Sunday, July 16, 2017

Mother may I?

County and school officials meet with Del. Lee  Ware and Senator Mark Peake 

Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, which means that localities like Goochland County have only those powers given to them by the General Assembly. The Virginia General Assembly consists of 100 delegates and 40 senators. It is a part-time legislature, meeting 60 days in even number years and 45 days in odd numbered years. Each years, thousands of pieces of legislation are considered.

Our population of approximately 22,000 earns us a three representative delegation to the GA: 65th District Delegate Lee Ware; 22nd District Senator Mark Peake; and 56th District Delegate Peter Farrell, who announced his retirement earlier this year.

A June primary selected two candidates, Democrat Melissa Dart and Republican John McGuire, who will run to replace Farrell in November. Francis Stevens will oppose Ware. All candidates attended.

To ensure that its concerns about the ramifications and unintended consequences of existing laws and pending legislation, Goochland holds an annual meeting between our supervisors, school officials, constitutional officers, and county and school staff and legislative delegation. This year’s event occurred on Tuesday, June 11 and lasted for about two hours in late afternoon.

Topics on the agenda underscored state involvement in local governance and ranged from expansion of broadband, a priority item for both the county and schools, to the ability of the Goochland Drive in Theater to place a directional sign on Interstate 64 and the need for Goochland to request an annual waiver to start the school year before Labor Day.

Ware praised Goochland for its proactive legislative stance, stating that our county is a model for other localities. He mentioned some accomplishments of the 2017 GA session including salary increases for Virginia State Police, deputies, and state employees. The law enforcement pay situation was particularly dire as starting troopers and deputies with families qualified for food stamps.

Virginia, said Ware, was also able to repay a 2008 loan to the Virginia Retirement System. The VRS recently announced a more than 11 percent return, more than the seven percent assumed interest rate, which has put the system in a good situation. Now the GA needs to move state employees to a defined contribution retirement benefit so Virginia does not find itself downing in a tsunami of unfunded pension liability.

Peake, who succeeded Tom Garrett on the first day of the 2017 session after winning a special election, echoed Ware’s contention that trooper and deputy pay adjustments were a “big issue” directly connected to the perception of Virginia as a good place to do business. Peake said a sound budget is of utmost importance and that the GA should never borrow from VRS again. He commended Goochland schools and the county for their accomplishments and fiscal discipline.

Goochland County Administration John Budesky thanked Administrative Services Manager Paul Drumwright for organizing the meeting and being county point man on legislative activities.

Robin Lind, secretary of the Goochland Electoral Board, once again asked that the state reimburse localities for the entire cost of electoral board mileage and General Registrars as required by the Code of Virginia. Lind pointed out that “money that balances the state budget often is taken from localities.” He also repeated his “forlorn hope” that the GA will find a way for political parties to select their candidates on their own dime instead of holding primary elections funded by localities.

Given the amount of money that political parties spend on television ads, robo calls, and endless mailers, they should be able to spare some change to fund their own primaries.

Lind supported a Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) study and thorough audit of the state department of elections to restore accountability.

Ware concurred about the local election funding mandate and importance of the integrity of the electoral process and said he would be glad to carry that bill.

Peake asked is all elections cost the same? Lind said the cost depends on the number of officers of elections that need to be retained. Ware commended Lind and Goochland General Registrar Frances Ragland—the best in the Commonwealth—for providing excellent information about the cost of elections that he uses to engage and inform his colleagues about related matters.

Peake said that he does not know much about “ag matters” as he did not have time to prepare.

One “evergreen” item on Goochland’s legislative agenda is sludge, the end product of municipal wastewater treatment plants. A few years back the GA decided that counties could not prohibit the practice of spreading sludge on fields within their borders.

This year’s sludge issue is transportation related. Sludge applied to fields in Goochland originates at wastewater treatment plants in northern Virginia. It is transported in large trucks that travel during predawn hours. The rumble of these trucks on narrow county roads is a nuisance to those who live along the roads, and the trucks exceed the speed limit and drive in the middle of the road. In the past year, some of those trucks have overturned spilling their cargo into creeks.

The large trucks deliver the sludge to a storage site in Goochland for local distribution, often via “farm” vehicles that are not required to be licensed, inspected, insured. Goochland would like regulation on the time of transport and local vehicles.

