Sunday, January 31, 2016

Growth--who pays?

When Goochland was a rural enclave far to the west of Richmond, its population grew by dribs and drabs. Costs attributed to this slow growth were digested by increased property tax revenues.
In the mid- 50’s, a few subdivisions tiptoed into the eastern end. While these new residential enclaves brought more people to Goochland, they had little impact on county services, especially the most expensive—education.

Then regional growth accelerated. Counties in Northern Virginia exploded as the federal government expanded. Localities struggled to keep up with burgeoning demand for services that required new infrastructure, most notably, roads and schools.

(Although Goochland’s population more than doubled—from 10,066 in 1970 to around 22,000, today— it’s still not a lot of people on a land area slightly larger than that of Henrico. Short Pump, by comparison, has about 24,000 people in slightly more than nine square miles.)

The simplest way to cover the cost of growth is an increase in property taxes. As tax hikes are never popular with voters, elected officials searched for another way to cover the cost of growth.
Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, which means that localities have only those powers given to them by the General Assembly, especially taxation. Around the turn of the century, cities and counties overwhelmed by the cost of building new facilities as more people moved in, asked the General Assembly for the power to levy impact fees on developers.

After much wrangling, the GA declined to approve the use of impact fees, but did devise something called “cash proffers” as an alternative. This method of funding growth is peculiar to Virginia.

Cash proffers are one time voluntary monetary commitments made at the time of rezoning to offset the impact of that land use change on capital facilities. Funds collected are intended to represent the fair share of new capital facilities needed to support demand generated by a specific project. They cannot be used for operating expenses. For example, proffer dollars may be used to build a school, but not to pay teachers.

Developers argue that proffers just increase the cost of homes and that accompanying revenues generated by new housing offsets the cost of growth. Localities contend that housing consumes far more than the revenues it generates in cost of services. Still, the cash proffer option was something.

Compared to the net cost of new facilities, a school, for instance, the amounts generated by cash proffers are relatively small. However, as in Goochland’s case, monies generated by cash proffers have enabled “pay as you go” funding for smaller projects, including the “bump out” at the library and improvements to parks, avoiding additional debt.

Goochland County Administrator Rebecca Dickson presented a brief overview of cash proffers to the supervisors at their January 5 meeting. (Listen at the livestream near the end of the afternoon session at the county website

Goochland County adopted a cash proffer policy in 2000, currently $14,250 per home, that applies only to land rezoned for residential use. Commercial rezonings, which tend to have little impact on public facilities other than roads, are not subject to cash proffers.

Each commercial project, Dickson said, is evaluated on its own merits and expected to mitigate its impact on county services in other ways such as building turn lanes, or contributing cash to off-site road improvements. In-kind donations of land; rights of way for future road improvements; or utility upgrades can also put forth as “sweeteners” in the rezoning process.

Apartments in West Creek were made possible by an amendment to existing zoning, so cash proffers were not applicable. However, the owners of West Creek did proffer a site for a fire-rescue station there when the county determines a need for it.

Under current Goochland County policy, the amount of the proffer must be paid when a certificate of occupancy is issued. Proffer funds must be used within twelve years of collection or be refunded.
Since Goochland adopted a cash proffer policy, $17,735,378 has been proffered from 37 rezoning actions. To date, $4,319,141 has been collected, and $2,428,282 has been spent.

Dickson said that the supervisors may change the amount of proffers, if the method used to calculate them is reasonable; leave them as is; or eliminate them. If the board were to decide to do away with cash proffers, unwinding them is possible, but complicated.

She said that staff undertook a detailed investigation of the methodology used to calculate the existing maximum proffer amount and contended that those assumptions “went too far” including items that were on a theoretical wish list instead of limiting factors to the county’s capital improvement plan.

However, a rework of the figures, based on more conservative assumptions, resulted recommending that the existing proffer amount be retained. This calculation used only the inventory of existing capital facilities and capital projects planned over the next five years.

Components used in the revised calculations are: demand generators; service levels; gross cost; credits; and net cost. Credits apply to debt service incurred, for instance, to build a school to avoid double taxation. (See page 120 of the January 5 Board Packet for the breakdown of the calculation of the maximum school proffer.)

The proposed maximum cash proffer amount remains unchanged at $14,250, but reduces the amounts for fire-rescue; parks; and libraries while increasing them for schools and roads.
The supervisors will need to decide how the cash proffer policy will apply to mixed use projects that will all require rezoning.

