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.






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