Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Civic Virtue


Every day brings new allegations of the sleazy behavior of people in public life. Things are different here.

On Monday, December 11, Goochland County celebrated the career of Frances Carter Ragland, who retires at the end of 2017.  During her 25 year tenure as General Registrar, Ragland safeguarded the most precious rite of the American system—the vote—to  ensure honest, fair, and impartial elections.

The new parking lot in front of the county administration was filled with cars of friends and associates who came from near and far to pay tribute to Ragland.

Filling the boots of Frances Ragland will be a daunting task.


Ned Creasey, District 3, Chair of the Goochland Board of Supervisors, offered opening remarks:

 “We gather here to pay tribute to Frances Ragland, who has been the gatekeeper of the most previous thing we have—our vote—since March, 1992. This is not an easy task. She is a jewel. In addition to her duties as registrar, Frances has also been an active fire-rescue volunteer with Courthouse Company 5 as an emergency medical technician and running its yard sales. We wish her well.”

A resolution, unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors at its December 5 meeting unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors reads as follows:

WHEREAS, it is the desire of the Goochland County Board of Supervisors to give well deserved acknowledgement and recognition to Ms. Frances Carter Ragland who has rendered exemplary service to the citizens of Goochland County; Goochland County Departments, State and local Electoral Boards, State and local elected officials, Monacan Soil and Water Conservation District and others;

WHEREAS, Ms. Frances Ragland, after serving as an assistant to the then Goochland County Attorney, was employed as Assistant Voter Registrar in 1985; and WHEREAS, on March 1, 1992, Ms. Frances Ragland was appointed Voter Registrar to succeed Helen Dunn, and has served the voters of Goochland County with the utmost distinction for 32 years;

WHEREAS, Ms. Frances Ragland supervised seven Presidential Primaries, seven Presidential Elections, seven Gubernatorial Elections, fourteen House of Delegates elections, and countless elections for County Supervisors, Clerk of the Court, Sheriff, Treasurer, Commissioner of the Revenue, School Board, Monacan Soil and Water Conservation District, political party primaries, special elections for vacancies and the only audit of Optical Scan Ballot tallies ever approved by the State Board of Elections — an audit of hand-counted ballots that proved machine results to be 100% accurate;
WHEREAS, Ms. Frances Ragland established a sterling reputation among her fellow General Registrars, and especially among employees, and successive directors of the State Department of Elections in Richmond, for rigid adherence to the rule of law established by the Code of Virginia, despite all relaxed interpretations or suggested “alternate” procedures;

WHEREAS, Ms. Frances Ragland has burnished a reputation among Goochland County political party chairs, and candidates, for strict dedication to election laws, candidate deadlines and financial reporting that has eliminated the need for fines and penalties for late filings;

WHEREAS, Ms. Frances Ragland directed the creation and organization of the first Central Absentee Precinct in 2003 which provided for Absentee Ballots to be counted in one location, rather than at individual precincts on election night after close of polls;

 WHEREAS, Ms. Frances Ragland oversaw the change from Mechanical-Lever voting machines to Touchscreen DRE voting machines and then to Optical Scan paper ballot voting;

WHEREAS, Ms. Frances Ragland implemented Electronic Poll Books in every precinct, which greatly increased the efficiency of elections and reduced the time voters spend in line waiting to cast their ballots;

WHEREAS, Ms. Frances Ragland participated in and orchestrated three decennial redistricting’s of the county’s five magisterial districts, and now ten polling precincts;

WHEREAS, over the course of a quarter century, Ms. Frances Ragland personally taught, trained, improved, and inspired eight previous political party partisans to become impartial, non-partisan and effective Electoral Board members;

WHEREAS, Ms. Frances Ragland has created, encouraged, and sustained a culture of civic virtue that continues to inspire Goochland voters to achieve the highest percentage turnout of active voters among all jurisdictions in the Commonwealth.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Goochland County Board of Supervisors, on behalf of the citizens of Goochland County, hereby commends, recognizes, appreciates, and sincerely thanks Ms. Ragland for her exemplary and unremitting dedication and service to Goochland County and offers her best wishes for a well-earned and happy retirement.

Frances Ragland  with supervisors. (Photo courtesy of Goochland County)


The positive environment for civic engagement at the polls nurtured by Ragland encouraged and inspired Goochland voters to the highest percentage turnout of active voters among all jurisdictions in the Commonwealth of Virginia for many elections, especially presidential ones.

Robin Lind, current secretary of the Goochland Electoral Board, said that Ragland trained  many electoral board members to be impartial servants of the people. “This is a day of joy mingled with sadness,” Lind said. “Frances has been the rock upon which we based our foundation. She is self-effacing and lives the ideals of duty, trust, integrity, patriotism, and non-partisanship.”

Ragland, Lind said, is persistent, detail oriented, and follows all election law in the Code of Virginia to the letter. Her reputation for adhering to the letter of proper electoral procedure was such that people on the State Board of Elections in Richmond “did not relish a call from Goochland.”

“We are not likely to see a public servant like this again in our lifetimes,” Lind declared. “If we can emulate the civic virtue of Frances Ragland, we will achieve the highest standard that can be attained.”

Ever self-effacing, Ragland briefly thanked everyone for attending the event and their good wishes.

Heywood Pace, who was active in the 2011 redistricting after the last census, said that Ragland and her staff were always generous with their time in dealing with him. “I always left her office feeling good about our discussions.” He noted that during her tenure in office, Ragland presided over the election of the first African-American Governor of Virginia; first African-America President; and the first presidential election with a woman candidate.

Dr. Clara Belle Wheeler, Vice Chair of  the SBE said that Ragland brought integrity and honesty to the job of registrar and is a firm supporter of the Code of Virginia. She helped voters who needed guidance properly and correctly. “When I needed an honest assessment of real world conditions, I called Frances,” Wheeler recalled. “We need people with her strength of character in the election world. She leaves big boots to fill.”

Lind has said that it will be impossible to replace Ragland. The search is on for her successor, someone well-acquainted with Virginia election procedures. Finding the next Goochland registrar will be a daunting task indeed.

May the next half of Frances Ragland’s life be filled with joy and laughter.



Monday, December 11, 2017

The broken record plays on



Yet another residential rezoning case came before the Goochland Planning Commission at its December 7 meeting. This one, for a community called Swann’s Inn, seeks to rezone approximately 23 acres on River Road West in Courthouse Village, opposite Parrish Ford, to increase the number of homes from 16 to 30.

Rezoned for residential use in 2016, the  Swann’s Inn change seems to have been prompted by the availability of additional wastewater capacity from the treatment plant at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women, and perhaps, the chance to save some money. The application offered cash proffers of  $2,735 per home, far less than offered on the original rezoning application.  Smaller lots sizes are appropriate when municipal sewer is available. The revised density for Swann’s Inn is below the threshold for Courthouse Village.

