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.





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