Albemarle’s April Fools Day – 7.5% Fee Increase

By. Neil Williamson, President

april-fools-dayNo fooling, Albemarle County is clearly on a roll. As the members of the Board of Supervisors are considering the economic impacts of increased property taxes on the community, on April Fool’s day they are also considering a semi-automatic 7.5% increase in Community Development fees.  These are the fees associated with gaining approvals on home improvements, construction, neighborhood development and inspections.  Staff projects this will generate $106,000 in FY16 revenue [not included in current budget].

The rationale for the fee  increase is the county wide increase in staff salaries since the last increase.  While labor costs are generally the largest component to most enterprise activities.  Local government lacks the demand for efficiency that the free enterprise system uses to keep labor costs in check.

Please let me explain.

The private sector utilizes the lowest paid but qualified individual to accomplish any given task, this frees the more highly compensated staff to accomplish more highly demanding tasks.  As this qualified person becomes adroit in the task, the task takes less time and the staff member gains skills.

If a private sector organization assigns the task to someone without the ability to accomplish the task in a competitive amount of time the client takes their business elsewhere.  Not in government.Plan Review stamp-of-approval Photo Credit Montery County CA

If a private sector organization continually returns to the client on multiple instances with repetitive questions thus delaying the project, the client takes their business elsewhere.   Not in government.

If an organization fails to prioritize their labor properly the pricing becomes too high for the market to bear and the client takes their business elsewhere. Not in government.

How long an employee takes to process and approve an application is dependent on five key elements:

  • the clarity of the application
  • the clarity of the application
  • the clarity of the ordinances to be measured against
  • the quality and experience of the reviewer
  • the institutional personality of management regarding applications

Applicants can only control the first of the five key elements.

Far too many in local government believe, “No planner has ever been fired for saying ‘No’ to an applicant or for asking too many questions.”

In Albemarle, we have heard tales of  several larger applicants that have spent tens of thousands of dollars in reengineering plans multiple times in attempts to gain acceptance.  These applicants are in a difficult position, if they choose to fight the staff regarding an overzealous legal interpretation they put their project at risk.  Instead they chose to accept the overzealous interpretation (and the increased costs).  This then emboldens staff to increase the application requirements based on precedent (rather than ordinance change) All of these costs are passed on to the end user.

UNDERDOG POINTING UP COLORWe are aware of one misguided senior staff member who believes he, alone, stands as the public’s watchdog, the protector of all things Albemarle.  This staff member has gone so far as to refusing to accept application approvals from state regulating agencies including  Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).  Unfortunately, perhaps due to a lack of proper management controls, this long time staff member has, over time, achieved significant influence over development applications.

Short of moving a project to a neighboring locality (which we are seeing more and more of) local government does not have the same economic checks and balances as the private sector.   With a monopoly on construction inspections and approvals, the only mechanism to promote efficiency is the willingness of the Board of Supervisors (or City/Town Council) to increase fees.

The Free Enterprise Forum wonders if on her first day (4/1/2015), Albemarle’s Faith McClinticnew Economic Development Director Faith McClintic will be called on by the Board of Supervisors to weigh in on the impact of fee inflation has on attraction and, equally important retention of businesses.

Clearly businesses recognizes the costs associated with running government.  The question remains are the fees representative of an efficient operation or is Albemarle’s semi-automatic fee increase program creating an environment where work expands to fill the planner time available?

Will the semi-automatic 7.5% fee increase become the new “normal” or with the Albemarle Board of Supervisors recognize the negative impacts of the proposal and reject it as a bad April Fools joke?

Stay Tuned.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

———————————————————————-

20070731williamson 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: ownbond.com, NBC, Monterrey County,  Albemarle County

Is Charlottesville Catching the Albemarle Flu?

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Over the last twenty years or so, the City of Charlottesville has beenflu-man-200x300 politically left leaning but has recognized the import of business contribution not only to the tax revenue but also to the fabric of the community.

As a land locked 10 square miles, the City determined to make it easier to increase density where it wanted such density to occur. By right reduction of parking requirements in certain University zones is just one of the many ordinance revisions the City designed to be more open for development. Today, the Free Enterprise Forum is concerned that recent actions may have the City moving away from this philosophical paradigm.

We fear the city is moving in the direction of Albemarle County [Also known as the Albemarle Flu] who has made development applications so expensive and time consuming that they have not seen a significant residential rezoning in many years.

