Tuesday, August 30, 2016

What's in a name?

It’s kind of interesting to hear someone say that they live near Rt. 250 in Manakin, because Manakin is on Rt. 6. They probably mean that they live in the Manakin-Sabot zip code, which encompasses a large part of eastern Goochland. According to a recent item posted on richmondbizsense.com it has the highest per capita income in the region.
This water tower, which rises just north of Broad Street Road, welcomes all to Centerville.

To further confuse matters, many people whose homes are geographically in the Centerville Village, have zip codes for Rockville, which is in Hanover County, or Richmond. Part of the River Road enclave also has a Richmond zip code.

Thanks to the United States Postal Service, folks who live in Goochland may have mailing addresses in Hanover, Louisa, and Fluvanna counties too. Some people who live in Hanover and Louisa have Goochland zip codes. Telephone exchanges are just as confusing.

There are lots of places in the county, that use the Goochland 23063 zip code, including Othma, Bula, Georges Tavern, and Fife, that no longer have post offices. Sabot, which was once a thriving village near what is now Route 6, with its own train station, ferry crossing, and church, is just a memory. Then there is Deep Run Hunt Country, in the middle of the Manakin-Sabot zip code, that is defined in the county’s comprehensive land use plan, and the hearts and minds of the Goochland’s equestrian community.
This is the heart of Manakin. The post office is at the right.

Goochland has no incorporated towns. Courthouse Village, which contains government offices, a church, schools, and commercial activities, elements of what is traditionally considered a town, is just a place. Centerville is trying to figure out what it will be when it grows up, but the zip code matter confuses things, as do local enterprises physically located in Centerville that use Manakin in the name.

For instance, McDonald’s and Taco Bell list their location as Manakin-Sabot, even though they are in the shadow of the water tower that welcomes you to Centerville. Many people navigate by GPS, which uses zip codes to find things. Business owners don’t care what the Postal Service calls their location, they just want customers to find them.

The Audi dealership soon to take shape inside the boundaries of the Centerville Village, seems to be having an identity crisis. One sign on the property announces the pending arrival of West Broad Audi, another Audi of Richmond. As the property is located in the "Richmond"23233 zip code, either would be correct.

Our six fire-rescue stations have names that match their location. Manakin Company 1 is on Route 6 in, well, Manakin. Centerville Company 3 is right next to the Broadview Shopping Center on Broad Street Road and so on.
Manakin Company 1 is on Route 6.

A great deal of time and energy has been expended over the past few years to determine exactly how the Centerville Village will develop. Market forces and private sector investment, not the county, will ultimately determine what springs up there. Will lacking an identity hamper that?

Centerville has been designated as ground zero for economic development in Goochland. It has public utilities, good road access, and in the path of westward bound growth as Henrico builds out. Differentiating Centerville from Short Pump is a tricky task. Efforts to create a unique sense of place for Centerville have been ongoing with limited success.

Placing a “Welcome to Centerville” sign at street level, is not an option. VDOT—the state agency whose motto is “Oops!”—does not permit welcome signs for places that are not incorporated political subdivisions. That’s why there is a “Welcome to Henrico County” sign in the middle of Broad Street east of the county line in what is clearly perceived as Short Pump.

Sometime this fall, the county will begin installation of the first phases of the Centerville streetscape project, intended to visually unify the Broad Street Road corridor in the core of the Centerville Village, between Ashland and Manakin Roads. Improvements will include cobblestone “noses” on the median ends accented with low maintenance drought tolerant landscaping. A more ambitious design, which included street trees, white spilt rail fencing, and street furniture, was modified due to concerns about cost of installation and maintenance.

County Staff is looking for sort of “feature” to capture the rural nature of Goochland in lieu of a sign in entrance corridors. Perhaps something as simple as the county logo without words would suffice and might pass muster with VDOT.

The Centerville Village overlay district has stringent design standards to ensure that new businesses are attractive and harmonize with their surroundings. Perhaps just having lower density than the residential and commercial development just over the county line will send a clear signal that you’re not in Short Pump any more.

