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.

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