On Tuesday night, the Charlottesville Planning Commission considered a resolution of intent to require almost all development proposals greater than six units to hold public neighborhood meetings prior to being processed. This includes site plans that are utilizing existing zoning.

The Free Enterprise Forum has significant questions regarding the legality of these provisions especially the site plan review.

Considering the import of hearing from members of the public and development community we found it interesting that the staff report admitted that they moved this public engagement initiative forward absent ANY public engagement:

Community Engagement:
There has been no community engagement prior to preparation of this Resolution for your consideration; however, the purpose of the proposed text amendments is specifically to provide for enhanced community engagement on an ongoing basis.

On the face of this it seems like increased public engagement would be a good thing, and many property owners already conduct such meetings and find them to be competitive advantages to getting projects approved. When such meetings are mandated – or worse delegated to a super citizen “advisory” panel – this empowers that unelected group of citizens with defacto veto power over the project.

The result of such power can be changes to the project design that benefits the neighborhood but may weaken the projects impact on the region. Over our dozen years of operation, the strongest voices in opposition to projects tend to be opposed to the increased density such a project may bring. At the Planning Commission level, there is an understanding and acceptance that the density of any rezoning should mirror the designation in the community vetted Comprehensive Plan. This is rarely the case at Neighborhood Meetings where the focus tends to be on reducing the density proposed and reducing the impact of such density on the surrounding community.

The Free Enterprise Forum has significant questions regarding the legality of these provisions especially the site plan review.

No application seeking approval of a site plan, preliminary or final, for property that will be used for any commercial or industrial purpose, or that will contain six (6) or more residential dwelling units, shall be accepted for review, unless and until the applicant has participated in a pre-application conference and has held a community meeting in accordance with guidelines established by the director of neighborhood development services in accordance with sec. 34-41(c)(2). Any application that fails to demonstrate compliance with these requirements shall be rejected as incomplete. The director may waive the requirement for a community meeting, if a community meeting was previously held for the same development at the time of city council’s consideration of an application for approval of a special use permit or petition for a zoning map amendment.

Unintended consequence 1- Loss of density and innovative design — If an applicant must complete the neighborhood meeting prior to their application being complete, the Planning Commission will see significantly fewer innovative higher density projects because the neighbors will not approve of the density or the creative design.

Unintended (?) consequence 2 – Increased application time – Virginia state code mandates completed applications must be considered by the Planning Commission and Board within 90 days of submittal. By inserting language that the results of a neighborhood meeting must be a part of a completed application, the staff is able to hit “snooze” on the so called 90 day shot clock until the meeting has been held. In addition, the proposed ordinance contains a not so veiled threat, considering the applicant has a subjective review in from of the Planning Commission/City Council:

The applicant’s consent to a work session is required, if the work session would extend the time for action by the board or commission beyond applicable deadlines established by law.

The proposed ordinance also provides for more favorable treatment of some applications if the Planning Director wants to waive the meeting requirement. While the Free Enterprise Forum appreciates the flexibility such a provision provides, we wonder if the criteria for waiving the meeting is objective enough to meet the Virginia Supreme Court’s Sinclair decision regarding staff determinations:

The director may waive the requirement for a public meeting, upon a determination that the meeting is not likely to achieve the public purposes intended to be served, after consideration of the following: (i) the nature of the approval requested, the acreage affected, the proposed density, the proposed scale, and potential impacts, (ii) any other factors deemed relevant upon applying sound zoning principles, (iii) whether other public work sessions or meetings have already been held regarding the application, so as to make a community meeting unreasonably duplicative.

Unintended consequence 3 – Increase cost and use of “stale” zoning – If adding a mandated neighborhood meeting increases the approval time on a rezoning by 1 month and adds another set of plan revisions, the cost of the project increases due to financial carrying costs and design fees. Dependent on the size of the project this increase in cost could be in the tens of thousands of dollars. Rather than subject themselves to such cost and uncertainty, many property owners will calculate the value of developing the land not as it is in the community vetted Comprehensive Plan but as the land is currently zoned and move forward in six unit phases. The result is no neighborhood involvement and reduced density in direct conflict with the Comprehensive Plan.

The Free Enterprise Forum is very concerned that Charlottesville’s well intentioned desire for increased public engagement results in several significant unintended consequences and may be legally challenged. Further, we believe this new layer of review will significantly reduce the number of applications that come forward and reduce the economic vitality of the development sector. We fear this may be the intended consequence of the proponents of this ordinance change.

