Ripping of the Rio GSI Band-Aid

By. Neil Williamson, President

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

“This is gonna hurt” — Taking off a Band Aid, you know there will be pain.  There are two diametrically different schools of thought regarding bandage removal: slowly easing it off the wound, or ripping it of swiftly.  The US29/Rio Grade Separated Interchange (GSI) project is clearly the latter of the two.

In both the skinned knee and the road construction project, the merit of the “rip it off” option is reduced duration (if not intensity) of pain.

Please let me explain what I have learned about this ‘short term’ pain which will start May 22nd.

As it has every night in recent months, at 9 pm on Sunday May 22nd the U.S. 29/Rio Road intersection will close to cross traffic; the difference is this time it will not reopen at 6 am on May 24th.  Vehicles will be allowed to turn right onto Rio and Rio traffic will be allowed to turn right onto U.S. 29 but the cross over will close. On U.S.  29 two southbound lanes and three northbound lanes will be maintained between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.

A milling crew in action

Starting the night of the 22nd, the construction crews will begin digging out the asphalt (about three feet deep) and earth required to construct the bridge in the center of the intersection.  Two different milling crews will utilize two ten hour shifts and a total of thirty trucks to move the 60,000 yards of dirt and millings from the Grade Separated Interchange project up US 29 to the Berkmar Extended project where it will be stockpiled.

 

The dump truck fleet will be coordinated by a contractor spotter that will have the ability to stop traffic at the existing temporary light at Berkmar Drive.  Trucks will cue in the construction area on the southbound side and when the spotter turns the light red for US 29 traffic, the trucks will complete a U turn to head North on US 29 up to Towncenter drive and then take Dickerson South to Earlysville Road and then Rio Mills Road.
The clearing will start in the center but then alternate between the north and south side of the bridge.  It is important to note that two lanes Southbound and three lanes Northbound will remain open during from 6 am – 9 pm.  At night, the lane closures will be more significant (similar to today’s nigh time pattern).

As the excavators are doing their work on either side of the bridge, carpenters will be utilizing pre-tied rebar to install lagging for the retaining walls. As the earth on either side of the bridge are appropriately dropped, the clearing of earth under the bridge deck can begin and the piers that have already been poured (under the steel plates we have been driving over) can be exposed.

 

VDOT bridge engineer Brad Chapman inspects a bridge abutment under the construction of US29/Rio.  The abutment is covered by steel plates during the day

All 60,000 yards of dirt and millings will be cleared from the site by June 15, 2016.  To be clear, a fleet of 30 trucks will be going up and down US29 for 20 hours everyday for 23 days.  It will be an intensive, albeit short, clearing period.

 

The plan calls for the bridge beams to be placed starting on May 26th (a mere 39 hours after the intersection closes), with the concrete for the deck itself to be poured on top of the beams in June.

Everyone involved in this project has a high level of confidence in the safety as well as the integrity of the plans.  It is the consensus opinion that the contractor Lane/Corman will complete the majority of the work ahead of the contract requirements.

The Five Million Dollar Day.  Based on our analysis of the documents presented, and the level of confidence expressed by the contractor, the project administrator and engineers working on the project, Free Enterprise Forum believes the contractor will substantially complete the project on or before August 5, 2016 thus qualifying for the $6,829,209 incentive, that drops to $1,854,361 on August 6, 2015.

To qualify for the financial incentive, the contractor must meet a number of specific objectives including the ability for all lanes of the new interchange to be open for daytime traffic (6 am  – 9 pm).  This means not all the work will be done, but all the work that requires daytime closure will be completed.  It is anticipate the nighttime lane closures (such as we have now) will continue through December 2016.

While the Free Enterprise Forum remains steadfastly opposed to the Rio GSI, we have been impressed with the level of detail, safety and professionalism of the contractor.  We are also supportive of the financial incentive that shortens the construction period and lessens the pain for all involved.