Board Chair Bob Minnick, District 4, said that the supervisors will look at the subject again, perhaps in another workshop.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Following the money

Eyes tend to glaze over at the mention of the term “budget”. However, annual budget workshops offer insight about the fiscal condition of local government and the decision- making process behind spending public funds.

On Wednesday, January 20, the supervisors spent the day talking money with some county departments. Similar sessions will be held next month.
Since it first took office in 2012, this board has used these low-key meetings to understand the story behind the numbers and talk with the people who translate policy into action.

The supervisors review amounts budgeted in the previous year; actual spending; requests for the upcoming year; and a look ahead one year to avoid fiscal surprises. Fiscal year 2017 begins on July 1, 2016.

Following are highlights of the meeting. The complete packet is available on the county website

Animal Protection is requesting one new officer to expand customer service hours, and increase employee morale. Currently, said Tim Clough, Director of Animal Protection, early evening responses require overtime, calling employees back to work after their shifts have ended.
The county needs a new animal shelter to comply with state mandates and accommodate more animals. A public/private partnership is planned to fund the new facility.

Clough said that educating people about spay/neuter policies; the negative consequences of feeding feral cat populations; and discarding unwanted hunting dogs at the end of the season would help stabilize the need for animal protection services. The additional animal control officer would offer education programs in the schools, which cannot be accommodated with current staffing levels.
Clough contended that the current fee schedule is confusing and believes that a single fee would be more effective. He also supports a modest increase in boarding and adoption fees to help offset the operation of the animal control facility.

Convenience Center hours generated some discussion. The reopening of the central CC on Thursday involved shortening hours on Sunday, which has generated some long lines and complaints. The western convenience center, opened about nine years ago, still gets so little use that it is closed on Wednesday. Manuel Alvarez, Jr., District 2, wondered if more people would use it if they knew it was there.

There was also conversation about a longed for eastern convenience center, which would initially consist of a fenced lot with trash dumpsters and recycling bins. It would have to be manned to ensure that is it used properly and only by county residents. Finding a location may be the tricky part of this.

Community Development, the department that processes everything to do with land use and construction is expanding and reconfiguring its space on the main floor of the administration building, according to Community Development Office Manager Sara Worley. When the admin building was first repurposed from the ”old high school” in 2005, space allocations were somewhat arbitrary. In the meantime, the staff has grown and has a new emphasis on customer service.

The new CD space will include a large conference room capable of seating up to 60. For those of us who attend board and committee meetings often crammed into the current conference rooms, this will be a nice change. Completion is expected by fall, 2016.

Monitoring and Testing of Biosolid sites was included in the agenda. Even though the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) thumbed its nose at the objections raised about permits to land apply biosolids—the end product of wastewater treatment plants last fall, the supervisors are not ready to let the matter drop.

Debbie Byrd, Civil and Environmental Engineer, surveyed other localities in the state where biosolids are applied to see how they deal with the issue. Spotsylvania has determined that DEQ reimbursement would not cover the cost of additional testing. Campbell County tested for one year only those substances tested by DEQ and found no abnormal result in samples taken.

Byrd explained that DEQ reimburses localities for testing expenses on a per ton applied basis. In Goochland, for the year 2015, the maximum amount that could be reimbursed would be $7,500, and could be as low as $4,500.

Ground water monitoring is only performed if there is evidence that biosolids left the application site. The state will reimburse a locality for up to 3 water samples per locality per contractor per year.

Byrd said the cost of testing even one third of application sites per year could range between $290,000 and $870,000.

Byrd suggested that a focus on groundwater studies would at least provide a baseline to test future results against and measure change. These can be valuable to provide an idea of what the problems may be.The supervisors unanimously supported Byrd’s efforts to obtain an estimate for the cost of local water testing. “At least we can try to identify the problem at the local level,” said Board Chair Bob Minnick, District 4.

County Attorney Norman Sales reported on the progress of a bill asking for a state funded study of the long term consequences of land application of biosolids and industrial sludge sponsored by Del. Lee Ware, who represents western Goochland in the General Assembly. The resolution was “watered down” to just requesting that a panel of experts review the existing literature to see if there are errors in testing methodology. In short, this would pretty much ensure and endorsement for the status quo. “Someone doesn’t want this study,” Ken Peterson, District 5, observed.

Ned Creasey, District 3 said the requested study is for “the safety of our citizens. “I’d rather it be rejected as submitted than watered down.”
The board agreed to send the bill back to Ware and explain that it would like to see the original bill filed and defeated.