Following the usual presentation about the dearth of comprehensive data about the fiscal impact of new homes on the county, the Commissioners voted 3-2 to deny recommendation of approval for the case. Commissioners John Shelhorse, District 4, and John Myers, District1, supported recommending approval of the plan. It will move to the Board of Supervisors in January, where it will probably meet the fate of other recent residential rezoning applications—deferral until the county has crafted and adopted its fiscal impact model, sometime early in the new year.

Director of Community Development Jo Ann Pointed out that the developers of Swann’s Inn originally hoped to create a 26 lot subdivision, but the number of homes on larger lots was reduced to accommodate septic systems.

There was no mention of the expected price of these homes, which according to the application, will feature Craftsman architecture, and be in the neighborhood of 2,000 square feet. As land in general is less expensive outside of the Tuckahoe Creek Service District and this enclave is close to three of the county’s five schools, these homes would, at the right price, be attractive to teachers. As high housing costs in Goochland are often cited as an impediment to retaining teachers, the expected price should have been mentioned.

Commissioners Derek Murray, District 3, and Matt Brewer, District 2, contended that they are charged with acting on the best interests of the county as a whole, and were not comfortable making any decision on residential rezoning cases without a clear picture of the consequences of adding more homes to the county.


The Commission then addressed “housekeeping” matters for  the 114 bed, 208,000 square foot Sheltering Arms Rehabilitation Hospital to be built in the Notch at West Creek, roughly opposite the Wawa, south of Broad Street Road. The certificate of public need (COPN) approval on this was issued earlier this year.  An arrangement to have the Goochland Economic Development Authority issue bonds for its construction  was approved last summer.

 The property recently changed hands and a parcel left over from construction of Rt. 288, was recommended for M-1 rezoning to conform to West Creek. A conditional use permit is required for heights exceeding 60 feet. Including the  parapet screen for utilities the new hospital is expected to be 86 feet from grade.  Matt Brewer, District 2, asked that the record note the 86 foot height. The staff summary includes a statement that Goochland Fire-Rescue has no issue with the plan and will be capable of serving the increased height of the building.

This structure will be the tallest in Goochland, its location, just east of Rt. 288, is in an area designated for prime economic development. The master plan includes potential expansion.   The commissioners also recommended approval of amending the West Creek master plan to include the Sheltering Arms project

This hospital has been in the works for the better part of the year, and is not another new hospital, as some confused media outlets seem to believe. The MEDRVA folks are seeking a COPN to add an outpatient surgery center to the existing facility in the Notch. These are all wonderful additions to Goochland, but nothing new.

Although a non-profit organization, the hospital will connect to the Tuckahoe Creek Service District and is expected to attract additional  for profit  development to the area.

A CUP for a pole vault training center in West Creek was unanimously recommended for approval following a brief presentation and no public comment. This will be in the Manakin Trade Center on West Creek Parkway, using 14,000 square feet of the space formerly occupied by Direct Buy.

The Commissioners unanimously recommended approval of a zoning ordinance amendment to require anyone offering short term rentals, less than 30 days, to obtain a conditional use permit to operate a bed and breakfast. This amendment removes “renting rooms to tourists” from the home occupation section. Short term rentals, said Hunter, will be addressed more comprehensively in the zoning ordinance rewrite underway. This change provides clarity in the meantime.  Citizens have expressed concern about transient, unknown people in neighborhoods when rooms or homes are rented short term.






Sunday, December 10, 2017

Not your typical high school library


Learning is a little like breathing—you do it every day without realizing it, and, if you stop, the result is not good.

Today’s formal education still seeks to impart a basic body of knowledge to students and "soft skills" to successfully navigate the ever morphing world of their future.

There has been a great deal of recent discussion  about what Goochland schools will look like in the future to equip students for success in the twenty-first century job market.

The first step in that direction— a Learning Commons—was dedicated on December 6. The space formerly known as  Goochland’s High School Library, was transformed into a dynamic space that encourages collaboration among students, and offers a place for quiet reflections and even relaxation with video games.
Flexible furniture and large monitors provide opportunity for collaboration and relaxation.


(Before you complain about this, think about military drone operators, robotic surgery equipment, and  other state-of-the art technological wonders, that require the same hand-eye coordination and quick reflexes honed by video games. They’ve got to learn the basics somehow.)

Student artwork, a coffee machine, and old-fashioned magazines are features of the new GHS Learning Commons.


Dr. Jeremy Raley, Superintendent of Goochland Schools, explained that GHS students had been asking for this kind of space for a while. Their ideas, including color schemes and equipment, were incorporated into the design that became reality.


Books, the old fashioned kind with pages and covers, are still available, but so is WiFi for the online research that has replaced paging through encyclopedias whose information was sometimes out of date by the time they were printed. Walls of the smaller spaces are covered in white board to facilitate brainstorming. The furniture is flexible, its configuration limited only by the imagination of its users. Flooring is both carpet and wood. A charging station replaces overloaded outlets to provide “juice” for many devices at once.
The Learning Commons still has plenty of books.



Large monitors enable viewing of instructional videos and sharing work done on individual devices. A coffee machine, also a suggestion of students, is part of the attractive new space. The new color scheme, a welcome departure from the original gray that permeates the building, uses a range of hues to raise the energy of the Learning Commons.
This charging station can simultaneously provide "juice" for many devices.


GHS principal Chris Collins said that the Learning Commons is always filled with students, whereas the old library sparsely populated.
  
Funding for the transformation was provided by John and Amy Presley with a donation made through the Goochland Education Foundation,  to thank Goochland Schools for helping their son Max, who is deaf, reach his full potential. John said that area private schools had little interest in working with Max, contending that deaf children rarely graduate from high school.

The Presley family came to GHS and spoke with then principal Mike Newman, who was present for the event.  Long story short, Max enrolled at GHS and will not only graduate with the class of 2018, but will go on to attend Randolph College where he will play tennis and go on to bigger and better things in life.

School Board Chairperson Beth Hardy,  joins John and Amy Presley as they applaud the cutting of the ribbon by son Max. The rug is indicative of the new color scheme.


Everyone wins here, especially Goochland students. Thanks to the Presley family for its generosity and best wishes to Max for a successful life.


(If you have an extra bean or two that you’d like to donate to a worthy cause, please consider the GEF.  It is a 501 c (3) organization and you can see your money put to good use in your community. Visit goochlandedu.org for more information.)

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Heartburn


Goochland’s supervisors remained consistent as they unanimously voted to defer, until March 13, 2018, a decision on a residential rezoning application for more than 500 homes in West Creek at their December 5 meeting.  Another rezoning case, for Reader’s Branch, a 300 home  subdivision, was deferred to March, even though its applicant requested only a 30 day extension.

This was the latest episode in local governmental heartburn caused by a poorly drafted state law regarding cash proffers.

The deferral followed a detailed presentation by HHHunt Land for Mosaic, a 55 plus community on land just east of Hockett Road and south of Tuckahoe Creek Parkway, and a public hearing.  Board Chair Ned Creasey, District 3, presided over the meeting after a health related absence last month.

