Monday, October 24, 2016

Up the food chain

Localities like Goochland County are at the bottom of the governmental food chain. Elected representatives in Washington and Richmond tend to pass laws that sound good in theory, but have unintended consequences in the real world. All too often, decrees from on high come with no funding, forcing local governments to divert money from other areas to pay for them.

Pushing back against Congress is a waste of time, but Goochland County’s local officials are not shy about letting our state legislators know when pending or possible bills will have a negative impact here.

Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, which means that localities have only those powers expressly granted to them by the state legislature, so maintaining a good working relationship with our General Assembly delegation is important. One of the first things the current supervisors did after taking office in 2012 was to end Goochland’s participation in the Virginia Organization of Counties (VaCO), which, lobbies the legislature on behalf of counties. Goochland, they contended, has always kept close touch with its state legislators, so there is no need for a middleman.

Each summer our elected officials sit down with state legislators to discuss matters of importance that could be addressed in pending legislation.

In early fall, the supervisors and school board fine tune and prioritize issues into a legislative agenda. At its October 4 meeting, the Board of Supervisors discussed the proposed legislative agenda for the 2017 session. As the General Assembly Session is short and the number of bills presented staggering, the county and schools prioritize issues of greatest concern but include policy positons on a wider range of matters.

This year, the county has put a priority on increasing regulation on the transportation of biosolids and sludge. After at least two sludge truck wrecks last year that closed roads, the supervisors have asked that vehicles transporting sludge from storage facilities to application sites carry adequate liability insurance coverage. Regulation of the time of sludge transportation—currently, large sludge trucks may transport the substance from wastewater treatment plants to storage facilities at any time, including the middle of the night. Localities have no power to reject land application of sludge.

A related priority issue is the completion of a multi-year study by JLARC of the cumulative effects of land application of biosolids and industrial sludge, which was passed in the 2016 GA session. Restrictions on limited residential lodging, like Airbnb and broadband expansion top the county list.

The schools once again ask that the state allow school divisions to determine the best start date for their community, rather than require a waiver to being the school year before Labor Day.

Recognizing a need for more local control to pursue excellence in education, the schools also request revised verified credit requirements for graduation to complement further reduction in mandatory SOLs at the high school level; oppose legislation requiring redistribution of local dollars when establishing statewide virtual schools; and oppose any bill requiring “maintenance of effort,” which our school leaders believe discourages efficiency.

Policy positions supported by the county include:

Elimination or restructuring of the state’s Certificate of Public Need (COPN) program, which determines where medical facilities can be built. The supervisors believe that health care dollars are better spend on actual care than legal fees.

Clarification of legislation passed last year to “defang” local proffer policies. The law as written is vague at best.

Requiring legislation with local fiscal impact to be presented on the first day of a General Assembly session; prohibition of any new legislation with unfunded mandates and imposition of a “sunset clause” on existing unfunded mandates.

Any legislation that enhances the Commonwealth as a good place to do business.

Granting counties the same taxation powers as cities and towns.

Regional transportation priorities especially:
intersection improvements at Rt. 288 and West Broad Street Road; traffic signal at eastbound I64 and Ashland Road; traffic signal at West Creek Parkway and Rt. 6; and (drumroll) the Tuckahoe Creek Parkway Bridge to connect Ridgefield Parkway and Rt. 288.
For the complete list, see pages 80-89 of the October 4 board packet.

The Virginia General Assembly meets for only a short time each year and there is a limit to the number of bills the can be acted upon. Goochland is represented by Delegates Lee Ware and Peter Farrell and Senator Tom Garrett, who is running for Congress. Should Garrett go to Washington, a special election will be called to elect his replacement. District 5 Supervisor Ken Peterson is vying for the republican nomination to replace Garrett, which would result in a vacancy on the Goochland Board of Supervisors. Stay tuned to see how this all plays out.

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