Electoral Board chair Robin Lind expressed optimism that legislation put forward by Del. Peter Farrell, who represents eastern Goochland, will increase state funding for electoral boards and Director of Elections.“Elections are a core function of government. The complexity of the office (of Director of Elections) is not reflected in the approved compensation levels,” said Lind. Currently this cost, is born entirely by localities.
Lind said that 2016 will be a busy election year in Goochland. There will be a presidential primary in March, there could be a congressional primary in June, then the general election in November, If State Senator Tom Garret wins a seat in Congress, a December special election will choose his successor.
Storage space for the new paper ballot voting machines is also a concern.

Fire-Rescue Chief Bill Mackay said that overall response times have been reduced. Additional staff was hired to ensure three 24/7 crews are in place, supplemented by volunteer when available.
The revenue recovery program brought in about $554,068 in calendar year 2015, representing about a 63 percent compliance rate.
Three additional full-time employees are included in the FY 17 budget request to compensate for a decline in volunteers. Other costs increases include apparatus maintenance.
The new Hadensville Company 6 station is under construction.

Goochland belongs to the Pamunkey Regional Library, a consortium of four counties that pool resources for a cost effective way to provide library services to their communities. Goochland County owns the Goochland Branch Library building on River Road West in Courthouse Village, which is staffed by the Pamunkey Library.
The way patrons use libraries is changing from books to digital content, explained Tom Shepley, Pamunkey Library Director. Circulation numbers presented for Goochland show a decline, which, could, in part, be attributed to methods used to track some items including access to online magazines.
Computer use at the Goochland Branch Library continues to increase.
Minnick said that the absence of a public library in the east end of the county is a lost opportunity to engage the high density population there. A free standing library would need at least four usable acres. However, the notion of leasing existing space was discussed. Shepley explained that three of the ten Pamunkey Library facilities are leased commercial spaces that enhance traffic to surrounding businesses.
Library cards are free for all residents of Goochland County. They entitle you to reciprocal use of other libraries, including those in Henrico and Richmond. Visit the Pamunkey Library website at

No decisions are made at these workshops. The county administrator will present a proposed budget in March. The Board will vote on a final budget in April and set tax rates for calendar 2016.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Banding together


Beware! This sign indicates a pending change in land use

Folks who live in the Manakin and Rockville Roads corridor remain vigilant about a pending rezoning application. This proposal would permit at least 100 homes (the exact number seems fluid) in a community called The Glenns at Rockville. Neighbors fear the drastic increase of traffic on narrow, winding roads will make an already dangerous situation more deadly. (Eight fatal wrecks have occurred here since 1991.) They also believe that dropping high density housing on farmland will destroy the area’s rural character.

The Goochland Planning Commission unanimously rejected the application at its November meeting following a lengthy public hearing replete with opposition.

A small group of citizens have worked very hard to keep their neighbors aware of the issue.

The Board of Supervisors has the final say on approval of this matter. (The application, which was expected to be addressed at the supervisors’ February meeting, has now been deferred until at least March 2.)

On January 14, a general meeting, attended by 115 people, discussed ways to let let the supervisors know they oppose the proposal, and all of its ramifications. Contact information for all supervisors was distributed. Everyone present was urged to visit the Goochland County website to keep tabs on rezoning proposals.

There were complaints about the county’s new yellow road signs announcing pending land use changes. The font is too small to read easily while driving by—especially on narrow, winding roads as you dodge deer, cows, bicyclists and bad drivers. (If you see one, call 556-5860 for information.)

This group met with VDOT and secured a commitment for a traffic study on Manakin and Rockville Roads that is expected to be finished in the summer.

At a December, 2015 session with supervisors Bob Minnick, District 4, who is 2016 chair; Ken Peterson, District 5; and county staff they learned about the rezoning process.

On January 11, the developer, Wilton Acquisitions, which does not yet own the subject property, met with them to unveil a revised plan. This version of The Glenns has fewer homes, none of which have direct access to the main “connector” between Manakin and Ashland Roads. Details about this plan were vague according to those who attended. GOMM did not.

The connector road was touted by Wilton as helping fire-rescue access Rockville Road from Company 3 in Centerville. A former volunteer pointed out that St. Matthew’s Lane does that. He also contended that more homes will exacerbate the rising call volume and falling volunteer numbers that stress fire-rescue service.

Wilton allegedly said that he has already spent approximately $100 thousand dollars on this project. Goochland County is under no obligation to make a developer whole if his plan falls through.

