Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Follow the money

Follow the money

Goochland County Administrator John Budesky presented his proposed budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1, to the Board of Supervisors on February 21. Budesky compiled the spending plan after detailed discussions with all entities funded all or in part by the county since he came on Board last summer.

This kicks off the county’s budget season, even though the process is ongoing. The tug of war between the recommendations and requests will be resolved by the supervisors when they adopt a final budget and set calendar year tax rates in April.

As proposed, the total FY2018 budget is $80.2 million, up 10 percent from the current year. Overall revenues are expected to increase by 4.9 percent, with personal property tax, levied on items like vehicles and boats, generating the largest gain of 8.5 percent.

The good news, and there is lots of it, is that the tax rates—53 cents per $100 of assessed valuation for real estate and 32 cents for the Tuckahoe Creek Service District ad valorem tax—will likely remain unchanged for calendar year 2017.

Property values have appreciated a little, so those rates represent a modest tax increase.

Some residents believe that our tax rates, the lowest in the region, are too low, that they should be raised to provide additional revenue for basic county services. Others contend that the rates are so high that it is difficult for land owners at the lower end of the wage scale to keep up with their taxes. They question the justification for some county expenditures. Both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum must be kept in mind when managing tax dollars.

The per capita income used in the proposed budget, taken from last year’s certified annual financial report (CAFR) is somewhat misleading. This number is derived by dividing the total income by the number of residents. Goochland’s population is about 22,000, and we have a generous handful of very affluent residents whose income skews this number way out of proportion.

Services provided by government are not funded by fairy dust. Levying taxes and spending the revenues they generate requires responsible, careful, and honest stewardship by our elected and appointed officials.

The proposed budget includes raises, longer hours at the convenience centers, some new employees, and the continuation of the of technology update, that enables excellence in finance.

Several budget workshops; a public hearing; and three town hall meetings in March; will be held to gather public input on the county’s spending plans.

Details of the proposed budget have been posted on the county website http://goochlandva.us/ for review and comment. The proposed budget contains lots of interesting information about Goochland as well as charts and graphs to make the data more accessible. Budesky and the supervisors welcome any and all comments and suggestions about the budget. Please take few minutes to review the document.

During the February 21 workshop, Goochland Sheriff James L. Agnew, whose department requested five additional deputies, talked about law enforcement in the county.

Growth in the Broad Street corridor, still mostly in Henrico, generated an increase in DUI and traffic related incidents. The Rt. 288/Broad Street Road interchange wins the prize as the site of the most recorded wrecks in Goochland. Congestion there will only get worse and bring more vehicle accidents and other situations requiring the attention of law enforcement.

Agnew also asked for five additional dispatcher positions to staff the new emergency communications center, which is expected to be operational in the summer. (The proposed budget for the Sheriff’s Office includes two new dispatchers and one deputy.)

Dispatchers are the nerve center of emergency operations in the county. They answer 911 calls and deploy appropriate people and equipment, both law enforcement and fire-rescue to an emergency scene. This is not an easy job and its value to the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens cannot be overstated. The addition of emergency medical dispatch, providing instructions to treat callers until EMS arrives, is a goal, but requires adequate communications staffing. “Dispatchers multitask,” Agnew explained. “An emergency medical dispatcher must be dedicated to a single call until it is resolved.”

Fire-Rescue Chief Bill MacKay reported that a precipitous decline in volunteer participation in delivery of fire-rescue services necessitated an acceleration of hiring career providers. Recently, the supervisors approved filling positions authorized for July 1 as soon as possible.

Goochland fire-rescue volunteers are amazing people who give huge amounts of time and talents to serve our community. Given the increasing complexity of fire-rescue response and the demands of modern life, fewer people are willing or able to meet the training and duty requirements.

Other budget highlights include a reduction in some fees to make Goochland more competitive with our neighbors. Cost recovery fees for EMS hospital transport, however, will go up. As volunteer participation in delivery of fire-rescue services continues to decline, the need for paid personnel to ensure prompt response to 911 calls continues. The supervisors recently authorized an acceleration in the hiring of additional career fire-rescue providers.