Mosaic, and Reader’s Branch were forwarded to the supervisors from the Planning Commission after tie votes in November.

At issue in all recent residential rezoning cases is the unknown fiscal burden  additional homes place on the county. Revisions in state cash proffer laws enable developers to address only potential capital impacts directly attributable to their projects. Before the new legislation was enacted on July 1, 2016, cash proffers could address countywide needs.

The County is in the process of developing a 25 year capital improvement plan (CIP) as part of a fiscal impact model to provide data to evaluate the cost of the “digesting”  new residential development. The sobering numbers presented on November 28 by the school division for its CIP—just under $200 million system- wide over 25 years—was fresh in the minds of the supervisors. On December 11, they will hold a workshop on CIP  projects from other county departments.

Main sticking points of the Mosaic application were Hockett Road traffic, and adding hundreds of older people, who may be more likely to need emergency medical services, to an already stressed fire-rescue system. Cash proffers included in the application exceeded the amount allocated for public safety in the county’s “old” proffer calculation. This amount would help fund a new West Creek Fire-Rescue station, but not new apparatus including ambulances and fire trucks. Recurring employee costs like salaries and benefits will be funded by increased real estate tax revenues.

No one under age 19 will be permitted to live in Mosaic. In addition to adhering to Federal rules for age restricted communities,  a deed restriction will be placed on each lot in Mosaic to that effect. County Attorney Tara McGee explained that the rezoning application, if approved, becomes county law. The age restriction, to be confirmed by a biennial census, is enforceable as zoning law with sanctions for violation.

HHHunt presented reports from traffic and other experts to support its contention that the hefty increase in tax revenue will offset needs of new residents and not overburden Hockett Road traffic. It offered to pay for a review of its traffic study by an impartial third party to confirm its results.

Traffic engineer Erich Strohhacker  acknowledged that Hockett Road traffic is the “800 pound gorilla in the room” but that congestion there is caused by background traffic from Capital One and CarMax and that Mosaic’s impact will be negligible. He said that the traffic mitigation plan for Mosaic had been approved by VDOT. Manuel Alvarez, Jr. District 2, quipped he was “..not sure that VDOT’s approval made him comfortable.”

The supervisors, while not hostile to Mosaic, could not quite bring themselves to approve it without more information. One again, the frustration with the proffer policy situation was evident on all sides.

Board Vice Chair Ken Peterson, District 5 told the HHHunt team: “…we’re all business folks and we understand that time is money. The Board of
Supervisors is charged with protecting the best interests of the whole county.”  The capital impact model under construction will list all of  future expenditures, put them together and make a budget for all the costs, not just the “profferable” ones, he said. “Staff does not have the data to weigh costs and benefits and this board cannot take action on this behind closed doors.”

Bob Minnick, District 4, echoed Peterson’s reservations that, without a better idea of long term costs of growth, he could not support a vote on it. Mosaic, he said, is an attractive concept for a number of people, but there is not enough data to evaluate its long term consequences for the county.

Kinloch, which was rezoned at the end of the last century, before the county adopted a cash proffer policy, is not yet fully built out, Minnick observed. HHHunt projects an eight year build out for Mosaic, but an economic downturn could delay that.

Creasey contended that, since the county retained a consultant to prepare the capital impact model, residential rezoning decisions should be deferred until “we can line everything up.”

Citizen comment was balanced. Some people spoke in favor of Mosaic, citing the need for a dedicated 55 plus community in Goochland and HHHunt’s long and excellent track record of developing attractive, functioning communities. Opponents contended that housing density this intense has not place in Goochland and that West Creek should be used for its intended purpose of business development.

These rezoning cases bring to mind a situation in the early days of the century, when rain was scarce and concerns about the adequacy of ground water for new subdivisions using wells were raised about every rezoning case. Developers retained hydrologists who, without exception, contended that there was more than enough water to serve every new home under consideration without adversely affecting neighboring water supplies. At least one planning commissioner at that time contended that the county needed its own water experts to help them evaluate developers’ data. While the question this time—how much will these new homes cost the county—is different, the need for a clear and unbiased picture of capital costs is more important than ever.






Monday, December 4, 2017

Not your mother's schoolhouse



Good news, the new, enlarged parking lot in front of the Goochland County administration building is finished and open.
The new parking lot is ready to receive cars!


For quite some time, the conventional wisdom about new schools in Goochland was that a new, generic elementary school needed to be built somewhere in the east end. The latest county capital improvement plan (CIP) includes a $35 million “placeholder” to pay for it.

The cost of needed school facilities is a significant component of the fiscal impact model and a 25 year CIP that the county is building to provide realistic data on which to evaluate the consequences of  land use decisions. To that end, the Board of Supervisors appropriated funds for the School Board to retain consultants to complete a comprehensive  long-term facilities master plan.

A the end of September, the consultants, who worked closely with a steering committee comprised of schools staff, parents, and interested citizens, presented their recommendations.

On November 28, the Board of Supervisors and School Board held a joint workshop to share and discuss the findings. (The School Board is expected to adopt these recommendations at its December 4 meeting.)

The meeting was notable because our current supervisors and school board have a cordial relationship that enables open and honest discussion. This is a rarity among jurisdictions in the Commonwealth.