Once more with feeling, we supported the other Route 29 solution projects (Berkmar Extended, Hillsdale Extended, US29 Widening, US29/250 Interchange improvements, Synchronized lights) but we believe the community would have been better served without the Rio GSI. We continue to believe citizens do not know Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan calls for 7 of these “intersection improvements”. Whether they admit it or not the expressway is coming.

That being said, if you are going to rip a Band Aid off, you know the pain is coming,  the quicker you do it the better.

Respectfully Submitted,
Neil Williamson

Neil Williamson December 2 2015 Albemarle BOS meeting Photo Credit Charlottesville TomorrowNeil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.

Photo Credits: VDOT

Greene Approves Budget, Sets New Tax Rate

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Historically when the Greene County Board of Supervisors meet to discuss the new budget and tax rates, it draws a large turnout and the meeting is moved to the Performing Arts Center at the high school. It starts an hour early and goes late into the night. This year the plan was the same for the meeting on April 26th, except only one speaker addressed the Board.

Greene had advertised a personal property tax rate of $.775/$100 of assessed value – an increase of $.025/$100 or 3.3%. Chairman Bill Martin asked County Administrator John Barkley to outline the process that brought them to the $.775 rate

image

John Barkley

Barkley indicated that revenues for the current year are on target and there is a healthy reserve fund balance. He was complimentary of the county departments since 21 departments presented reduced budget requests. The increase of $.025/$100 will generate additional revenue of $460,000. In terms of the impact to a homeowner – a home assessed at $200,000 would require $50 in additional property taxes. All other tax rates will stay the same in the county.

image

Sharon Mack

The meeting then shifted to comments from the public. The only person to sign up was Greene County School Board Chair Sharon Mack. She thanked the Board for their support and explained why the school’s requested near a 3% increase. She indicated that the main driver is that teachers have been budgeted a 3% increase and a 5% increase for has been budgeted for teacher assistants in order to remain competitive in attracting and keeping good teachers and their assistants. In closing, she appreciated that the Board of Supervisors fully funded the schools request.

With the public hearing closed, the discussion then shifted back to the Board members. Supervisor Dale Herring (At-Large) said that in addition to the 21 departments reducing costs, 16 had no increase and some had less than $1,000 increase. The budget addresses current and future needs, especially the water impoundment.

Supervisor Jim Frydl (Midway) agreed with Herring and expanded on the school situation. In the past 4-5 years there has been an increase of 14% in number of students with fewer teachers rather than adding teachers. His other main comment was that Greene doesn’t act like D.C. – in Greene we invest in key functions especially for the long term, such as water and sewer and water impoundment.

Supervisor David Cox (Monroe) has seen Greene grow over the years and he stated that the school system is the future of Greene County and it is playing catch up. We have major issues to address in the water impoundment and the fact that the schools don’t have enough capacity for the growth we’ve experienced. imageHe also highlighted the poor emergency communication capability where a firefighter was in a burning building a year ago and he couldn’t talk to people 200 feet away. It almost cost him his life.

Vice Chair Michelle Flynn (Ruckersville)  indicated that during her orientation she heard of counties raising their personal property tax rates more than $.10/$100. She was glad that Greene could hold to only a $.025 tax increase.

image

Bill Martin

Chairman Bill Martin (Stanardsville) believes that the table is set for Greene County. The county has a great school system but we need more commercial expansion to increase our tax base. The water impoundment is the lynch pin to the county’s progress. However, the budget incrementally adds over $680,000 in new expenditures (the largest component being $170,000 for the regional jail) but only has new revenue of $460,000. The additional $120,000 would equate to an additional tax rate increase of $.012/$100 or a total tax rate of $.037/$100 of assessed value. This imbalance caused Martin to not support the budget.

Cox made a motion to approve the budget and the tax rate Frydl seconded the motion which passed of 4-1 (Martin opposed). At the first Board of Supervisors meeting in May, the Board will vote to appropriate funds for fiscal year 2017.

However, several questions came out of the budget process……..

1) how much Reserve Fund is left vs. the balance the auditors recommend having?

2) does the county have enough cash on hand going forward to get through the low periods right before the semiannual personal property tax payments?