Director of Finance Barbara Horlacher explained that these increase bring Goochland’s cost recovery fees into line with neighboring jurisdiction. Funds realized from this program offset some of the cost of hiring additional career fire-rescue personnel

Goochland earned a AAA bond rating a few years ago, a noteworthy achievement for a small county government plagued by financial dysfunction only a few years earlier. Fiscal policies in place today disburse money carefully and track every penny. Credit card statements and check registers for the county and school division are posted on the county website. Questions about any expenditure will be responded to in a fast and open manner.

The capital improvement plan (CIP) addresses big ticket items (costing more than $50,000 with a relatively long useful life) including a new school; another fire-rescue station in West Creek; a new east end ladder truck; extending Fairground Road to Rt.6, which will require relocation of athletic fields to the Central High School and Cultural Center grounds; and a replacement for Goochland’s venerable circuit courthouse, which has served the county since the early 1800s.

As the east end of the county grows, the rest of Goochland, approximately 85 percent, according to the 2035 Comprehensive Land Use Plan, is expected to remain rural. To support that, the proposed budget includes a $14,000 increase in support for the Monacan Soil and Water conservation District. This agency provides direct assistance and policy advice to farmers about protecting soil and water quality.

Additional funds are allocated to the Virginia Cooperative Extension to open Goochland office for 20 hours per week. This agency supports our farming community—you want rural, you need farmers—students, and residents with services like water quality testing and the Master Gardner program.

The proposed budget includes an increase of $670,000 in funding for Goochland Schools. Go to http://goochlandschools.org/ under the school board tab for complete information about the approve school budget for FY18.

Tax dollars spent close to home have the greatest impact on you daily life. Please take the time to see where your money goes.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Puppy hugs

This pooch, wagged her tail in support of the adoption wing planned for the new Goochland animal shelter.

Goochland Pet Lovers, an organization recently formed to spearhead fund and “friend” raising for a pet adoption center connected to the new animal shelter, kicked off its Promise Campaign at Reynolds Community College on February 22.

In welcoming remarks, Reynolds’ President, Gary Rhodes said: “With all due respect to the Reynolds family (the college is named after the late J. Sargent Reynolds), I believe that the most important part of our name is community.”

Tom Winfree, GPL chair, thanked local businesses, including Tanglewood Ordinary, Elk Hill Winery, and Down Under Limousine, whose charming trolley bus ferried folks between the college and the animal shelter, for their generous contributions to the event.

A while back, District 4 Supervisor Bob Minnick observed “How we treat our animals is a reflection on us as a community.” The existing 2130 square foot Goochland animal shelter, located just off Fairground Road at the entrance to Hidden Rock Park, which has more than outlived its usefulness, does not reflect well.

As Dr. Lori Elliott, DVM, who works with Goochland animal protection, explained, the current building is too small to serve the county’s abandoned and stray animals. There is barely room for the staff to provide basic services and no space for volunteers to help ready pets for adoption. Lack of quarantine facilities puts all resident animals at risk of infection, which can close the shelter to additional new arrivals. It is also in violation of standards set by the Commonwealth and risks fines and other penalties.

Four years ago, recalled Elliott, she and others concerned about the state of the shelter met with the late Becky Dickson, then county administrator. That led to the concept of a public/private partnership to build an exceptional facility that would serve Goochland animals for at least thirty years, and the birth of GPL. Its logo features a dog and cat in front of a lotus, the symbol of rebirth and respect; a blue foreground represents the James River.

Becky was mentioned often as the driving force behind the new shelter and the GPL adoption wing. Her husband Dennis Proffitt gave Winfree a $10,000 donation that Becky left to GPL. Her sister Deborah Starns also donated $5,000.

Funds to build a new, 12,900 square foot animal shelter have been set aside in Goochland capital improvement plan for several years. Construction plans are being finalized and the facility is expected to go to bid in the next few months. The new facility will continue the zero tolerance for ending the lives of salvageable animals in Goochland. It will have space to provide remedial and preventive health care on site for animals.

