Monday, April 30, 2012

Squeaky wheels

Goochland’s newly elected supervisors have truly kept their campaign promises to be accessible and responsive to constituents.
They return phone calls, attend a wide range of public meetings and are working hard to transform a county government fashioned like a house of cards into one built on a firm foundation for the future.

Moving the county forward is a complex task.

Elements of challenges facing the county will take some time to bear fruit.

The Tuckahoe Creek Service District debt challenge is the quarter billion octopus in the corner that casts its shadow on every action the board takes.

Moving with great caution yet all deliberate haste, the supervisors and staff crafted a budget for fiscal 2013 that included an increase of the dreaded ad valorem, tax levied only on property in the TCSD, to 34 cents. One penny of the tax generates $60,000 in revenue.

During this year’s open an extensive budget process which provided ample opportunity for public comment and input, residents who pay the extra tax, especially those who live in Kinloch and The Parke at Centerville, urged the supervisors to eliminate the tax and spread the debt service burden to the entire county.

They contend that, because the whole county will benefit from economic development in the TCSD, everyone should pay for it. They also complained that the whole county is not chipping in to pay for the project. They fail to understand that the county general fund does support the TCSD to the tune of more than $1 million annually.

On April 17 when the board voted to set 2012 tax rates, District 4 supervisor Bob Minnick, whose constituents include most TCSD residents, put forth a motion for a 31 cent tax. That effort failed.

A second motion for a 32 cent tax passed 3-2 with Minnick joined by Susan Lascollette District 1 and Manuel Alvarez District 2 to approve that rate. Board chair Ned Creasey District 3 and vice chair Ken Peterson District 5 voted against the measure.
Staff will bring options to the supervisors at their June meeting for ways to cut another $120,000 from an already lean county budget.

All supervisors made it clear that they are very concerned about resolving the TCSD debt problem.
Peterson said that the TCSD situation will not be resolved by a silver bullet but rather by silver buckshot comprised of initiatives small and large that will work together to “fix” the problem.

It’s a good thing and a nice change that the new supervisors want to be responsive to the needs of the citizens. However, they must also take care not to let the good feelings of these actions overshadow the needs of the entire county. Sometimes, the best answer is no, even though that may be difficult and unpopular.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Spring events in Goochland

There are lots of things to do in Goochland in the next few days.

On Saturday, April 28, the Master Gardeners are holding their Spring Fest at the Goochland campus of J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Courthouse Village. The plant sale starts at 8 a.m. Come early for the best selection of great plants for your garden. With luck, you can get them in the ground between raindrops!

Also on the 28th the new West Creek Emergency Center is holding a community open house from 9-1. This is the first phase of the hospital project we all supported a few years back. Be sure to visit the new ER and welcome this fine facility to Goochland. Go to for details.

As the presidential campaign heats up both sides are claiming attitudinal connection to the Founding Fathers, especially in the area of religion. On Sunday, April 29, the Goochland Historical Society will host Dr. John Fea, chairman of the history department at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania. Fea will deliver a talk titled “Religion and the Founding Fathers: A historical perspective.” Fea has written extensively on the role of religion in American History. The meeting will be held at Goochland Baptist Church 2454 Manakin Road, which is located north of Broad Street Road.

The annual Kates Day celebration at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women AKA “The Women’s Farm” will take place on Wednesday May 2.

Founded to honor Elizabeth Kates, the first warden of the VCCW, the Kates Foundation works to help offenders turn their lives around and enable them to return to society as productive citizens.

Sales of crafts and baked goods run from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Guided tours of the facility are also offered at this time. The annual plant sale runs from 3 to 6 p.m. Grown by the offenders onsite, these plants, like those from the Master Gardeners, are beautiful and reasonable in cost. A shuttle is available to transport plants from the greenhouse area to your vehicle.

Dinner will be served at 6 P.M. following the annual meeting of the Kates Foundation at 4:30. Reservations for the dinner, which costs $6.00 per person paid at the door, must be made by April27. Call Reba Myers (804)784-3582 ext. 3656 to save your place. A picture ID is required at the security station sign in. Lock valuables in your car. No cell phones allowed. Clear plastic bags will be provided to hold your keys and checkbook.