Tuesday night’s resolution may be the first sneeze of Charlottesville catching the Albemarle Flu, I sure hope not.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

———————————————————————-

20070731williamson 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: Donlon Healthmart Pharmacy

Greene Tennis Courts Face Opposition

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

The request for a Special Use Permit (SUP) for a tennis facility in Greene County easily got approved by the Planning Commission, not so much when it came before the Board of Supervisors at their March 24th meeting. Planning Director Bart Svoboda outlined the Special Use Permit request and explained that the property is zoned A1 but very close to a growth area near Ruckersville.

Svoboda cited the 2010 Comprehensive Plan encourages development of businesses – “Goals and Objectives 4. Enhanced image of Greene County as a business-friendly location” – and the alternative is that 8 homes could be built by right on the property. The plan calls for setbacks around the property at a minimum of 200 feet with some parts going up to over 600 feet. The Planning Commission approved the SUP with the following requirements 1) 30 foot screening, 2) lighting not on from 10 pm to 7 am, 3) only sport courts to be to be allowed, 4) indoor court sports only, and 5) a site plan is required. Svoboda also reported that there were no red flags from any agency – i.e. ADA, Health Department, etc.

clip_image002.jpg

Mourad Fahim

Next Mourad Fahim, the applicant, addressed the Board of Supervisors stating that Greene County is a growing community and tennis continues to grow in popularity. There are no public courts in Greene County and the high school doesn’t have a tennis team. Tennis is a sport of a lifetime with players from age 4 to those in their 90’s and it develops discipline, teaches hard work and integrity. Fahim finished stating he reserved the right to defer the request after the public hearing.

This time there were plenty of comments from the public, mostly against the project from adjoining land owners. Jeremy Lay brought a petition that all residents of Carpenter Mill Road  signed along with others in the area. Lay explained that the site selected is visible from all of the residents on Carpenter Mill Road and the project would change the peaceful nature of the neighborhood and that it would be an atrocity to destroy the charm and beauty of the neighborhood. He further explained that the SUP request was not filled out correctly – no distances were provided and no information on what type of lighting was provided – more information is needed. His final concern was that of the site grading and the significant drop off of over 100 feet on the property. He finished by asking the Board, would you want this in your back yard?

Several others spoke against the SUP. Dan Ratzlaff, however, is an avid tennis player and supports the Fahims in their project. He told the Board that this is a great opportunity for Greene County and he trusted them to make the right decision.

The discussion then shifted to the Board members. Supervisor Jim Frydl told the audience he was glad to see a large turnout for the issue. This SUP fits what has been done in other area of the county in A1 districts. It is similar to the Greene County Recreation Center which is closer to homes off Route 33 than the tennis facility would be. There is a horseback riding facility in an A1 district that has horse trailers and is more impactful. The erosion control issue will be managed by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)  to a state standard. He felt the tennis facility would be a good fit for Greene County and his suggestion was to modify the request to have outside play limited to dawn to dusk with no outside lighting. His other concern was that the SUP as submitted allowed other sports that could attract much more traffic and noise – such as a basketball league. Bart Svoboda told the supervisors that they could modify the SUP to limit the play only to tennis and paddle tennis, or whatever they wanted. If other sports would be wanted in the future they could be requested at that time.

Greene County Supervisor Davis Lamb

Greene County Supervisor Davis Lamb

Supervisor Davis Lamb agreed with Frydl that it would be a great addition to Greene County. However, he expressed concern about having the facility in A1 zoning and he was concerned about the runoff on a sloped parcel. Svoboda reconfirmed that VDOT would oversee this part of the process and that storm water runoff would also be regulated. The final issue Lamb expressed concern over was the traffic in this rural area. Svoboda estimated traffic counts at 56 and going up to a peak of 80 per day. Lamb then addressed Mr. Fahim and suggested that he meet with the neighbors to see if they could come to a compromise solution. Mr. Fahim stated that he wants to comply with the county and work together with the residents of Greene to provide the facility.

Supervisor Bill Martin addressed again the storm water issue. He asked Dan Ratzlaff, who had spoken in favor of the issue during the public comment time, to address the board in his capacity as Erosion Administrator in Greene County. Ratcliff confirmed that the development of the lot would require the runoff to be better than it currently is now, both in volume and rate of flow. Ratcliff stated that annual inspections would be requested of the property owner and that every five years an onsite inspection would occur. Also, if there were any calls complaining, an on-site review would occur at that time to see if there is a problem.