3) should there be a “cash only” minimum balance in order to be able to pay the bills every month?

4) how should Greene look to finance the large, looming expenditures such as the water impoundment and school expansion?

Finance Director/Deputy County Administrator, Tracy Morris provided what the Reserve Balance has been the past four years (calculated at September 30th, the end of the fiscal year):

Fiscal Year Balance

% Decline

% Cumulative Decline

2012 $19,633,000

2013 $17,446,000

11.1%

11.1%

2014 $15,731,000

9.8%

19.9%

2015 $14,412,000

8.4%

26.6%

In the FY2017 budget included a $2,850,000 decline in the Reserve Balance to balance the budget. The FY2016 budget projected a decline in the Reserve Balance of $3,067,000 and with these amounts being used the 2016 and 2017 estimated Reserved Balance would be:

Projected Balance

% Decline

% Cumulative Decline (since 2012)

FY2016

15.6%

42.2%

FY2017

14.5%

56.7%

Two keys to remember are that the Reserve Balance is not all Cash. It is made up of all Balance Sheet accounts – both cash and non-cash. Morris also indicated that all investments of cash have been liquidated. In addition, Board Policy indicates a goal of maintaining a minimum reserve Balance of 15% of income plus 1 month of expense  which seems to be in jeopardy.

There has been discussion that an additional benchmark might be provided to operate the county on a sound financial basis and that would be to have a “cash only” minimum balance. This lead to ask how much cash does the county have which Morris directed to the County Treasurer, Stephanie Deal.

Deal provided the following detail of the cash balance by year in the two months (June and December) before personal property taxes are collected.

FY2012 FY2013 FY2014 FY2015 FY2016
April $8,855 $9,925 $6,873 $7,712 TBD
May $10,851 $13,951 $11,746 $12,050 TBD
October $8,999 $10,758 $8,389 $8,777 $7,794
November $10,869 $13,878 $11,026 $11,461 $10,829

(All numbers in thousands) *Fiscal Year ends 9/30

The trend shows a steady decline in the cash balance after peaking in 2013, similar, but not as steep as the decline in the Reserve Balance over the same period. May and November showing increases in the cash balance indicate that a large portion of the county pays their personal property taxes in the month before they are due.

As for Frydl’s comment that Greene County is not like Washington, D.C. he is currently correct – Greene got out of borrowing that plagued the county in the past. There is concern that there are major projects on the horizon – the water impoundment project for over $40,000,000 and the study currently being conducted on the physical needs of the school system – price to be determined.

The “good news” about the schools teaching more students with fewer teachers while on the surface sounds good but it is a concern whether it is sustainable. Cuts have been made to administrative staff causing teachers to take on more “non-teaching” tasks with growing classrooms. The combination of these issues raises concerns whether Greene County schools will keep their good teachers and help attract businesses to the county.

Lastly, the 2017 budget includes $2,836,000 of Debt Service. The “real” good news is that this amount declines annually the next nine years (2018 to 2026). Absent any new debt being acquired, starting in 2027 the annual decline jumps to $1,952,000 (in one year) and gets bigger the next 10 years to $2,224,000 in 2036. The total decline for the 11 year period is $19,288,000 and for the total 20 year period the total reduction will be nearly $27 million.

The chart below shows the trend line going down – significantly in the out years providing a source of revenue within the existing debt structure.

image

Will this reduction in existing debt service be enough to fund all the projects needed to be done in Greene? Probably not, but it is a good start for the future.

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credits: Greene County, Greene County Record, Martin Campaign

Albemarle and VDOT Create US29+Rio Lemonade

By. Neil Williamson, President

While the Free Enterprise Forum lost the battle against the US29/Rio Grade Separated Interchange (GSI), we have found Albemarle County (and Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)) to be working exceedingly well together and significantly positively impacting the challenging business environment due to the roadway construction.

