Sunday, March 26, 2017

Spring town hall

Thanks to everyone who tried to solve the problem with the blog notification email list. The cyber gremlins are behaving themselves, but that may not last. You might want to bookmark and check in often.

The tone of the Goochland Town meeting for District 4 and 5 that filled the meeting room at Hermitage Country Club on March 23 was oddly anxious. By most metrics, things are pretty good in the county right now. Revenues are expected to be up a bit, the schools are getting high marks for their efforts to prepare every student to succeed; and economic development efforts are starting to bear fruit.

Supervisor Ken Peterson, District 5, who recently announced that he will not pursue the seat in the General Assembly being vacated by Peter Farrell, sounded like he was running for something. At times, he seemed on the verge of doing a soft shoe dance routine, lacking only props of a straw boater hat and cane, before a full meeting room at the Hermitage Country Club.

County Administrator John Budesky, who came on board last August, presented his first proposed budget. He explained that the proposed county spending plan for fiscal 2018, which begins on July 1, was the result of extensive meetings with all department heads. Budget allocations were prioritized in accordance with the supervisors’ commitment to support core government functions: law enforcement; fire-rescue; and education, all of which received increases, though probably not as much as they had hoped for.

Budesky also touched briefly on the county’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP),which includes very big ticket items like a new school; a new courthouse; a fire-rescue station; and a ladder truck to replace one purchased a few years ago by the Manakin volunteers deemed too expensive to repair. There was little discussion of how the CIP will be funded, though issuance of additional debt somewhere around 2020 is likely.

The Tuckahoe Creek Service District ad valorem tax was discussed. Budesky said it will likely remain at the current 32 cents per $100 of valuation in addition to the 53 cent real estate tax for the foreseeable future. Utility rates will see a modest increase because the cost of water, which the county buys from Henrico, is going up.

TCSD debt is on track for retirement in 2042. A new section has been added to the FAQs on the county website explaining the TCSD in excruciating detail. It’s worth a look, especially if you pay the ad valorem tax. It also includes information on exiting the TCSD for property not served by water and sewer.

School Superintendent Dr. Jeremy Raley gave a brief explanation of the school budget. Go to for details. Raley announced that Goochland Schools were ranked the 8th best in the Commonwealth by He said that a division wide initiative looked at all programs to identify those that were not performing well and repurposed approximately $200,000.

Students from grades 3 to 12 will receive devices, either tablets or laptops, in the fall so they can have the computer literacy that is as vital to 21 century employment as reading. Programs to prepare students for computer related jobs that do not require college degrees, currently going begging in Central Virginia, are also in the works.

The career and technical education program at Goochland High School, which allows students to get hands on exposure to a wide range of skills, was also discussed. Students completing CTE courses are ready to obtain certifications so they can hold well-paying jobs close to home. The Marine Jr. ROTC program not only gives high school students a leg up on entering military service, but encourages good behavior in school. Some GHS students are cross-enrolled at Reynolds Community College and will have completed an associate’s degree when they graduate from high school.

Dr. Raley said that the schools plan to retain a consultant to determine what kind of school will be built and where and if it makes financial sense to renovate older buildings.

Peterson touted economic development, including the rehabilitation hospital coming to the Notch at West Creek around 2020. Depending on how the project, a joint venture between VCU and Sheltering Arms, is structured, it may or may not be subject to real estate taxes. However, it will pay ad valorem tax, connection fees, and sewer and water fees in the TCSD. He failed to mention, however, the Advance Auto Parts store on its way to Centerville next to Company 3 on the north side of Broad Street Road. Still no national coffee emporium on the horizon.

Badly needed improvements to the perilous Rt. 288/Broad Street Road interchange, including additional off ramp lane storage and traffic signals, which have all been approved, will not, according to a VDOT representative in the audience, happen before 2021. That is outrageous. Someone needs to take our new delegation to the General Assembly to this interchange and make it clear that it needs to be fixed NOW.

A citizen stated that The Tuckahoe Creek bridge connecting Ridgefield Parkway to Rt. 288 is also badly needed to ease traffic on Broad Street, regardless of the objections of Henrico politicians. VDOT reform is way overdue and should be made an issue in this year’s election campaigns.

In response to an objection to the proposed elimination of the thousand foot setback for retail uses on the old Oak Hill golf club property, Peterson pulled up a photo and, after a bit more soft shoe contended that many of the more than 6,000 people who work in West Creek, many of them Millennials, want to live and play close to where they work. He suggested that apartments in West Creek, especially those near Capital One and the Hardywood Park Craft Brewery under construction would enable that lifestyle.

Many claims have been made that Goochland County is expected to be 85 per cent rural in 2035. The other 15 percent, however, will be developed in pursuit of a 70/30 percent ratio of real estate/commercial tax base. Peterson said that development west of Rt. 288 on Rt. 6 is expected to follow TCSD lines, which end at the Richmond Country Club.

In response to a question about hiring additional dispatchers to be able to provide medical assisted dispatch, Peterson did a riff about continued hiring of career fire-rescue personnel to augment our valiant volunteers, whose numbers are declining. He said that new dispatchers will be added each fiscal year, and that a handful of new fire-rescue career hires will reduce response times for 911 calls.

A lot of information was made available to the citizens at this meeting. We hope it was digested, and studied and will prompt questions and comments at the budget public hearing scheduled for Tuesday, April 4 at 7 p.m. in the board meeting room of the County Administration Building at 1800 Sandy Hook Road in Courthouse Village.

Citizen engagement in local government tends to fall off when they believe things are going well. Elected and appointed officials need feedback, both positive and negative, to do their jobs effectively.

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