Martin expressed concern for the community vs. the rights of the owner of the property. The alternative is that this property has division rights to allow eight homes to be built. That is a lot of rooftops, lights and educating children. He agreed with Mr. Frydl’s suggestion of a dawn to dusk for the outside play. Also he was encouraged by the $1 million expenditure in Greene County that would provide jobs to the county residents and he liked the idea of the developer speaking with the community.

Supervisor Frydl made another comment that he had done some research out of comments from neighbors before the meeting. He found no indication that property values would decline with a tennis facility in the area, in fact, it may add value. The noise level from a lesser distance than is being proposed is very low.

Greene County Board of Supervisors Chairman David Cox

Greene County Board of Supervisors Chairman David Cox

Chairman David Cox spoke last (Supervisor Eddie Deane was absent) and said that he had made three trips to the site. He felt he still had some unanswered questions that weren’t addressed on the application. The hours of operation were not on the application. Mr. Fahim stated that 7 am to 10 pm for indoor play. He suggested 9 or 10 pm for outdoor play or until the end of daylight if no lights were erected. Other questions Cox had were the size of the structure for indoor play and the type of lighting in the parking area.

Supervisor Lamb asked Svoboda if VDOT required either a deceleration lane or a turn lane – they did not at this time. At this time Chairman Cox asked Mr. Fahim if he would like to defer the request and he said yes. The May 12th date was selected to allow time for Mr. Fahim to gather data and meet with the neighbors and the SUP was deferred unanimously. Following the meeting Supervisor Martin was asked if the park would be a good location for the tennis facility. He believed it would be difficult to have a private entity on county property – it sounds easier than it would be to get it done.

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

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.

Fluvanna BOS Hammers Out Budget–“It’s All About the Money, Money, Money”

By Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

Fluvanna-BOS_group2014_sm_thumb.jpg

Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors got its wish on March 18. Thanks to five hours of work session within the week preceding, the board voted unanimously to advertise a $68 million budget that includes tax increases in both real estate and personal property.

The advertised budget requires a real estate tax rate of $0.899 per $100 assessed and a personal property rate of $4.35 per $100 assessed to balance. The previously discussed increase in fees were not included.

“Everything we have a demand or need for is taken care of,” said Don Weaver (Cunningham District) during the work session just before the regular session.

The board did add a slight pay increase for employees to 1.5 percent. Before it was just one percent. That came to a total of $6,722. It was added by subtracting it from the school budget, a proposal put by Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District).

From the County Administrators’ budget proposal, Fluvanna supervisors added funding for JAUNT, Region 10, staff raises and school funding. They added positions in the E911 center, Department of Social Services and Commonwealth Attorney’s office. They took away the 10 percent operational cut.

Fluvanna County Administrator Steve Nichols

Fluvanna County Administrator Steve Nichols

“You all did a good job at holding the line,” said Steve Nichols, county administrator.

“There are times I walk away (from meetings) where I don’t feel proud but walking away last week, I did,” said Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) about the four and a half hour work session that hammered the budget out to get a unanimous vote.

In a sign of togetherness, Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District) made the motion and O’Brien seconded it.

Supervisors will hold a public hearing on the increased real estate tax rate on April 1. The budget public hearing will be April 8 and supervisors are set to formally adopt the budget and tax rates on April 15.

According to Virginia state code, the advertised budget and tax rates can only decrease, not increase.

The fee increases previously contemplated by the Board were not increased because there is debate if the amount Fluvanna currently charges is the state mandated ceiling. While other localities charge more but the county attorney believes a conservative view of the law puts Fluvanna at the ceiling.

Fluvanna could increase fees by differentiating based on weight of vehicles. Because of the uncertainty of the fees, supervisors will take up the issue later this year. Unlike taxes that must be completed in the established budget calendar, fees can be increased at any time during the year, with proper public notice.

Not increasing the fees left revenue $100,000 short but supervisors will use the county’s savings to fill the hole until a resolution can occur on the fee structure.

Also at the March 18 meeting, supervisors voted to allow itself to charge for ambulance transport services. The ordinance paves the path to rescue cost recovery coming to the county. Supervisors have not voted to start rescue cost recovery, yet.

Fluvanna supervisors also rezoned land in the Zion Crossroads area to I-2. This will allow for other various forms of industry including companies that require heavy water use.

Industries that can use treated sewer discharge is an industry Fluvanna is very interested in. It helps lower the nutrients that are put back into the water shed.

