Friday, December 21, 2012

Of lists and evergreens

Having spent the best part of 2012 putting out inherited fires, the Goochland Board of Supervisors took some time in December to make a to do list for the coming year.

At workshops held in early December the supervisors discussed the Capital Improvement Plan with staff, school administration, and members of the school board; and economic development with the Economic Development Authority. Both sessions were geared to setting priorities. Much needs to be done, but resources are limited.

County Administrator Rebecca Dickson began the CIP session with an overview of the process. A capital improvement, she explained, is a non-recurring expense of generally more than $50,000. The CIP helps the county plan large expenditures for both the county and schools over several years. Projects in the CIP are funded by debt, cash, often from the general fund, and other sources, including cash proffers.

The CIP is prepared in conjunction with the annual budget. Items under consideration included the school bus maintenance facility, which has been an unresolved item in the CIP for at least a generation and what to do with the old middle school.

Our new Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Lane was an active and informed participant in the discussions. (Rumor has it that Dr. Lane took his trumpet to the football playoffs in Salem and played with the band. What a great way to start his tenure!)

Another evergreen item in the CIP is a replacement for Goochland Elementary School. Lane gave a rough estimate of $24 million to build a new elementary school. Capacity and current utilization for each school was also presented.

A proposal to investigate the purchase of an existing building in Oilville to replace the decrepit bus garage was enthusiastically received.

District 2 supervisor Manuel Alvarez, Jr. said that, because there is no clear and compelling use for the old middle school at this time, he does not believe it should be included in the CIP.

The scope of the meeting was too broad to permit detailed discussions of any item. However, a build out analysis, the number and location of lots currently zoned for residential use, (about 1,356) was included in the packet. There are approximately 8,200 existing homes in the entire county. (See part A of the December 4 board packet at for details.)

Other non-school CIP items included a new emergency communications system, which is mandated by the Federal Communications Commission and well underway; vehicle replacement; software upgrades for the county’s information technology department; and grounds and facility maintenance. Priorities for the CIP will fall into place as the budget process unfolds during the first quarter of next year.

The bottom line of the CIP discussion is that the county needs more revenue.

The economic development workshop raised more questions than it answered, but it was a good start. Attracting new business to Goochland to bolster our revenues and fund core services, as well as items in the CIP, is crucial to preservation of the quality of life expected by citizens. Nurturing existing businesses is also important.

Matt Ryan, who joined the county staff as Director of Economic Development last spring, explained that companies looking to move to Goochland operate on the premise that time is money. If processes needed to set up shop here are too cumbersome or tentative, they will go elsewhere. The current business climate is very competitive because every jurisdiction wants to attract new revenues and jobs.

A new economic development website is expected to be in operation soon, which should help make the county more visible to prospects.

Goochland has done a great job of repelling, rather than attracting new business. We have few cleared shovel-ready sites with utilities and roads in place. The supervisors are working to streamline the rezoning process, but that will take time. The dearth of rooftops to attract retail was also touched on.

A bridge over Tuckahoe Creek, another evergreen issue, would bring the businesses of West Creek, especially the new medical center, close to homes in Henrico. Growth in the northwestern corner of Henrico puts many upscale homes close to eastern Goochland. It’s way past time for us to turn the tables and poach sales tax dollars from our neighbor to the east the way it has been doing to us forever.

Economic development activities must be prioritized. The supervisors indicated that the TCSD, West Creek, Centerville, the Oilville Interstate 64 interchange and Courthouse Village will be on the front burners. Courthouse Village has a unique set of opportunities and challenges and needs its own work session and strategic plan.

The Oilville interchange must be high on the priority list. Since at least the turn of the century, the EDA has offered several ways for the county to partner with VDOT to bring water and sewer to the interchange through expansion of the nearby eastbound I-64 rest area’s wastewater plant. These partnership initiatives seemed like no brainers, but were regularly shot down by the previous board with no justification.

About two years ago, an effort by the county to pre-zone some land on Oilville Road to help attract prospects was derailed by a massive and false disinformation campaign. The motives behind that failure are murky but can probably be traced back to someone who felt they were not getting a big enough piece of the potential pie. That nonsense has got to stop.

The supervisors also need to rebuild bonds of trust between landowners and the county that were shattered by the treachery of the previous regime.

Goochland needs a good mix of small, medium and large businesses to provide a stable tax base able to weather the vagaries of the larger economy.

John Joyce and Gracie Easely of the EDA pointed out that regulations placed on small businesses are often excessive and confusing, especially when compared to neighboring jurisdictions.

The absence of any discussion about ways to ensure that that law enforcement and fire-rescue grows apace with development was troubling.

Each item on the economic development agenda could probably use its own workshop. In the current fragile fiscal climate, attracting new business to Goochland presents huge challenges. Care must be taken to ensure that benefits outweigh costs. The supervisors seem eager to move forward with all deliberate speed. They must, however, be mindful of long term consequences of their actions.






Sunday, December 16, 2012


We don’t know why a disturbed young man went to a Connecticut elementary school last Friday morning and committed unpardonable crimes. We may never know what triggered his mind to reject the instinctive taboo against harming a child that is hardwired into the human soul.

We cannot fully grasp the suffering of the survivors. Our hearts break for the parents who should be shopping for toys, but are instead buying coffins for their children. There are no words to express our sympathy; there is no way to assuage their grief.

We are angry because shooting rampages seem to be occurring more frequently. Experts, however, contend that the number of mass shootings in America has been relatively steady for the past few decades. Our 24/7 news cycle and hyperconnectedness just makes us more aware of these horrors.

