By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Representative
Fluvanna and Louisa counties took a big step towards creating a joint water authority on February 26th. At a joint meeting of the Boards of Supervisors, the two bodies reached an informal consensus that the there should be such an authority, and that there would be three members from each county serving on it.
Supervisors in both jurisdictions will now hold the required public hearings to create such an authority although most observers view that as a mere formality. The authority, as envisioned, would be responsible for ensuring the construction of the water pipeline from the James River to Zion Crossroads and then setting the water rates for consumers in each county.
The cost of the pipeline currently is estimated at $45 million – and would be shared equally. However, that does not include a projected $3.8 million pipeline extension to Fork Union. Supervisor Charles Allbaugh (Rivanna) raised the question as to whether Louisa County would pay half of that additional cost, something that appeared to take the Louisa side by surprise.
Mr. Allbaugh’s request was then referred to an ill-defined “committee” that would work out various project details.
While it was anticipated that Aqua Virginia would address the Boards, the company was not asked to do so. Supervisor Marvin Moss (Columbia) said later that the firm had not submitted a revised proposal and if and when it did, it would be invited to make a presentation.
A spokesman for Aqua Virginia decline to comment upon the exclusion but did say: “we are encouraged that it appears the authority will be established, and we look forward to working with it”.
Officials anticipate that the authority could be established shortly by April and the counties could begin construction later this year. Fluvanna would have finance the project through a bond issue, according to one official.
Forum Watch Editorial
By. Neil Williamson
Most of the localities in our region are in the process of state mandated updates to their comprehensive plans. Comprehensive plans are designed to guide elected officials as they draft ordinances to support the vision spelled out in the comprehensive plan. Herein lies the difficulty. All communication has two ends the sender and the receiver. The challenge in drafting comprehensive plan language is to make the language clear enough to be understood but vague enough to allow for interpetation by the policy makers (who change regularly).
Free Enterprise Forum Fluvanna Field Officer William Des Rochers wrote about the Planning Commission comp plan approval in his recent post:
…the discussion reflected Planning Director Darren Coffey’s efforts to place the more controversial land use issues outside of the Comprehensive Plan discussion. Throughout the process he reminded commissioners and citizens that the proper forum for deciding most of the controversial issues was in the zoning and subdivision ordinance revisions. Mr. Coffey’s strategy worked since the plan became more focused of the county vision and goals to achieve it.
So the Coffey strategy keeps hot button issues (development rights, central wastewater treatment, rural clustering) off the table. The problem with this approach is the multiplicity of interpretations available from the broad brush comprehensive plan language.
Greene County will protect and enhance the quality of life enjoyed by its residents by preserving the County’s rural character and natural beauty and by appropriately managing the rate and location of new growth and development OR and by appropriately managing the pace and place of growth and development. Greene County will achieve this vision by protecting farmland, providing a multimodal transportation system, attracting clean industry, creating employment opportunities for its citizens, providing quality schools and recreational areas, and preserving the County’s cultural and historical heritage.
One reciever of this communication may translate this way (Translation in bold italics):
Greene County will protect and enhance the quality of life enjoyed by its residents by preserving the County’s rural character and natural beauty The mountain vistas are really what this place is all about
and by appropriately managing the rate not too much and location nowhere near me of new growth and development
Greene County will achieve this vision by protecting farmland farmland lost is lost forever,
providing a multimodal transportation system bike lanes, sidewalks, transit for everyone
attracting clean industry technology jobs pay well
creating employment opportunities for its citizens live near work — maybe even walk to work
providing quality schools and recreational areas both really need improvement
and preserving the County’s cultural and historical heritage I love everything about this place.
But as every receiver of information processes it differently. Here is another translation of the Greene County Comprehensive Vision Statement (Again Translation in bold italics):
Greene County will protect and enhance the quality of life enjoyed by its residents government knows what you want
by preserving the County’s rural character and natural beauty and by appropriately managing the rate and location of new growth and development by trampling private property rights
Greene County will achieve this vision by protecting farmland taking development rights from the farmers who have been good stewards of the land for generations
providing a multimodal transportation system bike lanes, walking paths, light rail, how many pedestrians did you see in Greene County today?
attracting clean industry no one that actually makes anything,
creating employment opportunities for its citizens can’t government just get out of the way?
providing quality schools spending more money on schools and recreational areas and parks,
and preserving the County’s cultural and historical heritage change nothing never.
