Thursday, September 12, 2013

Lunch with the sausage

Lunch with the sausage makers
Crafting legislation has been compared to making sausage—you might like the result, but the process is best left unseen.
Goochland’s current board of supervisors drew criticism in 2012 when it declared membership in lobbying groups the Virginia Organization of Counties (VaCO) and the National Organization of Counties (NaCO) unnecessary expenses. Goochland supervisors, however, contended that the concerns of small counties are ignored, or overruled, by the big boys.
The most tangible benefit to membership in these organizations was the annual conferences, which allegedly provided an opportunity for local officials to learn from their peers, like the NaCO conference in Hawaii a few years back. This board will pay for their own vacations.
Rather than get lost in the priorities of statewide lobbying groups, Goochland supervisors prefer to deal directly with the legislators who represent the county in the Virginia General Assembly to evaluate attitudes on specific issues.
Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, which means that localities have only those powers given to them by the General Assembly. So, local governing boards must engage in a cumbersome ritual of “mother may I” to change anything.
In the 2013 General Assembly session, Goochland’s Delegation: Senator Tom Garrett, 22nd District, along with Delegates Lee Ware, 65th District, and Peter Farrell, 56th District, successfully carried several pieces of legislation requested by the supervisors. This is the result of good communications among local and state officials.
These include: the ability to amend service district boundaries following proper notice and a public hearing; changes to land use taxation rules going forward; exclusion of inmate populations from decennial redistricting; construction of a Department of Corrections Water line; and a solution to the long sought delineation of the boundary between Goochland and Louisa using a GIS map.
Bills to provide reimbursement to localities for electoral reimbursement failed.
Possible legislative requests—items the county would like to see the General Assembly address in 2014—were discussed with the delegation at a meeting, held in the community room at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community Room on September 3.
This year’s initial wish list includes: funding for replacement of the Department of Corrections water storage tank on River Road West; construction of a bridge over Tuckahoe Creek connecting Henrico with Rt. 288; more local input in the need for traffic control devices; regulation of sewage sludge; reimbursement for political party primary expenses, compensation of registrar and electoral board; affordable access to high-speed internet services; expedited test retakes; impact of home school athletic legislation; elimination of post Labor Day school start; and increase of the technical assistance funding percentage for Virginia agricultural cost share program. Items were submitted by the county, school division and Monacan Soil and Water Conservation District respectively.
Some items were an easier “ask” than others. The water tank funding, which has been also requested by the DOC, is fairly easy. On the other hand, construction on the bridge over Tuckahoe Creek will start about the 12th of never.
Because Henrico County—one of the big dogs in the region-- opposes the bridge and has about 15 times as many people—read voters—as Goochland it can veto our request.
Board of Supervisors’’ Chair Ken Peterson, District 5, pointed out that, barring Henrico’s disapproval, VDOT—the state agency whose motto is “oops”—believes a bridge connecting Ridgefield Parkway with Tuckahoe Creek Parkway, would provide regional traffic benefits. The Metropolitan Planning Organization, which addresses regional road issues, would give this bridge its number one priority, except for the Henrico opposition.
According to Ware, our neighbor to the east opposes the bridge because Rt. 288, the final portion of the circumferential highway around Richmond, was built in Goochland. Ware said that one of the reasons he opposed the western option, which we know as Rt. 288, was that the more easterly version offered better connective options. He also foresaw the bad feelings on the part of Henrico.
Aside from easing congestion where Rt. 288 connects with Broad Street Road and Route 6, the bridge would provide quick access to the West Creek Emergency Center from western Henrico.
Farrell believes there is no room for compromise—that Henrico does not want the bridge. Farrell and Garrett then sang a duet cautioning that compromising the property rights of one locality could result in unintended consequences statewide.
Herb Griffith, chair of the county electoral board, said that the “pockets of every taxpayer in Goochland are being picked by the very people we are working to elect,” with respect to reimbursement of localities for the cost of partisan primaries. Indeed, candidates seem to have very deep pockets to fund annoying robocalls, commercials, and endless mailings, but refuse to pay for primary elections.
The entire delegation claimed to agree that the system should be changed. They have sponsored legislation to remedy the situation, but the bills fail.
Griffith also pointed out that the state mandated change from electronic voting machine to paper ballots will cost Goochland more than $100,000 on top of the increased election costs. Griffith said that electricity to power the electronic machines costs ten cents PER DAY while paper ballots cost 25 cents EACH and must be stored in a secure location. He vigorously contended that every jurisdiction in Virginia faces a similar unfunded mandate and should be properly compensated by the Commonwealth.
Ware pledged to work with other jurisdictions to increase advocacy of the issue.
A major toothache for county motorist is the lack of traffic signals at several dangerous intersections. County Administrator Rebecca Dickson explained that funds to install signals at several places have been pledged by developers and local companies, but cannot be built because traffic counts at these locations do not exceed the arcane VDOT warrant threshold. The Board would like more control over this matter.
The legislators sort of agreed with this. Although the General Assembly passed legislation to  provide VDOT with a massive amount of money for transportation, little thought was given to reforming the agency itself.
School superintendent Dr. James Lane had a short list that boils down to increased local control of schools. Greater flexibility in the timing of tests, he said, would allow students to focus on more rigorous and relevant instruction.
Allowing schools to determine when they will start the school year—doing away with the so-called “Kings Dominion” law that prohibits classes from beginning before Labor Day—would also give greater local control over the instructional calendar. (Goochland has had a “waiver” to start classes in August for several years.)
Ware, Farrell and Garrett praised Goochland’s elected officials for keeping them informed about issues facing the county and for crafting a clear and concise wish list for the General Assembly.

In recent weeks, the Board of Zoning Appeals and School Board struggled to understand and apply convoluted and sometimes contradictory state laws. It would be nice, as our General Assembly delegation goes forth to legislate, if they would make laws can be interpreted by mere mortals.


Beth Hardy said...

Nice recap, Sandie. That was a doozy of a meeting! We covered lots of topics with our legislators. Very good and productive meeting. Thanks for reporting.

Pat said...

Great overview, Sandie.

I appreciate the efforts of our representatives on behalf of the county, but given that both oppose personal liberties such as marriage equality and women's rights to control their own bodies, I cannot vote for either.

The items discussed here are things that good representatives of either major party would put forward, or not be reelected. Why can't our representatives also illustrate that Goochland includes tolerant and loving people as citizens?

John D. Wright said...

For Pat - Please understand the purpose of the meeting was to allow Goochland to tell them the issues that needed to be addressed by the General Assembly next January. The issues you bring up aren't ones that pertain to Goochland County governance directly. However, there was time allocated within the meeting for public comment - which gives such ideas a platform from which to be heard. Perhaps next year you may be able to take advantage of the opportunity.