School Board Chairperson Beth Hardy, District 4, opened the meeting with the following remarks, reprinted, in part, with her permission:
“…Six years ago when all of us took office, things were very different. Since that time, you all have done a tremendous job of turning things around for the County. Thanks to your efforts, Goochland now holds an enviable financial rating status and is seeing tremendous growth with great economic development opportunities. 
Likewise, during that time, our schools have experienced a Renaissance of sorts. Our Vision is “to inspire and prepare the next generation to have a positive impact.” We are doing just that. With your support over the years, Goochland is now a leader in academic achievement in the region and beyond, and we are a beacon of innovation across the Commonwealth. We want to continue this trajectory of excellence. 
When we talk today about “investing in our schools,” we fully acknowledge that we are talking about spending money. We have worked hard, along with your Board, to provide fiscal transparency and show that we are good stewards of the taxpayers’ money.  All decisions are based on the best interest of our students. So when we bring our recommendations to you today regarding specific needs, we know that we are talking about real dollars that we need to plan for in the coming years. Money will be spent on the schools - whether it is via maintenance or building new schools. We hope that our presentation today can help guide you in those decisions. 
Some may think that the schools are “good enough” - that we are doing just fine in our current facilities. We believe that we are achieving “in spite” of the facility conditions, but we are reaching a point of diminishing returns. We have three elementary schools that are 60+ years old and even with the addition of some space in recent years, we are at or beyond capacity at those schools.
We come to you today as partners. We take our job very seriously in providing you with information that will help direct your capital investments in the coming years. We realize you have to balance numerous needs county-wide - fire & rescue, utilities, and other county services, and it is our hope that what we share with you today will clearly identify the schools’ needs so that you may plan pro-actively for the K-12 educational needs of a growing, high-achieving, leading community in central Virginia. Goochland values that we are a leader in education and their input during this process validates that. This is not just the desire of our respective boards; this is a vision shared and embraced by the community.  
Years ago, architectural drawings were developed for a new Goochland Elementary School. The number associated with that project has become a bit of a placeholder for us - even though we all knew the number to be outdated. However, that was for one project and was developed in a bit of a vacuum without the broader context of  the needs of the entire community, expected growth, and the estimated cost of maintaining other older facilities. And that is exactly what our study these past several months provides - context. The needs are great and varied, and the recommendations are thoughtful and measured and realistic. 
The information we are presenting to you today is credible - using a thorough and thoughtful process; it’s data-driven - based on enrollment forecasts and industry standards regarding facility conditions; and it is inclusive -  engaging numerous stakeholders across the community. The resulting recommendations are, we believe, very realistic needs that the schools have - some of which are quite urgent based on school capacities and conditions.  
New construction and/or renovations will provide program enhancements for our students and meet the pressing need to create spaces that reflect how people work and learn today. Replacing aging facilities is integral to our plan to continue leading in busting out of the confines of an outdated approach to K-12 education - which is our bigger goal. It also provides intangibles like safety, energy efficiency, teacher retention, and accountability to the community we serve.”
School superintendent Dr. Jeremy Raley said that the workplace where our students will spend their futures is changing. Education, he contended, is more than bricks and mortar. “Good can be the enemy of great and we cannot be satisfied with the status quo.”
Consultant Tracy Richter, whose firm completed the study, explained that the results used student enrollment projections for moderate and high growth rates over the next decades. The high enrollment, shows a total of 3,178 students in the school division for the 2026-27 school year.  See http://www.dejongrichter.com/goochlandschools/ for the complete report.
Richer said that he has great confidence in the numbers for the next five years “not so much” for the out years. “Right now, all elementary schools are at capacity. They can handle it, but at some point, it will become unmanageable.” Analysis of the yield by subdivision an ongoing process. Data in the report suggests that higher-priced homes, in general, yield fewer public school students.
Architect Mike Ross, who was part of the study team, explained that buildings are comprised of structure and systems. All county elementary schools are about 60 years old, but it is about more than the age and capacity of the structures, he contended. Systems including roofs, HVAC, and bathrooms need replacement before structures. But, said Ross, there are times when it makes more sense to replace, rather than fix, an aging building.
The report includes many components in several phases over the next  20 years. First up is a replacement of Goochland Elementary School on a new site.  The high/middle school complex is on a more than 100 acre parcel owned by the School Board. While no specific location was mentioned, this seems most likely.
Options for the other two elementary schools, Byrd and Randolph, include total replacement or significant renovation and expansion on the same site. The plan recommends that Goochland have only three elementary schools, albeit with higher capacity. At some point, this could require attendance boundary adjustments to move students from the Randolph zone to GES. Note: THIS IS NOT ANTICIAPATED FOR SEVERAL YEARS.
Richter contended that there is no correlation between class and school size in the quality of education. (Larger schools) means two to four more teachers per grade and permit more efficiency in full staffing. He contended fewer, larger schools “is not a big issue.”
Other facility improvements include moving career and technical education to the high school for easier integration into student schedules; expansion of space for athletics and fine arts, and dishwashing equipment for the GHS/GMS cafeteria.
Currently, Richer said, square footage of Goochland elementary schools is below state minimums, but this is offset  by small  class sizes. Students no longer learn sitting in neat rows of desks. Larger classrooms that allow flexible configurations are needed to accommodate today’s teaching methods.
The supervisors listened attentively to the presentations. Since taking office, they have supported school initiative when fiscally feasible.
Board vice-chair Ken Peterson, District 5,  observed that there are “a lot of moving parts” to the report. “We could get into trouble building all new everything at once.” He said that Goochland tax rates are competitive and cannot be increased. We need to determine the highest and best use of resources and that there are tradeoffs. High quality schools is where it all starts. We want to build on the great work  you’ve (schools) already done, as we optimize use of tax dollars.”
School Board member John Wright, District 5 said the plan will require tough decisions  among quality options in a (fiscally) digestible manner.
Goochland County Administrator John Budesky said the supervisors share citizen concern is this the right thing to do? Doing nothing also has a cost and the county must move forward. The constraint of available resources, he said, takes work to prioritize in the next five years. Goochland cannot bite off $50 million in school projects. Other items, including a new courthouse is a major cost driver that must be put into context. All of the valuable projects put forth by the schools will help craft a road map for the county’s collective needs over the next 25 years.
The supervisors will hold another CIP workshop for county departments on December 11 at 3 p.m. A pubic hearing on a proposed 25 year CIP is excepted to take place in January.












Thursday, November 30, 2017

Stewardship



On Tuesday, November 28, Goochland’s Board of Supervisors got some good news. It held a special meeting to hear the presentation of the  county’s certified annual financial report for fiscal year 2017, which ended on June 30. Mike Garber, a principal of PBMARES, of Harrisonburg, the county’s auditor, announced that this year’s CAFR was clean. One more audit without any material misstatements, and Goochland will no longer be considered a high risk auditee.

Fiscal anomalies discovered nine years ago in the county’s utility department were the first revelations of abysmal disregard of proper internal controls and generally accepted accounting practices. The CAFR for fiscal 2010 contained 40 material restatements. The following year, the county treasurer was convicted of embezzling county funds and went to prison.

In January 2012, the current board took office and worked with County Administrator Rebecca Dickson to dig Goochland out of the hole in which it found itself. A reworking of the massive debt incurred to build infrastructure for the Tuckahoe Creek Service District utility project helped to stabilize county finances.  By 2015, Goochland had earned a AAA Standard and Poor’s bond rating, a rare achievement for a jurisdiction with fewer than 25,000 people.

The county and school division have also received awards for the high quality of their budget documents during the same period. No more wondering what local government is doing with our tax dollars. Budgets, CAFRS, check registers, and credit card statements are all on the county website for inspection.

The 2017 CAFR represents an untold amount of hard work and dedication by officials elected and appointed, and all members of the county and school division staff  every day. All of this effort has helped restore public trust in the management of  local government resources—stewardship—perhaps the most important task of elected officials.

Available in its entirety on the county website http://goochlandva.us/ under the financial services section of the “your government” tab, the 2017 CAFR, and those of the previous five years, are well worth a look. Even if you are not interested in the “weeds” of the numbers, they all contain a great deal of interesting information about the county and its finances.


Engaged citizens are a vital component of good government. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Not your father's fire service


Before we go any further, please check your smoke alarms to make sure they work. If you do not have at least one smoke alarm in your home, preferably near bedrooms, put them on your next shopping list. They are inexpensive and save lives.

In recent months, there has been a  great deal of discussion about the amount of growth, especially residential, that Goochland can “digest” without placing a serious fiscal burden on all taxpayers. The county is in the process of crafting a model to help the supervisors evaluate the cost—if any—of new development.

