Monthly Archives: December, 2008

Greene County Planning Commission December meeting

Greene County Administration Building
Kara Reese Pennella
Greene County Field Officer

Action Summary:
Jefferson Area Board for Aging rezoning request from R-1, Residential, to SR, Senior Residential, on approximately 15.16 acres located on Preddy Creek Drive – Disapproval Recommended
Public Hearing regarding request to revise Greene County Zoning Ordinance to permit Equine Uses in A-1, Agriculture – Deferred

Work session Call to Order 6:40 pm

Prior to their regular meeting the Planning Commission held a work session to discuss proposed changes to the County’s Business Zoning Districts. There was a general discussion regarding whether it would be better to place all retail together instead of including separate definitions for each type of retail store. The Planning Commission also discussed whether there should be two or three business districts. Individual definitions for differing types of businesses were also an issue. At the end of the work session staff indicated that they would place the revisions into ordinance format.

Work session Adjourned 7:22 pm

Regular Meeting Call to Order 7:32 pm

I. Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission Presentation on the Comprehensive Plan

B. Wanner of the TJPDC provided an overview of the County. He included statistics projecting that the population in Greene County will double by 2030. Estimates regarding Greene’s workforce were also provided. The presentation estimated that 5,761 of Greene County Residents commute out of the county for work.

B. Wanner then reviewed the current topography of Greene County that may limit the growth areas. First, areas protected as part of the national park were highlighted. Next all slopes 15% or more were shown. Finally, a map of all viable farmland in Greene County was shown. B. Wanner recommended that the County preserve its farmland because he believes that our ability to ship food across the Country or from other parts of the world will be limited or cease in the future.

The second portion of the presentation was intended to explain to the Planning Commission what a Comprehensive Plan is and what is should do. An overview of the current comprehensive plan was included. B. Wanner noted that with respect to current designated growth areas that the current Comprehensive Plan was “working very well.”

The Planning Commission was given an opportunity for questions. The Commission was very interested in the basis for population projections and current job distribution. It was unclear whether information regarding employment was from 2005 or 2007, but it appeared not to factor in the recent opening of Lowes and other new projects that have been approved over the last year. B. Wanner noted that the 2030 population estimate was based on a 2003 Model by the Virginia Employment Commission. He also stated that the population projection is just an estimate and that population changes are a moving target.

B. Wanner then asked the Planning Commission to engage in a mini-workshop to assist with developing a vision statement for the Comprehensive Plan. Commissioners were asked to state what they valued most about the County.

N. Slezak felt that it was most important that the information collected at the public meetings be included because it is what the public wanted. He expressed some concern over the format of the evening’s workshop and how the information gathered from the Commission would be used and presented to the public.

B. Martin observed that after attending the public workshops he felt that the most important issue in the County was maintaining quality of life. This included having the means to allow citizens to earn a good livelihood with a close proximity to home and schools, addressing traffic issues, maintaining a rural ambiance and having manageable taxation. This requires sustainable and appropriate growth. He noted that he was not anti-growth but wants to be sure that it is appropriate growth.

N. Slezak commented that he felt most people in the county want growth but want it done in a way that preserves their quality of life. The county needs to grow in a way that it manageable. He noted that water is going to be a big issue for the county. We must have adequate water for growth to occur. This is an issue that he believes must be addressed in the current comprehensive plan.

D. Lamb stated that he was not against growth but that the County’s rural beauty needs to be preserved. He indicated that future challenges to Greene County included managing urban sprawl, improving public transit and addressing traffic issues.

J. Frydl observed common themes at the public workshops which included preserving the rural feel of the county while increasing and attracting businesses. He also noted that many citizens expressed a desire to improve Ruckersville and create a town feel there.

A. Herring also indicated that attracting more high paying jobs for residents and promoting growth while maintaining rural areas were important. He believes that a water and sewer plan that addresses the county’s needs for the next 30-50 years is very important.

B. Wanner summarized that comments he heard from the Commission noting that quality of life was a common theme. He concluded by telling the Commission that “you all are just what we want you to be…Good stewards of Greene County.”

II. OR#08-005 Request to Revise the Greene County Zoning Ordinance to Permit Equine Uses in Agriculture Zoning Districts on Lots Consisting of 5 Acres or Less.

Staff Report:
This is an application to permit equine uses on 2-5 acres of land zoned A-1 either by right or by a special use permit. This application had been previously deferred at applicant’s request to allow time for staff to answer some of the Planning Commission’s questions. Staff reported back to the Commission that it may single out specific types of animals and allow some farm animals and not others. Staff also provided some information on overgrazing and recommended pasture sizes. In addition to the applicant’s request staff also included some definitions of equine related uses such a private and public stables.

J. Frydl noted that although he and staff had conducted a site visit in this case the report was probably not relevant because this is a general ordinance revision.

Applicant:
D. Sutton stated that he is seeking a revision to the ordinance that would provide the ability to apply for a special use permit to allow equine uses on 2-5 acres zoned for Agriculture use. Through the special use permitting process the Planning Commission could then address specific issues that might affect the property or surrounding neighbors.

Public Comment:
N. Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum addressed the ordinance revision noting that his comments were limited to the policy not applicants specific piece of property. N. Williamson provided the Commission with some information regarding Roanoke’s regulation of horses which is very clear and easy to understand. It provides for 1 horse per 1 acre in agriculture districts. He encouraged the Commission to adopt a similar straight forward Equinine Exception. Such an exception is important to the rural character of the community and would bring Greene County in line with the policies of surrounding counties.

Comments from the Planning Commission:
J. Frydl stated that he had done some research regarding how other counties address horses in their Agriculture Districts. He noted that in many counties farm animals are permitted on the minimum lot size allowed in the agriculture district. He noted that while it might not be recommended to keep a large dog in an apartment many people do so quite successfully. He does not feel that the county should be so involved in micromanaging peoples lives. He noted that the current method of determining how many farm animals are permitted on a piece of property (a 1000 lb cow unit) is very confusing. He favors a simple ordinance that allows citizens to apply for a special use permit to allow horses on less than 5 acres in the agriculture district.

B. Martin favored a special use permit over a change in by right uses; however, he was concerned that because of these economic hard times that people may not be able to care for horses. He is concerned about abuse and neglect of the animals. He also expressed some concerns about the size of the pasture required and would like to see a minimum pasture requirement.

N. Slezak was also warned that while simplicity is good, people may take advantage of the situation. He would like to see a minimum pasture size.

D. Lamb was also concerned about the smaller size pature. He also noted that there may be situations where a horse on a small lot is exercised regularly and then put up at night.

The Commission then had a general discussion about what they would like to do. They asked staff to provide them with some draft language for an equine only special use permit with conditions including a proposed minimum pasture size.

Vote:
A. Herring moved that they defer the application until January 21, 2009. The motion passed by a unanimous vote.

III. RZ 08-004 JABA Request to Rezone 15.16 Acres from R-1 to Senior Residential.

Staff Report:
The property is located off of Preddy Creek Road, south of the water tower. Applicant has provided some written proffers. Most other aspects of the project remain the same.

Applicant:
C. Murray spoke on behalf of JABA stating that their mission is to provide affordable housing for seniors. He provided examples of other JABA projects in neighboring counties. He proposed the creation of a phased project with 34-40 units constructed in phase I. C. Murray then provided his own analysis of the traffic and fiscal impact of the project. Applicant proffered 1) affordable housing units with 80% of units being offered below market rates 2) a well site 3) a community center 4) 3 transit stops and 5) a library drop box.

Public Comment:
Four citizens who live near the proposed project spoke against the rezoning. They were also concerned about traffic along Preddy Creek Road. One citizen expressed concern that if the land was rezoned and the project failed they would still be stuck with the increased density from this rezoning.

A. Wilkinson provided her own financial analysis of the project to the Board. She also addressed concerns regarding traffic.

N. Williamson of Free Enterprise Forum spoke regarding the financial analysis provided by both the applicant and A. Wilkinson. While he believes that each party had good intentions, fiscal impact statements need to come from a neutral party and neither side’s numbers should be used by the Planning Commission in making a determination regarding this application.

Comments from the Planning Commission:

A. Herring was pleased that JABA was more prepare for this presentation. However, he finds the location perplexing and believes that traffic estimates do not account for deliveries and visitors. He was also concerned that the proffers did not provide specific time frames for the community center and well site.

N. Slezak was glad to see the proffers in writing. He was still concerned about citizen opposition to the project and the failure to address traffic concerns.

B. Martin was also concerned about traffic. He also asked whether any other sites had been considered for this project.

J. Frydl understands that this is a work in progress, but feels that the county needs more commitment from JABA in order to approve this. He also noted that it appears that current water and sewer access is not reasonably available as required by ordinance. He noted that while potential access may exist, it is dependant on other projects that have not yet gone forward and have no definite timeframe in which to do so.

D. Lamb was concerned about how high each building would be. He also was concerned about the failure to address traffic issues.

Vote:
A. Herring moved to deny the rezoning application. J. Frydl seconded the motion which passed by a unanimous vote.

IV. Minutes from November 2008 – approved

V. Other Matters

The Planning Commission discussed what the next step in the Comprehensive Plan is. Staff indicated that they would develop a schedule for the first part of 2009.

N. Slezak expressed concern over whether there was any progress on the water plan. A general discussion followed in which all Planning Commissioners expressed a desire to be more informed about what goes on at Board of Supervisors meetings.

Adjournment 10:35 pm

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Seeing 2020 – Where Will We Grow?

By Neil Williamson

NAI Global, an international commercial real estate firm, has commissioned a November 2008 report that indicates the Charlottesville Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) , including Albemarle, Charlottesville, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson, will see population growth of 213% between 2000 and 2020.  (Hat Tip to Tom Seeley via Facebook)  By means of comparison the Virginia Employment Commission projected growth rate of 10.8% for 2000-2010.   

The Where Will Growth Occur? report, written by NIA Global’s Chief Economist Dr. Peter Linneman, PhD, is fascinating in both the statistical results and the other observations found interior to the study.

Drawing on statistical research conducted with the Wharton School’s Albert Saiz, the paper finds, not surprisingly, many Americans prefer to live in warmer drier climates with little or no snow.  While the report considers quality schools to be a preference driver, it is given less import due to the large cohort of the population that is childless.

As one might expect in choosing to relocate tax policy is a large selection driver.  More surprising is the impact of the region’s political climate.

Research underscores that both firms and individuals avoid high-tax locations, as well as those areas with large governments.  In fact, more local government spending always leads to less growth, unless that spending is on highways….

We find that areas with large governments tend to be more interested in protecting the status quo and redistributing income than creating growth opportunities…

We find that areas dominated by either Democrats or Republicans tend to grow more slowly than communities where political control of either party is tenuous.  Thus, political competition, like economic competition, fuels growth.”

The paper outlines communities that have enacted regulatory barriers to designed to hinder population growth.  San Francisco, Santa Barbara and Aspen are singled out as areas that would have likely seen increased level of growth if not for significant opposition to growth (and the resulting regulatory environment).  According to the paper such population controls do have a cost.

Research done using the Wharton Decentralization Survey of Growth Controls has repeatedly found that both lower growth rates and higher prices result from high regulatory burdens.  My colleague Joe Gyourko has persuasively demonstrated that communities with high regulatory burdens have a large gap between housing prices and construction costs, and also that housing production grinds to a halt in these communities.

Considering the factors outlined in the report and our experience with the regulatory burdens in the various localities, The Free Enterprise Forum believes whatever level of growth that occurs between now and 2020 (it will likely be less than 213%) will occur under existing zoning by right or in the outlying counties.  If this assertion is correct, and the job growth remains in the urban core, how will this impact our regional vision for 2020?

Welcome to the Country

By. Neil Williamson

Despite planning efforts to the contrary, a significant number of new residents are choosing to live in the rural areas.  In addition, the development areas often abut farmland.  While there is a romantic notion of moving from the city to the country (think Green Acres), there is much more to farm life than you find in Rural Living magazine.

In his new book, Welcome to the Country, Patrick County Farmer Frank Levering helps explain some of the niceties, nuances and nuisances that are a part of country living. 

Welcome to the Country introduces urbanites (and the rest of us) to “country culture”… sharing the unwritten rules by which rural people live.  He describes the motivation for the recent rural retreat:

These days, what motivates urban refugees typically isn’t the desire to do serious farming.  But what can happen out in the country, farming or no farming, hasn’t changed much.  The country is still the country — manure is still manure, and a mudhole after a thunderstorm is still a mudhole after a thunderstorm.  The trick — now as it was then — is knowing what to expect, and not going ballistic when things you may have taken for granted back in the city can’t be taken for granted anymore…..

Some of the natives can be a tad ornery about all of this.  “People,” one of them told us tartly, “want a rural setting but urban services.” 

Levering also highlights the farming career, including the “second” job that helps balance the farm families checkbook. He introduces us to local farmers like Carl Tinder, Corky Shackleford, Rob Harrison, Henry Chiles and many others.  The openness and candor they share regarding the challenges and rewards of their agricultural enterprises is most illuminating.  Listening for the other side, Levering spoke to many so called newcomers including  Jim Turpin, Susan Prokrop, Dean and Susan Vidal. 

Levering does a good job describing the high potential for culture clash between farmers, foresters and new homeowners. Whether it is the large piece of farm equipment on the windy backroads between fields or the cows wandering in the front lawn after finding a break in the fence.  There are a multitude of potential conflicts.

One scene in the book relates to a farmer who had sprayed his row crops in the morning running into his newly arrived neighbor at the country store. The neighbor was concerned because there was a bit of wind and some of the spray may have drifted over to his property.  The farmer was defensive, having heard from such knowledgeable newcomers before and he did not think he should have to explain that the fertilizer was expensive and he wasn’t going to waste it if it was too windy to apply it.

There are also warm rural stories where newcomers and farmers work together to get through drought, clear roads, herd lost cattle and much more.  The book concludes with a great list of seven boiled-down tips for creating community in the country.

The Farm Bureau, the Ballyshannon Fund, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia State University and Virginia Tech all contributed to this excellent holiday read.    

Ordering information is available at the Ballyshannon Fund web site you can also Take a peek at Chapter One, here.  At $5.00 (plus S&H), this makes a great stocking stuffer.

Is Places 29 A Boondoggle?

By. Neil Williamson

On Sunday (12/14) Daily Progress Reporter Brian McNeill had an extensive front page story on Albemarle County’s Places 29 planning project

I was quoted in the article saying,

“This community doesn’t want to build roads. It wants to study roads,” said Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum. “If I sound frustrated, I am. There are real traffic issues that we’re facing.”

Williamson added that he views Places29 as a “half-billion-dollar boondoggle that, at best, will maintain the current level of traffic frustration and create a 30-year work zone on our most productive commercial corridor.”

After reading this quote with my coffee on Sunday morning, I wondered if the term boondoggle was too harsh for the Places29 project.  A quick check of Wikipedia produced this definition of boondoggle:

The term boondoggle, in the sense of a project that wastes time and money . . .

If also refers to government or corporate project involving large numbers of people and usually heavy expenditure; at some point, the key operators have realized that the project is never going to work, but are reluctant to bring this to the attention of their superiors. Generally there is an aspect of “going through the motions” – for example, continuing research and development – as long as funds are available to keep paying the researchers’ and executives’ salaries. The situation can be allowed to continue for what seem like unreasonably long periods, as senior management are often reluctant to admit that they allowed a failed project to go on for so long. In many cases, the actual device itself may eventually work, but not well enough to ever recoup its development costs.

A distinguishing aspect of a boondoggle, as opposed to a project that simply fails, is the eventual realization by its operators that it is never going to work, long before it is finally shut down.

My use of the term boondoggle, according to this definition, could not have been more accurate.  The Places 29 plan is clearly going through the motions as long as funds are available to keep paying the researchers’ and executives’ salaries.  Further, the numbers I have seen, Places 29 will only maintain the level of traffic we have today or as stated in the definition “the actual device may work, but not well enough to ever recoup its development costs”. 

Yes Virginia, Places 29 is a Boondoggle.

Is Conflict Required for Proper Planning?

By. Neil Williamson

When an application is moving through the often byzantine approval process, is direct conflict helpful or harmful to the over arching goal of a well designed, well executed plan?  In any land use change, (zoning text amendment, rezoning, special use permit, etc.) a land owner is asking for a change or alteration to the status quo.  The goal of the change is to legally pursue their goals for their land.

How should the locality react to such a request?  

Does it depend on the application? 

Does it depend on the application’s conformity to the comprehensive plan? 

Does it depend on the localities experience with the applicant?

While of course all of these enter into the ultimate resolution of any application, each locality has its own personality on this issue.  On one extreme some years ago, one locality had pencils for their applicants to use that said “permit us to permit you”.

Perhaps an example of the other extreme was in evidence Tuesday night at the Albemarle County Planning Commission (12/09), one commissioner said all developers would prefer to have no zoning whatsoever so they might do as they like.  He suggested the result of such freedom would be like Houston Texas, which in architect’s school is held up as a bad example.

Having attended the Preserving the American Dream Conference in Houston earlier this year, I can report that Houston, with no zoning, has places that look exceedingly well planned and areas that do not.  I contend that Albemarle County has the same mix of well planned and ill planned areas even with the adoption of zoning in 1980.

The larger issue is the level of applicant contempt exhibited by the planning commissioner.  As one charged with evaluating such applications for approval, it is hard to understand such an anti-applicant prejudice.  The development community is not a monolith any more than the environmental community or the architectural community.  As a later speaker mentioned, applicants tend to be large land owners.  They see zoning as  protection for their investment.  To dismiss the entire development community as wanting to put one over on the locality is not only wrong, it is insulting.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes by sharing the goals of the comprehensive plan and evaluating applications against those specific goals, direct conflict is not required.  Adjusting a plan to meet the locality’s ever changing comprehensive plan priorities requires conversation and compromise on all sides. 

If those charged with approval of  land use changes start from a position of distrust of all applicants, without cause, conflict will occur.  The resolution, or non-resolution, to conflict based in improper prejudice does not help the deliberative public process.

The public deserves better.

Greene County BOS Approves Special Use Permit for a Church and Awards the Contract for the Park Road

Kara Reese

Greene County Field Officer

 

Action Summary:

Motion to Appoint Christian Herring to the Parks and Recreation Board – Approved

SUP #08-006 Request from Robert Akers/Stacy and Christina Roach for a Special Use Permit for a Church on 3.53 acre tract – Approved

Contract for the Park Road – Awarded to E.C. Pace Co. Inc.

 

             In its last meeting of 2008, the Greene County Board of Supervisors moved quickly through its relatively short agenda. First, the Board considered a motion made by C. Schmitt to appoint Christian Herring as the youth representative to the Parks and Recreation Board. The motion was approved by a unanimous vote.

 

            In the only Public Hearing of the evening the Board of Supervisors approved a church on a lot located behind the Rescue Squad building on Business 33. A building permit had been issued to permit the construction of a 792 sq. ft. metal building to be used as a shed. Since its construct a small group of worshipers began holding services in the building. The congregation sought the special use permit to bring themselves in compliance with local zoning rules.

 

Staff reported that the church is located in an area designated for office or industrial use. The Comprehensive Plan does not address churches. However, both staff and the Planning Commission recommended approval with conditions. Applicant made a few brief comments. There were no comments from the public.

 

C. Schmitt moved to approve the special use permit with the following conditions: 1) building and zoning codes shall be met 2) applicant shall apply for a change of use permit designating the building as a church rather than a shed 3) a site plan shall be submitted and approved for the application 4) the capacity of the building shall be determined by the square footage of the building 5) the applicant shall provide for sanitation as stated by the Building Official 6) this special use permit is valid for four years. The motion was approved by unanimous vote.

 

J. Howard, Director of Social Services, Bishop Jackson and Karen Wood provided the Board with an overview of the Impact Mentoring Program. The program aims to serve children age 10-17 and to enable to the children to reach their full potential. The program is currently recruiting mentors from the community.

 

The Board awarded the contract for the Community Park Road. S. Catalano noted that the road is entirely grant funded and no matching funds were required from the county. The low bidder for the project was E. C. Pace Company for the amount of $150,276.00. J. Allen moved to award the contract to E. C. Pace Company. C. Schmitt provided a second to the motion. It was passed by a unanimous vote.

 

In matters from the public, one citizen addressed the Board regarding concerns over a water impoundment and an article he had read somewhere. He was concerned about quotes from these articles and whether or not they were true. He demanded that S. Catalano and other Board members comment on their truthfulness. However, it was never clear what the quotes were about or what news article he was referring to. S. Catalano said he was not going to try to answer such questions. C. Schmitt followed that they did not have the news article he was referring to and therefore could not be expected to adequately respond.

 

P. Morris addressed the Board regarding the increase in Real Estate Assessments for 2009. She requested that the Board lower next year’s tax rate to keep the amount of taxes paid by citizens equal. She also requested that relief for seniors be adopted that would exempt them from property tax. She asked about the percentage of taxes being collected this year compared to previous years.

 

S. Catalano responded that they did not have all the numbers for this year since; the taxes were due on the 5th of December. However, the responsibility for collection lies with the County Treasurer which is a Constitutional Officer.  He thanked P. Morris for acknowledging that the Board of Supervisors has no power over the value of the assessments unlike what was previously stated in a letter to the editor.  The County will continue to make cuts wherever possible, however; given the continued cuts from the State is going to be another tough budget year.

 

In Matters from the Board, B. Peyton discussed the new assessments that will be used to calculate 2009. First, he noted that State guidelines required assessments to be  100% of fair market value. As of March 31, 2008 the ratio between assessments in Greene County and sale price of homes was 78.6 %. The new assessments are intended to bring the County to 100%.  He also reported that assessments county-wide increased approximately 21%. Given the projected increase in revenue of an additional $2.29 million in tax revenue for 2009, B. Peyton would like to see the tax rate reduced once all budget obligations are met.

 

B. Peyton also reported on the meeting with VDOT. VDOT plans to reduce its workforce by 30%. There are currently about 1000 job vacancies within VDOT that will remain unfilled.

 

C. Schmitt reported that the energy efficiency audit had begun. Three firms would be provided reports by January 9, 2008.

 

J. Allen reported that the RSA Board rate increases had been approved. They are 10% the first year and 5% for the three following years.  She also reported on the last planning commission meeting.

Master Plan Process Doomed to Balkanization?

By.  Neil Williamson

Recent actions by Albemarle County have led The Free Enterprise Forum to contemplate the cost/benefit of developing individual master plans, in a cascading timetable, as a way to build the County Master Plan.

The concept of building the plan piece by piece rather than looking at the whole county provides the opportunity to build an us against them mentality between the areas being master planed.  This is clearly evidenced by the high sense of community angst when the Crozet Master Plan was approved and the community “accepted the increased level of development dependant on increased infrastructure spending”. 

Due to the existing level of development and a more dispersed community, the Places 29 and Pantops meetings have exhibited a lower level of vitriol but NIMBYism (Not In My Backyard) about potential new road connections and subsequent cut-through traffic ran amok.  An observer could sense the us versus them mentality that was prevalent in the room.

If any locality’s elected Board agrees to a desire to channel a mix of uses  into the established development areas, should the discussion within those designated areas focus on the best manner to accomplish this goal or the best strategies to push such development to another development area or out of the municipality entirely.

By relying  heavily on consultant driven community meetings, overall County goals will be obscured by the local pillars of dissent.  Taken to its logical conclusion, this sets up a showdown at the Board level where the members elected, by district (in most cases), to lead the entire county will be faced with activists advocating for the demands of  a specific region.  

Such conflict will likely end with the county wide goals succumbing to the will of the advocates filling the seats.

This process will repeat itself every couple of years as each Master Plan is approve/revised.

The economic condition of the county will worsen as fewer and fewer businesses are able to find appropriate locations for their operations.  Entrance corridors will be filled each morning not only by commuters but also by the service industries now located outside of the municipality.

The community master planning process was designed to empower the citizens whose neighborhoods would be impacted.  I fear the pedulumn  may now have swung too far usurping the elected officials responsibilities for County wide planning.

During the Places 29 process, Santa Barbara, California was often raised as a comparable community.  30,000 people (mainly service workers) commute into and out of Santa Barbara each day. With balkanized community master planning this may be where we are headed.  Is it where we want to go?

Fiscal Philosophy

By. Neil Williamson

 

Faced with decreasing state revenue and decreasing property values, localities are now preparing to start their budget discussions.  No where is the question of where to start more pronounced than in Albemarle County. 

 

Recognizing the need for steady revenue, Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Chairman Ken Boyd believes the discussion should start at a 3.5 cent tax increase which would result in the average 2009 tax bill being the same dollar amount (due to decreased assessment) as in 2008.  This would result in the same level of funding for County operations as in FY08.  He then would consider programs/initiatives that had been planned but not yet funded by the Board of Supervisors and add programs/initiatives until reaching a point that the budget garners four affirmative votes.

 

Vice Chairman David Slutzky sees the starting point differently.  He believes the starting budget should accurately reflect all the approved Board initiatives that were included previously in the five year plans and other discussions.  Using this methodology, the Board could then cut program by program until they reached a tax rate that would garner four affirmative votes.

 

Over the years, The Free Enterprise Forum has never taken a position on a tax rate in any locality, nor do we plan to. 

 

This question of how to build the budget, however,  is most intriguing.  There seems to be an interesting unstated undercurrent that if you start high you may end up higher than if you start low.  Without attempting to relive too much of my Organizational Communication/Psychology classes of the early 1980s and based on my five years of observation of Boards of Supervisors, I believe there may be some merit to this unstated undercurrent of “start high to end high”.

 

In either case, clear, distinct votes will likely be required for each of Albemarle County’s “commitments”.  Just last month we heard the Joint Task Force on Affordable Housing ask for permanent, dedicated income stream to support affordable housing.  

 

This week’s day meeting (12/3) of the Albemarle Board may provide a preview of budget meetings to come.  Late in the meeting is a discussion of the five-year financial work Plan including the Capital Improvement Program (CIP).  A quick review of the programs “on or outside the bubble” in the CIP suggests many in the community will have opinions regarding the disposition of the infrastructure spending.

 

Whether you start from the bottom and work up or start from the top and work down, in these tough economic times difficult budget decisions will need to be made.

 

The Free Enterprise Forum believes ALL government spending, regardless of economic conditions or funding source, is worthy of such exact fiscal scrutiny each and every budget cycle.         

Fluvanna Supervisors Nix Bond Review

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer

 Supervisors Don Weaver (Cunningham) and Gene Ott (Rivanna) requested a special meeting of the Board of Supervisors on November 24th  to discuss a potential outside review of the $71 million bond proposal for the new high school.  The proposal was rejected by a 4-2 vote.

Mr. Ott, who presented the case for an outside review, drew extensively from a pamphlet published by the National League of Cities.  Entitled Questions to Ask About Your Municipal Bond Financing Options, the publication provided a checklist of things local governments should avoid.

Ott contended that the county did not place itself in a favorable position by relying exclusively on Davenport & Company for advice and assistance in the school bond placement.  Specifically, Ott criticized the relationship because:

·        Davenport & Co. also underwrites bonds;

·        The firm will receive advisory fees ($170,000) based upon a percentage of the bond offering;

·        The county lacks assurances that Davenport is not deal trading, i.e. recommending a competitor’s underwriting services in a negotiated deal with the expectation that the competing underwriter will later reciprocate; and,

·        The advisor recommended a “stand alone” bond issue instead of a pooled arrangement.

Ott stated that concerns were “red lights” that are not in the county’s interest, and therefore the county should seek outside advice before going to the market.

Once again, a well-organized group of citizens attended the meeting and overwhelmingly spoke in favor of caution and urged the supervisors to seek a second opinion on the bond process.    Fifteen of eighteen citizens supported an outside review, while the three who urged the Board to proceed praised the county administrator [G. Cabell Lawton IV] and Davenport’s expertise in the matter.

As predicted by several sources prior the meeting, the Board rejected the proposal by a 4-2 vote.  Supervisor Mozell Booker (Fork Union) doubted that in this economic climate, there were any experts:  “show me the experts, where are they?” she asked.

Supervisor John Gooch said he suspected that some did not want a second opinion but rather just wanted to wait. He suggested that this could well be a good time to go to the market because construction costs are declining.  He stated:   “the tax burden will not go away, even if we wait a year”.

Supervisor Marvin Moss, who along with supervisor Charles Allbaugh, went to New York with Davenport earlier this year to obtain a bond rating, praised the company’s expertise and said that it is highly respected by other local governments throughout the state.

The vote to proceed with the bond sale means that the county likely will negotiate a bond sale with Wachovia in the early part of December.