The land that was rezoned is near and downstream from the correctional facility that the county has an agreement to treat sewer for a Zion Crossroads water system.

In a related note, supervisors will have a work session on water for the proposed Zion Crossroads system and the current Fork Union’s system tentatively scheduled for May but a date hasn’t been selected.

——————————————–

bryan-rothamel.jpgThe 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 Credits: Fluvanna County

Tourism Growth in Greene County

By. Brent Wilson, Field clip_image002Officer

The Greene County Planning Commission considered a request for a  special use permit (SUP) for a Bed & Breakfast with Cabins on Route 33 west of Stanardsville at Mutton Hollow Road.  The property (3526 Mutton Hollow Road, 18-(A)-29), is nearly 14 acres which is zoned C-1, Conservation.

Zoning Administrator, Bart Svoboda  addressed the Planning Commission stating that the request was to have six cabins and the existing residence on the property. Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)  had no issues with the entrance to the property.

The property is identified as rural in Greene’s Comprehensive Plan which supports the project. The conditions proposed for the Special Use Permit (SUP#15-102) include the B&B would be limited to six cabins, no guests could stay more than 30 days in a row, there would be a maximum of 100 guests per event and the project must meet all applicable Health Department and VDOT regulations.

Rob Lynch, the applicant, then addressed the Planning Commission stating that he and his family have recently moved clip_image003into the home on the property.

He stated that the location is right off Route 33 west of Stanardsville and across from Lydia Mountain Cabins and near the Tea Room, the Blue Ridge Pottery and just east of the Shenandoah National Park  making it a natural addition to the entrance of Greene County to attract visitors to Greene County.

The 2010 Comprehensive Plan recognized the underutilized tourism opportunities in Greene County:

Greene County has several assets for a vital tourism industry. Proximity to Shenandoah National Park and many acres of scenic rural lands provide an ideal backdrop for visitors, and various amenities exist to serve those who do visit.

When compared to counties in similar situations, it is clear that Greene County has not completely tapped into its full potential as a tourism destination, as the table reveals.

In 2008, $15.17 million was spent in Greene County, generating approximately 210 jobs. This is lower than the amounts spent in any of the surrounding localities.

According to The VirginiVirginia is For Loversa Tourism Corporation (VTC) Greene County saw an increase of 1.3% in 2013 tourism expenditures.  Even with that increase the VTC Economic Impact Report showed that Greene continues to lag far behind neighboring localities in terms of tourism:

                                                            2013 Tourism
                                                            Expenditures (in Millions)
Albemarle                                           $315.46
Rockingham                                      $183.29
Louisa                                                  $ 67.59
Orange                                                 $ 43.66
Madison                                              $ 32.49
Greene                                                 $ 17.69

Commissioner Frank Morris asked Lynch if there were plans of hosting weddings on the property. Lynch stated that they did hope to hold small weddings on the property and the 100 person limit would be sufficient.

Commissioner John McCloskey asked about the septic and sewer capability of the project. Lynch stated that this issue would be addressed as the development grew. He hoped to have each cabin in a wooded setting depending on where the ground perked allowing the location. Morris asked why the 100 person limitation while also asking what the county could do to help the project be successful? Lynch stated that VDOT targeted the 100 person maximum and he felt that number of people would allow the project to be successful.

No one from the public had comments on the project. With no further discussion the Planning Commission recommended approval of the SUP 4-0 as Chairman Jay Willer was absent. The SUP will proceed to the Board of Supervisors for their review.

—————————————

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

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.

Albemarle’s Community Councils Get New Name–Mission Creep Continues

By. Neil Williamson, President

As an organization, the Free Enterprise Forum is very active in many local public policy discussions.  I appreciated Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sunday (3/15) article regarding our comments to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors regarding community councils.

In the end, only the most tepid of reforms were passed (6-0).  The number of groups will be expanded.  Language discouraging voting was eliminated from the reforms at the request of the now renamed Community Committees.  I actually believe we may be worse off after the “reforms” than we were before.

I found it most interesting the Supervisors took issue with the concept of limiting the committees’ ability to vote.   This Board has applauded the US 29 Project Delivery Advisory Panel which seems to be functioning absent any voting or consensus.

On Tuesday, I received a call from a student at Monticello High School who was interested in our position on the issue.  In the interest of clarity, I have published our entire statement in the space below.