Come out and support these local activities.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Hard choices

Goochland supervisors conducted their regularly monthly meeting on April 17 instead of the customary first Tuesday of the month. Although there was discussion of holding all board meetings twice monthly in the evening to make it easier for citizen to attend, that option costs more than a single session. The board wants to know if citizens would prefer if it conducts all public business at two evening sessions or if one meeting per month streamed live over the internet is sufficient.

They want to hear from you on the subject. Contact information is available on the county website

Unlike the Virginia legislature, Goochland County approved a budget for FY2013 on the first try. On April 17 the supervisors voted to approve a budget that retains the 53 cent per $100 of assessed valuation real estate tax and keeps most other tax rates the same as last year.

The ad valorem tax levied on the Tuckahoe Creek Service District was set at 32 cents after an attempt by District 4 Supervisor Bob Minnick to go to 31 cents failed. The vote on this tax was 3-2 with Board Chair Ned Creasey District 3 and Board Vice- Chair Ken Peterson District 5 casting dissenting votes.

In office for a little more than three months, the new board made it clear that they heard all of the objections from TCSD homeowners about the ever increasing ad valorem tax and utility rates. They again asked for time to address the very complicated issues that drive TCSD financing.

Adopting an ad valorem tax lower than that reflected in the adopted budget means that the supervisors will revisit the county spending plan in June to determine how the reduction will be “paid for.” A penny of ad valorem tax generates $60,000.

Susan Lascollete District 1 asked for citizen suggestions about where additional funds should be cut.

An agenda item to approve timbering the site of Leake’s Mill Park on Route 6 near Rock Castle Road and selling the timber sparked much discussion among the supervisors. Lascollette questioned the advisability of building the park during lean fiscal times. County administrator Rebecca Dickson said that the park is funded primarily by grant dollars.

Creasey said that he feared loss of the grant funds if they are not used in a timely manner.

This may be the first installment of an ongoing discussion of the role of local government in providing amenities and services to the citizens and what should be funded by taxpayers.

The long range rural transportation plan, which prioritizes needed road improvements in the western portion of Goochland, was approved. Both Lascollette and Manuel Alvarez, Jr. District 2 indicated that they believed the plan was sound. Sadly, no money is available to fund these improvements.

Alvarez reported that the high speed internet committee has been established. It plans to stream its meetings on the internet to ensure Freedom of Information Act compliance. Alvarez explained that the committee will figure out what sort of broadband access options Goochland has and determine possible strategies going forward. The committee will make recommendations, which must have board approval before any action is taken.

This is such a nice change from the “we can’t do anything” attitude of yore. Look for this group to craft common sense workable strategies to help as many Goochlanders as possible get decent internet access.

With the bulk of budget decisions behind them, at least for the time being, the board can turn its attention to other matters. Among them are filling vacancies on boards and commissions. The supervisors will hold a workshop to learn about the duties of these bodies preceding their May 1 meeting.

Creasey said that the board will determine if some of these groups could be logically merged or eliminated. This is yet another overdue effort to streamline county government.

In addition to approving tax rates at the evening session, the supervisors approved moving to twice yearly collection of personal property tax on items like cars and boats. The rate will remain unchanged, but half is due in June, the remainder in December.

The school budget was approved without comment from the public after having been presented by School Board Chair Beth Hardy District 4. Superintendent Dr. Linda Underwood was out of town, according to Hardy.

Both the supervisors and school board are to be commended for conducting an open and responsive budget process. Since the first of the year both boards freely shared information as well as listening and, more importantly, responding to citizen feedback. In addition to crafting fiscally responsible budgets, both boards have gone a long way in restoring the badly bruised bond of trust with Goochland citizens.

Looking toward bolstering the county’s economy, the supervisors addressed three zoning matters that will encourage greater economic activity on the county.

