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.

us29 before after

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

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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

Jail Budget Changes Flummoxes Greene Supervisors

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Over the last three Greene County Board of Supervisors meetingsjail money there has been significant discussion and dissension regarding the increasing costs of the expansion and operation of the Central Virginia Regional Jail (CVRJ).

At the most recent meeting (2/24) Supervisor Davis Lamb (Ruckersville District) started giving a general activity report of the Jail.  Lamb serves as the BOS’s representative on on the Jail Authority Board of Directors.

This quickly led to a in depth discussion about next year’s proposed jail budget impact to Greene County. Vice Chairman Jim Frydl (Midway District) asked Lamb,  “Why the dramatic increase in the next year operating expense budget and why such a short notice on the issue?”

cva jail photo credit Daily Progress

Central Virginia Regional Jail

Frydl further asked Lamb why Jail Superintendent Floyd Aylor didn’t answer the questions that the Greene Board of Supervisors sent to the last jail meeting via Lamb?

Frydl doesn’t understand why the full impact of costs are being budgeted while there is a three month training process of new personnel and the expansion will not open until the fall of 2016?

Frydl further questioned why, in a span of only two days (after the last Board of Supervisors meeting),  Aylor added approximately $1 million for transporting prisoners to other facilities.

Frydl went on to state that the latest budget shows an increase of $425,000 or a 55% increase. It is a huge increase to be explained to the voters of Greene County.

Supervisor Bill Martin (Stanardsville District) expressed concern about the poor timing in the budget process of the CVRJ and the impact to Greene County. Up until December, there was no indication of a significant increase and then in December, 2014 Aylor announced over a 50% increase in operating cost allocation to Greene County.

Lamb responded that there are a lot of pieces to the prison budget.

Martin stated he understood the complexity but all five counties that utilize the regional jail were caught by surprise by the size of the budget increase. Residents of Greene County are pushing back on a $10 facility fee on the water and sewer bill, Martin can’t imagine what residents will say when they see the cost increase for the jail in the upcoming budget.

Martin continued to state that the communication between the Greene Board of Supervisors and Aylor has been poor. He was not impressed when Aylor spoke at the last board meeting and Martin questions who is serving whom.

Frydl questioned Lamb why the alternative budget that the five counties had presented at the last jail meeting wasn’t considered? Lamb’s only reply was that if you can find a better plan to bring it to the meeting and there are many variables. Frydl asked Lamb if he was ok with the jails budget to which there was no reply.

Supervisor Eddie Deane (At Large) claimed that the school’s budget request varies from year to year so he can understand some fluctuations. He further stated that Greene has committed to fund the regional jail – what options do we have?

There was also a discussion regarding the CVRJ’s reserve fund which today totals approximately $5 million. The annual audit states that only $1.5 million is required leaving Frydl to question why the extra $3.5 million wasn’t being used to reduce operating expenses? Lamb stated that it is up to the CVRJ Board to determine how to handle the reserve fund.

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Greene County Board of Supervisors Chairman David Cox

Chairman David Cox (Monroe District) indicated the more that he reads the more confused he has become. There are some big personality problems and he is tired of reading of the drama. We need to look at the overall picture and do our best to fund our part.

Frydl questioned – should Greene fund their share regardless how much it is?

Cox asked if Barkley had anything to share related to the jail budget. Barkley reminded the Board of Supervisors that the jail’s administrative board can approve anything over Aylor’s recommendations. And that Greene County will be hard pressed to swallow a 50+% increase just like the other four counties.

Sheriff Steve Smith – who serves on the jail authority with  Lamb  – asked if he could address the Board. He suggested to the Board that he invite Aylor to come to the next board meeting and try to address the concerns that board members still have before the next jail meeting when their budget will be finalized.

Frydl had no expectation that Aylor would answer questions if he did attend a board meeting.  Deane would be agreeable to another dialogue.

Martin asked if Smith would also ask Aylor if he would consider the five county budget rather than an answer of it “being above his pay grade”?

It was suggested to Smith to invite Aylor to the budget workshop scheduled for March 4th rather than wait until the first Board of Supervisor meeting in March. Smith told the board that he would communicate to Aylor the request to attend the workshop to help clarify the questions that still exist with some board members.

As an afterthought, Martin asked his fellow board members if they would be willing to ask Mr. Lamb to vote against the jails budget?