The nationally renowned Goochland Drive-In theater near Hadensville (http://www.goochlanddriveintheater.com/) wants to announce its presence to motorists on Interstate 64. For some bizarre reason, drive in theaters—according to District 1 supervisor Susan Lascolette, there are only six in the entire state—are not on the approved list of businesses that can use the signs announcing attractions at an exit.

The drive-in owner, explained Lascolette, will gladly pay the cost of installing the signage. Once again, silly regulations with no clear purpose throw roadblocks in the path of small business. Peake said that matter could be brought up at the next meeting of the Commonwealth Transportation Board to start the conversation about resolving the matter administratively.

Broadband expansion was mentioned by both the supervisors and school officials. Among the impediments to expansion is the prohibition for providers other than Comcast and Verizon to operate in Goochland. Easing regulations that prevent competition could help solve the problem.

School Board Chairperson Beth Hardy, District 4, seemed to allude to a comment made by Peake during a January candidate forum when he dismissed broadband as an entertainment medium when she stated that access to broadband is an important educational and economic issue. While Goochland schools do not assign homework that requires internet access, students without are at a significant disadvantage to their peers able to go online for research, creating a big gap between students and teachers in the eastern and western ends of Goochland.

Goochland School Superintendent Dr. Jeremy Raley said that as the number of k-12 students rises, it is harder to attract and hire teachers. He asked for greater flexibility to apply credentialing criteria that maintain high standards to address the teacher shortage.

Raley contended that communities and their school divisions know best how to run their schools and asked that the post Labor Day start requirement be relaxed. (This was put into place some time ago to boost late summer attendance at state amusement parks.)

Raley said that new regulations regarding student discipline “handcuff” school administrations from addressing the individual needs of students. “There is no one size fits all approach to discipline. We know our students and we know what is appropriate.”

Peake concurred saying that localities should be in charge of their school districts and employ common sense and discretion in dealing with students that do not fit in. The new rules, he said, are well intentioned, but misguided.

Other issues touched on were the certificate of public need (COPN) policy, which requires healthcare providers to justify the need for expansion of hospitals and other care facilities. Legislation to either repeal or reform this practice, which stifles competition, is badly needed.

The hastily passed and poorly written legislation concerning proffers passed in 2016 was not addressed in the 2017 session leaving localities like Goochland twisting in the wind as they seeks ways to mitigate the impact of new residential development. Ware said that this and the COPN issue need to be addressed.

Peake was unfamiliar with the proffer issue but said that the COPN matter must be addressed.

Ken Peterson , District 5 raised concerns about the state’s financial positions. Even though Goochland is experiencing an economic resurgence, Virginia as a whole is slipping. The state’s Standard& Poor’s rating has declined in the past few years, making it more difficult to compete with the like of North Carolina. He asked what will happen if gridlock in Washington results in another sequestration.

Ware contended that Virginia is competitive with nearby states, working hard to remain a low tax state and maintain a fiscally responsible tradition. The GA will responsibly handle fiscal matters that come before it.
The county and schools will refine their legislative wish list over the next few months before submission to the delegation at the end of the year.
















3 comments:

Doug Kinney said...

Interstate sign regulations are hardly "silly." In the alternative, a lot of businesses would love to advertise on the cheap, but folks probably would be adverse to a strip club proclaiming its delights.

Consequently, the signs allow for gas, motels and restaurants – common information sought by travelers.

If you want to advertise to travelers, pony up for a billboard.

Manuel said...

Not sure how a family oriented drive-in theater compares to a strip club? Concert halls, race tracks, golf courses and amphitheaters are allowed. They are all destination venues, not something you see along the highway and decide visit. So why not a drive-in theater? There are only 6 in the State.

If they added a brewery or winery then they would qualify?

LaQueta said...

Broadband. I live in Crozier, which is also a dead-zone for high speed internet access. We aren't way out in the western part of the county, yet we don't have the option of Comcast or Verizon. It is super frustrating. We had Hughes Net for a while, but the service was unreliable. Currently using a Verizon wireless hotspot for access. It is expensive, but reliable and that is key for someone that works remotely as I do. The county really needs to do better and either encourage Comcast and Verzion to expand coverage or make way for other providers who will. Students without access are at a definite disadvantage. Goochland has advanced in so many ways over the years, but very much lacking in this area. We can do better for all the county's residents.