Vision statements tend to be high altitude comments that often are not followed up with specific strategies to support them. In the construction of any comprehensive plan a vision statement that is too soaring tends to lead to strategies that fail either due do to creating an unworkable economic condition or failing to gain the political steam to push such proposals through.
Even though the Comprehensive Plan is only a guide, it does have specific legal standing. The language of the plan matters.
If the entire community fails to engage in the comprehensive plan process, or allows others to hijack the writing, the community goals may be lost in translation.
By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Representative
Fluvanna’s Board of Supervisors considered ways to expand utility services to county buildings and residents at its January 22nd meeting. While no final decisions were made, the county seems poised to extend the Palmyra wastewater treatment area to Pleasant Grove, and to adopt an energy efficiency program that will pay for itself through savings over twelve years.
The supervisors also agreed to an agenda for the January 21st meeting with their Louisa counterparts on the proposed water pipeline from the James River. The agenda discussion led to an exchange over whether or not any votes would be taken at the session.
Chairman Marvin Moss (Columbia) intimated that he might seek an agreement to establish a joint water authority, something on which supervisors Gene Ott (Rivanna) and Don Weaver (Cunningham) have reservations at this time. After County Attorney Fred Payne reminded the body that such an action would require a public hearing, Mr. Moss said he would try to seek a consensus, with no voting.
Separately County Administrator G. Cabell Lawton IV also stated that according to the NADA “Blue Book”, there is an eight percent drop in personal property values – especially trucks and sport utility vehicles – and it will lower tax receipts by $500,000 to $750,000. Lawton also said that tax avoidance is increasing.
Pleasant Grove Sewer Line
Supervisors were briefed on the second phase of the Palmyra sewer district development. According to Mr. Donald Rissmeyer, of A. Morton Thomas and Associates, the sewer line extension would go from the old intersection of Routes 15 and 53 to the site of the new high school.
Initially the new library and the sheriff’s office would be connected, and the line would cross the Rivanna to serve an expanded Camp Friendship development area.
Construction is planned to start in the spring or summer of this year, once the necessary approvals are obtained.
Mr. Lawton assured a skeptical supervisor Weaver that the funding was, for the most part, in place and once Camp Friendship came on the system, it would pay for itself.
Something for Free?
The Board agreed to pursue a Memorandum of Understanding with Siemens Building Technologies to do a technical energy and water savings audit for fourteen county buildings. Under the program, Siemens would conduct the audit and determine the amount of savings that could be generated with more efficient equipment and usage.
The generated savings would pay for the new equipment and building upgrades over a specified time period — a preliminary analysis suggested twelve years – and in effect would cost the county nothing.
Siemens would guarantee that the county would meet the projected savings by making up the difference as long as the county implemented the suggested program. The audit will cost $8,000.
The Board’s next regularly scheduled meeting will be held at the County courthouse on February 4th at 2:00 pm. On Saturday, February 7th, the supervisors will hold an all day work session on the draft Comprehensive Plan. The meeting will be held at the Palmyra Volunteer Fire Department and will begin at 9:00 am.
By: Justin West, Charlottesville Field Officer Intern
A particularly agreeable Charlottesville City Council jogged through a two hour long meeting without a single dissenting vote on Tuesday, January 20th. Adjourning with only two of the issues on its slate receiving considerable discussion and the remaining two moved to a later date for consideration.
Dialogue on Race
As presented by Assistant City Manager Maurice Jones, a new citywide dialogue on race will follow in the mold of Lynchburg and Richmond, among others nationally, with the goal of establishing “an honest, open and sustained discussion on the issue of race”. The proposal includes the city hiring a full time coordinator and a $1,000-2,000 a day facilitation team that will train local volunteers in the study circle model of facilitating small group discussions. Eventually these small discussions, each composed of 10-15 residents from all over the city, are intended to add to the community’s overall understanding of issues of race and diversity.
