Friday, August 12, 2016

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.

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