Thursday, July 9, 2015

Sharing information

L to R Del. Lee Ware, 65th District, Del. Peter Farrell 56th District, Sen. Tom Garrett 22nd District (Paul Drumwright is in the background)

Since taking office in 2012, Goochland County’s Board of Supervisors ha worked hard to leverage every tax dollar to maximum advantage.

The county negotiated a new contract with Waste Management that saved nearly a million dollars over a decade and included extensive renovations of the Central Convenience Center that did not cost taxpayers a penny.

The Supervisors also declined to renew the Goochland’s membership in the Virginia Association of Counties, which lobbies on behalf of localities in the Commonwealth. They contended that they have a good relationship with our delegation to the General Assembly (GA) and prefer direct communication.

Those representatives: Delegate Lee Ware, 65th District, western half of Goochland; Delegate Peter Farrell, 56th District, eastern half; and 22nd District Senator Tom Garrett, Entire County; came to Goochland on July 7.

The occasion was the annual Legislative Delegation Luncheon hosted by the Board of Supervisors. It was held in the community room of Reynolds Community College. Most elected and appointed officials as well as county and school division staff participated in a lively discussion and exchange of information.

Ware, who is the longest serving member of the Goochland delegation, said that the GA has put more money into the Virginia Retirement System to make it more solvent and set aside money in the state’s “rainy day” fund.

He also explained that the state revenues touted as on the increase tend to be non-discretionary federal pass throughs earmarked for things like Medicaid and social services. The amount of money that the GA can spend has not returned to 2007 levels.

In Virginia, counties and cities have only those powers given to them by the General Assembly, so it is vital that our representatives in Richmond are on the lookout for unintended consequences of laws they impose on their constituents.

Each summer the supervisors and school boards compile a list of topics that are affected by state actions.

This year, transportation issues were front and center for the county. Goochland is totally dependent on VDOT—the state agency whose motto is “Oops!”—for all road maintenance and improvement.

(GOMM must qualify routine snark here to commend VDOT for its excellent performance during last winter’s snow events. The maintenance crews do a good job often under difficult conditions.)

Following completion of an arterial management study of the Broad Street/Ashland Road corridors, improvements to the intersection of Rt. 288 and Broad Street Road were given highest priority.

These include more and wider lanes on exit ramps and traffic signals. Because Broad Street Road is so close to Interstate 64, there is no room to build a full cloverleaf at its intersection with Rt. 288. (This is the kind of design shortsightedness that earned the “Oops!” rating.)

As most of the increase in traffic on these roads will be generated by new development in Henrico County, the improvements have regional impact, which should loosen the state transportation purse strings. The estimated cost of the new lanes and signalization is $4.3 million.
Two other needed improvements with regional impact are signalization of the eastbound I64 off ramp to Ashland Road and the eastbound Patterson Avenue/West Creek Parkway interchange. Total estimated cost for both $1 million.

A new item this year is concern about the Certificate of Public Need (COPN) process that governs new medical facilities. When the MEDARVA group, which operates a medical office building in West Creek, announced plans to open an outpatient surgery center there, competing providers filed suit contending that the existing MEDARVA outpatient facility in Stony Point has room for expansion and a new facility on the other side of the James River is redundant. This should be a matter decided by market forces and not courts.

The COPN requirement, which most states do not use, increases the cost of medical care without improving quality. Farrell contended that this will be a “big topic” in the 2016 session.

Internet access remains a concern.

Dr. James Lane Superintendent of Goochland Schools said that the lack of broadband “is a major equity issue for rural school divisions.” When students are unable to access the internet from home it “chokes” what the schools are able to offer in comparison to those areas with broadband access.

District 2 school board member Kevin Hazzard said that since “Baby Bell” telephone companies no longer have to provide land lines, there is a lot of “dry copper” wire in the ground that could be used to provide DSL internet. Those companies, Verizon in Goochland, are not required to sell that wire to anyone, which keeps out competitors.

Manuel Alvarez, Jr., District 2 supervisor, said that Century Link, another internet provider would like to expand into western Goochland, but is prevented from doing so by regulation that favors Verizon.

Garrett asked for statutory details that prevent Century Link from expanding into Goochland.

The supervisors have contended for several years that a comprehensive, impartial study of the consequences, if any, if applying sewage and industrial sludge to farmland is badly needed. The studies in existence have been paid for by the companies that apply the substance.

District 5 supervisor Ken Peterson articulated the frustration of the board on the matter. One the one hand, the state Department of Environmental Quality has imposed strict storm water management regulations on the county, which increase the costs of development for every project of more than one acre. On the other hand, the DEQ also allows application of sewage and industrial sludge on farmland. Theoretically, the sludge application, if done according to regulations, does not pollute rivers and streams. There seems to be little oversight of the application process, however. To further muddy the waters, the county cannot prohibit the application of sludge.

District 3 Supervisor Ned Creasey said that sludge has and is being applied to a lot of acreage in Goochland. “We don’t want this turning into another Love Canal,” he said alluding to the notorious toxic waste dump in western New York. Creasey advocates notation of sludge application on property deeds.

Monacan Soil and Water District Director Jonathan Lyle said that the source of soil enriching nutrients is irrelevant to the farmer. However, he agreed that credible information on the cumulative effects of sludge application is needed. “Farmers are stewards of the land. The ag industry wants it (sludge) safe and well-monitored to make sure that toxic heavy metals are not getting into the organic matter.”
Lyle said that he is not a fan of big government but believes additional regulatory oversight on sludge is needed to ensure that it is a safe practice.

Former Gov. Jim Gilmore is looking for a career change; perhaps he could be appointed sludge czar for life.

Lane said that the GA needs to take action to protect individual student data, which everyone in the state “currently has access to.”
Fluidity in the SOL testing was very helpful to ensure that each student achieves maximum potential, said Lane. He also discussed fiscal issues.

Garrett commended Goochland for being very proactive about communicating with legislators. He said that Goochland is one of the few jurisdictions in his district that meets and talks to him on a regular basis. “That’s why we carry so many bills for Goochland,” said Garret. “You asked.”
Ware, Farrell, and Garrett were lavish in their appreciation for the caliber of people who hold elected and appointed office in Goochland. “Goochland is the best in the business,” said Farrell. “You get ahead of the issues with this meeting.”

A final list of Goochland positions on selected issues will be completed and sent to the delegation in the fall.

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