Each year, county department heads address the Board of Supervisors about the achievements of, and challenges facing their departments. (The “slides” of most of these are now available on the county website http://goochlandva.us/ under the “transparency” tab. These files contain lots of good information and are well worth perusing for a better understanding of the many functions of county government.)

Goochland Fire-Rescue Chief Bill MacKay gave the supervisors an overview of his department at their November 8 meeting. He began his remarks with “..it’s not your father’s fire service.”



The duties assigned to fire-rescue, which in Goochland includes emergency medical services (EMS), are very different than they were even a generation ago. Today, contended MacKay, fire-rescue is an “all hazards” mitigation service.

Fire-Rescue’s job is to identify anything that threatens the health, safety, and economic well-being of citizens and businesses in Goochland. Things are changing rapidly. “We don’t know what’s coming next,” said MacKay.

Education to prevent incidents is ongoing  and important. “The best (fire) is one that never happens,” the Chief declared.

Recent hurricane devastation illustrated the importance of assistance during disaster, but, just as important, MacKay said, is recovery. “Fifty percent of all small businesses never recover from a disaster,” he said.  “We want to prepare the citizens and business of Goochland  to respond to and recover from them.”

Goochland fire-rescue providers, whether they be career (paid) or volunteer are all well-trained professionals who “treat all people with compassion, dignity and respect when we meet them on the worst day of their lives.”

A wreck on the interstate can easily morph into a hazardous materials incident if leaking fuel or mechanical fluids threaten groundwater. Goochland firefighters  are trained to contain those spills before the reach streams.

Even your basic house fire can be a toxic situation as many of today’s building materials are derived from hydro carbons, which MacKay has described as “solid gasoline”.

Saving lives and protecting property is an expensive proposition. Gone are the days when the alchemy of community spirit could translate spaghetti and chicken dinners; Brunswick stew sales; raffle; and Bingo into ambulances and fire engines.  A fully equipped ambulance costs approximately one half million dollars, fire vehicles, especially ladder trucks, multiples of that. Aging, high mileage ambulances are out of service for repair for longer periods as parts become more difficult to find.

MacKay said that Goochland Fire-Rescue seeks to performs its functions “in a fiscally sound manner respecting the citizen investment made in our department”.

Early ambulances were little more than a means to get a patient to the hospital quickly while performing advanced first aid in the back. Today, they equip our well-trained and  highly-skilled EMTs and Paramedics with sophisticated live-saving tools, including telemetry to transmit vital data, like EKGs, to hospitals while en route.  This enables immediate delivery of appropriate treatment when the patient arrives at the emergency room.

Life safety services are a risky business. In addition to the obvious dangers of entering a burning structure, or stabilizing an overturned vehicles to free entrapped occupants, more subtle perils plague providers.

Cancer, said MacKay, occurs at a rate six times greater in firefighters than in the general public due to contact with toxic substances. Steps being taken to protect our firefighters include a ventilation system at the new Hadensville Company 6 station to vent diesel fumes. Washing machines to clean turnout gear after fires also reduces exposure. Upgrades of the self-contained breathing apparatus (air, not oxygen, bottles and filtering mask units)is vital for the health, safety, and welfare of firefighters.

The emotional toll of responding to serious incidents is also a concern.

MacKay sang the praises of our amazing fire-rescue volunteers who work as equal partners with the career staff. Currently, said MacKay, four of the county’s six fire-rescue stations are manned 24/7 with at least two people.  Extra resources are deployed in the more heavily populated east end of the county. All stations are now equipped with dormitories, kitchens, and showers to enable round the clock shifts.

Calls for service increased 5.13 percent in the past year. Overall, response times are shorter. MacKay explained that a typical EMS call involving transport takes approximately three hours or longer. Our ambulances log many miles taking patients to hospitals in Henrico, Richmond, and Charlottesville, so they wear out quickly. Maintenance of aging fire-rescue vehicles, that takes them out of service is a concern. The average mileage of the ten unit Goochland ambulance fleet is over 128,000, said MacKay.

Creative leveraging of available resources to enhance coverage includes creation of a “flying truck” where volunteers from different companies form crews to respond whenever and wherever they are needed. The county is able to access the Med Flight air ambulance thanks to D. E. “Eddie” Ferguson, Deputy Chief—EMS, who serves  as an air medic with Med Flight.

Volunteer EMS hours are declining at a precipitous rate—23.82 percent in rescue duty hours in the past 12 months for instance—and have been for some time. The reasons for this include increased training and certification requirements and demands of daily life. Fewer people are willing or able to commit to a rigorous schedule of training in addition to  being on call to respond to emergencies.   This has  created a leadership vacuum in most of the county’s six companies. Volunteers who run calls—many of whom live outside Goochland—show little interest in serving as company officers.

Newcomers to Goochland show little interest in becoming fire-rescue volunteers. They have neither the time or inclination, or somehow feel that this most vital of local volunteer opportunities is beneath them. Not that long ago, a daytime weekday EMS Centerville crew was comprised of “country club” ladies from Broad Run who wanted to serve the community.

MacKay praised members of the fire-rescue team, both volunteers and career who continue the tradition of saving lives and protecting property begun in 1952. We cannot underestimate the contribution that these volunteers have made by freely giving their time, talents and treasure for the well-being of the county.

Fire-rescue is just one core service impacted by growth. The supervisors must ensure adequate resources to protect the health, safety, and welfare of all.















Wednesday, November 15, 2017

November in the Board Room


Items on the Wednesday, November 8 monthly meeting agenda for the Goochland Board of Supervisors ran the gamut from grappling with growth issues to expansion of by-right chicken keeping. 

A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Emergency Operations/ Communications center that included tours, preceded the supervisors’ meeting.  During opening remarks, Goochland Sheriff James L. Agnew Board reported that he and others from county administration attended the 28th Annual Valor awards ceremony in Richmond where Cpl. Harrison Hankins received the Bronze award for actions taken during a December, 2016 motor vehicle crash. Goochland Fire-Rescue Chief Bill MacKay noted that this is the first time anyone can recall that a  Goochland responder has been recognized this way.

Visit the Facebook page for the Goochland County Sheriff’s Office to view the body- cam footage of the incident.  The county is blessed to have officers like Cpl. Hankins. He also served in the United States Marine Corps, and is another veteran whose skills, experience, and integrity strengthen our community.

Board Chair Ned  Creasey, District 3, an early supporter of the state-of-the-art communications facility, missed the event due to ill health. Creasey also lobbied successfully for the inclusion of area Ham Radio operators in the emergency communications mix as a belt-and-suspenders measure should the metaphorical fan turn brown.

The new EEC/EOC came to be as the result of the vison of Maj. Don Bewkes, who translated ideas into a cardboard model that became reality. After Hurricane Isabel blew through Goochland in September 2003, it became apparent to Bewkes that the county needed an EOC that  is a self-contained nerve center for the county in the aftermath of widespread emergency. Bewkes oversaw all facets of the design and construction of the facility, which was completed on time and on budget.
Maj. Don Bewkes explains new equipment at EEC/EOC


Large enough to house  representatives  of all county agencies involved in disaster response and recovery for extended periods of time, the new center was built with an eye towards expansion as the county grows. The facility includes many ingenious touches, like paint that permits walls to serve as whiteboard, and raised flooring for easy access to electronic cables.