Lamb then asked if the board would have an open mind when they meet with Aylor on March 4th. Cox made a request of the Supervisors to treat Aylor with respect and hope that Aylor would act the same.

Finally, when Delegate Rob Bell was asked to give an update on state funding for the CVRJ, he indicated that David Reynolds (Legal Fiscal Analyst on the House Appropriations Committee)  stated that the state would provide $200,000 for operating costs as well as 11 paid positions.

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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.

“Permit Us to Permit You” – Sharpening Pencils

Adapted from “Other Matters from the Public” comments made to the Albemarle County Planning Commission 2/24/2015

By Neil Williamson, President

It really is the little things that make the difference.pencils2

Today, I have a present for Planning Commissioners and members of  Albemarle’s Community Development department but first, I have a story.

Late last year in a meeting with a couple members of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and a number of Albemarle County business leaders, I shared my pencil story.

Back in the 1990s (not unlike Albemarle in an earlier age), the Greene County Planning Department consisted of two people and had a relaxed but efficient operation.  Applications were generally filled out right in the planning office often with the Planning Director alongside the applicant to walk he or she through the paperwork.  Many applicants were arriving with an idea of what they wanted to do but did not know how.  In addition, they often came in without a writing utensil as they did not know they had to fill out a form.

Recognizing the need, and after losing a number of office pens, someone came up with the idea to give applicants a planning department pencil to fill out the required paperwork.  In a moment of brilliance, they came up with the tagline for the pencil:

“Permit us to permit you”.

Those five word summed up the administration’s position on planning, zoning, development, and redevelopment.  It was as simple as that.

This “permit us” philosophy does not suggest staff takes an “approve everything” approach, instead it positions staff as a trusted guide working with applicants to find legal ways to achieve their goals.

This trusted guide method encourages staff to take ownership of an application.  Too often, at all levels of government, the mantra is “no one ever got fired for saying no”.

After the Albemarle meeting, one of the business leaders offered to fund the printing of such pencils.  Based on that generous gift, I am here today presenting a “Permit Us to Permit You” Pencil to each member of the Albemarle County Planning Commission as well to Mr. Cilimberg, Mr. Kaptner and Ms. Taylor.  I have three bags here for Mark Graham to share with his entire team.pencil

In addition to being emblazoned with the “Permit Us” philosophy, each and every pencil is also equipped with a very useful implement on the non sharpened end.  The eraser will work equally for applicants and staff to correct those areas in need of revision.

For over a dozen years, the Free Enterprise Forum has been proud to work with you and staff on positive policy direction.  We look forward to another year of pleasant persistence pushing the envelope to help make our community strong and welcoming for all.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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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 Seeks To Slake Zion Crossroad’s Thirst

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors receivewater bibd a final briefing on the RK&K report on Zion Crossroads water infrastructure on Feb. 18.  RK&K didn’t change the recommendation to build a $8 million water system, flowing from the Department of Corrections (DOC) women’s facility on Route 250. The county already has an agreement with DOC to buy water wholesale and treat sewer at the correctional facility.

The supervisors’ work session was designed to determine a path to move forward to bring water to Zion Crossroads. Opinions ran strong regarding the level of infrastructure investment required and when it should be put into place.

“DOC, by itself, doesn’t stand alone,” said Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District). The problem is DOC is a “short-term” solution, by RK&K’s opinion said an official from the company. It only supplies enough water for initial growth.

A mid-term solution is to supplement the DOC water source with wells or another water system. The long-term solution is to utilize Fluvanna’s portion of the James River Water Authority (JRWA) with Louisa County.  DOC only gives up to 75,000 gallons of water a day. Louisa currently uses 140,000 gallons a day in the Zion Crossroads area on its side.

Ullenbruch2014

Supervisor Bob Ullenburch

“[DOC] gives us an opportunity to start-up at a low cost, and we have options,” said Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District).  O’Brien countered DOC is a starting point but it isn’t a sufficient quantity for projected growth. He said supervisors will have to plan what’s next after 75,000 gallons is used.

Louisa is planning on a facility in Ferncliff to treat raw water from the JRWA. O’Brien wants to work with Louisa to be a partner in that production and thinks the ability to work with the county’s neighbors is closing this year.  “In my opinion, it would be pretty foolhardy not to participate in that,” said O’Brien.