Despite a consensus of support for the idea, the Council’s main concern was the cost of the project, totaling to $10,000 in the 2009 fiscal year and $30,000-50,000 in 2010. Councilor David Brown suggested that the city give the proposal $5,000 in 2009 and $15,000 in 2010, placing the burden on Jones to find matching funds from foundations or corporations in order to get the money it needs. Mayor Dave Norris suggested the eventual compromise plan which will give the dialogue the full $10,000 it needs in 2009 and later consideration for future funds as the 2010 budgeting session approaches. Jones agreed that the first years’ funding would be enough to start the program, but not hire staff; additionally he assured Council that he would continue looking for outside funds. The discussion closed with a unanimously approved motion to approve 2009 funding for the project by Councilor Satyendra Huja.
Stormwater Utility Program
The headlining issue of the evening was what the Council would do to fix Charlottesville’s crumbling public stormwater infrastructure and whether the utility fees included in the city’s proposed Stormwater Utility Program would be the solution. City Environmental Administrator Kristel Riddervold was quick to point out, in her report, that 7 of the cities 50 miles of pipes are in need of “immediate repair or replacement”, adding that there could potentially be more of the system needing attention that the city just doesn’t know about yet. The plan puts a $600,000 a year price tag over a five year span to fix all of the immediate needs within the system. Currently there is only $100,000 placed in the budget that could be used to address the problem, money which is designated for annual emergency infrastructure repair.
Presented before the Council as a solution was the Stormwater Utility Program, which would include expanded program components in addition to the emergency repairs, providing a “level of service that addresses program gaps and needs”. This new programs funding would come from a user based fee on footage of impervious surfaces, which the Council was quick to criticize as being irresponsible in current economic climate. Although all on the board saw the program as necessary in the long run and the fee as a potential solution to the problem of increased stormwater, they realized the financial strain that it would place on the city’s residents and businesses. The fee would target those with large amounts of impervious surfaces, such as roof space and pavement, which Councilor Brown pointed out is the aim, as they are the primary producers of stormwater. It’s clear he envisions the eventual implementation of the fee as an incentive to create less stormwater and use more pervious surfaces.
Aware that the current stormwater infrastructure remains a problem that will only get worse and more costly over time, the city council did choose to designate $600,000 in the current budget for system rehabilitation and is deferring the proposed program and fee until better economic times.
By. Neil Williamson
Meeting called to order at 7:30 pm by Chairman Davis Lamb. After welcoming everyone to the meeting, he indicated the first item on the agenda was the election of officers and he did not wish to repeat as commission chair. Jim Frydl was elected Chair and Norm Slezak was elected Vice Chair.
The staff report for the first public hearing item, the Worley rezoning, recommended a deferral as not all of the required information had been received from the applicant. The applicant was seeking B-3 with a possible restaurant use in mind but he also mentioned he might sell the property after the rezoning. J. Frydl opened the public hearing. Three neighboring parcels were opposed to the rezoning based on traffic and lighting issues.
N.Slezak raised issues regarding the sight distances on the entrances to the property. B. Martin reiterated the incompleteness application that was missing the fiscal impact statement. D. Lamb raised issues regarding the setbacks for any proposed use on the property. Hearing the concerns raised the applicant requested a 6-month deferral by the commission. Motion to defer passed 5-0
The second public hearing was Eddins/Thacker a Rezoning from R-1 residential to B-3, Business. The property is located on the west side of US 29 along the county line. The exact placement of the county dividing line has been a matter of some disagreement over the years. For the purposes of this application, staff used the Albemarle County version of the county border (which made more of the project in Greene County). Michael Barnes presented for the applicant and discussed the topographical challenges as well as the traffic impacts of the vertical curvature of US 29.
After the applicant presentation, J. Frydl opened the public hearing.
- Andrea Wilkenson of the Ruckersville Citizens Council mentioned the applicant had met with her group and they were generally supportive but concerned about the impacts on US 29. She indicated a concern regarding the alignment of Lake Sapponi Drive and the proposed entrance to this project. She strongly believed the intersection is dangerous now and would be more so with the misaligned entrances.