Does the name of a place really matter? If so many people refer to Centerville as Manakin because of its zip code, maybe the county should just follow suit and stop using the name Centerville altogether. Does the cachet of a Manakin-Sabot zip code attract business? Maybe Manakin on Route 6 could become Sabot—no one seems to be using that name and it would help things come full circle.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Yet another election

Ken Peterson

About six and one half years since he first threw his metaphorical hat into an election race, Ken Peterson, who represents District 5 on the Goochland Board of Supervisors, is doing it again.

Should Tom Garrett, who represents the 22nd Distract in the Virginia Senate, be elected to the Virginia 5th District U. S. Congressional seat in November, Peterson will vie for the republican nomination to replace him. The senate seat will likely be filled by a special election between November and the January start of the 2017 General Assembly session.

Peterson announced around the beginning of August. On the 16th, he spoke at the Goochland Republican luncheon, held at Enzo’s Chophouse in Centerville, coming full circle to where it all began.

With the face of a choir boy, soul of a paratrooper, and a keen analytical mind, Peterson moved to Goochland after leaving the world of New York finance to manage a local private investment operation a decade or so ago.

He said that electing a republican to replace Garrett is vital for the GOP to retain its razor thin (19-21) majority in the 40 member Virginia Senate as the current lieutenant governor—and senate tie breaker—is a democrat, Ralph Northam.

Peterson said that of the three people who have expressed interest in succeeding Garrett, only he has never lost an election, has a proven track record of hands-on experience governing, and understands how money works. Currently, there are 17 lawyers and no “finance guys” in the Virginia Senate, he said.

Also, if Garrett moves up the road to Washington, there could be one fewer veteran in the General Assembly in a time when public safety issues both domestic and foreign are moving front and center in importance. Peterson is a West Point graduate and Army veteran.

He gave a brief summary of the remarkable turn-around that he and his fellow supervisors engineered after first taking office in 2012. At that time, Goochland’s bond rating was worse than that of Detroit. County government on the whole was dysfunctional. Without intervention, Goochland would have had many of the embarrassing problems that currently plague Petersburg.

“The Goochland Revolution” was the result of the application of conservative principles of fiscal responsibility, transparency and accountability to those governed. The supervisors elected in 2011, all newcomers except Ned Creasey, District 3, had no experience in government, but varied and complementary business-related skill sets. They worked with each other and the school board to fund core services and cut unnecessary items from the county budget.

Most importantly, they got the county finances straightened out. The 2009 audit, conducted by a new firm for the first time in too many years, found about 40 material restatements—errors—in Goochland’s money handling. Then the treasurer was marched off to prison for embezzling public funds.

While running for office, Peterson read the documents about the bonds issued to finance construction of the Tuckahoe Creek Service District. The county borrowed more than its annual budget to install water and sewer lines in the northeast end of the county on an “if we build it they will come” scheme with only raw land as collateral and an assumption of 11 percent annual growth, which did not materialize. The terms of the agreement did not include an option for early redemption, which Peterson likened to a mortgage that cannot be paid off before the end of its term. To keep up with debt service, the county would be forced to raise the ad valorem tax paid by landowners in the TCSD to a level resulting in the highest tax rates in the region. Default on the debt would result in the Virginia Resource Authority, issuer of the debt, “intercepting” money that Goochland gets from the state for schools, law enforcement, and constitutional offices.

When the current board took office, Peterson spearheaded the effort to get control of the TCSD debt. Long story short, after many hours of research, discussion with the VRA and bond counsel, the debt was tamed, saving the county $26 million. The ad valorem tax was stabilized at 32 cents per $100 of valuation. In 2015, Goochland obtained a AAA bond rating from Standard and Poor’s, the only county of its size in Virginia to ever do so.

In the interim, county audits have been squeaky clean. Policies and procedures have been streamlined to better serve the citizens while keeping the real estate tax rate at 53 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

Peterson contended that his real world experience of making hard fiscal decisions and finding solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems is badly needed at the state level. He understands the consequences unfunded state mandates “like throwing a hand grenade over the fence” have on localities that work hard to be good stewards of local tax dollars.

He wrote a book, In Search of Good Government: From the Grand Experiment to the Goochland Revolution, produced by Goochland’s own Dementi Milestone Publishing, outlining his views on effective government and how it translates into practice in Goochland County.

The 22nd District includes all of Amherst County, Appomattox County, Buckingham County, Cumberland County, Fluvanna County, Goochland County, part of Louisa County, and part of the City of Lynchburg. Its boundaries were redrawn in 2011 as a result of the 2010 census and the usual partisan kanoodling.