But the county’s debt load continues to be an issue. County officials are currently planning on adding to the debt to pay for the $8 million initial water system. There is potential to save some money here and there by shrinking the main water line length and carefully planning construction vendors.

“We are already $97 million in debt. When is it going to end?” said Don Weaver (Cunningham District).  O’Brien asked how much of that $97 million was to help the lower tax rate. The consensus was none. Most of it is wrapped up in school buildings.

“I can tell you, as a business owner, if you aren’t going to invest in where you are going, you are screwed,” said O’Brien.

Chairwoman Mozell Booker (Fork Union District) repeatedly said during the course of the night she wanted water and soon.  “We’ve got to narrow them down to options…otherwise we can be sitting here another 20 years,” said Booker.

Probably the easiest part of the solution is treated water. The hardDEQlogow part is sewer.  Putting treated sewer into Virginia’s water ways can be a difficult equation with Department of Environmental Control (DEQ). DEQ limits what can be sent back into the watershed, especially as the health of the Chesapeake Bay is continually a topic of conversation.

Ullenbruch said Louisa doesn’t want to treat more sewer. DOC only allows sewer treatment of 100,000 gallons a day.  “The cost of that, that’s the elephant in the room,” said Ullenbruch.

Options for Fluvanna to treat sewer is to see if DOC can expand its currently facility but it sends treated sewer into the Mechunk Creek. Getting re-permitted for that might prove too difficult.

Alternative drip fields sewer could be an option, but if the county supplements the DOC treated water with wells, the alternative drip fields cannot feed back into the wells.

The county could work on gaining ‘credits’ by improving other county waterways or even recruit a business that could use treated sewer for operations.

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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, VA Department of Environmental Quality

Greene County PC OKs New Tennis Facility

By Brent Wilson, Field Officer

The Greene County Planning Commission recommended approval of special use permit for a new tennis facility in the Ruckersville District.

tennis2Contrary to the current Comprehensive Plan discussion in Albemarle County (which is seeking to ban golf, swim and tennis clubs from the rural areas), Greene Planning staff cited economic development positives related to this special use permit in the designated rural areas as part of their reasons for recommending approval.

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Mourad Fahim

Mourad Fahim is a former NCAA Division 1 tennis player for Radford University. He also played professionally, coached on the high school level and now gives lessons. He and his wife, Sherrie, live in northern Albemarle County with their two small children and he is teaching them to play tennis. In order to find affordable court time he is currently traveling north  to Culpeper to play.

As the Culpeper facility is now up for sale with an uncertain future,  the Fahims came to the Greene County Planning Commission requesting for a special use permit to build an indoor & outdoor tennis facility on Carpenters Mill Road (east of Route 29 at the Sheetz/Food Lion intersection south of Ruckersville – parcel 67-A-2A) .

The 28+ acre parcel is zoned A-1 and that is why a special use permit is required to allow the county to review extraordinary uses and place conditions on the permit to mitigate negative impacts.

As Planning Director Bart Svoboda mentioned to the Planning Commission, while a race track with large volumes of traffic/parking would not qualify for a SUclip_image004P, a tennis facility with low volumes of traffic/parking and no large crowds is very appealing to this property. The Health Dept. indicated that a well permit would need to be applied for and the septic system will be reviewed as part of the permitting process.

Svoboda stated that the Comprehensive Plan supports this project as it is low impact and enhances the image as a business friendly community.

Staff recommended approval of the SUP with the following conditions:

1. A 30 foot screening yard.

2. Lighting shall not be illuminated between 10 pm and 7 am.

3. Outdoor facility to be used for court sports such as tennis, basketball, volleyball, paddle tennis and other racquet sports are allowed.

4. Indoor facility to be used only for the same sports as #3.

5. A site plan will need to be submitted and approved prior to construction.

There were no comments from the public.  Mourad Fahim spoke about the request. He said the project, if approved, would be started in early summer of 2015 and be completed in time for the winter tennis season. The cost for the indoor facility would be approximately $1.5 million. He would start with four indoor courts with the space to add two more later and it will also have four outdoor red clay  courts with the possibility of adding four more later. Greene County currently has no tennis courts available to the public.