In the most recent Route 29 Solutions Project Delivery Advisory Panel meeting, former VDOT Commissioner and PDAP facilitator Philip Shucet indicated the next phase of the Rio GSI project, where the intersection will close for up to 103 days,  “Isn’t going to be a birthday party”.  This might be the understatement of the year.

The closure of the intersection (right turns will still be permitted) will have an impact on businesses in the area.  A little over a year ago the Free Enterprise Forum asked a simple question regarding the business assistance program for US29 Rio Grade Separated Interchange:  US29 Business Survival – Will Albemarle Put Their Money Where Their Mouth Is?

In short, VDOT and Albemarle have answered the call to make lemonade out of the challenging construction period.

The get around guide produced by VDOT (and printed locally) is quite good and available at local merchants.

An illustrated map of the Route 29 corridor.

Beyond being a helpful tool, these are not being handed out by a team of interns that do not know how to answer business owner questions.  VDOT Communications Director Lou Hatter is personally delivering these maps to retailers, hoteliers in the impacted footprint.

VDOT also has print, radio and television advertisements running in significant rotation, letting people know that the intersection will be closed but access to all businesses and neighborhoods will be maintained.

Rio 29 logoConcurrent, and coordinated with VDOT’s informational efforts, Albemarle County, working with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) is running radio, television, and print advertisements focused on the businesses in the Rio and 29 footprint.  The message that Route 29 is “Open for Business” during construction at Rio Road.

To be clear, The Free Enterprise Forum fought the Rio GSI because it is either the addition of a 2 inch pipe on a 1/2 inch line or it is the first step toward an expressway that will divide the community.  We lost that fight.

US29 Rio April 29 2016VDOT is taking a “tear the band aid off” approach to the construction plans for Rio GSI getting as much done as quickly as possible.  The contractor’s current trajectory seems to have the project reopening to daytime traffic on or before August 5 (and earning the contractor a $6.8 Million incentive).

Today, we are appreciative that Albemarle County and VDOT were good to their word in supporting the businesses that are most impacted by the construction.

We still believe there will be significant economic dislocation of some businesses (ie: Better Living), we also believe the combined efforts of VDOT and Albemarle County significant business outreach, advertising and communication efforts may soften the negative impacts.

I like lemonade.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Albemarle PC Chooses to Ignore State Law, Again

By. Neil Williamson, President

go-to-jail-photo-credit-myanimelist.net_.jpgIn tonight’s (4/26) Albemarle County Planning Commission meeting the commissioners again voted that their opinion on Cash Proffers was more important than state law (and the staff opinion).  And this wasn’t even the first time this year that they made such a vote (Albemarle Planning Commission Tells Supervisors To Violate State Law)

Add to this “fun house of mirrors” that this very same Planning Commission voted 5 – 0 on a Resolution of Intent to consider amending the Comprehensive Plan by repealing the Cash Proffer Policy.  This issue will come to the Planning Commission as a public hearing on May 10th.

I’d like to be able to explain all of this — but I am at a loss.

As a reminder what is at stake is a reduction of cash proffer of ~$15,000 per single family home in rezoned residential housing.

Here is the justification the Planning Commission made to support their first arrogant state code violating vote in February:

By a vote of 7:0, the Planning Commission recommends denial of ZMA-2015-09 Spring Hill Village Proffer Amendment for the following reasons:

1. Some reduction in cash proffer amounts may be in order based on looking at the school enrollments and capacities; but, the Commission at this point does not know what the reduced amount would be.
2. The recommendation of the Fiscal Impact Advisory Committee (FIAC) of this reduced amount has not yet been fully analyzed by the Planning Commission or the Board of Supervisors; and, the additional information is still needed that was requested a number of weeks ago.
3. A full analysis should be conducted of the actual costs to the county of going forward with this development, and
4. The Board of Supervisors should set a new proffer policy, not use this project to set a precedent, and possibly consider repealing the current cash proffer policy while that is undertaken.

#2 is perhaps the most outlandish of these.  The proffer change was driven by a 2013 change in state code.  A full three years late Albemarle still has not obtained “the additional information still needed that was requested a number of weeks ago”?????  Based on this logic, the applicant is being punished because Albemarle County did not do their job.