Goochland is in the 7th US Congressional District, which is currently represented by Dave Brat.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Celebrate, celebrate, dance to the music

Dr. Steve Staples, Dr. Jeremy Raley, Dr. John Herndon in background.

Goochland County Public Schools calls its annual event to kick off the school year convocation, a somewhat staid term. In reality, the gathering of the entire school staff, held this year on August 12, was indeed a celebration of past achievement and look toward an exciting new school year, which begins on Augusts 22.

Joy, enthusiasm and anticipation were palpable in the high school auditorium before Convocation began. Returning staff members, greeted old friends and made new ones. In addition to school related folk, several supervisors, Susan Lascolette, District 1; Manuel Alvarez, Jr. District 2, and Ken Peterson, District 5, along with our new County Administrator John Budesky were in the audience.
Our Marine Junior ROTC color guard, resplendent in immaculate dress uniform, presented the colors to start the event. Assistant Superintendent for instruction Dr. Steve Geyer, master of ceremonies for the event, said that GCPS exudes energy and optimism as it moves to the next level of excellence.

School Board Chairperson Kevin Hazzard, District 2, said that his time on the school board “has been an interesting five years.” He attributes the success of the current board to beginner’s luck coupled with the hard work of everyone involved with our schools. “Our schools have been great for a long time, and they’re getting better every day,” Hazzard said.

Then he turned more serious.” We want you to have a feeling of trust so you can take chances. We’re working hard to give you the opportunity to go out on a limb and do what is right for your students. We appreciate your hard work. We want you to act instead of react and we will have your back. On behalf of the school board I offer our deepest gratitude. We look forward to the awesome things you will do this year.”

Our new superintendent, Dr. Jeremy Raley, who has been on the job about five weeks, has hit the ground running (yes, for obvious reasons this post may have lots of sports analogies, apologies if they’re not quite accurate) and seems right at home in his new gig.
In his remarks introducing the guest speaker, Virginia Superintendent of Public instruction, Dr. Steven R. Staples, Raley said he is impressed by the amiable relations between our supervisors and school board, a situation unusual in the rest of the Commonwealth.
Raley contended that Staples “gets it,” that he “has been in our shoes and knows what you do every day and that that education is far more than the achievement snapshot” of the SOLs.

Staples used humor and selected movie clips to enliven his remarks. He exploded commons myths about education: anybody can teach; schools did a better job in my day; school is a lot easier today; you have to get everything just right; and “if we give our kids what we had, everything will be just fine.”

Education, Staples contended, is about preparing our children for jobs and careers that do not yet exist. “Today’s students will not get tomorrow’s jobs in yesterday’s schools,” he said. “We can’t possibly envision the skills that they will need to succeed in the future, so we have to teach them how to learn.” He said that GCPS is on the cutting edge of many innovative approaches to learning.
“A teacher takes a hand, opens a mind, and teaches a heart,” Staples said.

G21 awards, an ongoing effort to bring 21st century skill awareness into each school (see http://www.glnd.k12.va.us/resources/g21/)were presented. These recognize innovative approaches to learning.

Eccho Books (http://goochlandschools.org/2016/05/24/eccho-books/) is the result of collaboration between 9th graders and kindergarteners to create illustrated eBooks whose characters exemplify the core values of GCPS: excellence, creativity, courage, honor, and optimism. Mrs. Kuykendall and Mrs.Abbott were the catalysts for this project.

Sixth graders made newsreels about World War II to bring the history of that era to life. Using iPads and ingenuity, they learned how news of the day was transmitted back in the “olden” days. Visit http://goochlandschools.org/2016/05/18/6th-grade-history-video-projects/ to learn more.
Furth grade Randolph students explored the healthy bodies, healthy minds connection creating and presenting ideas using various media ranging from movie trailers to artwork. See http://goochlandschools.org/2016/05/16/the-res-healthy-body-healthy-mind-project/ for details.

Wes Fargas, 2016 teacher of the year introduced Joe Beasely 2017 teacher of the year.

Joe Beasely,white shirt, greets friends at the end of Convocation.