The exterior of the new building blends into existing structures so well that some people do not believe it is new.

Back in the board room, the afternoon supervisors’ session began with County Administrator John Budesky congratulating Goochland native Justin Verlander for his Houston Astros’ victory in the 2017 World Series. Budesky said that the county would be honored to have Verlander and his new bride, Kate Upton, visit a board meeting. Kathy and Richard Verlander, parents of the star pitcher, live in Goochland and chair fundraising efforts for Goochland Pet Lovers.

Budesky thanked everyone who participated in the county’s fall festival for making it successful. He said that annual Christmas tree lighting will take place on Friday, December 1, starting at 6 p.m. The tree is located in the field opposite the intersection of Fairground and Sandy Hook Road in Courthouse Village.

On November 28, the audit committee will receive the certified annual financial report (CAFR) in a meeting at 1:30. Following the supervisors will hold  special meeting to accept the CAFR. After that, the supervisors will hold a workshop with the school board to discuss their facility study, which is a part of the 25 year capital improvement plan, currently in progress.

Budesky said he is pleased with the turnout at this year’s town hall meetings and engagement of our citizens. “This is a great opportunity for us to hear what we need to hear and not what we want to hear,” he said.

During the monthly VDOT update, Marshall Wynn said that there is still no word on “the year” in which improvements to the Rt. 228/Board Street Road interchange will be advertised. Dates for upcoming gas line work on Manakin Road are not yet firm as no permits have been issued. Wynn opined that this is the wrong time of year for gas line work.

Beth Parker Ferguson, 2017 Goochland Christmas Mother, spoke to the supervisors about the program, which as been brightening the holiday season for the less fortunate in our community since before she was born. The Goochland Christmas Mother provides food, new clothing, toys, books, and other essential items to qualified Goochland County families with children, seniors age 60 and older, and disabled adults during the holiday season. 

Ferguson, who has taught at Randolph Elementary School for 13 years and a lifetime member of the Goochland Volunteer Fire-Rescue, is the embodiment of community service. She personally knows many of the families who qualified for the means tested program “I’ve taught many of their children and see them at Food Lion. I had no idea they were struggling,” she said.

The Goochland Christmas Mother organization is grass roots compassion at its finest. Visit http://www.goochlandchristmasmother.org/ to find out how you can volunteer. If you have an extra bean or two, this 501 (c) (3) organization accepts donations year round.

District 4 Supervisor Bob Minnick vented his frustration at the statutory straight jacket the county find itself in thanks to the revised proffer law passed during the 2016 session of the Virginia General Assembly.

Following the public hearing on a rezoning case for a handful of lots near the intersection of Hermitage and Manakin Roads, whose fiscal impact on the county is still unclear. The rezoning application would create subdivision with two different zoning districts. GOMM has listened to the applicant’s presentation and still has no idea why it should be approved.

“The GA did us no significant favor with the new proffer law, and in fact did a tremendous disservice to county staff  that wrack their brains to fit round pegs into square holes and does no favors for the developer community or our constituents. Based on the strict constrict of how I’m supposed to look at this, I have no idea how to judge the long term capital impact of this on the county.”

The board voted unanimously to defer action on this case until its March meeting, by which time, hopefully, the development impact model has been finished and adopted. It seems likely that action on the two major subdivisions forwarded to the supervisors by the November 2 tie vote at the Planning Commission will also be deferred.

Director of Community Development Jo Ann Hunter said that the goal of the capital impact model is to ease the burden of crafting development impact statements and speed the process.

Later in the evening, the supervisors unanimously approved expansion of by-right chicken keeping in R-1 zoning districts, which are predominantly  in Districts 2, 3, 4, and 5. It precludes roosters and permits up to six female chickens, which shall not be permitted to trespass beyond the property line and must be kept in an enclosure of some sort—a fenced a yard would qualify. Coops and other enclosures must be behind dwellings and kept clean at all times. Trespass will be enforced by complaint to the planning staff.


Nancy Simpson contended that chickens provide an infinite amount of laughter. “There’s this sense of being back in nature and what Goochland is all about. They remind us that there are good things in our world. This is a good things for kids and all the way up to grandparents, to grow high quality protein.”


















Sunday, November 12, 2017

Nobody told me



A recent report of the sale of  the ten acre parcel of land behind Satterwhite’s Restaurant on the northwest corner of Manakin and Broad Street Roads to build a shopping center and hotel has some citizens up in arms. The parcel in question is in the CENTERVILLE village, Manakin is on Rt.6.

They are furious that there was no notice of the development. Well, there was, in 2009. A for sale sign, indicating that the land is zoned B-1, which permits shopping centers and hotels and fast food by right, has been there for a very long time.

(See https://goochlandomm.blogspot.com/2009/06/citizens-in-action.html for GOMM’s take on a community meeting before the rezoning application went to the  planning commission.)

The Board of Supervisors approved the rezoning in August 2009. That was a turbulent year for the county.  Local government was reeling from irregularities in the utility department, the abrupt “retirement” of the county administrator and the impact from the economic downturn, which brought a significant decline in property values and real estate tax revenues.

According to county property records, NOVA Hotels, LLC, with an eastern Goochland address, purchased the parcel for $1.7 million, far less than the current assessed valuation of $2.65 million on November 1, 2017.

NOVA Hotels’ alleged plan for the site includes 100,000 square feet of retail and office space and a 100 room hotel. Design standards included in the rezoning and the Centerville Village overlay criteria are rigorous.

Since 2009, the state imposed stringent storm water runoff control regulations,  which could reduce the amount of developable land. A traffic light was installed at the corner of Manakin and Broad Street Roads, which could alter road access to the site. At the time of rezoning, the widening of Broad Street Road was in process and completion of turn lanes for the project was postponed until its completion. It would seem that VDOT would need to sign off on access points for this parcel, which could also add to development costs and delay its completion.

The timing of the sale was also interesting. November 1 was the day before rezoning applications for two large subdivisions, that if approved, could increase the number of homes county by ten per cent, were heard by  the planning commission. Tie votes on both proposals moved them to the Board of Supervisors for approval.

At their November 8 meeting, the supervisors voted to defer another residential rezoning application until  their March meeting in the hopes that the Development Impact Model, currently under construction, is complete and adopted.  That would seem to indicate that the two large subdivisions will also be deferred until the supervisors have a better handle on the fiscal impact of more homes.

Conventional wisdom among developers is that “retail follows rooftops” and the advent of those 800 or more homes may have been interpreted as an opportunity. The thing is, new folks coming to the Centerville in the past decade are not all that likely to shop there, especially with the delights of Short Pump so close. If this developer expects residents of the new subdivisions, as well as those currently around Centerville, to patronize his center, he may be disappointed. For whatever reason, new residents tend not to go west of where they live to a burger doodle. If those rooftops do not materialize, will there be enough traffic to support the new businesses and make it economically feasible?