In the meeting, the commissioners discussion started with school impacts and Commissioner Mac Lafferty again stated his belief that the action should go directly to the Board rather than the Planning Commission.  The Free Enterprise Forum agrees with Lafferty’s position.

Commissioner Bruce Dotson suggested the applicant, who is selling product at $600,000+, can afford the proffer.  The applicant indicated they can afford it but told the commission the previous proffer amount is now in violation of State law. The Free Enterprise Forum believes the fact that a project can afford it is not germane to the argument.

Tonight’s vote was unanimous 7-0 to recommend denial of the cash proffer amendment.

The repetitive arrogance of the Albemarle County Planning Commission to determine they are above the Code of Virginia is astounding.

Remembering the Planning Commission is merely advisory to the Board of Supervisors, the true question is will the current Board of Supervisors also choose to willfully violate state law?

Only time will tell.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

Neil Williamson December 2 2015 Albemarle BOS meeting Photo Credit Charlottesville TomorrowNeil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.

TJPDC Discusses Transportation With Greene PC

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Unlike urban areas in Virginia, rural localities do not have federally mandated Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) instead their long range transportation planning is doTJPDCne via the state’s planning districts working directly with planning commissions and staff.

Wood Hudson, Senior Environmental Planner of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District (TJPDC), addressed Greene County’s  Planning Commission at their April meeting. His goal was to inform the Planning Commission on the current Rural Long Range Transportation Planning (RLRTP) activities in Greene and to solicit feedback from the planning commission.

Several years ago, Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) partnered with 20 Planning District Commissions to review their rural transportation programs. They developed Long Range Transportation Plans for rural areas to compliment plans in urban areas (MPOs). These included:

  • Identify transportation deficiencies and recommendations
  • Assist with comprehensive plan updates and traffic impact studies
  • Evaluate the effects of land use and development on the surrounding network
  • Establish programming of transportation improvements
  • Provide content and guidance for statewide transportation plans

The RLRTP is in the process of their update every five years to help serve as a valuable tool to attract dwindling transportation funds. Feedback from planning commissions is requested to help identify a county’s needs. The rest of the process should take 6-9 months so Greene’s feedback would be useful in the next month.

TJPDC has been working with local planning staff and VDOT to draft a project list. Much of this work is completed through TJPDC’s Rural Transportation Planning Technical (R-Tech) Committee.  The 2016 Chairman of R-Tech is Bart Svoboda – Greene County’s Planning Director.

Hudson provided a map of the county and project list divided into three categories – 1) new projects, 2) existing current projects and 3) existing projects scheduled in the future and asked that the commission provide feedback on the inclusion or exclusion of each project.

Greene Long Range Trans Plan

The existing project list includes work on US 33 to Rockingham County, US 33 from Route 230 to US 33 Bypass, US 29 from Albemarle County line to US 33 and US 29 at VA 616 – Carpenters Mill Road.

Chairman Jay Willer asked if the list of projects had been prioritized and who would determine the priorities VDOT or Greene County?

Hudson indicated that the projects will be ranked in the future after the list is completed. Hudson also said that the prioritization would be VDOT’s decision but the county can influence that decision based on their requirements.

Willer thanked Mr. Hudson for addressing the planning commission and looks forward to seeing projects completed in the next few years.

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Spilt Fluvanna BOS Increases Tax Rate

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

It took a while, but the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors voted to raise real estate taxes for the upcoming year.  It took three motions for the majority of the supervisors to vote to make the real estate tax rate $0.917 per $100 assessed. Chairman Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) joined Mozell Booker (Fork Union District) and Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) voting in favor of the tax rate and associated budget. Patricia Eager (Palmyra District) and Don Weaver (Cunningham District) dissented.

While less than requested, the budget that passed includes $1.1 million more for the schools, compared to the FY16 budget. $300,000 of that is slated in the Capital Improvements Plan for technology upgrades.  According to state code, the School Board has the final authority regarding their spending. The FY17 request from the School Board was $1.6 million.

