Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Balancing act

Goochland’s supervisors believe that their job is to serve the citizens. Making everyone happy is another story.
A mixed grill of issues was on the Board’s menu for its Wednesday, November 5 meeting.

In the afternoon, concerned citizens protested an ordinance amendment adopted in August, 2014 that gives the county the authority to cut grass in excess of twelve inches on occupied homes in areas zoned residential. The ordinance does not apply to any property zoned A-1 or A-2, or actively involved in agricultural pursuits. Susan Lascolette, District 1, cast the sole dissenting vote on the matter.

Previously, the ordinance addressed only unoccupied residential property.

Tom Dykers contended that ordinance enforcement is complaint driven and enforced by bureaucrats, which he said, is counter to English Common Law. He contended that there are laws on the books, which provide a way to remedy reduction in property values caused by neighbors who refuse to maintain their land.

Others said that Goochland is a nice county of neighbors who help each other when the grass needs cutting and that the involvement of the county in a dispute could exacerbate a conflict.

Board Chair Manuel Alvarez, Jr., District 2, said that the supervisors never intended that the ordinance would be used for residents unable to cut their grass, but for people who refuse to cut their grass. He cited health concerns as one on the underlying reasons for the ordinance and said that it would be rarely used only after all other approaches had been exhausted.

Alvarez reported that the last round of town hall meetings was successful and the supervisors received a great deal of thoughtful and constructive feedback from citizens. Issues of interest differed around the county. For instance, the Taco Bell in Centerville generated a lot of feedback in District 4 while roads were the center of discussion in District 1.

The Board authorized appropriation of an additional $22,000 to augment the up to $110,000 it authorized in October for slope improvements and related services for the closed landfill under Hidden Rock Park.

John Wack, Deputy County Administrator for Financial Services gave an update on projections for the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2015, which began on July 1.

Expenditures by county departments came in at, or mostly below projections. Wack’s report (included in the Board packet) stated that revenues for FY 2015, including an expected 2.4 percent increase in taxable real estate values as of January 1, 2015, are estimated to exceed the budget by approximately $2.8 million.

The Board agreed to a request to approve an amendment increasing the budget to allow $36,000 to be used for a one-time bonus for employees in the Constitutional offices.

An amendment to the school budget was also approved. The details are in the Board packet.

County Administrator Rebecca Dickson said that the county will seek a credit rating in the winter. This will be another indicator of excellence in local governance.

The Board discussed referral of an amendment to a zoning ordinance to clarify road requirements in A-1 and A-2 for uses that are considered to generate high public assembly. These would include: churches, fire-rescue stations, wineries and microbreweries. The amendment would require those uses to abut and have direct access to a state maintained road.

Wording of the proposed ordinance seemed vague with regard to existing operations. Bob Minnick, District 4 contended that the intent about grandfathering needs to be clearer before it goes to the Planning Commission.

Alvarez said that the intent of the ordinance amendment is not to “Shoot down” and existing use, but to look forward for new uses.
Ken Peterson, District 5 observed that this is an attempt to move away from “one size fits all” regulations for uses in rural areas.

The Board went into closed session with County Attorney Norman Sales to discuss the process for filling vacant elected offices.

Following a public hearing that was almost a love fest between affected citizens and the supervisors, the Board voted unanimously to approve an ordinance to define and differentiate between commercial and private kennels.

This ordinance was the result of a great deal of discussion between county staff and local kennel owners. The terms had never been defined, which led to a great deal of confusion.

Whitney Marshall, assistant county attorney, explained that, in Goochland County, there is no such thing as a “kennel license.” The Treasurer’s Office sells dog licenses in bulk, which has no bearing on the “legality” of any dog, cat, or hybrid facility.

The main difference between commercial and private kennel is that commercial kennels have regular business hours and offer services including boarding and breeding in return for compensation.

Pete Lenk, who owns a kennel, reported that there are about 233 kennels in Goochland, 84 percent of those are on land zoned A-1 or A-2. He supported the ordinance, which was unanimously approved.

Last, but by no means least, the supervisors voted 4-1 with Bob Minnick, District 4 in dissent, in favor of amending the Tuckahoe Creek Service District rules requiring entrants into the TCSD after January 1, 2015 to pay only an additional 20 percent “upcharge” on utility connection fees.

Only parcels with an existing residence that are not connected to the utilities will be permitted to leave the TCSD every two years beginning in September, 2016. There will be no refunds of paid ad valorem taxes. Land of equal or greater value must be admitted to offset the exclusion.
The original organizing documents of the TCSD required owners of land added to the district after its founding in 2002 to pay back ad valorem taxes for several years with interest. The fee, according to Dickson, was never applied. County Attorney Norman Sales said that the penalty did not comply with state law.

Property added to the TCSD last year on the north side of Tuckahoe Creek Parkway apparently did not pay the penalty. Instead, that project proffered, at its expense, badly needed improvements to utility lines, which is expected to mitigate the “smelly” water problem that has plagued users.

The revised ordinance, also in the Board packet, seems to levy ad valorem tax based on the full assessed value of land in the TCSD that participates in land use. This is an important change and should bolster debt service revenues in the TCSD.

Jeff Wells, a resident of Kinloch, who described himself as “the water ghetto guy,” strenuously objected to the idea of expanding the TCSD. He contended that about one quarter of the TCSD is developed and growth should be concentrated there.

Wells told the supervisors that instead of looking to expand the TCSD, they should be concentrating their energies to attract development. He cited an upscale retirement community as something that would complement West Creek and increase property value. Wells has a very good point. West Creek still has the option of developing some sort of high density housing.

He objected to essentially giving new entrants into the TCSD a pass on the debt service burden carried by landowners since inception in 2002.
Wells concluded his remarks by noting that the supervisors and staff took the time to work with citizens to craft the kennel ordinance, but do not meet with TCSD residents to seek equitable solutions to the debt issue. He characterized that as the “Goochland good old boy network.”

Alvarez conceded that Wells made some good arguments against expansion of the TCSD, but said that the county cannot force landowners to develop their property. There has been some interest in expansion, but there are no pending applications.

Discussion about fairness ensued. Homeowners in the TCSD contend that their ad valorem tax burden is unfair (Wells said he pays $2,200 annual ad valorem tax on his home) and want a more equitable solution. Some contend that, because all Goochland citizens derive benefit from the TCSD, the debt service burden should be spread to all land owners.

Dickson explained that the county’s general fund “contributes” several hundred thousand dollars to the TCSD financing each year. That is money that could be used for law enforcement, fire-rescue, schools, or other services.

Minnick, said that there is a “lot to wrestle with” on this issue. He suggested that the Board take more time to evaluate the matter and the working toward an equitable solution is worth the extra time.

Ned Creasey, District 3 moved to accept the amendment as written, with the condition that it will be “tweaked” to deal with the fairness question.

The TCSD is the gift of dysfunction left the previous regime that just keeps on giving heartburn to all involved.

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