The adoption wing planned by GPL will provide welcoming spaces to facilitate adoption of abandoned animals into forever homes and room for volunteers. The Promise Campaign hopes to raise $1.5 million; GPL is a 501 c (3) organization.

John Budesky, Goochland County Administrator said that because the new shelter, near the entrance to Hidden Rock Park off Fairground Road, is in the Courthouse Village overlay district, it must meet strict design standards. The attractive single story brick building will be carefully landscaped and serve as gateway to Courthouse Village.

Richard Verlander, who chairs the Promise Campaign with wife Kathy, compared the community working together to build an adoption center to baseball as an activity where people from different backgrounds pull together for the same outcome, which “is badly need in our troubled world. Animals bring out the best in us and put a smile on our face.”

Kathy said that their dogs bring normality to crazy lives and keep them grounded.
Over the past few years, the Verlanders have spent a great deal of time volunteering at the animal shelter, helping to prepare strays for their forever homes and looking for ways to make the shelter better.

Wayne Dementi, GPL President, said that the Promise Campaign is well on its way, having received $566,500 as of February 15, The Becky Dickson Memorial Fund, which is still growing, has reached $27,500. For the Love of Animals in Goochland (FLAG), which rescued thousands of animals and closed at the end of 2016, has given $200,000 to GPL.

Please visit http://www.goochlandpetlovers.com/ for complete information.

Lots of events are planned to help GPL meet its fundraising goal and there will be more that promise a good time for a great cause.

Don’t be surprised to learn “Poochland” is the “Purrfect” place to live. Do what you can to support this worthy effort, because we can all use a puppy hug now and then.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Guesting on Bacon's Rebellion

Thanks to Jim Bacon for inviting GOMM to guest post on baconsrebellion.com. Jim's blog, subtitled Reinventing Virginia for the 21st Century presents thought provoking discussion about issues facing the Commonwealth. It is well worth a bookmark.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Phoning it in

Phoning it in

After a series of serious, sometimes fatal, wrecks near the intersection of Rt. 250 and Fairground Road, Goochland supervisors asked VDOT—all together now, the state agency whose motto is Oops! —to study the road and make safety improvement recommendations. Goochland, like most other counties in Virginia, depends solely on VDOT to build and maintain roads.

(Please note, a distinction must be made between the hard working VDOT employees who do a great job with limited resources of cutting grass, plowing snow, and routine maintenance and those who make policy, the Oops! meisters. A special shout out to the flaggers who risk their lives to keep order in construction zones.)

At the February 7 Board meeting, Bruce McNabb. P.E., engineer for the Ashland VDOT residency, which includes Goochland, presented the findings of a traffic study for the stretch of Rt. 250 two and one half miles on either side of Oilville Road. (Visit the count website to see the presentation in the board packet, or view it on the livestream tab for February 7, 3 p.m., about 30 minutes in.)

McNabb said that the study, dated November 11, 2016, was prepared by Don DeBerry PE of the consulting firm of McCormack Taylor. Although the presentation included cost estimates for various mitigation options, there was no mention of the fee paid to McCormack Taylor for preparing the study.

Safety mitigation options were presented for each of the three intersections with Rt. 250, at Cardwell, Oilville, and Fairground Roads, ranked by cost and cost benefit analysis. McNabb said that options with low cost benefit ranking were unlikely to be funded.

Cardwell Road’s intersection with Rt. 250 was characterized as “unconventional,” the rest of the world would call it a Y. Solutions to safety issues here, said McNabb, reading from the study prepared by DeBerry, include a roundabout to keep traffic moving; changing the intersection to a conventional T; or adding signs. The options were presented in descending cost order.

McNabb did say that the curve template used in the conceptual roundabout was wide enough to accommodate tractor trailers. (Remember when the “Centerville Speedway” was built, the initial turning lanes from Rt. 250 to southbound Manakin Road were so tight that large trucks were unable to make the turn? A VDOT representative explained that happened because someone used the wrong template when designing those turn lanes. The entertainment value of moving vans jack knifed across all traffic lanes of Broad Street was fleeting.)