A conditional use permit was granted to Joseph Liesfeld, Jr. to allow Rassiwek Vineyard to hold special events at the property in western Goochland. This enterprise will be a handsome addition to county amenities.

Yardworks was granted a CUP to operate a landscaping business on Route 6 on wetlands fringe. This property is in the TCSD and puts vacant land to a good use.

Approval was also given to an amendment of the M-1 zoning ordinance applying only to West Creek to build multifamily housing on no more than 60 total acres (less than two percent of usable land.)

This opens the door to apartments in the TCSD. However, it will also be a catalyst to development on the northern edge of West Creek that lies in the Broad Street Road corridor.

Construction of 2,000 feet of a four lane divided road that is part of the apartment project will provide access to landlocked parcels in West Creek. Hopefully, this will be the start of an extended internal road network on the eastern side of Route 288 that will attract businesses to the county.

Recordings of the entire meeting in audio and video format are available on the county website.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

As the abbey turns

Judge dismisses Benedictine case

The latest episode in the on-going soap opera centering on the efforts to move Benedictine Preparatory High School (BHP) to Goochland was a dud. On April 6, Goochland Circuit Court Judge Timothy K. Sanner dismissed a suit filed by opponents of the move on April 6.

All sides in the dispute claimed victory.

The judge ruled that it was not his job to grant preemptive relief for grievances that have not yet occurred. He dismissed the suit without prejudice, which gives BHP opponents the opportunity to resurrect the suit at some time in the future. Indeed, Sanner’s remarks were couched in terms that indicate he fully expects to have the parties before him at some time in the future. But not just yet.

Generating more heat than light, the contentious matter has been an on again off again proposition for more than four years.

To further muddy the waters, published reports indicate that the Archdiocese of Richmond has suggested that the Mary Mother of the Church Benedictine Abbey, the sponsoring organization of the school, reduce its connection with the school.

The monks that comprise the Abbey are declining in number and increasing in age and could soon be extinct. One of the stated reasons for the move in addition to providing room to eventually double the size of the cadet corps is to permit more daily interaction between monks and cadets.

Factions of BHP alumni, whose generosity pays the school’s bills, are divided about the appropriateness of the move.

Some neighbors of the Abbey are adamantly opposed to having BHP in their midst contending that River Road cannot handle the increased traffic. Then there are worries that the Abbey’s 10,000 gallons per day public water allocation cannot support the larger cadet corps. The facilities aged wastewater treatment system, which has violated DEQ discharge standards, raised environmental issues. The school says it has a handle on these issues.

Waiting in the wings of the drama rapidly becoming a farce is VDOT, the state agency whose motto is “oops!” The thread that the dismissed lawsuit hung on was that the site lacks adequate frontage on River Road to build necessary turn and deceleration lanes and has little hope of purchasing additional rights of way from adjoining parcels of land. Owners of that property are among those adamantly opposed to having a school in their midst.

The ball seems to be in the court of the county’s rudderless Department of Community Development, which is tasked with approving plans of development. Tussles there can be dealt with by the Board of Zoning Appeals and ultimately, the Board of Supervisors.

So, it seems that the cadets will not be starting school in Goochland this September. That’s about all that is certain at this point.

If the school stays on Sheppard Street and the Monks leave, the facility will still remain, literally, a white elephant on River Road. Given that the Abbey invested more than a million dollars a few years ago to build a large capacity state-of-the-art auditorium it will not just sit there.

Would a tax paying entity occupying the site be more palatable to the neighbors? Just how marketable is are the buildings and grounds? Lots of scenarios could unfold in the coming years even if BHP does not make the move.

After lots of public hearings and community meetings, we still don’t know what’s in this for the rest of Goochland.

Bringing a prestigious faith based private high school to Goochland is neither the nirvana claimed by its supporters nor the disaster predicted by its detractors.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Rite of spring

The budget hearing

Although malfunctioning microphones made it seem like the Goochland Board of Supervisors was channeling the old school board at its April 3 budget hearing, the session was calm and relatively brief.