- Bob Burkholder explained he was an adjacent property owner with property that would likely never be developed due to its topographical challenges. He was supportive of the application.
With no further public comment J. Frydl closed the public hearing and brought the matter back to the commission for discussion and possible action.
A. Herring asked a question regarding the 50% construction would be brick or stone in the proffers. M. Barnes replied that the applicant was interested in fitting into the community. He appreciated the design elements in the out buildings at Tierney Plaza and looked to mimic this type of design.
D. Lamb raised a question about the desire for a B-3 designation. He understood the applicant wanted maximum flexibility but he was concerned how some of the more intense uses might fit directly located on US 29 as you enter Greene County. M. Barnes indicated those uses, if they ended up on the site would end up nearer the rear with screening.
N. Slezak had no objections to the land use but asked Mr. Barnes if he had considered putting in a pocket park for the benefit of the workers in the center. M. Barnes indicated a willingness to consider the possibility but he could not consider that as a potential proffer. (Mr. Slezak later refined his remarks to indicate he was only making a design suggestion rather than a proffer request).
B. Martin mentioned his attendance at the Ruckersville Citizens Council meeting and raised two concerns that he recognized the applicant had no control over – County Line disagreements and US 29 concerns.
Greene County Planning Director Bart Svoboda updated the Planning Commission on the VDOT process and where the multimodal study is in process.
J. Frydl said the applicant’s proffer to match the fabric of the surrounding community likely covered the concern raised by Mr. Lamb regarding more intensive uses. He also raised the concern that the entrance road, which Greene has no jurisdiction over, as it is in Albemarle County, must be acceptable to Albemarle County for this project to move forward.
Motion to approve MOTION PASSED 5-0
In the final public hearing for the evening, former County Supervisor Jimmy Henshaw voiced his concern regarding the language changes to the M-1 and M-2 designations. After closing the public hearing and limited discussion by the commission, there was a motion to approve. MOTION PASSED 5-0
Under old business, the Zoning Ordinance Revision for Equine Uses came back for a third time. The ordinance allows for up to two horses on A-1 land between 2 and 5 acres by special use permit. After brief discussion by the commission, including a concern that County attorney Ray Clark had not yet reviewed the final language, a motion to approve the ordinance change was made MOTION PASSED 5-0
The commission also voted 5-0 in favor of an extension of a site plan approval and a bylaws revision.
N. Slezak raised an issue he had with the lack of information from the Board of Supervisors regarding the water supply plan. He was adamant about the planning commission’s need to know about the study. B. Svoboda informed the commission of the water supply process and that the edited document is not yet ready for public consumption.
B. Svoboda informed the commission that while there was one item left on their agenda, there was only one item scheduled for the February meeting. He left it to the commission if they wished to defer the discussion regarding business districts until the February meeting. MOTION PASSED 5-0
Meeting adjourned 10:02 PM
By. Neil Williamson
The Charlottesville Radio Group (WINA-AM, WVAX-AM, 3WV, Z95.1, 106.1 The Corner) is running advertisements voiced by their marketing staff indicating “Strong Local Businesses, make a Strong Community”.
Beyond supporting their sponsors, and encouraging listeners to buy local, the message of business support can not be repeated often enough.
The Charlottesville region has a vibrant, and generous business community. A very visible reminder is the corporate sponsors of the various sport teams and school projects.
In addition to providing jobs and sponsorships, businesses tax revenue lowers the economic pressure on property taxes.
Businesses also volunteer a huge number of man hours to support important causes throughout the region. Be it the Community Scholars program of Piedmont Virginia Community College, the United Way Day of Caring, or the Fourth of July celebration at McIntire Park, businesses (and their employees) keep our community moving forward with energy, compassion and strength.
Today, despite the most difficult business cycle in a generation, business continues to provide the lifeblood to the community, but does the community return the favor?
- When new local government regulations are proposed, are the business implementation costs considered? or even calculated?
- Does local government greet new businesses with enthusiasm or trepidation?
- How important is business retention to local government?
- How would you rank your locality’s Business Vitality? Is it important?
The Free Enterprise Forum agrees with the Charlottesville Radio Group that “strong businesses make strong communities”.
It’s time our local ordinances reflect that sentiment as well.