The rest of the county budget increase includes additional funds for new positions on county staff, county staff pay increase and some modest increases for various county departments.

The budget didn’t pass easily. First, the supervisors discussed the tax rates they were individually comfortable passing. O’Brien and Booker advocated for $0.92 per $100 because it included the $1.1 million for the schools.

OBrien2014 photo credit Fluvanna County

Fluvanna Supervisor Tony O’Brien

O’Brien noted there hasn’t been a large outcry on the advertised budget. He still mentioned the supervisors have to weigh the upcoming years.

“It isn’t going to get easier next year or the year after that. I understand that,” said O’Brien. He concluded if supervisors don’t do as much as they could for the schools this year, it would set deferred programs even further back.

Weaver and Eager advocated for no tax increase. Eager suggested there is no outcry because there is a sentiment that supervisors aren’t listening.

“I think a lot of people have given up,” said Eager.

Sheridan ended the discussion saying he heard residents say they understand the rate will rise but wanted a modest increase. He suggested $0.914 per $100. That would give schools $1 million.

O’Brien made a motion for Sheridan’s suggested $0.914. Booker slowly seconded the motion to bring it to a vote. It failed 3-2 with Booker joining Eager and Weaver voting against it.

Booker2014

Fluvanna Supervisor Mozell Booker

Booker viewed that extra $100,000 for schools as very important because it provided the opportunity to hire additional staff such as a psychologist.

Booker then moved a $0.92 rate with O’Brien seconding. That restored the $100,000 for the schools, added increases for county departments and included a small capital depreciation fund that would offset future replacement costs of buildings.

That motion failed on a 3-2 vote with Sheridan, Eager and Weaver voting against it.

O’Brien moved a $0.917 tax rate. The budget for $0.917 was the same as $0.92 but removed the capital depreciation fund. It also took $13,000 from the $1.1 million the schools were to receive so total county revenue would equal expenditures.

After calling for a vote, Booker and O’Brien voted in favor with Eager and Weaver voting against it. Sheridan announced it passed with the chairman voting in favor.

The CIP was unanimously approved. Included on it were $6 million of water projects and first priority projects around the county.

The vote on the budget was witnessed by many of the same people who watched the budget work sessions. Missing was general county residents. It was largely a process watched by interested parties such as county staff, constitutional officers, volunteer organizational leaders, volunteers on county boards and media. Most meetings were watched by less than a handful of people outside of those groups.

Also at the April 20 meeting, the supervisors unanimously approved a small home industry to operate on Bybee’s Church Road. Two home businesses related to natural healing.

The meeting ended with a discussion on scheduling who will be the chairperson on a rotating basis. Booker raised the point as a way to have the chairperson role rotate through the board.

Both Booker and O’Brien were concerned about the process of selecting a chairman this past year. Weaver said he had no issue with the way it worked.

State code requires local boards to elect a chairperson unless a chairperson is voted by the constituency. There could be an agreement how the chair will rotate, but it would still have to be voted on regularly.

The supervisors didn’t have any resolution on the item after discussion.  The next Board of Supervisors meeting is May 4 at 4 p.m.

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bryan-rothamelThe Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® and by the support of readers like you.

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum

Photo Credit: Fluvanna County

Fixing Albemarle ED — Step 1 Get Out Of The Way

By. Neil Williamson, President

Adapted from comments made to The Albemarle County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors April 19, 2016

Tonight, at your request, you have heard three presentations regarding local government’s role in economic development.

  • Planners want to “Create Centers for Livability and Economic Development”.
  • Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC) explained their plans to address transitioning workforce needs
  • Albemarle’s own Director of Economic Development, Faith McClintic, described Economic Eco-systems as more than just buildings.

UnknownAfter all that, I have a simple question that actually dates back to the 1992 vice presidential debate, the Admiral Stockdale question – Why are we here?

What purpose does the Planning Commission have investigating the topic of Economic Development?

