of citizens from Goochland were in attendance at the 6 p.m. meeting. Supervisors Susan Lascollete District 1; Manuel Alvarez, Jr. District 2 and board vice chair Ken Petersen District 5 were present.

Were you aware that Goochland, east of about Fairground Road is considered urban for transportation (read roads) planning purposes? That part of the county is lumped in with Henrico, Richmond, Hanover, Chesterfield and part of New Kent and Charles City counties.

The rest of the county is deemed to be rural.

Happily, the RRPDC seems to understand that folks living in the more sparsely populated parts of both counties have little interest in high capacity thoroughfares that encourage dense development. Rather, the RRPDC proposal looks at ways to make existing roads safer by fixing bridges, mending road surfaces, improving sight distance, increasing the lane width and straightening dangerous curves.

A wish list of 20 local projects is included in the draft of the 2011 2035 Rural Long Range Transportation Plan.

These projects, modest in scope and projected cost, include: improvements to major area roads including Fairground and Hadensville Fife Roads; the bridge over Whitehall Creek, scheduled for repair this month and the over the CSX tracks on Rt. 522 south of Rt. 6.

Sadly, the plan does not include a limited access connector road between Oilville Road and Rt. 6 near the Maidens Bridge to get chicken and log trucks off of Fairground Road.

Whitehall and Sandy Hook Roads are also major connectors that were not built to handle the heavy truck traffic that rumbles over their surfaces every day.

Although presenters were careful to point out that there is no funding to complete the projects on the wish list, some are in the works.

Repairs to the bridge over Johnson Creek on Tabscott Road were completed last August. Work on the bridge over Whitehall Creek is expected to begin soon.

Petersen urged VDOT to look at Goochland’s entire road system in its planning. He said that the major routes are improved to handle more vehicles, but no thought it given to unimproved the secondary and tertiary roads that are then expected to absorb the increased traffic.

Given VDOT’s penchant for inefficient operations, illustrated by construction of the Centerville Speedway, it will be years, if ever, before the relatively modest sums needed to make these improvements materializes.

The General Assembly, which met for a whopping three minutes the other day, needs to forego its obsession with social issues and fix VDOT.

The background report (sent as an attachement to the notification) contains a great deal of interesting information about population growth in the region. It also provides insight about the land use attitudes that shape transportation planning in Virginia.

Simply stated, dense population centers get the road dollars first. All other places wait in line, maybe forever.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

High school musical

Guerilla warfare

Last November, Goochland voters replaced the entire school board. The healthy margins received by all victorious candidates clearly mandated community support for change.

Fast forward to March, 2012. The school board went into closed session at a March 8 meeting to discuss personnel matters. This is permitted by state law. The confidentiality of these proceedings is intended to protect the privacy and dignity of those involved.

Following this meeting, the matters under discussion, which are believed to have addressed the possible reassignment or demotion of some principals, became public in the most inflammatory way possible.

The rumor mill spread misinformation faster than a wind driven brush fire. Parents and teachers, the same folks who wanted changes in school culture and administration, were outraged.

The school board was inundated with calls and emails protesting decisions made in secret. In fact, no such decisions were made.

At the start of the March 13 meeting school board chair Beth Hardy District 4 read a statement about the incident, which is available in its entirety on the school website This is located on the “about” tab for the school board. Please read this carefully and think about what it means.

No one was specifically identified as the culprit in this episode. However, it seems possible that school Superintendent Dr. Linda Underwood, who listened to public comment with the demeanor of a cat who has swallowed a very large canary, is somehow complicit.

Underwood is believed to hail from Chicagoland, where the dead vote and power is king. She undoubtedly prefers a compliant school board to the take charge group now in office. Let's hope that this is not another metaphorical waving of her PhD and declaration that she knows best how to run the school system.

The breach of the confidentiality in this matter is unacceptable and exhibits a complete lack of professionalism and integrity. The adolescent tantrum model is not acceptable behavior for professional educators who are supposed to be role models.

Parents and teachers who complained about a culture of fear in the school system last year seemed to applaud the public airing of what should be private personnel matters.

Remember when parents feared to speak out lest there be reprisals against their children? What happened to that outrage?

The school board was elected to make changes in the school system. Yet, ten weeks into its term, parents and teachers fell into lockstep and followed a carefully choreographed attempt at undermining those changes.
Ivan Mattox, who was soundly defeated in November, even showed up at the March 13 meeting to gloat.

To their credit, all school board members listened attentively to the handful of speakers objecting to the actions that were never taken. They made it clear that they will publicly announce and vote upon all changes after following the procedures dictated by state law.

Once again concerns about the security of communications between parents, teachers and the school board have reared their ugly head.