He further outlined the offering of programs for all ages and playing abilities. He hopes to create a solid junior development program and also offer leagues and lessons with a monthly membership or renting court time by the hour. He further discussed the possibility of offering the courts to William Monroe High School (Greene County Schools Superintendent Andrea Whitmarsh was in attendance for another issue) to be able to field a school tennis team.

As the Planning Commission opened their discussion, Chairman Jay Willer  appreciated the clay courts as they are not as hard on knees as other courts. Commissioner John McCloskey believed it is a nice project and an improvement to the Ruckersville area. Willer asked about the clubhouse identified in the drawing. Svoboda said that a snack bar for players using the facility would be included in the SUP. However, a restaurant for non-players would not be included in the SUP. McCloskey suggested that pickle ball – a smaller court – might be attractive with our 55 and over community.

With no further discussion, the SUP with the five conditions presented by staff was unanimously approved 4-0. (Vic Schaff was absent from the meeting) The request will proceed on to the Board of Supervisors for a final decision on the SUP.

When asked about the demand for tennis in Greene County, northern Albemarle, Madison and Orange counties Sherrie Fahim explained that they believe there is enough demand to support the facility. She hopes after getting approval from the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors to then begin marketing the facility later this year.

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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.

Photo Credits: Greene County,  Woodberry Forest

Fluvanna Considers a $.935 Property Tax Rate

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors voted on Feb. 18 to advertise a maximum real estate tax rate of $0.935 per $100 assessed.

Fluvanna BOS_group2014_sm

Fluvanna Board of Supervisors

The supervisors got a 4-1 vote on advertising the tax rate for over 30 days. Don Weaver (Cunningham District) dissented. The $0.935 is the absolute ceiling but supervisors can vote to lower it from there.

How the rate changed from county administrator Steve Nichols’ budget proposal of $0.895 was increasing county departments funding across the board, JAUNT, Region 10, Department of Social Services (DSS) and the Sheriff’s Office. Increasing the tax revenue also allowed to account for raises for county staff and the school budget line increase.

Nichols’ proposal had cut county departments operationally 10 percent across the board. The proposed rate increase would bring that decrease in half, to five percent. JAUNT and Region 10 were had received a cut in Nichols proposals but both agencies were increased in the current supervisors’ draft.

The increase in DSS budget was to add an employee. The county pays only a portion of the staff salary so for a modest amount, the county gets a full salary position. The Sheriff Office increase was to help alleviate any need to lower staffing next year. Part time deputies and a school resource officer were potentially up for cuts.

Increasing revenue for a potential government employees’ raise was because of a current proposal in the General Assembly. The raises would allow the county to pay a portion of increasing staff pay. Nichols’ budget included just a $500 bonus for staff.

The schools were only getting an increase of $331,000 in Nichols’ proposal. However, that was more like level funding because the state’s contribution next year would be $331,000 less.

The supervisors cannot dictate how the School Board allocates its budget. However, the supervisors found merit to increase the school budget line by another $579,000 because of staff raises (similarly as described above) and health insurance increases. The School Board will have final say of how its budget allocation is spent but the increase was in the spirit of those items.

The School Board requested $334,000 more than what is in the Board of Supervisors’ current draft budget.

“I’m extremely sensitive to the economy,” schools superintendent Gena Keller told the board as she presented her budget.

She later said, “We end the budget year sliding into home.”

Supervisors added to the tax rate for staff pay and health insurance increase but items like additional school staff, staff development and technology would’ve required another penny to a penny and a half.

“I want the schools to get everything they need but we need to find places,” said chairwoman Mozell Booker (Fork Union District).

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Fluvanna Supervisor Tony O’Brien

Rivanna District supervisor Tony O’Brien said, “My opinion, the (school) budget presented is a good budget. We are just short-changing ourselves.”

The county has to fund increases in CSA, jail and debt service. New projects like Zion Crossroads water infrastructure and James River Water Authority are also bearing the reason for a tax increase.

Now supervisors will hold a public hearing on April 1 on the tax rate. The $0.935 per $100 assessed is the maximum it can be set. Supervisors can vote to have a lower tax rate.

This year supervisors have to advertise the rate for 30 days because of the reassessment. Property values increased more than one percent and state code requires additional advertisement time because of it.

Also at the Feb. 18 meeting, supervisors approved rezoning land in the Zion Crossroads area from agricultural to industrial. The land is currently used as a lumber yard. The new zoning will allow a 24,000 square foot storage building for the wood pellets operation.