Beasely, a teacher at GES was recognized for his belief that it is a teacher’s job to incorporate student interests into their pedagogical approach to learning. Beasely utilized a “scrum” method where students are organized into teams to complete projects. In addition to mastering subject matter, students learn “soft” skills including teamwork, organization, and setting priorities.In his remarks, Beasely paid homage to the teachers of the years from each of Goochland’s five schools with personalized poems.

Raley took a microphone and move to the auditorium floor for his remarks. “The future is bright because of your innovation every day. I am humbled to be in front of so many talented individuals.” He expressed his gratitude for the welcoming attitude of the community toward the Raley family.

Goochland, Raley said, is a proud, successful school division that is on the cutting edge and a role model in education as a result of everything the staff does; the success of these efforts in is evident in results. All five Goochland schools are and have been fully state accredited for the past five years, a rare achievement among schools in the Commonwealth.
He exhorted the staff to continues its work to maximize the potential of every learner. “What we value are not words on a page, but results. It doesn’t matter what your title is, but your ability to believe in a child to find a way to make them successful. Never estimate what you can do for a child.”

He concluded with a quote from Nelson Mandela “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

Goochland Schools are sound, which benefits every citizen.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Get engaged!

No, not with a ring, with your community. As the presidential race grinds on, people are inundated with politics on the national level. How will this candidate or that govern? Which policies will be best for the country?

In reality, the elected officials that have the most impact on our daily lives are those who hold local public office. Do you know who your county supervisor is? School board member? Do you even know what district you live in?

Want to know how our wonderful schools are funded? More about Goochland’s history?

There’s an easy and rewarding way to learn what makes Goochland tick and get to know people from all walks of life that you might not otherwise encounter.

It’s called Goochland Leadership Enterprise. Begun in 1996, GLE is recruiting for its next class. Sessions are typically held at 7 p.m. every other Wednesday evening between mid-September and mid-March at locations around the county to provide insight about places not on your usual “flight path”. A holiday hiatus runs from November 30 to January 4.

Each meeting explores a different facet of Goochland including its history; agriculture; county departments; courts and law enforcement; county services; economic development and the budget process. GLE provides an opportunity to meet with elected officials on the state and local level and spends a day at the Virginia General Assembly for an up close look at how our state government works.

The final meeting provides an overview of volunteer opportunities on Goochland.

Created to help newcomers and lifelong Goochlanders get acquainted and involved with their community and each other, GLE graduates serve on the Board of Supervisors, School Board, and leadership of most county organizations. Several GLE grads have served as Goochland’s Christmas Mother. One blogs.

Goochland is a great place to live, and GLE is a great way to get to know it better.

Registration will be open until the first class on September 14. For additional information, brochure, and applications call the Goochland Extension Office at 804-556-5841.

Woof woof

(GOMM has been on hiatus and out of internet range. Sorry for the long interval between posts.)

The Goochland County Board of Supervisors held its August—AKA Dog Days of Summer—meeting on Tuesday the second. Our new county administrator John Budesky was in the middle of the action.

Among the more interesting items on the agenda was a report by Qiana Foote, Director of Information Technology. She reported that Goochland County has received the 2016 Digital Counties Survey Award from The Center for Digital Management, a national research and advisory institute focused on technology policy and best practices in state and local government. Goochland placed seventh in the category for jurisdictions of populations up to 150,000.

The award recognizes local governments that use technology to make them more efficient, transparent and facilitate citizen engagement. Kudos to the Goochland IT team for its hard work.

Foote then updated the Board on the financial software system replacement process. The current financial software is antiquated, cumbersome, and may lack vendor support. A new system to enable all county agencies to interface through the same software is needed. A consultant has been retained to determine the needs of all involved; and help the county select appropriate software to meet its needs now and for the foreseeable future; and negotiate the contract for that system.

Areas of focus are: general ledger; budgeting; accounts payable; payroll; purchasing; and functions of the Treasurer and Commissioner of Revenue. Schools will be “plugged in” to the software.

According to Foote, the project is currently in the fact finding phase to ensure that the final product fulfills the needs and expectations of all involved. The new system will involve mostly software, although Foote said that some equipment, perhaps an additional server, which would be part of the vendor contract, might be needed, but there will be no wholesale replacement of computers.

Budesky observed that “there are some vacancies on the finance side of the house. They will be key players on this team, so we need to make sure that we have the right people.”