My name is Neil Williamson and I serve as the President of the Free Enterprise Forum a public policy organization focused on local government located in Albemarle County.

We have had serious concerns about the mission creeping community councils at least as far back as 2009. I have shared just two of our posts regarding these concerns.

https://freeenterpriseforum.wordpress.com/2015/02/02/eliminate-albemarles-mission-creeping-community-councils/

https://freeenterpriseforum.wordpress.com/2014/12/18/the-sheffield-shuffle-places29-citizen-council-suspended-by-bos/

While these entities may have been well intentioned at their formation, they have become an unelected mandated review sieve that provides planning commissioners and members of the Board of supervisors more than just a sounding board – they have become gatekeepers and defacto political cover for the Board of Supervisors.

Planning Commissioner Tom Loach is on the record stating he would have great difficulty supporting any project that does not have the support of the community council. This is not an issue about any community council or any particular decision, frankly I have seen some good things come out of community councils. This is a bad government by design.

I applaud your tepid changes to the councils because they are probably all that could politically pass muster but the Free Enterprise Forum believes citizens should be free to gather however they see fit and speak out on any policy or project but the government should not be directly involved in that assemblage.

We call on you as elected leaders to lead. Evaluate projects on their merits and with the input of the community do not promote some members of the community to unelected fiefdoms in control of which projects advance.

We ask that you disband the community councils if you fail to do that, we encourage you to reign in these unelected mission creeping bodies to their original intent as sounding boards.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak

———————————————————————-

20070731williamson 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

Fluvanna’s Budget Work Session Unanimity

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

What does a 5-0 vote mean for a budget by the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors?

Last time an unanimous vote passed a budget Shaun Kenney was chairman. Joe Chesser was the Rivanna District supervisor. The five supervisors voted for a real estate tax decrease in that 2013 budget calendar.

What did a 5-0 vote mean in 2013? Everyone was kind of happy and everyone was kind of unhappy.

The total amount allocated to the 2013 school budget was more than Don Weaver (Cunningham District), Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District), Kenney and Chesser wanted. It was less than current chairwoman Mozell Booker (Fork Union District) wanted. The tax rate was lower than Booker wanted, higher than the four gentlemen wanted.

Booker was chastised by her supporters for compromising down. The conservative and conservative leaning supervisors heard it from their supporters on why not cut taxes more.

pie varietyOverall, in 2013 everyone got a little bit of the pie they wanted but no one got the pie they ordered.

It is beginning to look like the 2015 supervisors want to bring the restricted pie menu back.

The air of unanimity started in force at the March 11 work session. Ullenbruch brought in an idea of a real estate tax rate of $0.895 per $100 assessed and a personal property tax rate of $4.50 per $100 assessed. The current personal property is $4.15.

The next revenue idea is raising fees residents pay. That includes increasing the vehicle and motorcycle sticker fees by $5. That would get higher as the night progressed. (Fluvanna no longer issues a sticker but the fee is still called the ‘vehicle sticker fee.)

“I can agree with that. That’s a no brainer,” said Weaver, the most conservative supervisor, about raising fees.

Why are supervisors throwing in so many revenue ‘ingredients’ into this year’s ‘budget pie’? The budget has a lot of forces on it.

Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) said, “Let’s not fool ourselves, our budget is a tight budget.”

It is so tight, even Weaver doesn’t argue a real estate rate increase is inevitable. He said he could support a real estate rate under $0.90 so that bumped the rate from Ullenbruch’s $0.895 to $0.899. It stayed there the entire almost five hour work session.

The personal property tax rate was in question. Weaver said he wouldn’t go to $4.50. He said he preferred $4.25. It was quickly shown the board couldn’t get the votes at $4.25 because it wouldn’t be enough revenue. Weaver listened to a $4.35 personal property rate by the end of the night.

So what increases were brought into expenditures?

The FY16 budget proposal from county administrator Steve Nichols took 10 percent from operations across every department, the vast majority were already operating very close to the margins. Supervisors advertised a real estate rate that corresponded to a five percent cut. At the work session, all operation budgets for departments was restored.

Supervisors also increased money for Lake Monticello Fire and Rescue to help pay its expansion efforts. Also increased the Commonwealth’s Attorney budget for a paralegal.

The big ticket item: schools. At one point, four supervisors had the school budget fully funded. That would’ve been a $900,000 increase over last year. Then that dropped to $800,000 in an effort to compromise.

It wasn’t compromise enough without adding to the $0.899 real estate rate and $4.35 personal property rate.