Goochland has a high employment rate. Where will the employees come from to staff the new businesses?

Success of the commercial portion of this project could depend on the tenants. There is a need for new office space in Centerville. If the fast food options are brands like Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, and/or Panera objections will fade fast.

Adding a hotel to the mix seems odd, but it is permitted in B-1 zoning. The notion of a hotel on that property never, to GOMM’s recollection, came up  during the rezoning application discussions. But back then, a hotel in Goochland seemed as likely as a flying saucer landing pad. Times change.

The parcel should never have been included in the Centerville village—Manakin Road is a natural boundary—but it was.

People say that they understand growth is coming to Goochland, especially in the Broad Street Road corridor, but object to anything new. When asked what they would rather have in a particular place, the response is too often, “I don’t know, but not that.”

Private dollars fund development. Landowners pay taxes while hoping to shape their property for its highest and best use.  They take a risk that their land may never sell at a profit. Some go broke. A lot of hard work and expense is involved in successful development of  a piece of property.

The supervisors have the power to reject a rezoning or conditional use application if they believe it is not in the best interest of the county. They did not decide that there would be a McDonald’s rather than a Burger King in Centerville, or any fast food for that matter.

Please keep an eye on the county website goochlandva.us and its Facebook page for announcements of community meetings and public hearings for land use issues.

Come to the meetings and learn what it’s all about when your opinion can make a difference. Tell your supervisor what you think, they really want to hear from you. Pay attention, be engaged at the start when things can change, don’t wait until it’s too late and whine that nobody told you.






Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Punt



Goochland’s Planning Commission deadlocked—Commission Chair Tom Rockecharlie, District 5, was absent— on two major rezoning applications at its November 2 meeting, opted to send the cases to the supervisors noting the tie vote. The Commissioners were frustrated at the dearth of data on which to base sound decisions.  They voted, in both instances, 2-2 with John Shelhorse, District 4 and John Myers, District 1, in favor and Derek Murray, District 3 and Matt Brewer, District 2 in dissent.


The commissioners voted to suspend the provision in their by-laws that automatically defers tie votes to the next meeting to secure an up or down vote. Both applications began the rezoning process early in 2017, and, by statute, needed planning commission action by the end of December. According to County Attorney Tara McGee, the supervisors then have a year to act on the applications.

As Commissioner Vice Chair John Shelhorse, District 4, observed, these are landmark cases. If approved as submitted, they could, together, add more than 800 new homes to Goochland, the equivalent of one tenth the number of homes currently in the county. It is believed that other larger subdivisions may follow.

Realizing that the county does not have a clear picture of the true cost of significant residential growth over the next 50 years or so, consultants have been retained  to provide detailed criteria for evaluating the impact of residential growth on county facilities. This model is expected to be completed and adopted by February, 2018. An updated thoroughfare plan to address actual county growth is also underway.

The cases, an application filed by HH Hunt Land  (HHH) for 207.839 acres to build a 520 home senior residential community named Mosaic, and an application filed by Readers Branch Partners, LLC, and Hockett Road Partners, LLC, to rezone two subdivisions, Reader’s Branch and Swanson Ridge “on the books” creating a single community, Reader’s Branch, were the first large enclaves to run the gauntlet created by the new state proffer law.  Both are located on or near Hockett Road south of Broad Street Road. 

Major areas of impact that cash proffer calculations may address are: schools; public safety—law enforcement and fire-rescue; transportation; and parks.

Transportation—roads—was perhaps the biggest concern to citizens and planning commissioners for both cases.

Traffic Engineer Erich Strohhacker, who worked on both communities, explained that Hockett Road is currently capable of handling 12,000 trips per day (TPD) and has traffic of 2,000 TPD, according to VDOT. Neither proposed subdivision would add sufficient traffic to Hockett Road to exceed the 12,000 TPD threshold. (It would seem that these numbers are based on 24 hour days and that most of the trips happen during morning and evening rush hours, further clouding the issue.)

The problem with Hockett Road traffic, contended Strohhacker, is its intersection with Broad Street, which is currently at a failing service level. A short term solution to this is the addition of a right turn lane at the intersection. The Reader’s Branch application seemed to $100 thousand to build the turn lane. However, as it does not own the land, it cannot build the lane on its own, so the county and VDOT—glaciers move faster—need to be involved. Strohhacker said that the ultimate solution to the bottleneck at Hockett and Broad is the rerouting of Ashland Road to connect with Hockett further south.

Director of Community Development Jo Ann Hunter took great care to explain the restraints of the new proffer law before presenting each case. As handed down by the Virginia General Assembly, the statute governing cash proffers is vague. The county adopted a revised proffer policy to adhere to state code as best it could, but dealings between the county and developers remain as delicate at a porcupine mating dance.

Hunter said that residential development that fails address its fiscal impact on community facilities could create a financial burden on the county.

It seems like both sides want to deal in good faith without giving away the store. The county is very wary of approving hundreds of new homes without a clear cost/benefit analysis. Developers want to maximize profit, which makes them capitalists, not evil. The search for balance between the two remains elusive.

As described by Kim Kacani,  of HHH, Mosaic will add a new housing option for long time older Goochlanders to downsize and remain in the county. It will provide a wide range of amenities for active seniors. As no residents under the age of 19 will be permitted to live in Mosaic, it will have no impact on schools—the most expensive county service—but adding at least 500 older people  will further stress emergency medical services.

HHH retained the services of a consultant to determine Mosaic’s impact on Goochland EMS using call volume statistics supplied by the county. Perhaps a more meaningful metric is the number of hours that Goochland EMS is in a condition known as NUA (no units available), meaning that if you call 911 for EMS, no crews are available to respond.

Another issue plaguing the Mosaic case was what seems to be a “false flag” objection by adjoining property owners who contended that Mosaic must provide connectivity to main roads in West Creek and not block a conceptual interconnective road. Hunter indicated that this issue does not involve Mosaic.

Kacani said that an eight year build out if envisioned for Mosaic. It offered  a cash proffer of $1,471 per home for public safety. This is about $750 thousand over eight years (proffers are paid when certificates of occupancy are issued), roughly one and a half fully equipped ambulances at today’s prices.

Scott Gaeser presented the rezoning application for a new improved Reader’s Branch.  He contended that since Goochland began accepting cash proffers in 2000, the county has collected about $300 thousand per year, which is  approximately one half of one percent of the annual budget. He further contended that the effort put forth by developers and county staff dealing with the new proffer legislation may not be worth the effort. The supervisors have shown little interest in unwinding Goochland’s proffer policy.

The Reader’s Branch application included cash proffers of $1,585 per lot, $1,506 for public safety, $79 for parks and zero for transportation and schools. According to its development impact statement (DIS), Reader’s Branch is expected to generate 93 school-aged children. Gaeser contended that these students would not increase enrollment at any county school in excess of capacity, therefore no school proffer can  be justified. The Planning Commissioners metaphorically scratched their heads over that one.