The board also approved requiring by ordinance a public notice road sign any time a zoning or special use permit hearing is required. Previously it was done as practice but now it will be required by county code.

Supervisors approved confirming Feb. 17 as a local emergency event, thus allowing response to the winter weather to be eligible for possible state funds.

Finally, the board awarded a contract for the Fork Union Streetscape Project. The project will dress up Route 15 from the post office to Route 6. The 1,600 feet will get additional sidewalk, curb and guttering. New street lights and trees will be installed.

The Board of Supervisors will next convene on Feb. 25 for a budget work session with constitutional officers.

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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

Greene’s Jail “Break” — Projected Cost Drops $500K

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

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Davis Lamb

At the February 10th Greene County  Board of Supervisor’s meeting  Supervisor Davis Lamb (Ruckersville District) reported that the current version of the Central Virginia Regional Jail budget for Greene County has now been reduced by $500,000, from the $800,000 that Jail Superintendent Floyd Aylor reported at the last Board of Supervisor meeting on January 27th to $300,000.

Lamb further reported that the representatives of the five counties that share the facility will be meeting Thursday evening  to discuss the budget further and hopefully adopt a final budget.

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Central Virginia Jail

County Administrator John Barkley  reported that the $300,000 is still an increase for Greene County of 26%. He also reported that the staffing of the expansion will be gradually increased and however, the number of Federal prisoners at the jail (and the revenue these prisoners produce)  is projected to decline. In addition, there has been a committee formed to identify additional cuts and he was hopeful that these savings would be considered by Aylor on Thursday night.

Supervisor Jim Frydl (Midway District) expressed his frustration with the whole process.  He asked when the jail addition is projected to be opened? Mr. Barkley believes the date is in flux and has gone from February/April, 2016 to the fall of 2016 – into the following fiscal year. He also understands that the staffing in the jail is already short 10 positions that are in the current budget. So he questioned if next year’s budget includes filling the 10 positions plus new increases? Why is there an increase in personnel cost with no increase in prisoners since the new jail would not be open until the next fiscal year or at best for only a few months?

The other issue is that evidently Aylor’s initial projection was a “fully loaded” budget with full staffing and operating costs. Supervisor Bill Martin (Stanardsville) expressed his feeling from Aylor’s comments that he feels like the county is working for Aylor instead of the reverse. He also stressed to Lamb that the late approval of the jail budget has to be completed earlier next year so that the county has the proper time to prepare its own budget.

Supervisor Eddie Deane (At-Large) came back to the illogic of the jail addition not opening until the following fiscal year but there are increased costs in next year’s budget.  Frydl suggested that the Board of Supervisors prepare questions for Lamb to ask at the jail’s meeting this Thursday evening.

Jim Frydl

Jim Frydl

Frydl verbalized a number of the questions he hoped Lamb would ask – “if a fund is underspent then the excess is to be credited to the following year?”. He understands that Aylor has refused to rollover any remaining account balances which would reduce the next year’s budget. He would like a specific answer to this issue.

Frydl continued to press his list of questions, “Is the number of federal prisoners to be reduced?”.

Chairman David Cox (Monroe District) suggested that the Board of Supervisors members submit their questions to Barkley and he gather them and provide them to Lamb to take to the jail meeting Thursday evening.  Lamb agreed to take the questions to the meeting and bring back the answers to the next Board of Supervisor meeting on February 24th.  Barkley cautioned the Board not to expect a lot of detail from Aylor at Thursday’s meeting given his track record.

The Free Enterprise Forum is concerned that the leadership at the Central Virginia Jail is not being responsive to the member localities that fund the operation.  Again, who is working for whom?

While the “pushing out” of cost increases into future budget periods makes for a lower budget in the next fiscal year, it doesn’t mean that when the new jail space is full that the original cost estimates won’t be attained.

To date, no mention has been made of any incremental state or federal funding to help offset the cost increase. Hopefully these sources of revenue can be pursued, albeit small for the next budget year, so that they can be in place in future budgets as the costs ramp up.

Stay tuned!

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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.

Photo Credits: Greene County,  Daily Progress

Can VDOT’s Rio/US29 GSI Steamroller Be Stopped?

By. Neil Williamson, President

There are some in the community that have indicated the Rio/US29 Grade Separated Interchange (GSI) is a “done deal”.  There are also many in the community that are now just learning of the project and have raised significant concerns with this specific element  of the Route 29 Solutions Package.