The passion expressed by these folks who took time out of their busy schedules is commendable. However, some of the comments indicate a scary indifference and ignorance to things going on in Goochland. A lot of us moved here for peace and just to be left alone, but inattention has consequences.
One woman, quite riled by the whole thing, angrily inquired when the supervisors are next up for election. (They were reelected in November, 2015 after running with no opposition. In Virginia we vote for someone every year in early November.)

Another person mentioned that her son wants to move to Goochland but did not want to put his children in our bad schools. Goochland Schools are constantly being recognized for excellence. (However, if we keep this a secret, maybe no one will want to move here.)

Although Wilton contends that his target market is the 55 plus age group, the long term impact on school enrollment must not be overlooked. As presented at the planning commission, homes in The Glenns are two story and large enough to accommodate an “occupied nest”. While the first buyers of these homes might be retirees, resales will be snapped up by families, especially if the planned new elementary school is built in the eastern end of the county.

A younger man who moved here a few years ago because he wanted land, pointed out that his contemporaries have little interest in maintaining acreage and want to settle in high density neighborhoods where someone else mows the lawn.

Others said they want to see what a housing development with small lots looks like. The Parke at Saddle Creek, which is in the Centerville Village, off of Manakin Road just south of Broad Street Road has homes built on a fraction of an acre.

Many people denounced “spot zoning”--rezoning parcels of land for uses that are different from those around them--as a great evil. By that definition, the communities of Wheatlands, Fords, Windy Run, Nuckols Forest, and Nelwood Estates are spot zoning. Granted, they were developed years ago, but why were those subdivisions okay and this is not?

Another person declared that high density housing development has to be stopped or it will sprout all over the county. Wrong. High density housing cannot function without public water and sewer, found only in the Tuckahoe Creek Service District, which includes the Centerville Village.

Any land owner has the right to apply for rezoning. The supervisors are required to give the application a fair hearing, but are under no obligation whatsoever to approve it. The supervisors generally do not comment about a rezoning application until it is before them. Given these facts, it’s hard to understand why so many people assume that this rezoning application will be approved.

Many people at the meeting were learning about the county’s 2035 Comprehensive Land Use Plan for the first time, even though its latest revision was in process for about two years before approval last summer. The supervisors were practically begging for citizen input. Few people pay attention to land use matters until the bulldozers are on the lot next door.

Having said all that, these citizens are to be commended for organizing their objection to this rezoning application. Continual citizen engagement is vital to the proper function of local government.

Setting a precedent for high density in this area is yet another unexplored consequence of the requested rezoning. There is a larger parcel of land to the north of The Glenns eligible for public utilities that could also be developed if the Wilton application is approved.

When making their decision, the supervisors need to look at the larger picture. Subdivisions that have been approved on Hockett and Seay Roads must be considered. It’s hard to see why the county should approve even more homes with unbuilt subdivisions “on the books” just waiting to break ground. Hockett Road, though still not wonderful, is better able to handle increased traffic than Manakin and Rockville Roads.

Instead of developing the land north of Broad Street Road piecemeal under the auspices of Will E. Nilly, landowners and developers in the area should be encouraged to consolidate parcels into one large, attractive community perhaps with direct access to Ashland Road. This will take years to accomplish, by which time it might make sense for Centerville.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

A new year

Goochland’s Board of Supervisors began 2016 by electing a new chair and vice chair, Bob Minnick, District 4, and Ned Creasey, District 3 respectively. This fulfills their pledge, when first elected in 2011, to rotate board leadership on an annual basis.
Ned Creasey, Bob Minnick

Outgoing chair, Susan Lascolette, District 5, who holds the distinction of being the first woman to serve in that capacity, thanked her fellow board members for their attention to detail, thoughtful deliberations, good humor, and collaboration during 2015.

Lascolette also thanked County Administrator Rebecca Dickson for her incredible dedication and hard work helping the board work through issues large and small. She thanked County Attorney Normal Sales for his good counsel and the county staff, for its hard work every day preparing reports and supporting the Board. She also thanked the citizens for their support during the past four years and recent elections. “We rely on the input of citizens to keep Goochland County’s way of life.”
"Madame Chair" Susan Lascolette and gavel presented by fellow supervisors.

Minnick welcomed everyone to the meeting. He then thanked the Board for its vote of support. “I look forward to continuing the collaboration of the past four years. As always, I value your input.” Minnick expressed his gratitude to county employees. “you are they engine that makes this all work.” To the citizens, Minnick, said that he and the board are “committed to the freedoms that you hold dear and hope that you will continue to participate in this experiment that we call local government.”

