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.

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