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 goochlandva.us.

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 http://www.pamunkeylibrary.org/

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.

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