In what world, should the appointed planning commission, which is advisory to the Board of Supervisors on land use matters, be examining how we train the workforce – don’t we have an elected school board, and 4 members on the PVCC Board for this function.

Backdoor becomes front door 2Perhaps rather than having staff spend time preparing a PowerPoint about how they think “Centers for Livability and Economic Development” should be designed, perhaps they could be directed to proactively remove overly prescriptive zoning regulations that make it illegal to park customer cars in front of a business.  Current code philosophy is we don’t mind your business it’s your customers that are the problem (relegated parking).

Rather than asking what you can do to help PVCC train our workforce or helping the Economic Development Director to focus on the right businesses to come to Albemarle County, the Planning Commission (and Board of Supervisors) should DO THEIR JOB and focus on removing unnecessary regulatory barriers and streamlining the time (and money) consuming approval processes that doom many economic development projects before they even start.

Over the last four years, we have seen the accountability factor for our elected officials obfuscated by Citizen Councils and Planning Commission actions.  We continue to believe these unelected bodies have too much power in the approval process and should be disbanded.  Why not streamline the approval process for any project that already agrees with the community vetted Comprehensive Plan and send those proposals directly to the Board of Supervisors for action.

We have heard several horror stories of projects where businesses have walked away from Albemarle County after calculating the time and expense required to see an application from start to finish.

Albemarle SP_Review_Process_Flowchart.pdf

The Free Enterprise Forum understands it is human nature to want to do “something” about a perceived problem.  Perhaps the best way to examine the problem is to recognize your role in the problem and heal thyself.

The best way for Albemarle County to increase economic development is to follow rule number 1 and get out of the way.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credits: Albemarle County, Free Enterprise Forum, Getty Images

Changing Albemarle’s Obstructionist Culture

By. Neil Williamson, PresidentBronco photo credit UVA media relations

Late last year when the University of Virginia hired Bronco Mendenhall as their new football coach from Brigham Young University, he brought with him great expectations and a promise of culture change.

In four short months, he  has made his point clear according to an Andrew Ramspacher article in the Daily Progress:

“There will be no numbers on the jerseys in the spring,” Mendenhall said Monday. “Nothing on the helmets, other than their names on the front.” …Welcome to the Mendenhall era in Charlottesville, where everything is earned.

While Virginia Football has yet to win (or even play) a single game under Mendenhall, his passionate attention to detailed accountability has made a significant impact on the culture of the football organization.

Albemarle County may be in the same place as Virginia Football was in late December as they are in the process of replacing a significant portion of its senior staff.  County Attorney, Chief of Police, County Engineer, County Clerk, Planning Director and County Assessor are all in the midst of transitioning.

Does Albemarle senior staff matter as much as Virginia’s Head Football Coach?

The short answer is yes.

While most elected supervisors may last four, eight or perhaps twelve years, the majority of Albemarle’s well compensated senior staff has 20+ years of service.

As the Board of Supervisors and County Executive contemplate the replacement of long tenured staff, what is the goal of these critical hires?

The Free Enterprise Forum has long compared the ideal staff role in the government approval process to be analogous to a mortgage broker – yes the process is daunting but staff’s job is to see you through it.

Today, too often, staff’s answer seems to be “no one ever got fired for saying no to a new project”.

Considering Albemarle’s newly  found economic development passion, should the County Executive and Board of Supervisors look for an outsider, Mendenhall-like, Senior staff change to lead the paradigm shift and finally alter Albemarle’s well known culture of obstructionism?

If Albemarle suddenly became a place where deals get done in rapid pace how might that impact quality development in the development areas?

Alternatively, might Newton’s first law of inertia prove to be too strong to attract a top notch change agent?

Is Albemarle really ready to embrace the change they need to be truly competitive in the economic development arena?

If Albemarle is willing to make a cultural shift welcoming new business activity (and jobs) to the development area – they should look beyond the County office building for candidates for senior staff.  The most innovative candidates will likely come from other successful local governments and the private sector.