To prevent prying eyes from interfering with communication between the public and board, the school board has established a totally anonymous suggestion box located off the county server at Only the school board will have access to this information.

This board is setting the course it believes best for county schools. While it welcomes public input, the board understands that it is responsible for making hard decisions and dealing with the consequences of those actions. This is what integrity in elected officials looks like, Goochland. Get used to it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

No rubber stamps

Citizen Service

The Goochland Board of Supervisors approved a new process for filling county boards and commissions at its February 7 meeting. An application is available on the county website, that any citizen may complete and submit to indicate their interest in a particular appointment and their qualifications to hold that position.
The website will also include a list of pending vacancies on boards and commissions.

Over the years, Goochland has been blessed by the efforts of citizens who volunteered their time and talents to serve in an advisory capacity. It has also been cursed by clueless people put in place to further an agenda with little regard for the impact on the county as a whole.

Ideally, an advisory committee or commission is charged with making impartial recommendations to the supervisors following an in depth review of a particular matter. As the board has the final say on most matters, it needs all of the objective evaluation possible to make sound, informed decisions.

Sounds good in theory, but reality, at least in the past, is quite different. The current planning commission is simply an embarrassment. The seven commissioners who complied with a request for their resignation from the new supervisors should be commended for their exit.

The supervisors are expected to change the number of planning commissioners to seven, one from each district and two at large, in April.
Appointing people to advisory bodies who go through the motions and rubber stamp whatever comes before them is a waste of time and money. The new board needs to be mindful of this.

Another case in point is the county’s Design Review Committee, which is charged with ensuring compliance with design standards in the county’s overlay districts.

Overlay districts were created to give the county control over new construction in certain areas including the Centerville and Courthouse Villages.

The overlay districts sort of include the “gateways” to Goochland along Broad Street Road and Patterson Avenue, which are characterized by attractive new construction and grandfathered eyesores.

The entire concept of design standards and overlay districts is controversial. Some believe that the design standards, which include acceptable building materials, signage and landscape buffering, should apply to any new construction in a village. Others contend that the entire process is just another method to discourage expansion of business in the county and should be discarded.

As the overlay districts extend only a certain distance from the roadway, they are kind of a joke. For instance, because the Goochland Library sits on River Road West it is subject to all of the requirements. The YMCA, however, is back just far enough that its space ship design gets a pass even though it is just as visible from the street.

Since its creation, the DRC has been comprised in the majority by serving members of the planning commission. This, according to John Lewis, who has served District 5 on the DRC for eight years, questions the possibility of impartial review. Lewis has never been on the planning commission.
The DRC’s task is to objectively consider plans for a proposed use and decide if it adheres to the design standards.

On the one hand, the DRC ensures attractive and high quality construction. On the other hand, it can and has, been used as a bludgeon to discourage enterprises from locating here.

In the February 7 evening citizen comment period Lewis urged the supervisors not to appoint planning commissioners to the DRC.
Lewis contended that the DRC was created to advise the planning commission and that a board cannot advise itself. He also said that the DRC is not an arm of the Economic Development Authority and is charged with ensuring that design standards set for the county’s overlay district are met, nothing else.

At the March 5 DRC meeting Lewis contended that concurrent service on the planning commission and DRC could give the appearance of conflict of interest. He made a motion, which died for lack of a second, to recommend amending the ordinance governing the DRC to prohibit concurrent membership on both bodies. (His comments begin about minute 52 of the meeting recording, which is available on the county website under the DRC page.)

Other members of the DRC, most planning commissioners, pooh-poohed his objections, contending that the new board of supervisors will appoint sympathetic persons to the planning commission to rubber stamp its agenda. They defended concurrent membership on both bodies and denied that their decisions on one board were influenced by actions on the other.
If DRC review is destined to become little more than going through the motions, it should be eliminated.

The new board is anxious to encourage economic development to offset falling real estate values and deal with escalating debt service for the Tuckahoe Creek Service District. Care must be taken to ensure that development is high quality and appropriately located.

Let’s hope that the Goodwill store coming soon the Broadview Shopping Center is not a troubling portent of things to come.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Trudging through the jungle

Highlights of March BoS meeting

Goochland County’s new board of supervisors is hard at work untangling the knot of snakes it inherited. The tasks are many and difficult.
At their March 6 meeting, the first to be streamed live over the internet, the supervisors continued to chip away at their colossal to-do list. Some highlights follow.

Jonathan Lyle, one of Goochland’s newly elected directors of the Monacan Soil and Water Conservation District, briefly addressed the board. He said that the MSWCD exists to protect natural resources and is eager to offer assistance to Goochland.

Herbert R. Griffith chairman of the county electoral board reported that as of 3 p.m. less than 10 percent of registered voters had cast ballots in the republican presidential primaries. If political parties insist on holding primaries, they should foot the bill instead of passing the cost along to overburdened taxpayers.

