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.

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