“Seven [hundred thousand] on the schools is too low,” said O’Brien. “Seven fifty (750,000) on the schools.”

While it wasn’t what was requested but sources close to the School Board Administration office have said administrators never thought to get the $600,000 that was in the supervisors budget weeks ago.

“[Next year], that’s the bad part, because you don’t know about next year,” said Weaver. Until Fluvanna diversifies its revenue base, increasing tax rates will be a yearly tradition.

So what’s the revenue sources looking like after the work session?

Real estate tax rate of $.899 per $100 assessed.

Personal property tax rate of $4.35 per $100 assessed.

Vehicle fees increased by $5 – $10 each.

Supervisors will vote on a budget to advertise at the March 18 meeting at 7 p.m. At 5 p.m. the supervisors will have a work session to iron out the budget for a final time before the regular meeting.

——————————————–

bryan-rothamel.jpgThe 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

Is Fluvanna Ready To Turn On The ZXR Spigot?

By Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

After debating the issue for decades, Fluvanna County is onewater bib step closer to providing water in the Zion Crossroads area.

The Board of Supervisors previously put aside $575,000 in a Capital Improvement Plan to develop a water system for Zion Crossroads (ZXR) planning area. The county spent about $45,000 for the water infrastructure report from RK&K.

On March 4 the Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to pursue two ZXR water related items, Don Weaver (Cunningham District) and Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District) dissented.

From the RK&K report, the supervisors voted to implement short-term recommendations. The recommendations are designing a water and sewer system starting from the Department of Corrections facility on Route 250, going east to the Route 15 intersection, then back towards Palmyra for a mile. The design should include phasing to show possible cost-benefits.

Supervisors also directed staff to develop how the public works system would operate.

“We need to move forward,” said chairwoman Mozell Booker (Fork Union District).

The vote was in doubt for much of the debate. Ullenbruch, who vocally supported the system during the last two work sessions where RK&K presented. During the debate he advocated waiting until the budget and tax rate was more predictable than what was advertised.

His issue resided over how the system will be paid for. Supervisors later will have to formally decide how to pay for a water system.

It is estimated the system will cost $8 million. With it being financed, it will increase debt service by $655,000 a year, on a 10-year average.

Ullenbruch2014

Supervisor Bob Ullenbruch

“I want to see where we are at in FY16 budget before I can move [over two cents for FY17’s budget],” said Ullenbruch. “The probability of me being here (next year) is 50/50, in my mind. I don’t want to do that [to someone else].”

Weaver also raised issue with the county’s debt load and corresponding tax rate.

“We are at 93.5 cents (advertised real estate tax rate) now? We are going to add to that [for next year]? Is that what that this board wants to do?” said Weaver.

“If we want to get out of increasing tax rates, then we need to invest,” said Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District).

When the debate prolonged into potentially delaying a vote on it, O’Brien questioned if shaving the advertised tax rate this year or not really matters.

“If three of us believe this is a losing proposition, let’s just stop right now,” said O’Brien.

Weaver again invoked the debt the county currently burdens, all of which has happened with him on the board but most, especially the high school debt, did not involve his voting support.

O’Brien questioned when supervisors, including Weaver, ever put aside money to plan for the construction that occurred. He asked how the board planned to replace an aging high school without financing it. He concluded the only plan was to finance.

“When did you vote to put aside money for the new high school?” said O’Brien.

Booker, fearing the board would again not vote on ZXR water, said, “You all are backing up again.”

O’Brien made the motion and Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) seconded it. The design should be completed within the next three to four months.

——————————————–

bryan-rothamel.jpgThe 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(s): Fluvanna County

Fluvanna May Quench Zion’s Thirst

By Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

Could it be?

Could Zion Crossroads actually get a water system?

March 4th the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors have an action item to implement recommendations from the RK&K report and direct the County Administrator to begin finalizing design of the infrastructure and developing policies for ongoing operation of the new water system.

And that’s not all that’s water related on March 4th Agenda.

Supervisors also have the James River Water Authority (JRWA)  service agreement on the docket. That sets up how the JRWA will operate between the two participating counties, Fluvanna and Louisa.

The Zion Crossroads (frequently abbreviated as ZXR in county documents) water system, as recommended by RK&K, is to run from the Department of Corrections (DOC) facility on Route 250, up to Route 15 and a mille down Route 15, heading back towards Palmyra.

