Thursday, February 26, 2015

Slogging through February

Goochland’s supervisors held a marathon workshop session on February 23. Matters originally scheduled for a snowed out session on February 17 were added to the agenda.

Debbie Byrd, the county’s civil and environmental engineer, presented an update on the options for dealing with the unfunded state mandate to regulate storm water. The bottom line seems to be that county oversight of the stringent new regulations will provide better customer service to landowners and developers. Fees charged will not offset the entire cost of implementation, however.

While no one is in favor of polluted water, the motive for imposing these regulations is murky at best. It seems like the federal government is trying to wrest control of all surface water in the country. The new storm water rules seek to create more “best management practices” AKA retention ponds, that will need oversight.

There seems to be a dearth of hard science connecting water pollution to run off, yet pretty much every time the permeability of a patch of ground is changed, the new regulations kick in. Of course, that means that people must be hired to issue permits and perform inspections, all of which makes any kind of development more expensive.

The supervisors have not yet decided if they will approve county oversight of this program, or let the state’s Department of Environmental Quality handle it.

Keith Burgess of the Monacan Soil and Water Conservation District explained that his agency administers grant money to help fence livestock out of streams to improve water quality. It also provides many “non-traditional services” that help to preserve the rural character of the county.

Burgess said that the MSWCD helps to educate new comers to Goochland about rural living. As forest lands convert to farmland, the MSWCD helps to ensure that proper erosion and sediment controls and other sound land use practices are implemented. It works with newcomers to Goochland starting smaller agricultural operations. These are a different customer, Burgess contended, who did not grow up with “the common sense land use knowledge” of long time farmers and benefit from MSWCD guidance.

Burgess also said that the MSWCD is no longer in the equipment rental business. His agency has been swamped with applications for grant money and technical assistance.

Principal planner Jo Ann Hunter shared proposed changes to the county’s comprehensive land use plan with the supervisors. The comp plan, explained Hunter, is a policy document. Although it has no “enforcement teeth,” once the 2035 comp plan has been approved by the supervisors, county zoning and other land use ordinances will be revised to support its objectives, something that is currently lacking.

District meetings are scheduled for April to discuss the proposed changes and gather community feedback. Hunter said that staff will be happy to make a comp plan presentation to any interested group or neighborhood.

Planning Commission Chair Joe Andrews, District 4, commended Hunter, GIS Analyst Jon Worley and the Planning Staff for their work on the 2025 comp plan.

The draft 2035 comp plan will soon be posted on the county website Questions and comments are welcome. After adoption, the 2035 Comp Plan will be available in a user friendly spiral bound book. This should be distributed to all realtors who sell property in Goochland as well as prospective homeowners.

An annual event that used to be as pleasant as getting a root canal without anesthesia—presentation of the proposed school budget to the supervisors—has instead become a cordial exchange of information and comment.

Delivered on time and balanced with the funds expected to be made available by the county, the proposed school budget rose 3.1 percent over the current fiscal year. School Superintendent Dr. James Lane also discussed unfunded priority items. (See the meeting packet, under the supervisors’ tab on the county website for details.)

Lane declared that the Goochland schools provide and excellent value for taxpayers.

Before getting down to the numbers, a list of the impressive accomplishments of Goochland schools was presented. It’s hard to believe that this is the same school division that, according to the former superintendent, was headed into a “death spiral” without a massive tax increase and infusion of funds.
The open dialog and collaboration between the supervisors and school board is good for everyone involved. Excellent schools that prepare all students to participate in the American Dream are a crucial component of a vibrant community.
An executive summary of the school budget is also part of the February 23 board packet and paints a clear picture of the way that local education funds are used.

Todd Kilduff, Director of the Public Utilities Department made his budget presentation. Perhaps the most important accomplishment of this department in the past year was completion of the utilities’ master plan. At last, the county has a clear picture of where utility lines—public water and sewer—are; how existing infrastructure can be put to its optimal use; and cost estimates for needed improvements and ongoing maintenance.

Kilduff said the study found that the Centerville water tank has been underused and is able to handle pressure needs to Patterson Avenue. He also said that the West Creek water tank will be decommissioned.
He recommended a 2.5 percent increase in utility rates to reduce the general fund utility subsidy and pay for necessary capital improvements. Kilduff said that the ad valorem tax levied on the Tuckahoe Creek Service District is expected to remain at the current 32 cents per $100 of assessed valuation for the “next several years.” This is a sore subject for TCSD homeowners and will undoubtedly be raised at town hall meetings in March.

County Administrator Rebecca Dickson presented her proposed budget for fiscal year 2016, which begins July 1. (This is available in its entirety on the county website. It is a beautifully crafted document containing a great deal of interesting information about the county and well a perusal.)

The proposed budget is based on retention of the current (53 cent per $100 of assessed valuation) tax rate. The budget will be discussed at the upcoming town hall meetings. Citizen feedback could result in adjustments. A public hearing will be held on the FY2016 county budget in April, after which the supervisors will vote to set tax rates for calendar year 2015. First half taxes are due on June 5.

No comments: