Monthly Archives: September, 2008

Verizon Puts Fluvanna on Hold; School Bonds Fail at Market

By William J. Des Rochers

Fluvanna Field Officer

Fluvanna officials got a double dose of economic reality late last week and one was not particularly good for the county’s image or economic development prospects.  

Verizon Suspends Operations

Verizon Wireless informed officials on September 26th that it was putting all cell tower projects on hold in the county, including a potentially cooperative effort with the county at Bremo Bluff.

Verizon Project Manager Mark Winsted informed the county that it is “reevaluating its network plans in the county [so it] will be on standby” according to an email sent to county officials.  Deputy county administrator Shelley Wright alerted supervisors and other officials of the decision on Friday afternoon.  “I will be talking with another carrier today or Monday and will see if there may be interest in some of these sites.” She wrote in an email. 

“This makes the Communications Master Plan even more important as we will need to look at the impact of locally funded infrastructure projects and preferred site options to market to other third-party carriers.” She advised.

The county had hoped to have a cooperative venture with Verizon to place a tower on county owned land in the Bremo Bluff area, to serve not only cell phone users but also the emergency communication needs of the county.  Now it likely will cost the county significantly more unless a new partner can be found.

One senior government official said that this would be “a setback to the momentum the county seemed to have developed to promote economic development.  The county’s actions [by supervisors and planning commissioners] threw a monkey wrench into Verizon’s network development and now the county has to face the consequences”.

No School Bonds

County administrator G. Cabell Lawton IV also informed supervisors that the potentially $75.5 million school bond issue had to be withdrawn after it failed to attract buyers in the current uncertain market.

According to sources, the county’s bond advisor, Davenport, notified officials that because of the financial market crisis and Congressional inaction, firms would not be able to bid because there are no buyers for municipal bonds. “Basically, there’s no liquidity”, on said.

 Officials hope to go back to the market again within the next forty-five days to get the funding needed for the high school.

GC BOS Discuss Unfunded Mandates with Bell and Hanger

By. Kara L. Reese

Greene County Field Officer

September 23, 2008

 

            The Greene County Board of Supervisors held a public hearing with Representative Robert “Rob” Bell and State Senator Emmett Hanger on Tuesday, September 23, 2008. The hearing allowed Board Members, County Constitutional Officers and Greene County residents to voice their concerns about continued cuts to state funding. Of particular concern to Board Members and residents alike were unfunded mandates such as the Comprehensive Services Act (CSA).

 

After welcomes and opening remarks, the Board of Supervisors opened the floor to members of the public for comment. Nine members of the public addressed Belland Hanger. First to speak was Randy Corpening, Director of Special Services for Greene County Schools. He noted that the funding requirements for CSA will cripple the County. Currently, three students make up the majority of county spending on CSA. The president of the Greene County Taxpayers also addressed unfunded mandates calling on the legislature to either fully fund mandates or cut them. Andrea Wilkinson of the Ruckersville Citizens Council addressed unfunded mandates as well. Other citizens addressed issues such as lack of funding for transportation, repealing the Dillon Rule and alternatives that the legislature could approve to allow localities to raise funds.

 

Several County Officerswere present at the meeting including Sheriff Scott Haas, Treasurer Gail Barry, Clerk of Court Marie Durrer, School Superintendent David Jeck and School Board Members Graydon Lamb and Troy Harlow. Superintendent Jeck addressed the recent memorandums the State has issued regarding funding cuts. He understands that times are tough, but is not sure how the school can cut costs and meet the mandates of No Child Left Behind which is currently only funded at 56% of actual cost.

 

Sheriff Haas acknowledged that there had been bills passed that directly benefited Greene law enforcement and thanked both Bell and Hanger for those efforts. He noted that there is still a problem with the regional jail. If Greene County loses its exemption, it will lose approximately $150,000. He also noted that on days when Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court is held two bailiffs are needed, but only one is funded.

 

            Marie Durrer Clerk of the Circuit Court spoke briefly and proposed that additional criminal fees be assessed to offset jail costs.

 

            Both Hanger and Bell made brief statements in response to public comment. Bell stated that he was willing to work toward cutting programs that the people really do not want. However, citizens need to realize this will result in a cut in services. Hanger noted that he believes Virginia should opt out of No Child Left Behind. He also noted that CSA causes huge budgetary problems.

 

            Each Board Member was given an opportunity to address issues that concerned them. Carl Schmitt (At Large) noted that we are all hurting financially and hopes that we can use this economic pressure to draw back on programs we don’t want. He asked that if the State Legislature can’t fund a program that they not mandate it. Finally, he called on politicians to partisanship be set aside. He would like to see all candidates run independent of a party.

 

            Mike Skeens (Monroe) noted that No Child Left Behind is killing the schools. He observed that state budget cuts were having a negative impact on the schools. He would like to have closer communication between the Board and politicians in Richmond.

 

            Jeri Allen (Ruckersville) made three points. First, she stated that it was CSA that keeps her awake at night. It is scary to realize that just one child could force the Board to raise property tax by 2 or 3 cents. Second, she noted how hard they have worked to improve Greene’s financial situation. She worries that the composite index may undo everything they have done. Third, she noted that when the Board goes through the budget they often have to make tough cuts such as not funding the youth center and youth baseball.

 

            Buggs Peyton (Stanardsville) noted that the recent audit indicates something must be done because the County’s reserve is less the $300,000. More cuts to programs are coming including the Library and JABA. He also noted that water is a crucial issue, but it is hard to move forward when DEQ places a roadblock in every path.

 

            Chairman Steve Catalano (At Large) pointed out that the county runs a tight ship. “We can say no to anything.” He noted that the Board is feeling very frustrated and asked that the legislature give use tools to generate revenue. He believes that the real estate system does not work and leaves the county vulnerable to the market. He does not feel the County can raise real estate taxes anymore. He also commented on CSA calling it a “budget buster.” He stated that it’s a tough situation because we like children and have hearts. But it is not right raise taxes to a point that productive and self supporting citizens are forced to sell their homes for the sake of one or two children.

 

            In his brief closing remarks Bell noted that budget cuts are gong to hit the county. He would like to work on the state mandate issue. Hanger also indicated budget woes are likely to continue, noting that one county had lost 30% of its real estate revenue this year.

 

Regular Meeting

 

            Two members of the public gave an impassioned plea for the Board not to close the dental clinic. Sharon Reed noted that the clinic is actually making money. She also indicated that it is one of the few Medicaid providers in the area. Further, the clinic is booked into next year. She asked that volunteer dentists be recruited until a new full time dentist is found. S. Catalano responded that the county would like to privatize the clinic and they are looking into other options.

 

            The Board passed their consent agenda, and then moved on to other matters.

 

J. Allen reported that the Planning Commission had officially begun work on the Comprehensive Plan. She also noted that the Stanardsville Reenactment had been successful. The Discover Virginia Wine Festival had not been as successful as previous years, possibly due to the competition from other events on Labor Day Weekend. 

 

C. Schmitt commented on a recent conference he had attended on energy and climate change. He stated that we are coming to a breaking point with fossil fuels and that the County should work on energy efficiency.

 

S. Catalano discussed the Rescue Squad’s investigation into potential revenue recovery. He needs to apply for a Medicaid/Medicare number now, because of the amount of time it takes for the application to be processed. J. Allen moved that the Board permit S. Catalanoto apply for the Medicaid/Medicare number. The motion passed 4-0 with S. Catalano abstaining.

 

The meeting was adjourned at 9:55 pm.

Building Slump Continues in Fluvanna

By William J. Des Rochers

Fluvanna Field Officer

At its September 24th public meeting, Fluvanna’s Planning Commission got some bad economic news and wrestled with two thorny issues:  how to deal with assisted living facilities and a bid to allow places of worship in industrial areas.

Building Slump Continues

Commissioners were informed that the building slump continues in Fluvanna.  Just two building permits were issued in August, a 94 percent drop over August, 2007, when 16 were granted.  For the year, new home permits are down forty percent from last year.

 The value of the new homes, excluding the land, also has declined.  Through the first eight months in 2007, the average new home was constructed for about $236,000.  Through August of this year, that figure has declined by  $28,000 (-12 percent) to $208,000.

Assisted Living Definition

The Jefferson Area Board for Aging (JABA) requested a zoning amendment that would redefine what constitutes an assisted living facility.  JABA’s representative, Mr. Chris Murray, urged approval of a definition that would update the current zoning definition to current industry and professional standards.

The present definition of an assisted living facility states that it would provide residences for the elderly that provided rooms, personal care, and supervision of self-administration of medications.  Ancillary services such as transportation, recreation and financial services also can be provided.

The new definition would be more encompassing.  It includes:

  • A definition for residents as being aged 55 or over, or disabled;
  • The principle that the facility is intended to be a home-like environment that would optimizes physical and psychological independence – this would allow for kitchen facilities in individual rooms;
  • Enumerated services that might be offered, similar to what currently is provided.

Inserted into the definition is a sentence that states any facility would only count as one dwelling unit for the purpose of density.   This would, for example, allow a thirty unit facility on a five acre site that otherwise would permit only two single family dwellings.

This particular sentence prompted a thoughtful discussion as to whether an assisted living facility should be treated as a commercial facility or as a residential one.  If considered a commercial facility, then, according to county attorney Frederick W. Payne, a density of one unit is appropriate.  If commissioners treated the facility as residential, then the density should be based upon the number of dwelling units in the facility.

According to Mr. Payne, one long-term solution would be to permit apartment buildings by special use permit with the appropriate density.  Facilities also would be restricted to three stories in height.

The Planning Commission voted 5-1 (Babbitt, Fork Union dissenting) to recommend approval of the revised definition.  Mr. Babbitt said that proposal was a density issue, and that the solution – to treat the facility as one dwelling unit — seemed “peculiar and contrived”.

Churches Okay in Industrial Areas

Commissioners unanimously approved an application to amend the Zoning Ordinance to allow churches as a special use in the I-1 (Industrial, Limited).   The proposal now will go to the Board of Supervisors for a final decision.

At the Technical Review meeting, several objections were raised to the request.  The Virginia Department of Transportation’s representative noted that a church is not used just on Sundays and traffic could conflict with adjacent industrial uses.  Other concerns included water, safety, and noise issues.  The planners decided that the special use permit application process could appropriately address those issues.

Currently, places of worship are only allowed “by right” in one zoning district:  the B-1 (Business, General).  In five other districts including the largest:  A-1 (Agricultural- General) they are permitted by Special Use Permit.

Sycamore Square

Commissioners without dissent approved a site plan submission by Southern Development to construct 38 villas at Sycamore Square (Rivanna District).  The villas would be constructed on 3.5 acres and three commercial lots on 2.8 acres.

The development is located in the Lake Monticello Community Planning area, which calls for mixed-use development.

Albemarle’s Rezoning Expiration Dates

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

On September 30th at 4:00 pm, the Albemarle County Planning Commission has scheduled a “worksession” where the development community will present their perspective on the changes to Planned Development review of site plans and subdivisions.  I fully anticipate the PC will get an earful about this overreaching concept.

Usually, I would steer clear of such a wonkish topic this early in the process but Albemarle County’s Planning Commission knee jerk over reaction is inappropriate and may be on questionable legal grounds. 

Today as an applicant works their way through the byzantine planned development rezoning process, Albemarle County requires a significant level of detail.  These details include open space requirements, stream buffers, common areas, grading, utility locations etc. Based on our cursory review of other localities, requiring such a high level of detail is unusual at the rezoning stage.  

Choices and decisions regarding the project must be made as these plans are moving forward.  Often there is little room for change once all the regulatory issues and proffered items are included in the plan. 

In drawing up the plans, designers work under the current development ordinances and ensure that all demands of these ordinances have been met or exceeded.  Albemarle County’s Planning Commission does not believe this is good enough.  They are seeking to have all planned development projects site plans and subdivisions reviewed under zoning regulations in effect at the time of submittal, unless the applicant can prove to staff that they have been in “diligent pursuit of the approval”.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes this violates a key conceptual element of zoning philosophy – that the zoning goes with the land.  Effectively it creates an expiration date on the application plan unless the applicant can prove otherwise. 

In evaluating any change in zoning the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors must review the proposed project in the context of the community and the location of the proposal, regardless of whether it is built next year or in ten years. 

If after the rezoning approval the government then conditions the approval to the “diligent pursuit” of the project, questions whether the governing body should have granted approval in the first place.  In addition by placing this burden of proof on the applicant, it will likely foster an unhealthy relationship between the regulatory staff and the applicant.

Clearly if it is in Albemarle County’s best interest to see highly detailed (and expensive) plans at the point of rezoning, it should drop this ill conceived concept of rezoning expiration dates.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson

RWSA Evaluates Two Dam Cost Estimates

The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) yesterday released two conflicting sets of cost estimates for the engineering and construction of the expanded Ragged Mountain Dam.   While the Free Enterprise Forum has not endorsed any specific community water supply option, we applaud the very public process the RWSA is pursuing.

Both cost estimates were increases from the concept costs provided during the 2004 community water supply meetings.  In response to these competing estimates Tom Frederick, Executive Director of RWSA ask for Board approval to seat a professional panel of national experts to evaluate the differences between the two estimates.  In addition, Frederick indicated that RWSA would cease work on the dam project until this panel had been seated and made its recommendation to the RWSA board.  Brandon Shulleeta has the story in this morning’s Daily Progress.

In his memo to the RWSA Board, Frederick identified the drivers that resulted in the most recent cost adjustments:

The largest engineering challenge in designing a dam is to capture geophysical data regarding the location and integrity of hidden, underground rock formation, and to interpret this data to define the extent of excavations and size of the underground foundation.  Given this challenge, adjustments to conceptual design assumptions are very common at this stage of the dam design process.  To date, much of the Ragged Mountain preliminary design has been focused on obtaining and interpreting this geophysical data.  This information is expensive to collect, yet extremely important, as the decisions regarding the design of the dam foundation can have a major effect on the overall quality and cost of the project.

Faced with an new estimated cost from Gannett Flemming of over $70 Million,the RWSA staff believed a second opinion was needed.  On August 12th RWSA staff directed Gannett Fleming to stop work, and RWSA reached out to Schnabel Engineering to conduct a very limited review of Gannet Fleming’s work interpreting the geophysical data and the cost estimates related to this data.

The Schnabel report highlights one of the challenges with the 2004 estimate:

Starting in 2004 and continuing into 2007, there has been an appreciable rise in the cost of construction materials, especially diesel fuel.  The project costs of many high profile dam projects had bid prices well above the estimates made by engineers during this period because of these rapidly increasing costs.

Schnabel’s report goes on to identify 15 different downward adjustments to Gannett Flemming’s design and cost estimate.  In addition, the firm interviewed two different dam contractors to gauge the current market receptivity to bidding out such a project:

The contractors interviewed indicated that present conditions (i.e. 4th quarter 2008) facilitate a good bid environment for owners with this favorable condition likely extending into 2009, if not 2010.  With the economy depressed, material prices are not likely to see large increases in the near future.  Cement sales are predicted to decline by more than 10% this year and 5% in 2009.

While opponents of the Ragged Mountain Dam have taken this opportunity to call for resignations of the RWSA Board, The Free Enterprise Forum believes the opposite is true. 

The RWSA Board (and the staff led by Executive Director Tom Frederick) should be commended for their commitment to public engagement.  The detailed reports prepared by the consultants were made readily available.  Since the inception of the community water supply planning meetings, given the choice, RWSA has routinely opted for transparency and sunlight on the water supply decision making process. 

While individual citizens may disagree about the direction of the community water supply initative, the fact that these conflicting engineering reports are open to the public is helpful to building the community understanding of the process.

Greene County PC Discusses Comp Plan, Signs and more

Greene County Planning Commission

Greene County Administration Building

Kara L. Reese, Greene County Field Officer

September 17, 2008

 

Executive Summary:

SUP#08-003: Grant Ave. Development/Gateway Market Center, LLC request for a special use permit allowing an electronic message center on a 0.741 acre tract which is zoned B-3 and located on Seminole Trail – Approved

Adoption of Proposed Planning Commission By-laws – Deferred

 

Work Session – 6:30 pm:

            A work session was held to continue work on the County’s business district zoning. It was determined that many of the business categories still needed to be more clearly defined before they could be placed in a district. Another work session will likely take place in December.

 

Regular Meeting – Call to order 7:31 pm

 

1. Introduction of Bill Martin

            Bill Martin is replacing Phyllis Woodfolk on the Planning Commission. Bill Martin and his family have resided in Ruckersville for two years. He is a Realtor with Charlottesville Country Properties.

 

2. Presentation Regarding the Comprehensive Plan and Multimodal Corridor by Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.

 

Multimodal Corridor Study

            This is a study of the urban areas along 29 North and Route 33 in Greene County. Renaissance Planning Group, Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) and W & W Associates will all be a part of the Multimodal Study Team. The goals of the project include to improve transportation within Greene County and to coordinate with the Greene County Comprehensive Plan. Public input on this project will be sought in connection with the public meetings for the Comprehensive Plan.  The project will use scenario planning which utilizes computer modeling to project the impact of the allocation of differing configuration of future jobs and residences on the transportation network.

 

Comprehensive Plan

            Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission will be coordinating the Greene County Comprehensive Plan as well as developing a final written plan. The Comprehensive Plan is intended to be a guiding tool to frame future decision-making in Greene County. TJPDC stated that they wish for this to be a community process. There are three Focus Groups scheduled for October and a Scenario Planning Workshop in November. The dates and times are:

·        Dyke Focus Group – October 4, 2008, 9am-12pm at Dyke Fire Hall

·        Ruckersville Focus Group – October 18, 2008, 9am-12pm at Best Western

·        Stanardsville Focus Group – October 23, 2008, 6pm-9pm at the County Administrative Building

·        Scenario Planning Workshop – November 15, 2008, 9am-12pm, Location TBD

The projected timeline is to present the Multimodal Scenarios in March of 2009. The Comprehensive Plan will be presented to the Planning Commission in June 2009. The projected completion of the plan is December 2009.

 

Comments from the Planning Commission:

D. Lamb noted that he feels that inner cities often die because people don’t want to fight the traffic. He asked VDOT, whose representative was present, whether there was a plan for the 29/33 intersection. The response was no.

 

J. Frydl commented that since the State has no statewide transportation plan or funding available for transportation there is a risk that we will end up with roads to nowhere because there is no guarantee that other Counties will be willing or able to connect to our secondary roads.

 

B. Martin asked for advice on maximizing citizen participation. TJPDC responded by stating that moving the focus groups around will help with this. He noted that the focus groups will be hands on around a worktable.

 

3. Public Hearing regarding Grant Ave. Development/Gateway Market Center, LLC request for a special use permit allowing an electronic message center on a 0.741 acre tract which is zoned B-3 and located on Seminole Trail

 

Staff Report:

            This is a request for a special use permit to allow an electronic messaging center on an Arby’s sign. This is only the second application for an electronic messaging center the county has received. The other sign is at the high school. The BZA has already approved a variance for this particular sign. Applicant would have been able to have two 100’ signs on his property. Instead applicant will now have one sign that is 85’ tall  (see comment below). The electronic messaging portion of the sign will be 20’ and a part of the total allowable 85’. Staff recommends approval of the request with the conditions that it not be neon lights; that it does not flash or move and that the 20’ will be a part of the aggregate 85’.

 

Applicant:

            Applicant introduced himself but didn’t have much comment on the actual sign.

 

Public Comment:

            Andrea Wilkinson spoke in opposition to the sign. She is worried that all of the stores at Gateway will want one if it is approved. She also stated that it could create an opportunity for injury if people are distracted by the sign. She noted that the original reason that electronic message centers were included in the ordinance was to allow for public service messages.

 

Planning Commission Comments:

 

N. Slezak asked the applicant whether the shopping center will have a large sign that lists all the stores in the center and whether Arby’s would be on that sign. Applicant responded that the shopping center will have a large general sign but that Arby’s will not be listed. N. Slezak was also concerned that if approved there will be more applications for these types of signs.  Applicant responded that banks have been using these signs for a long time to display time, temperature and advertising. This will be more attractive than the old fashioned manual message board where letters often fall off.

 

A. Herring wanted to know where the height of the sign was measured from. Staff answered that it will be from the ground to the top of the sign.

 

            B. Martin asked the applicant whether the message board was intended for marketing or public service. Applicant responded that is a marketing tool but might be used for public service in emergency situations.

 

            There was also discussion regarding whether the sign flashed. Applicant stated that it would change messages about every 5 seconds, but does not flash. Staff also noted there is pending litigation in the county over limitations on things that visually move and we might want to look at that before putting more limitations on the sign. Staff also noted that applicant would be bound by some state regulations on sign movement as well.    

 

Vote:

            J. Frydl moved to recommend approval with the conditions recommended by staff. The motion passed 4 to 1, with N. Slezak voting against the special use permit.

 

4.  Proposed Planning Commission By-law

            B. Martin raised two issues with the by-laws. First, he was concerned that a reference to a 2/3 vote might not be relevant to a group of five members and that language should be clarified. Second, he wondered if the by-laws should discuss conflicts of interests. After some discussion it was determined that the language about conflicts of interests may not be necessary but the 2/3 vote should be addressed. Staff will bring revisions back to the Planning Commission.

 

5. Minutes of May Meeting – Approved

 

Meeting adjourned

 

Fluvanna Approves School Borrowing

By William J. Des Rochers

Fluvanna Field Officer

Fluvanna’s supervisors agreed to borrow up to $75.5 million to finance the construction of the new high school.  Previously the Board borrowed $7.5 million for the project.  Of that amount, approximately $61 million is dedicated for high school construction; the remaining portion would be for deposits and fees. 

The actual amount borrowed will depend upon market conditions at the time of the sale, but is expected to be between $65-$70 million according to Mr. David Rose, the bond counsel.  The county expects to go to the market the week of September 21st. 

Supervisors also agreed to refinance $7.5 million of previous school construction debt in order to reduce interest charges to the county.

There was a lot of discussion regarding the size of the loan, particularly since the supervisors previously agreed to a maximum $71 million for on high school construction.   Supervisor Don Weaver (Cunningham) criticized the county administration’s advertizing a $75.5 million cap on the borrowing since the Board never approved that amount.  Rose’s later explanation of the loan package seemed to mollify the concern.

Supervisor Charles Allbaugh (Rivanna) offered to support a motion to lower the authorized amount, but no supervisor offered an amendment to reduce the limit.

 

Board Nixes Rezoning

In a somewhat surprising decision, supervisors denied a request by the Fluvanna-Louisa Housing Foundation to rezone a property in Fork Union that would have provided two units of affordable housing instead of the one that currently exists by right.

Citizens and local residents opposed the request – over fifty signed a petition against the proposal – charging that it could endanger the Omohundro well, which provides around one-third of the water to residents of the Fork Union Sanitation District.

Mr. Howard Evergreen, the director of the Foundation, told the supervisors that water safety was not an issue.  According to Mr. Evergreen, the state health department had given its approval and he said:  “If you don’t approve it [the rezoning], you are saying you know more than the state heath department”.

Moments later, he also told the Board:  “If you want to turn us down, then tell us you don’t want affordable housing”.  Supervisors did not tell him that, but did turn down the request 3-2.  Supervisors Gooch (Palmyra), Ott (Rivanna), and Weaver voted against the request.  Supervisor Booker (Fork Union) abstained since she is a member of the Housing Foundation.

Other Board Actions

Among other actions, the supervisors:

·        Approved an application by Serenity Partners (Palmyra) to rezone 14.8 acres from A-1 (Agricultural, General) to I-1 (Industrial, Limited) for industrial uses in the Zion Crossroads area;

·        Approved amendments to the county zoning ordinance so as to require a special use permit for private community water and wastewater treatment systems.  The county lost a lawsuit filed by the developer of the Central Meadows subdivision and the amendments would correct the deficiencies the court found in the previous ordinance;

·        Approved the Industrial Development Authority’s request for a name change to the Economic Development Authority;

The Board’s next meeting will be on October 1st, at 2:00 pm in the Courthouse.

Regional Transit Two Step – a new $20 Million Tax Dance

Understandably, there is some confusion regarding the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) legislation The City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County are seeking from the upcoming session of the General Assembly. Rachana Dixit wrote a good background article in yesterday’s Daily Progress.

As explained in yesterday’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) meeting, the legislative goals are two fold: the authority to create an RTA and, separately, the ability to generate revenue (a 1% sales tax is being contemplated) to be dedicated to transportation funding.  According to Supervisor David Slutsky’s comments at the meeting, “A significant portion of the revenue would be dedicated to transit”.  As a point of reference a 1% sales tax applied in the region is estimated to produce $20 million dollars in new revenue ($8 Million from Charlottesville, $12 Million from Albemarle).

The Free Enterprise Forum considers this a Transit Two step as it creates a yes/no decision regarding the Regional Transit Authority absent the funding and cost data contained in the transportation funding legislation.  Interestingly, the Draft RTA Final Report (pdf) that was released last month indicates:

The development of a Charlottesville-Albemarle RTA would first require a city/county consensus on the desired powers and funding authority, followed by the introduction of the legislation and legislative approval.” (Page 15)

In an attempt to answer this charge, the RTA Joint Working Group has revived an old broad based committee The Funding Options Work Group (FWOG) who produced their final report in 2005 regarding alternative funding mechanisms for regional transportation projects. 

The FWOG and the RTA Joint Working group will meet on Friday, September 19th.  As a part of the prepared agenda for this meeting, it is suggested that two of the “TOUGH ITEMS YET TO BE DISCUSSED”: Cost Allocation Method – how costs will be segregated between City and County and Revenue Allocation Method– how revenues will be segregated between transit and other transportation projects:

Will be decided AFTER enabling legislation has been received. (emphasis in original – nw)

Therefore, the Joint Working Group wishes to obtain two pieces of legislation this session: A new authority to run a transit system, absent a funding mechanism AND new transportation taxation powers without disclosing how they intend to spend the money.

Please pardon the dated transportation reference, but this is clearly putting the cart ahead of the horse. 

Citizens should demand the policy makers determine the cost allocations and funding allocations prior to permitting this proposal to move forward.  The cynic in me believes the Joint Working Group would rather not state how much the $20 million will be required to fund the RTA as opposed to other more widely used transportation projects.

If everyone paying this consumption tax will be subsidizing the fare for the small percentage of the population that rides (or will ride) transit, the citizens deserve to know how much of their $20 million dollars of sales tax burden will be left for long languishing road “priorities” that serve both transit and automobile users.

Depending on the answer, this Regional Transit Two Step could be over before the music starts in Richmond.

Economic Development Low on Charlottesville’s Priority List

Charlottesville’s City Council retreated to Staunton last weekend to discuss the strategic priorities for their actions moving forward.  As discussed in a previous post, Brian Wheeler of Charlottesville Tomorrow was the only member of the public or media to attend the open meeting.

Strategic Priorities are defined by The Business Dictonary.com as:

Strategic objectives ranked by their importance in achieving the strategic goals. All subsequent operational or tactical planning and resource allocation is based on strategic priorities.

According to Charlottesville Tomorrow’s report, Charlottesville City Council participated in a dot exercise, where councilors placed a red dot on those items they felt were most important priorities for the city.  By counting these “votes” three tiers of importance were extrapolated.  Public and affordable housing had the highest number of votes creating tier 1.  Repairing aging infrastructure, workforce development/job opportunities, and race relations created the second tier of importance according to the dot exercise.  The third tier of importance included tree canopy protection, transit and mobility as well as business development.

The Free Enterprise Forum recognizes this is not a final city policy but the results of this retreat exercise are eye opening in terms of the priorities of the members of council.  It is seems clear from this exercise that the council does not believe the creation of a positive business environment that would retain businesses and attract new investment is a significant priority for city government.

According to the latest Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce Jobs Report (pdf):

Between 1997 and 2003, private sector employment in Charlottesville generally declined, including a 2.2% drop in 2003.  Between 1997 and 2003, private sector employment increased by 4.7%.  However, the data show the City of Charlottesville lost 924 private sector jobs in 2007, a decrease of 3.4%.  Overall, private sector employment in Charlottesville is only 0.2% higher in 2007 than it was in 1995; the lowest overall rate of private sector job growth in the region. (emphasis added – nw)

By attracting new businesses and retaining existing enterprises, the city preserves and creates new positive tax revenue.  Businesses that are thriving tend to expand and build new job opportunities.  Successful businesses share their success with the employees increasing take home income.  A cohort of successful businesses tends to attract other related enterprises.

Faced with the reality of the Chamber Jobs report data and the clear economic benefits of business retention and growth, the Free Enterprise Forum believes business development (which often means getting government out of the way) should be a first tier priority for Charlottesville City Council (and all local governments).

We hope that as city council reviews the notes from their distant retreat their priorities can be arranged in a more strategic manner.

A Lack of Charlottesville Sunshine in Staunton

“The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.” — Patrick Henry

Last weekend, Charlottesville City Council went over the mountain to hold a retreat at The Stonewall Jackson Hotel in Staunton. 

Kudos to Brian Wheeler of Charlottesville Tomorrow for following the Council over the mountain.  No other member of the public or media attended this open meeting of the City government.  Brian’s report can be found here.

While such distant retreats are normal for Charlottesville City Council, most local governments choose to stay close to home for their retreats.  Albemarle Countyholds such retreats at Zehmer Hall at the University of Virginia, Greene County has held their last two retreats at The Rosebrook Inn in Greene.

Why then would Charlottesville choose to go so far from the City?

The Free Enterprise Forum believes it is a deliberate (albeit legal) attempt to hold strategic discussions outside of the normal public view. 

While we recognize Charlottesville City Council could, if properly advertised, hold a public meeting in Las Vegas or Vail, we do not believe such a meeting would be serving the needs of the citizens. 

“In America, the government belongs to the people. Inherent in our system of self-government is the idea that the People have the right to know what our government and government officials are doing and to hold them accountable for their actions. State and federal freedom of information (or “sunshine”) laws, which include laws that guarantee access to both public meetings and public records, are one of the primary ways of ensuring such accountability.” — Citizen Access Project

Understanding that a distant locale has been the tradition for City Council for sometime, the Free Enterprise Forum asks City Council to explain the rationale for such decision.  Absent a compelling reason, we believe such meetings of local governing bodies should be held locally.

Sunshine is good.