The county Capital Improvement Plan has identified $1.875 million between now and fiscal year 2018 to fund the upgrade.

The Supervisors gave their blessing to the Economic Development Authority to issue up to $15 million dollars of tax exempt Memory Care Facility Revenue Bonds to build a memory care facility just south of Broad Street east of The Notch in West Creek.

At a meeting in July, the EDA approved the bond issuance, which is in accordance with Virginia law. Neither the EDA nor Goochland County will in any way be responsible for the repayment of the bonds, whose proceeds will be used to build an approximately 34,000 square foot memory care center and pay administrative fees to the Goochland EDA, which will act as a “pass through conduit” for the financing.

Ken Peterson, District 5 confirmed that the facility, which will be operated by a tax exempt organization, will pay real estate and ad valorem taxes to Goochland County.

County Attorney Norman Sales said that he had conferred with outside bond counsel to ensure that the county will be free from any fiscal obligations under the bond issue. This matter received a great deal of scrutiny by the county and EDA, a “belt and suspenders” approach to avoid unintended consequences.

A public hearing on a policy requiring all participants in the county’s land use program to annually revalidate their eligibility resulted in thoughtful discussion by the supervisors and some comment from participants.

Ned Creasey, District 3, who participates in the land use program, recused himself from the matter.

According to Goochland County Assessor Mary Ann Davis, existing documentation about land use program participants dates, in many cases, to 1997. Implementation of the annual revalidation policy is intended to create baseline data to ensure the integrity of the program.

Sales said that when the policy was initially presented a few months ago, it drew concern from participants. In the interim, county officials met with concerned groups, including the Monacan Soil and Water Conservation District, to obtain feedback and tweak the process.

As written, the policy requires all current participants in the land use taxation program, which computes property tax on a per acre rather than assessed valuation basis. This defers fair market taxes until the use of the land changes from agricultural, forestal, or horticultural, at which time a “rollback” tax equal to the difference between the fair market and land use assessment for the previous five years will be due. Davis said that approximately 51 percent of land in Goochland is taxed at the land use rate, which equates to $3,024,223 in deferred tax revenues.

Davis explained that all current participants in the land use program will be sent a notice in the near future explaining the revalidation process and prepare them for the revalidation application, which will be sent out on September 1. The deadline for receipt of the application is November 1. A $25 late fee will prevent assessment change if applications are filed by December 5. Failure to comply after that will result in an annual assessment at fair market value.

While the supervisors acknowledged the need for current and accurate data about participants in the land use program, they were wary of the penalties in the policy change.

Lascolette said that she was concerned about land owners who might not receive the notice about the revalidation process until it was too late. Sales said that, for the first year, the Commissioner of the Revenue will act as an appellant to sort out individual situations for cases where notices might have been lost in the mail, or otherwise not made their way to the property owner.
Davis said that non-compliant landowners will receive fair market assessments in January and have until February 15 to appeal.
Board Chair Bob Minnick, District 4, observed that there is no way to make the transition process “water tight” and asked Davis to provide supervisors with non-compliant landowners in their districts early in the process so that they can help with the contact process.

During the public hearing, landowner Sara Reid, whose family has forestal land, contended that to comply, they needed to hire a professional forester to evaluate their land and trees, to draw up a 25-page document. As trees are a 20-year crop, she questioned the need for an annual revalidation.

Davis said that kind of documentation is needed only when the use of the land changes. She cited an example of property that had been designated for forestall use, in 1997. However, an investigation showed that a portion had been timbered and was now used for row crops.

Davis also said that the form sent to landowners will be two simple pages—front and back—partially completed by the county. “We want to make this as simple as possible, “she said. “If we do an audit and it looks like they’re not in compliance, we’ll ask questions. We just want to keep everyone honest.”

Davis further explained that, since 1997, land may have changed hands and not notified the county. Her staff is willing to work with landowners and have gone to homes of people unable to come to the administration building.” It is not our goal to push anyone out of the program, but to protect its integrity.”

Minnick observed that the final outcome of the change will not be known until “we take a closer look. “We must tread carefully this year to avoid unintended consequences or create a monster for our farmers.”

The policy was unanimously approved, with the understanding that the Board will receive updates from Davis on the implementation process.