The Board unanimously and joyously adopted a resolution recognizing the Goochland High School Girls’ Volleyball Team for winning the 2015 Virginia High School League Group A, Division 2 State Volleyball championship. The team, which finished the year with a 27-0 record, and its coaches were present. In addition to group accomplishments, team members Madelyn Ott, Josie Summitt, Maddie Parker, Alexis Wiggins, and Casey Spencer were 2015 Quad Rivers 34 All-Conference Volleyball selections. Madelyn Ott was named player of the year and Coach Jennifer Erixon was named coach of the year.

These fine young woman are to be commended for their accomplishments, which reflect well on them and the community. The lessons of personal dedication and teamwork will serve them well wherever life’s path leads them.

In November, a ceremonial groundbreaking for a kayak and canoe launch in the eastern arm of Tucker Park at Maidens Crossing took place. The new facility, which will be built in the next few months, was chosen by L.L. Bean, which recently opened a store in Short Pump Town Center, as the site for an “Outdoor Discovery School”--one of ten nationwide, and the only one in Virginia. To that end, the supervisors authorized Dickson to execute a lease agreement for use of the park. L. L. Bean will work with the Goochland Department of Parks and Rec to ensure that there is no negative impact on access for the general public. (See the January 5 board packet available on the county website for details.)
School Superintendent Dr. James Lane updated the supervisors on the latest accolades gathered by our school division.

Goochland Middle School has been named a “national school to watch,” one of the best middle schools in the nation, after rigorous vetting by principals from Loudon County. This will result in a national award in D. C. later in the year. All four county schools have been named “Apple Distinguished Schools” out of 300 worldwide. Byrd Elementary School, which has a high percentage of economically challenged students, was named a Distinguished Title I school by earning higher SOL scores than its peers.

Lane said that Goochland has been chosen to lead the Code RVA initiative to rethink what high school looks like and create a regional magnet school not focused on gifted students. High school would be completed at the end of 10th grade. Students would complete a two year Associate Degree online while working in a paid apprentice-type arrangement performing entry level coding tasks currently outsourced overseas. At the end of the program students would be college ready, or able to take jobs in computer fields. Local tech companies, said Lane are hungry for recruits. So far CarMax, Capital One, and area colleges are on board. Admission would be lottery based so that “any kid can be successful.”

Lane said that the student population is rising. There has been something of an influx of students in the southeastern end of the county, which could be the result of families transitioning from private to public schools. Additional students resulting from new construction is right in line with projections.

A preliminary capital improvement plan (CIP) for the next five years (FY 2017-2021) was presented. This enumerates approximate costs for infrastructure such as buildings, fields, parks, and major equipment like fire-rescue apparatus—whose cost cannot reasonably be absorbed in an annual budget cycle.

As capital projects can be quite costly some—the new elementary school planned to be built around 2020--will require borrowing. The supervisors are dedicated to limiting the county’s debt burden to no more than 10 percent of general fund expenditures. Careful planning is vital to achieve that goal.

The CIP also includes unfunded projects such as a new Circuit Court building and three new fire-rescue stations to put them “on the radar screen” for future consideration. A complete CIP will be presented on February 16.

During a working dinner, the Board met with Carlos M. Brown, who represents the Richmond Region on the Commonwealth Transportation Board, to discuss Goochland’s road priorities.

Brown listened attentively to a presentation that included the results of the Arterial Management Plan completed in 2015 as well as justifications for construction of a bridge connector between Ridgefield Parkway in Henrico and Tuckahoe Creek Parkway in Goochland.

While sympathetic to traffic issues in the Broad Street Road/Rt. 288 corridor, Brown said that of $600 million expected to be available statewide for road projects in the next six years, only $76 million will be available for this region. The bulk of the money will go to northern Virginia and Hampton Roads who suffer from “incurable gridlock all the time.” Considering that traffic congestion in the Richmond region lasts 30 to 45 minutes at rush hours, contended Brown, the region is “being treated pretty fairly.”

Brown said that I-66 was built to fix congestion and instead became “a parking lot.” There is no way to continue to build—and maintain—pavement without finding other means of transportation. In the future, roads, he said, will have to be tolled, or closed.

During public hearings in the evening, the supervisors unanimously approved rezoning for acreage in Courthouse Village to permit up to 16 Craftsman style homes on land opposite Parrish Ford. They also approved a conditional us permit for the expansion of Greenwood Memorial Park and amendment of county ordinances.

The Board will meet on January 20 for a day long budget workshop.