Manuel Alvarez Jr. District 2 supervisor announced that he is forming a project committee to study deployment of high speed internet throughout the county. The committee will be comprised of about five to seven citizens with information technology expertise, including District 2 school board member Kevin Hazzard. It will spend about six months gathering information and evaluating possibilities for deploying broadband in Goochland.

If you are interested in serving on this or other boards and committees please go to the supervisors’ page on the county website, scroll down until you see the “serving Goochland” tab on the left and follow the instructions.

County assessor Glenn Branham unveiled the new website for property values. It is located on the assessor tab on the county website. If you do not have high speed internet, be patient, it takes a while to load.
Branham explained that the new web site is a search engine and property records include a photo and sketch of buildings.

He also said that there are faint signals that real estate valuations may be nearing their bottom.

Goochland treasurer Pam Johnson reported that she has hired Pam Duncan as deputy treasurer.

The fire-rescue chief reminded everyone to check their smoke alarms when they turn their clocks forward next Sunday.

Sheriff James L. Agnew reported that deputy Chris Cranor school resource officer and other members of the Sheriff’s Office took spoke to 14 classes at the middle school about bullying. Hopefully, this effort will greatly reduce or eliminate incidents of bullying in our schools.

Rob Crandol P.E. programming director of VDOT presented an update on the Broad Street Road widening aka the “Centerville speedway” project. He explained that the difficulties with the curve in northbound turn lanes at the Broad Street and Manakin Roads intersection occurred because the engineers “downtown” used what turned out to be an incorrect design template.

The VDOT engineers used what Crandol described as the WB 50 template, the second largest in their toolkit, which was inadequate because “people did not behave the way we expected them to.”

The intersection is in the process of being redesigned using the WB67 turn lane template, which, said Crandol, is the largest and accommodates a semi-tractor with a 53 foot trailer. He is “confident” that this “one time fix,” which involves moving concrete curbs and guttering about 12 feet west and reworking the entire surface will solve the problem. Stay tuned.

Crandol did not mention the cost of the remedy. This is a good time to insert adages like “measure twice and cut once” or “penny wise and pound foolish.”

District 4 Supervisor Bob Minnick has been meeting with VDOT to mitigate the impact of the concrete median on westbound access to the Shell station. Why was any of this necessary? Surely the VDOT engineers “downtown” could see the Shell station using Google Earth.

(Updates from VDOT on this project are forwarded to those on the GOMM notification list. To be added to the list, post a comment and include your email list.)

A bit later in the meeting, Crandol and other VDOT representatives reviewed the county’s secondary six year road improvement plan. Funds allocated to Goochland County by VDOT will be no more than $80,000 annually for at least the next six years. The cost, presumably in today’s dollars to improve the two intersections of Manakin Road with Hermitage and Three Chopt Roads is $3.2 million. So it will take about 40 years to accumulate enough money to complete the project. A public hearing will be held on this plan on May 1.

Why can’t our state legislators forego social engineering to concentrate on civil engineering and “fixing” VDOT?

The supervisors voted unanimously with little discussion to allocate the $500,000 withheld from the school budget in 2011. This is a positive practical manifestation of trust and collaboration between the supervisors and school board that was long overdue.

County Attorney Normal Sales discussed pending revisions to county ordinances. These include creation of a multi-family zoning district; dark sky compliance; changing the due date for personal property tax and vehicle registration fees; the bio solids ordinance and EMS cost recovery. See the board packet for the complete list. The supervisors must hold a public hearing before voting on any ordinance changes.

The county needs to implement a village plan for Centerville while it works on the multifamily zoning ordinance. Ideally this plan would create a matrix for appropriate development to encourage the maximum success for all involved. The previous regime repeatedly declined to craft a village plan to the detriment of all.

The most sobering item on the agenda was authorization of advertisement for the 2012 proposed rates for real estate and ad valorem taxes and utility rates. These will be established when the supervisors vote them into place on April 17 but cannot be higher than those advertised. A public hearing will be held on these rates on April 3.

All supervisors have scheduled town hall meetings in their districts later in March to discuss the budget and all other citizen concerns. Please try to attend the meeting in your district. You voted in a board that pledged to be responsive. Now it’s your turn to let them know what concerns you. Citizen engagement is crucial to the success of government.

The schedule follows:
District 3, Monday, March 12, 7P, Board Meeting Room
District 5, Thursday, March 22, 7P, Co. 1 Firehouse
District 1, Saturday, March 24, 9A, Byrd Elementary School
District 4, Wednesday, March 28, 7P, Co. 3 Firehouse
District 2, Thursday, March 29, 7P, Old Goochland Middle School