Both applications touted the increased real estate tax revenue that will be generated by their communities as well connection fees and ad valorem tax revenues for the Tuckahoe Creek Service District.  The message implied is that the increase in real estate tax revenue will more than offset the cost of the development.

Comment on the applications was somewhat mixed. Several people support the Mosaic application, agreeing that Goochland needs a dedicated senior enclave. Others were appalled at the number on homes on small lots, contending that they will bring Short Pump to Goochland. Shelhorse contended that both proposed communities in an area designated for growth that will keep the rest of Goochland rural.

Joe Lacy, former District 3 supervisor and planning commissioner, characterized the cases as  the most significant land use decision since the creation of West Creek more than a generation ago. He contended that jamming as many houses as possible on to small lots is not what Goochland is about. Adding traffic generated by these projects, he said, will make Hockett Road a disaster. He also observed that Rt. 288 is already at a standstill around 5:30 p.m. He urged deferral until more impact information is available.

See the planning commission packet for its November 2 meeting at: http://goochlandcountyva.iqm2.com/citizens/default.aspx for complete details on both cases.

Mosaic will be a good addition to Goochland housing options, if it does not swamp EMS. If Reader’s Branch can find a way to build the turn lane at Hockett and Broad and help the Hickory Haven subdivision, which has been paying TCSD ad valorem tax since its inception, connect to sewer lines, it could be a win for the county. But, we still need much more data about the burden, if any, that large subdivisions will have on county facilities. Stay tuned.











Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Conservators of the peace

Attendees of an alumni reunion for the  25th anniversary of the Goochland Sheriff’s Academy were treated to a tour of the county’s new emergency communications center on October 25.

Deputy Shawn Creasey, who organized the reunion, kicked off the evening with a screening of a public service announcement video created by students at Goochland High School reminding people not to leave valuables in their vehicles and to lock the doors. Larcenies from cars, when people take things from vehicles, especially those left unlocked, have increased dramatically. 

Sheriff James L. Agnew presented a brief update on activity. The Sheriff’s Office is responsible for law enforcement in Goochland. That includes traffic response; criminal apprehension; patrol; answering a wide variety of calls for service; extended investigations of serious crimes; providing court security; and transporting prisoners from Department of Corrections facilities throughout the state for court appearances.

Last year, the  H&K 45 mm firearms carried by Goochland Deputies were replaced with Sig Sauer P320s. These guns, said Agnew, are smaller, lighter, easier to shoot, and have a ten year life span.

Our deputies are now equipped with body cams. “We know our guys are doing a fantastic job, now it’s confirmed on video,” the Sheriff said. As more lawyers are requesting these videos, especially in car crash cases,  FOIA  requests have skyrocketed.

Goochland, said Agnew, to no one’s surprise, is growing. A hotel, hospital, major subdivisions, and apartments are coming to the east end of the county in the next few years. More people bring more traffic accidents and opportunities for criminal activity.  When people live in close proximity to one another, the potential for violent interaction escalates. All of these factors have an impact on service delivery.

More deputies will be needed to handle increased calls, said Agnew. Finding new people with the proper skills, and personal integrity is a challenge in Goochland as it is with other law enforcement agencies. The current social environment, contended Agnew, discourages seeking careers in law enforcement. Agnew believes it is better to have a vacant position than to hire someone lacking the necessary attributes to make a good deputy.

Agnew presented some statistics from the past few years.

Traffic is a high priority concern. The most dangerous intersection in the county by far is the Rt. 288/Broad Street Road interchange. VDOT—the state agency whose motto is “Oops!”—has promised improvements there, but not until 2020 at the earliest. Poorly designed and overburdened roads are only part of the cause of accidents. Distracted  and drunk drivers contribute to the problem.



For patrol purposes, Goochland is divided into six beats. The northeast beat, which includes Centerville and the Broad Street Road corridor to the Henrico border, generated the lion’s share of calls during 2016. County geography, said Agnew, presents a major challenge. It is about 36 miles from Randolph Square in the county’s southeast to Shannon Hill in the northwest. Given the road network and ever increasing traffic, Agnew said is it impossible to travel the distance in 35 minutes.
Calls estimated for the last quarter of 2017


While every effort is made to have deputies in all parts of the county, when someone needs backup, officers will be diverted to help.

For more detailed information about the operation of the Sheriff’s Office, enroll in the next Citizen’s Academy, which is expected to start next year.

The group then toured the new combined Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and Emergency Communications Center (ECC).

Grafted on to the back of the Sheriff's Office, the new facility will serve Goochland well for many years.


Grafted on to the back of the Sheriff’s office, this spacious state-of-the-art facility brings emergency communications in Goochland into the 21st century. The new facility, said Agnew,  is the brainchild of  the vision of Chief Deputy Major Don Bewkes, who shepherded it from vision to reality.

Dispatch, the county’s nerve center, where phones are answered by a real person 24/7/365, is better equipped to help deputies and fire-rescue respond to emergencies than ever before.  No longer will dispatchers work their 12 hour shift in quarters so cramped they almost sat in each other’s pockets.

The new EOC/ECC has ample room for many large monitors.


Thanks to a new $10 or so million county-wide communications system mandated by the Federal Communications Commission, which includes new towers around the county, the “dead spots” where deputies, who typically patrol alone, were unable to radio for back up, are a thing of the past.


“We can hear what they’re saying, clear as a bell,” said Tammy Witt, who has more than 20 years’ experience as  a Goochland dispatcher.   Poor signals sometimes garbled transmissions between dispatch, deputies and fire-rescue providers, a cause for concern in emergences when every second matters.

Banks of computers, radios, and wall mounted monitors displaying security camera feed, give the dispatchers real time eyes on the courthouse complex, including holding cells.
Real time security camera feed gives dispatchers eyes on the courthouse complex


While Witt explained the new equipment, Dispatcher Tammy Harmon answered 911 calls. A large electronic map of Goochland helps dispatches visualize the real time locations of incidents and deputies.
 
Tammy Witt, left, explains the new equipment, while Tammy Harmon, right answers 911 and non-emergency calls,
The floor in dispatch is raised so that cables beneath may be easily accessed for repair or upgrades.  Sound absorbing  panels on the walls prevent unwanted noise. The ceiling is high enough to accommodate expansion to a second floor without raising the roof. The server room, like the rest of the new ECC/EOC has lots of room for expansion.
 
Ample room for expansion in the server room for new equipment to keep pace with demand,
In addition to dispatch, the facility includes a large conference and smaller break out rooms;  a full kitchen; shower and laundry facilities and a large generator able to provide power for several days.

When Hurricane Isabel visited Goochland in 2003, the Sheriff’s Office was used as the EOC, where representatives from many county agencies including fire-rescue, administration, schools, and social services were crammed into a small room for many hours. 


The new ECC/EOC will equip Goochland to deal with increasing demand for law enforcement and other public safety services and  challenges of the next disaster be it man made or weather related and expand to meet the needs of a growing county.