Although the study was allegedly prepared with data analysis, it seems unlikely that previous VDOT attention to this intersection were reviewed. Past “studies” of this intersection found that the more than $1 million estimated cost to reroute various telecommunications wires and fiber located in the “Y” made the project too expensive for consideration. Several large junction boxes located under the big tree give credence to this.

Sign partially obscured by a tree. Can you make out what the sign is trying to tell you?

The solution? Signs, which were deployed on February 7. One of these, east of Cardwell Road, is partially obscured by vegetation giving drivers traveling at 55 little time to notice and process the sign’s message. McNabb was happy to note that the cost of the signs was less than the $19 thousand mentioned in the report.

A sign was deployed east of the Oilville Road connection, within sight of the traffic signal there, warning that there is a traffic signal ahead. Adding highly reflective frames around the signal heads was suggested.
The sign tells you that a traffic signal, visible in the distance, is ahead.

The Fairground Road intersection is located at the top of two long, “blind” hills. The speed limit on Rt. 250 is 55 mph. Eastbound, the road passes through tall trees, westbound down one long hill and up another. Again, signs were deployed so near the danger spot that drivers going the speed limit, would be on top of the them before they were noticed. Speeders might never even see the signs.
See the tiny signs ahead on the right? They have important information for you if you can read them before you zoom through the intersection.
The high cost option was a roundabout, whose two millionish price tag generates a cost/benefit ratio of .36, way below the funding threshold. The conceptual drawing, which McNabb said could be very different from what is built, would eliminate the existing turn lane, which provides too much opportunity for vehicles to “trade paint” at peak traffic hours.

McNabb also said that, while the study found no safety issues with the passing zones west of Fairground Road, they will be shortened, just to be on the safe side, during the next road construction season.
Shrinking the passing zones west of Fairground Road to make the intersection safer?

These alleged remedies for traffic safety issues assume that drivers pay attention and read signs while traveling at the posted speed of 55 mph. No mention was made of reducing the speed limit west of Fairground Road, or installing measures, like a low-profile rumble strip to engage a sense other than sight, to warn drivers about the intersection before they are on top of it.

This study was a waste of time, and the money it cost to hire the consultant. The new signs are in place. If you travel the area on a regular basis, you probably will not notice them. It is doubtful that drivers who are drunk, high, or just plain distracted and going too fast will notice them either. Oops!!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

February Board highlights

February highlights

Goochland County’s February 7 monthly Board of Supervisors’ meeting addressed routine matters and seasonal issues. (Please note that land use changes, including rezoning and issuance of conditional use permits, as well as ordinance amendments that require public hearings are held during the evening sessions, which begin at 7 p.m. Meetings take place in county administration building at 1800 Sandy Hook Road in Courthouse Village.)

Fire-Rescue Chief Bill MacKay said that the Virginia Department of Forestry ban on outdoor burning before 4 p.m. begins on February 15 and runs until April 30. Given the current dry and windy conditions that easily spark brush fires, take great care with all outdoor burning. Visit http://www.dof.virginia.gov/laws/outdoor-fire-laws.htm for complete information, including fines and penalties that apply to violations.

Robin Lind, Sectary of the Goochland Electoral Board reported that there was a 19.7 percent turnout for the January 10 special election to fill the 22nd state senate seat vacated by Tom Garrett, who was elected to the United States Congress last year. By contrast, the turn out for the November 2016 general election was 85.2 percent, once again placing Goochland County first in the Commonwealth.

In anticipation of high voter interest in the January election, contested by three candidates, Lind said that the number of ballots ordered by Goochland was ultimately four thousand at a cost of 22 cents per ballot. The cost of the special election to Goochland County was $18,257, or $5.54 per vote.

Lind commended Director of Elections, Frances C. Ragland for her diligent attention to the needs of the January election. Lynchburg precincts, Lind noted, ran out of ballots by 9 a.m.

Three elections will take place in 2017, the special election on January 10; a primary in June; and the general election in November.

Jonathan Lyle, Director of the Monacan Soil and Water Conservation District, thanked the Board for its support of the MSWCD. He said that he is eager to supply the county with information to justify the fiscal support that it may choose to provide the MSWCD to ensure an adequate return on investment of tax dollars. Signs like this indicate that farmers are protecting water quality by fencing livestock out of streams.