The real estate tax rate is expected to be unchanged at 53 cents per $100 of valuation and other rates, except those realting to the TCSD, as also expected to remain the same as last year.

Unlike their predecessors, the supervisors listened attentively to each and every comment made by citizens who took the time out of their busy schedules to attend the meeting.

For the first time in recent memory, there was not a single comment on the proposed school budget. This is undoubtedly the result of the new school board’s exhaustive commitment to budget process transparency.

Over the past three months the school board worked tirelessly to share information and respond to input as it crafted a budget for the next fiscal year. The result is not perfect, but represents a huge improvement over past years. Things will only get better.

The 2013 county budget contains bold strokes coupled with conservative assumptions. The supervisors are careful not to count any chickens before they begin to lay eggs.

A proposal to move to twice yearly collection of personal property tax, half in June, the remainder in December, will result in a one-time windfall of about $2.6 million. Those funds will be used to replace the decrepit Hadensville Company 6 Fire-Rescue station.

A concern about an ongoing administrative expense to facilitate the doubled collection schedule was raised. County Administrator Rebecca Dickson explained that Company 6 needed to be replaced. By using the collection anomaly to pay cash rather than borrow for the new facility, the county avoids financing cost far in excess of the additional staff expense over 20 years.

This will be the first time that the county has financed and built a fire-rescue station and represents a policy change. All other such facilities were built by the volunteers, sometimes literally with their own hands, and financed by community contributions. The ingenuity of this solution to a situation that produced only indifference on the part of the previous board bodes well for the future.

However, the county must be careful to also ensure sufficient funding for law enforcement.

The proposals that drew the most fire were those for increases in the Tuckahoe Creek Service District ad valorem tax and water and sewer rates. The budget also plans to set unified utility rates for all county customers to mitigate the increases.

Residents of the TCSD are understandably angry and frustrated about being burdened with an ever increasing extra tax and rising utility rates. They want the county to eliminate the ad valorem tax and spread the TCSD debt service obligation to all county taxpayers. They contend that the TCSD will benefit the whole county so everyone should pay for it.

Those who live outside the TCSD are not eager to pay more taxes for utilities that they will never use.

Board chair Ned Creasey District 3 observed that Goochland County is like a ship with five compartments and no watertight bulkhead. “The board is working very hard to solve this problem, but we need time to craft a fair and equitable solution.”

Indeed, the new supervisors have been in office fewer than 100 days and have accomplished a great deal. They are also just getting started. Decades of mismanagement and poor policy cannot be quickly untangled. We all need to have patience and give the new folks a little breathing room to get going.

Perhaps the most daunting task the supervisors face with regard to the TCSD is building trust with its landowners.

In past years the county treated the major players in TCSD like Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown. Development that is not economically viable will not happen. The previous regime repeatedly refused to pass higher density zoning, including that for commercial construction, to make that possible. New carrots and sticks must be fashioned to encourage all TCSD landowners to get on the development train.

Trying to play catch up, the new board must move with all due haste to put zoning in place to entice development to the TCSD.

To that end, an ordinance changing the composition of the planning commission and modifying criteria for removal of its members was amended, one of the few votes of the evening. Going forward, the planning commission will be comprised of seven members, one from each district and two at large.

The board then appointed Joe Andrews, District 4 and Derek Murray District 3 to fill vacancies. Thomas Rockecharlie and Matt Brewer were appointed to fill the at large seats. These citizens bring common sense and practical experience to the job and will do a great deal to move Goochland to the next level.

When the terms of the three planning commission holdovers that refused to resign expire on March 31, 2013 the planning commission will be further reduced to five members.

Creasey said that the entire board votes on all appointments.
Board vice chair Ken Peterson District 5 observed that Goochland is blessed with a deep and broad talent pool among its citizens as he nominated Rockecharlie.

The supervisors will vote on the budget, including tax and utility rates, on April 17. They will meet at 3 and 7 p.m. in the board meeting room. Both sessions will be streamed live over the internet. See the county website for details.