In Wednesday’s (2/4) Albemarle County Board of Supervisors marathon meeting, Chair Jane Dittmar suggested that  the Board can’t say no to the Rio GSI and yet get the other projects funded. Supervisor Diantha McKeel echoed that sentiment stating that  she’d be very concerned if county “jeopardizes” $230 million in Solutions29 package by rejecting GSI.

Dittmar and McKeel  are correct that Richmond has bullied this package forward and are presenting it as an entire package or nothing but the reality is a bit more nuanced.

rio gsiIn yesterday’s (2/5) Route 29 Solutions Project Delivery Advisory Panel Meeting (PDAP), facilitator Philip Shucet, somewhat reluctantly, indicated that each project in the Route 29 Solutions package is a separate line item in VDOT’s Six Year Improvement Plan.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) could eliminate the project line item in their six year plan.  Shucet also indicated his belief that this action was highly unlikely.

Shucet went further to state that the projects were recommended and funded as a package because they work together to fix traffic on US29.

Several panel members raised concerns with the sequencing of the projects not following the language in Albemarle’s Master Plan for the area known as Places29.  Shucet indicated that the Route 29 Solutions were not born out of Places29 or beholden to the sequencing in that document.  These solutions were developed with input from the first advisory panel (created after the Governor chose not to alter the Western Bypass path/design after the Federal Highway Administration questioned the scope of that project).

The Free Enterprise Forum is concerned that the local direction on this transportation matter has been ceded to Richmond.  Governor McAuliffe and his Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne are utilizing schoolyard bullying tactics offering to fund valuable transportation projects the entire community supports only with a grade separated interchange that clearly divides the community.  Absent the Rio GSI, the administration has said “I’m going to take my ball and go home”.

The reality is that while the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has selected the successful bidder for all of the Route 29 solutions projects (including the Rio/US29 GSI), the bid will not be awarded until the CTB takes official action on February 18th.

Will the CTB ask the difficult questions regarding traffic counts, alternative proposals and lack of community support for the Rio GSI or continue to rubber stamp the Solutions 29 Steamroller?

Not surprisingly, the outcome of this important local transportation issue will be determined by the CTB in Richmond on  February 18th.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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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: VDOT

*Feb 6 1:13 pm Correction made “Shucet indicated that the Route 29 Solutions were not born out of Places29″ the word “not” added to properly convey meaning – H/T to Philip Shucet for correction.

Fluvanna 4% Property Tax Increase Proposed

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna County Administrator presented his fiscal year 2016 (FY16) budget to the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday (2/4).

Nichols2014Steve Nichols, county administrator, kicked off the heart of the budget season with a budget that included increasing the tax rate by four percent. The increase in revenue is to help maintain county services, provide stable school funding, invest in the infrastructure and other county priorities.

“The only thing that has gone down (in price) the last few years is gas and big screen TVs,” Nichols said.

The budget increases are for the jail, CSA, emergency management and schools.

Originally the jail was projected to be an increase of over $700,000 [See related post here]. The jail board still has not adopted a budget but projections from the subcommittee have the increase pegged at $350,000 and that could even go lower. The CSA budget is unpredictable based on participation. If one child over projection enters the program, the budget can need to be increased.

The emergency management budget increases but so could revenue, potentially. Providing 24-hour contract services comes to a total cost of $615,000 . The night service portion is six percent more than the day services the county authorized in FY15.

If the board votes this spring to start emergency transport cost recovery, that will help offset costs of emergency services. Nichols put in $150,000 into the revenue portion of the budget in anticipation the board will vote to implement some form of a cost recovery program.

“We believe it is a revenue stream … between $400,000 and $600,000,” said Nichols but conservatively budgeted the $150,000 amount.

School administration sent a budget proposal with a local funding request of over $1 million more than last year. Nichols budget only bumped it up by $330,000.

The extra amount, like many things, fell to the cutting room floor.

That list included a paralegal for the Commonwealth’s Attorney, two full-time E911 communication positions, salary increases for county staff and others.

Across county departments, most suffered a 10 percent decrease in operational budget. And still the tax rate would need an increase.

What will loom over the county for at least the next 15 years is the county’s debt load. This year’s budget includes $400,000 increase in debt service for middle school renovation projects approved last year.