Lyle reported that 41 local farmers have taken advantage of the livestock exclusion program, which helps finance fencing to keep livestock out of streams. This improves water quality and supports efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. Signs, funded by grants, indicating participation are deployed at these farms.

Board Chair Ned Creasey, District 3, announced the spring town hall meeting schedule for March. Districts 2 and 3 will meet at the Central High School Educational and Cultural Center on March 21. District 4 and 5 will meet at the Hermitage Country Club on March 23, and District 1 will meet at the new Hadensville Company 6 Fire-Rescue Station on March 30. All meetings begin at 7 p.m.

County administrator John Budesky said that the process to craft the county budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins on July 1, is well underway. The Board will hold two work sessions on February 21 and 28 at 3 p.m. which are open to the public. Budesky welcomed all citizen input on budgetary matters, either at these meetings, by phone, email, or in person.

The supervisors authorized a public hearing for their March 7 meeting to consider a short-term lease of the “academy” building on River Road West to Goochland Free Clinic and Family Services. This will provide temporary office and food bank space for GFCFS while its new facility is built.

Todd Kilduff, Assistant County Administrator, presented the annual update on activity in the Community Development and Utilities Department. He said that an upgrade to the Department of Corrections water system will add significant water capacity to the Courthouse Village utility system and a modest boost in wastewater (sewer) capacity there.

County Assessor Mary Ann Davis presented a summary of changes in land values for 2017. The total taxable land value increased 3.4 percent to $4.7 billion; of that, 1.2 percent is new construction. Fair market value in the Tuckahoe Creek Service District rose 2.9 percent to $958 million. Land use assessments declined .66 percent to $565 million.

Reassessment notices based on the fair market value as of January 1, 2017 were mailed on January 13. Property owners have until February 15 to file an appeal. The assessor’s office can be reached at 804.556.5853 for additional information.

Director of Financial Services Barbara Horlacher presented second quarter general fund projection and budget amendments. So far, the revenues for FY2017 are estimated to be $51 million, $3.8 million over budget, including $1.2 million in anticipated bank stock taxes, which are used for one time capital expenditures. Operating expenditures are forecast to be $1.6 million below budget. Despite some health insurance costs and fees and bank fees that came in over budget, the overall revenues for FY 2017 are projected, at this time, to exceed expenditures by approximately $3.8 million.

Qiana Foote, Director of Information Technology presented updates on the Public Safety Radio project and replacement of the county and schools’ financial reporting system. (Details are included in the Board meeting packet, available under the supervisors’ tab on the county website: http://goochlandva.us/)

The supervisors voted to “scratch” an ordinance about sawmills addressed at their January meeting and referred a revised ordinance to the Planning Commission for consideration.

Administrative Services Manager Paul Drumwright updated the Board on legislation of interest to the county making its way through the Virginia General Assembly.

No legislation was presented addressing transportation of sludge/biosolids, or to amend the vague law passed last year about proffers.

Bills dealing with expansion of broadband, which seemed designed to hobble, rather than encourage, innovative approaches to deploy broadband service in underserved areas were put forth by several legislators.

One, that essentially removed any local oversight on location or regulation of towers, died. Another, which was amended several times until its most objectionable language had been removed, “crossed over” to the senate.

Short term rentals (Airbnb) were addressed in several bills that sought to create mechanisms for localities to collect some lodging taxes and provide notification of the location of the facilities being rented out.

Reform of the certificate of public need made no progress. Drumwright said he believed that the General Assembly was hesitant to act on this before the U. S. Congress addresses health care.

An increase in the share of Fire Programs funds to be allocated to localities for improvement of volunteer and career fire services from 75 to 80 percent with a delayed effective date of January 1, 2018, was passed by the House and is in the Senate.

A bill to permit EMS personnel to administer glucagon died in the Senate.
A bill regulating land surveyor photogrammetrists was passed by the house, but must be reenacted in the 2018 session.

Budesky thanked Drumwright, staff, and the supervisors who have been keeping tabs on our state legislators.