This really leaves four key questions:

Does the County Executive and the Board of Supervisors have a vision for a new, economically vibrant, job rich Albemarle County?

Can these senior staff hires significantly advance such a vision?

Will Albemarle reform the well documented obstructionist culture?  Does it want to?

Once again only time will tell.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credit: UVA Media Relations

Greene Unveils New Web Presence

By Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Greene County Administrator John Barkley gave his report to the Board of Supervisor’s at their first April meeting. The highlight of his report was the new County website . The website is much more user friendly and allows more transactions to be performed on line than in the past. In addition, it is much better organized and a separate tab on “how do I….” to help users find information they are seeking.

A major enhancement to financial information to the public is the link to three financial reports – 1) March Financial Reports, 2) YTD Expenditure Summary and 3) AP 4-12-16.  The one comment from the public was thanking the Board of Supervisors for making this data available on the county website.

image

In addition to the website, Barkley updated the Board on several other issues. He announced that the new budget and tax rate (which has a 2.5 cent increase) has been advertised and there will be a public hearing on April 26th starting at 6:30 pm at the William Monroe High School auditorium.  .

The reservoir project continues forward with two more properties needed to be acquired to complete the purchase of land required. Financing scenarios are being reviewed and comparing those to neighboring counties and should be presented to the Board in May or June.

The last major issue that Mr. Barkley covered was that the county is reviewing several vendors to provide live streaming video of the Board of Supervisor meetings so that citizens can view the meeting without physically attending to the meeting.

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Double Standard Allows Albemarle To Flex Power Over Property Rights

By. Neil Williamson, President

Last week, without so much as a public input session – Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors empowered themselves to stomp on property rights – make repairs or even demolish homes they  determine to be “blighted”.

All of this is perfectly legal, but that doesn’t make it right – and the public has no idea it is going on – there have been no community meetings or outreach efforts.

Please let me explain.

From the staff report:

Virginia Code § 36-49.1:1 enables localities to identify and remedy “spot blight.” Virginia Code § 36-3 defines “blighted property” as:
“[A]ny individual commercial, industrial, or residential structure or improvement that endangers the public’s health , safety, or welfare because the structure or improvement upon the property is dilapidated, deteriorated, or violates minimum health or safety standards, or any structure or improvement previously designated as blighted pursuant to § 36-49.1:1, under the process for determination of ‘spot blight.’”

This enabling authority authorizes a locality’s chief executive (or designee) to determine that a property is blighted, and require the owner to develop an abatement plan within 30 days. If the owner fails to respond within 30 days with an acceptable abatement plan, the chief executive may request that the Board adopt a specific uncodified ordinance declaring the property as blighted.

Once the owner has been provided written notice of the ordinance and the locality’s abatement plan, the locality may carry out the approved plan to repair or acquire and dispose of the property. If the ordinance is adopted by the Board, the locality shall have a lien on the property to recover its costs of repairing or acquiring property under an approved spot blight abatement plan. Emphasis Added – nw

spot blight flyerThe Free Enterprise Forum was made aware of several instances of so called “blighted properties” in Albemarle County (image left). 

Despite photos showing trees growing through homes, we remain very concerned at the potential abuse of this “blight” provision.  

But even more astounding than the trampling of landowners’ property rights, is the lack of public engagement by the Board.  If a commercial property owner wants to make a change in their site plan (move a bus stop, etc.) – it requires a vast series of public meetings.

Albemarle prides itself on their high level of citizen engagement required for development applications (see flow chart below).  We have raised concerns that these meetings are no more than political cover for the elected officials.

Albemarle SP_Review_Process_Flowchart.pdf

Community meetings, Community Council meetings, public hears at both the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors are all part of the development review process.

The stated goal of this process is to provide citizens the opportunity to know about proposed changes in their community that may impact their property.

Why was this process not followed for the blight discussion?

Could it be that the Supervisors only use the “community process” when it conveniently slows the process?

If the Supervisors find this whole public engagement thing too inconvenient for their “important” issues, well that clearly is Albemarle’s double standard.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

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