Above all, we don’t ever want this to happen again. At first blush, banning all guns seems to be the answer. A worldwide news digest on Friday included a piece about a man in China who wounded 22 children with a knife. Okay, let’s ban knives too, just in case.
Fists were the weapon that injured a Goochland teacher in a recent incident in the parking lot of the high school.
The common denominator in most of these situations seems to be mental health issues. Some of the perpetrators have gotten “help” in the form of anti-psychotic medications; others may have had some contact with mental health professionals with mixed results. Still others hover like bombs waiting to go off.
How do we, as a free society, protect ourselves those who may pose danger to the community without impinging on their rights? Who gets to decide if someone poses a threat? Who is liable for the havoc wreaked when one of these troubled people--who seem to be mostly young, bright, white men—fall through the cracks?
Do we lock all quiet loners and hyperactive kids up in mental hospitals? How much will that cost, and who will pay? Suspending rights of those deemed to be unable to function in society is a slippery slope.
The questions are many. The answers are few. This long overdue discussion must begin now.
Banning guns will not end mass killings; it will only change the methodology.
We all want to find a way to make this evil stop forever, but acting in haste is not the answer.
Pray for all of the bereaved in Connecticut and pray that the person planning the next incident will find help before it is too late.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Bulldogs win state!

The Goochland Bulldogs football team won the state championship game 41-14 against Essex. The game was played in Salem, and ended a few minutes ago. Congratulations to the players and coaches for their hard work and to parents and others who supported them.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Stocking stuffers


Since taking office last January, Goochland’s supervisors have been busy. They started by crafting a balanced, but very lean budget, using the process to get acquainted with every facet of county operations. Then, they averted the county’s own fiscal cliff by refunding a portion of the Tuckahoe Creek Service District debt.
At their December 4 meeting, the work continued.
The Certified Annual Financial Review (CAFR) for fiscal 2012, which ended on June 30, was presented by newly retained auditors PBGH. The county has adopted the sound business practice of changing auditors to ensure objectivity. By all accounts, PBGH did an excellent job of reviewing the county’s finances.
While there a still a few operational weaknesses, these have been identified and action plans to fix them are in place. There were no restatements, or, in technical accounting terms “oopses,” as to numbers. This is a huge improvement over the massive dysfunction of yore.
There is still work to be done, but things are going in the right direction. The Supervisors and School Board are committed to excellence and transparency in this matter. The CAFR document is posted on the county website under the Finance Department. It contains lots of interesting general information in addition to the numbers and is well worth perusal.
The Board authorized County Administrator Rebecca Dickson to sign a contract to purchase 7.5 acres at the intersection of Three Chopt and Old Fredericksburg Roads for the long overdue replacement for the Company 6 fire-rescue station in Hadensville. The purchase price is the assessed value of $88,900.
Money for this purpose was allocated in the current fiscal year. This parcel of land is the triangle roughly opposite the existing station. One time revenues generated by the shift to a semi-annual collection of personal property taxes will fund the construction. This will be the first fire-rescue station built, and owned, by the county.
A possible solution to a decades-long problem may have been found. The supervisors authorized Dickson to place an option on a property to replace the school bus maintenance garage. If this works out, it will provide out of the weather repair space in a multi-bayed building that is only a few years old and high enough to accommodate double decker buses. The property is listed at $795,000. It is doubtful that the county could build a new bus garage for that. The option will permit a thorough investigation to determine if it is a good fit and estimate the cost of converting the space for bus maintenance.
Other long standing matters were not so easily resolved.
During citizen comment at the start of the afternoon meeting, community activist Anne Rockecharlie, who generally supports the new board, took it to task for voting to approve commercial use of land at the entrance to the Bellview Gardens subdivision in Centerville. She also cautioned the board about its upcoming vote on the application for a conditional use permit for a sporting clays shooting range at Orapax. Until they adopt a noise ordinance, said Rockecharlie, the supervisors have no business to threaten the peace and quiet of others.
Linda Trice, who lives near Orapax, suggested that the Board request Orapax to conduct a full day sample of the operation of the sporting clays course before they vote on the conditional use permit application. She contended that the few volleys shot during the sound test conducted in October were not a true representation of the negative impact of the courses on area landowners.
Earlier in the year, the supervisors indicated interest in removing the Elk Island Bridge, and its high maintenance costs, from the state road system. Making this happen, however, is quite complicated. County Attorney Norman Sales explained that liability issues could result in Goochland, rather than VDOT, picking up the considerable tab for maintenance.
The bridge, located in the far western end of the county, spans the remnants of the Kanawha Canal and accesses an island that is entirely private property. Initially part of a crossing to Cumberland County, the span over the James River on the south side of the island was washed away and never replaced. Elk Island is owned by a handful of land owners who use their property for agriculture and recreation.
In the past two years, VDOT has spent about $1 million for bridge upkeep, far more than VDOT allocates annually to maintain all roads in Goochland County. One of the largest ongoing expenses is removal of debris that accumulates against the bridge abutments. Environmental regulations add to the cost.
Sales explained that he has asked the Virginia Attorney General for an opinion on several issues. These include: ownership of the bridge--the canal is state property, but ownership of the bridge is unclear; liability for mishaps that might occur on the bridge; and who, if anyone, pays to maintain the bridge if it is removed from the state system.
Sales also pointed out that money VDOT might save by removal of the bridge from state maintenance will not necessarily be added to Goochland’s road maintenance allocation. More information is needed before any action is taken.

Public hearings drew no comments and all matters were approved unanimously.