Existing county and school debt amounts to over $7.6 million. That’s the equivalent of 28 cents on the tax rate.

In Nichols’ budget includes water system for Zion Crossroads and James River Water Authority Costs. The Zion Crossroads water system will increase the county debt service but it is viewed as a way out from continually increasing tax rates.

This year, Fluvanna is projecting a five-year forecast to see how future budgets will look, conceptually, based on what decisions are made this year. It includes a two percent rate of inflation along with anticipation of certain upcoming projects.

The projection based off of Nichols’ budget shows a real estate tax rate of $1.05 in FY17, $1.06 in FY16 and FY19 and a $1.11 in FY20.

“Even if they are ballpark figures, it is alarming,” said Don Weaver (Cunningham District).

Nichols replied, “It is absolutely alarming.”

The reassessment brings last year’s $0.88 real estate tax rate to an equalized rate of $0.86. Nichols’ proposed balanced budget he presented Wednesday would need a $0.895 real estate tax rate. The personal property rate of $4.15 was not changed.

The Board of Supervisors will have to operate a bit differently this year because of the reassessment taking affect. Supervisors will have to advertise a maximum tax rate for 30 days. That rate is the absolute maximum and can only be decreased.

The supervisors will set that maximum rate on Feb. 18 with a public hearing in the end of March.

Supervisors are scheduled for work sessions and/or regular meetings for each Wednesday until April 15.

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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

Eliminate Albemarle’s Mission Creeping Community Councils

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Five years ago, I wrote a blog post regarding  the Free Enterprise Forum’s concerns about Albemarle’s Community Councils and their unelected, (unintended?)  stranglehold on new  development projects.  Now in the wake of the Places29 Community Council Suspension (AKA The Sheffield Shuffle), the Board of Supervisors may take up important legal questions surrounding the import and role of the community councils.

Crozet councilIn the years since we originally raised the issue, we have heard one Albemarle County Planning Commissioner (Tom Loach) in a public meeting indicate that he did not think he could ever support  a project if it did not have the endorsement of the Community Council.

Interestingly (and counter to Loach’s comment), Albemarle County staff may have recognized the legal thin ice the locality is on if these mission creeping Community Councils continue to endorse or oppose development projects.  New language proposed in Attachment B of the staff report:

Councils are a venue to discuss and provide comments on program and policy questions and/or proposals. While Community Advisory Councils are an important venue for discussion and feedback related to development proposals, Councils do not have a legislative role in the development process and are discouraged from taking votes of approval or disapproval

Contrast this new proposed reality with Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Brian Wheeler’s extensive coverage of the consideration of the Barnes Lumber development proposal by the Crozet Community Advisory Council:

Developer postpones submission of redevelopment plan

“You gotta love Crozet.”

Tom Loach’s assessment came after two meetings totaling more than six hours of discussion in which a dozen residents critiqued plans and pitched new ideas for a mixed-use development intended to transform downtown Crozet.

“We have worked very hard to come out with a recommendation for a plan that we think is going to benefit the community,” Loach said after a council meeting last week. “It’s going to spur economic development downtown and give jobs to our citizens.” …

The consensus? Council members want less housing, more green space, views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and a stronger contribution by the developer in the form of proffers to help pay for community infrastructure needs.

In addition, Albemarle’s new Community Council Policies also suggests the councils reflect a diversity of perspectives as long as all members of the councils support the approved master plan:

The Advisory Councils will provide assistance, feedback and input to County staff and the Board of Supervisors on community and county efforts related to implementation and support of the adopted Master Plan, in accordance with established county procedures. Advisory Council members will communicate with their constituencies to increase understanding of and support for successful implementation of the Master Plan. The membership is broad-based to incorporate a variety of perspectives and ideas and to provide citizens, business people, and representatives of community highlight added-nw

If all the members of the Community Council must be drinking the Kool Aid that the Master Plans came down on stone tablets from the Board of Supervisors – What’s the point?

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the Community Councils have (since at least 2009) exceeded their authority and failed to add significant value beyond they Master Plan reviews. 

While we appreciate many of the staff suggestions (including term limits for Council Officers!) we do not believe they go far enough

The Community Councils should be eliminated and Albemarle County Land Use and other development applications should follow the approval process as set in state code.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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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: NBC29

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