It is to include a sewer line going back to DOC to treat the sewer. The agreement with DOC is for 75,000 gallons of treated water per day and 100,000 of treated sewer per day at bulk rates.

The county would build a water distribution system, water booster system, elevated storage tank and 23,000 linear feet of forced main sewer pipe along the same route as the water line. It does not include pump stations or gravity sewer.

The total estimated cost of construction of the water and sewer systems is $4.9 and $2 million, respectively, according to the RK&K recommendation. The system will have to be financed.

In the agenda documents, Fluvanna estimates the annual cost of operating the ZXR water system and JRWA is $250,000.

JRWA service agreement allocates how costs of operating the system and future costs will be delegated.

At the last work session, supervisors briefly had a discussion about the agreement before heading into closed session to discuss ‘investment of funds’ matters. Supervisors have meet in closed session about ‘investment of funds’ several times recently.

The supervisors’ public discussion was on what will happen in regards to future allocation of the permit. Currently it is split 50/50 but if the total amount changes, it could be split by who has the need or usage.

With Louisa closer to using its allotment, Fluvanna could lose allotment if the permit was ever to be decreased or Louisa expands the permit but gets all of the additional allotment.

Supervisors are schedule to act on both items at the March 4 meeting, beginning at 4 p.m. in the Fluvanna Circuit Courtroom.

——————————————–

bryan-rothamel.jpgThe 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

Is The Rio Ramp An Entrance Corridor?

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

This Monday (3/2) Albemarle County’s Architectural Review Board (ARB) held a work session to discuss the proposed CVS for the Northwest corner of the US29 and Rio intersection.  This corner will be significantly impacted by the construction of the Rio Grade Separated Interchange (GSI).ARB 03022015

It was revealed that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will be taking 20’ of the frontage of the parcel for a utility easement and a taper lane.  This further constrains an already physically tight site.

The applicant is proposing to unify two parcels, tear down the existing buildings and construct a compact CVS Drugstore with a pharmacy drive thru on the unified parcel.  Some of the application challenges include the change in topography on the site, the 60 car parking requirement, the placement of such parking as well as treatment of retaining walls.

While the Free Enterprise Forum has no position on the CVS or any other application, the discussion raised a more basic question, considering the changes to US 29 at Rio Road, does that segment still qualify as an Entrance Corridor?

Virginia Code and Albemarle’s implementation of such code is fairly explicit in the requirement (from Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Minutes, November 2, 2005 p.25)

The entrance corridor overlay is created to conserve elements of the county’s scenic beauty and to preserve and protect corridors: (i) along arterial streets or highways designated as such pursuant to Title 33.1 of the Virginia Code found by the board of supervisors to be significant routes to tourist access to the county; (ii) to historic landmarks as established by the Virginia Landmarks Commission together with any other buildings or structures within the county having an important historic, architectural or cultural interest and any historic areas with in the county as defined by Virginia Code § 15.2-2201; or (iii) to designated historic landmarks, buildings, structures, or districts in any contiguous locality. Emphasis added – nw

Are entrance ramps arterial streets? wendy's frosty

While a Wendy’s Frosty is good, is it historic?

Interestingly, the ARB seemed equally concerned how to best treat this new Rio GSI reality.  “I don’t even know how to think about this,” said ARB Chair Bruce Wardell.

For those not paying full attention VDOT has awarded a contract to build US 29 under Rio Road thus making those businesses above somewhat invisible to through traffic.

rio gsi

Making the conversation even more difficult, Rio Road is also designated by Albemarle County as an Entrance Corridor (They have 21 of them).

On Wednesday, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will be considering how to help businesses during the construction and the transition to life as an enterprise on an off ramp.

Considering the significant positive accolades I have heard from several GSI supporting supervisors regarding the potential redevelopment investment of this business area, one might think they would make it easier to make such investment happen.

The Comprehensive Plan calls for a  a new more urban form of development in this new “Midtown” section of Albemarle County but much of the ARB guidelines are about screening development from the traffic.  Something has to give.

We suggest the Rio ramps that are being constructed are not really part of the Entrance Corridor based on the original legislative intent.  As such, they should be excluded from ARB review.

The ARB and staff have already agreed that there is a need for more corridor specific guidelines in the multiple entrance corridors.

Perhaps, they should start with the one intersection VDOT is about to tear up?

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson President

**Rio GSI image changed 2:20 pm March 4th

———————————————————————-

20070731williamson 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:   Virginia Department of Transportation

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,562 other followers