Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Seasoning the sausage

Goochland makes sure is voice is heard in the Virginia General Assembly by working closely with our representatives. Delegates Lee Ware, 65th District; Peter Farrell 56th District; and Senator Tom Garrett 22nd District, know exactly where the county stands on a number of issues.

Each year, our elected and appointed county officials gather for an informal lunch meeting with the GA delegation to discuss past and pending legislation and its impact on Goochland.

As Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, which means that localities have only those powers given to them by the state, it is vital that our lawmakers understand that the lofty motives behind legislation can have unintended negative consequences at the local level. Ware, a former Powhatan supervisor, is sensitive to this.
This year’s legislative luncheon took place on June 7. Garrett, who recently secured the republican nomination for the 5th United States Congressional District, was absent. However, Elizabeth Wierschem, one of the people who hopes to succeed Garret, was there and paid close attention to the discussion.

Ware and Farrell said that Goochland is unique in holding these proactive sessions. In recent years, our delegation has sponsored bills on a host of issues and had a high degree of success.

Sludge was at the top of the agenda. Goochland supervisors thanked Ware for his help in passing a bill to fund a multi-year study of the long term effects of land application of biosolids and industrial sludge.

Supervisors Susan Lascolette, District 1 and Manuel Alvarez, Jr., District 2, raised additional concerns about transporting these substances on county roads. In the past year several large sludge trucks have overturned closing roads for long periods of time as the mess is cleaned up.

Lascolette said she would like to have greater oversight on trucks that move the substances from a storage facility on Chapel Hill Road to application sites at least licensed and registered. Currently, many of these are farm use vehicles.

Alvarez noted that sludge trucks, whose cargo originates at wastewater treatment plants in Northern Virginia and Maryland, move the stuff late at night. While that seems reasonable to avoid rush hour traffic, Alvarez reported that people think “they’re trying to sneak the stuff in” by moving it in the dark. He would like to see sludge transport limited to business hours, except hours when school buses are on the road.

Virginia currently has a certificate of public need (COPN) hurdle for any medical facility to clear before it can be licensed. Several bills were introduced in the 2016 session to eliminate or streamline this process, which were held over to next year.

Alvarez and Ken Peterson, District 5, contended that COPN is a mechanism for healthcare providers to quash competition. Alvarez said that Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) spent $1.5 million on legal fees to lobby against COPN reform in the 2016 session that would be better spend on indigent care. Peterson said that COPN “smacks of restraint of trade.”

County Attorney Norman Sales, who is interim county administrator, said that Goochland welcomes any and all healthcare providers to expand access to healthcare for our citizens.

Ware explained that funding indigent care was a sticking point on the COPN reform; legislators are reluctant to tamper with a provider’s ability to make money when all hospitals in Virginia are required to accept all who come to them.

This year, the General Assembly added funds to its budget to study rural availability of Broadband. Underserved Virginians are asked to visit or call (877) 969-6685 and answer a few simple questions regarding where they live and what level of connectivity they have. Responses will be aggregated, mapped, and shared with policy makers and the public to stimulate broadband policy and funding discussions throughout the remainder of the administration.

A bill restricting the authority of localities over the placement of telecommunications towers seems to have complicated this issue. Alvarez said that emerging technology might include Wi-Fi equipment on existing telephone poles, which are allowed by right, in place of larger towers that require zoning changes and public input.

Peterson suggested that legislation must keep pace with technology so as not to hamper expansion of services.

Legislation that defanged proffer policies, SB549, which was passed and quickly signed into law by Governor McAuliffe, blindsided the supervisors.

Sales lamented the bill’s lack of clarity and definition about the impact of conditional zoning. Goochland County, he said, intends to comply even though there have been no problems with its proffer policy. The Home Builders’ Association never asked that the amount of the residential cash proffer be reduced. Nevertheless, he said that Goochland will modify its written policy to ensure that it complies with the law.

Ware said he did not vote for SB 549 due to its vagueness. He thanked Goochland for putting the matter on his radar screen.
Farrell said that he expects to see a bill in the 2017 session that will address Goochland’s concerns about the details of SB 549.
Peterson said this bill was the result of “some bad actors” who took proffer powers to an extreme.

Goochland Schools brought their concerns to the table.

State regulations, according to outgoing superintendent Dr. James Lane, School Board Chairperson Kevin Hazzard, and Vice Chairperson Beth Hardy, hamper innovation.

Mandates for matters such as the start date for the school year and how funds must be allocated and spent that have been in place for a century make little sense in contemporary public instruction.

Ware, a former teacher, and Farrell generally favor increased local control of education.

Farrell supports more choices for students and parents. “I’d rather you run programs than the state,” he said.
Lane said that a nearly decade-old cap on funding for support positions, notably reading and math specialists and elementary assistant principals that support at risk students, is outdated.

Hazzard contended that the mid-August school start, for which Goochland must obtain a state waiver each year, is “better for our community.” He believes that the tourism industry could be as profitable in the first two weeks of June as the last two weeks of August.

Year round schools, said Hazzard, use an entirely different model and can benefit economically challenged students to avoid “the summer brain drain” of an extended summervacation.

Hardy echoed the plea for local spending control. “We understand our students best. We are frustrated that we cannot spend less if we find a more efficient way to use the money to serve our students.”

Ware said the he believes that the closer to the student and parent, the better the decision.

Goochland schools are blessed with innovative and dedicated people trying to provide education in a smarter, better, and more cost effective manner. Our students are thriving and reaping accolades by the bushel. Perhaps we need to spend less on education at the state level so we can put the money to better use at home.

In conclusion, Peterson thanked the delegation for its hard work on the county’s behalf and its attentiveness to our issues.

“We’ve got your back,” pledged Farrell. Ware concurred.

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