By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Representative
Fluvanna County’s Planning Commissioners sent the draft Comprehensive Plan to the Board of Supervisors at a special meeting on January 14th. The long and arduous process – it took over three years – ended quietly for the commissioners, who unanimously agreed on the text.
Few members of the public spoke during the public hearing, and those that did largely confined their comments to specific concerns. For example:
· Ms. Elizabeth Franklin (Columbia) urged that the document state that central [sewage] systems be disallowed, not “discouraged” in the rural preservation area. Calling such systems “growth generators”, Ms. Franklin urged that the commissioners “not be wimpy” and be more forceful in the language.
· Mr. Patrick Kearshaw (Columbia) urged that the area around Ferncliff be placed in the rural residential area, rather than the contemplated rural preservation area. Citing the proximity to Route 250, and the area’s mixed-use designation by Louisa County, he was turned down by the Commissioners, although several acknowledged that the issue should be revisited as circumstances warrant.
· Ms. Patricia Eager (Palmyra) proposed that central utilities be allowed in the open space mandated for cluster subdivisions. If they were banned, it would reduce the amount of open space available, she contended. She also asked for a definition of “large subdivisions” which currently are undefined and not considered appropriate for the rural preservation area.
Commissioner Sam Babbitt (Fork Union) said that he thought that the Comprehensive Plan would allow for public utilities in the open space but Commissioner Angus Murdock (Columbia) stated that the Plan only calls for planners to “evaluate the use of” such utilities.
Behind the discussion reflected Planning Director Darren Coffey’s efforts to place the more controversial land use issues outside of the Comprehensive Plan discussion. Throughout the process he reminded commissioners and citizens that the proper forum for deciding most of the controversial issues was in the zoning and subdivision ordinance revisions.
Mr. Coffey’s strategy worked since the plan became more focused of the county vision and goals to achieve it. The commissioners will have the opportunity to address the more contentious issues later this year as they work to bring the zoning and subdivision ordinances into conformity with the Comprehensive Plan goals.
The Board of Supervisors will begin addressing the Comprehensive Plan with a land use work session scheduled for February 4th, from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, at the Palmyra Volunteer Fire Department.
Charlottesville Planning Commission: Longwood Drive Development Loses Out, While Conservation Districts Move Forward With Praise
By: Justin West, Charlottesville Field Officer Intern
Longwood Drive PUD (click here for staff report PDF)
The first, and most heavily discussed, item on the Commissions public hearing docket was a petition to rezone the Longwood Drive area, off Harris Road near 5th Street extended, from R-2 to PUD (Planned Unit Development). The proposed rezoning would allow the applicant, Neighborhood Investments, LLC, to alter the 4.58 acre parcel with 34 existing structures in ways inconsistent with its current R-2 classification. The plan includes the demolition of 16 of the 34 structures and the construction of 43 new townhouse units in their wake and for the remaining 18 structures to be renovated. The planned development would increase the number of units on the site by 27, making the rezoning necessary to allow for reduced lot sizes, dimensions, and configurations which would not be permitted in R-2 zones. All units within the new development would be for sale, replacing the existing rental units on the land.
Neighborhood Development Services staff member Brian Haluska presented the report to the commission and recommended its approval, touting the increased density and housing variety present in this development as being consistent with the intent of the city’s Comprehensive Plan and the sentiments valued within City Hall, of structural and economic diversification within neighborhoods.
The Commission pushed Haluska and the applicant’s representative on the issue of displacement of the current residents and affordable housing options provided by the developer. Within the petition for rezoning was a proffer for 15% of the units to fall within the “affordable housing” range, to be made available to households with 60% to 80% of the areas median income, intended no doubt to quell any concerns about the displacement of Longwood Drive communities largely lower and middle income residents.
As the public came to speak, however, the tenor of conversation changed as residents and property owners from Longwood Drive expressed concerns regarding the impact of the increased density. Many residents bemoaning the current traffic and parking situations in the area seemed wary of the locations capacity to safely accommodate the increased load.
These additional criticisms of the plan proved fatal for the development as the Commission members attempted to evaluate the balance between the positives, as they saw them, of higher density, increased economic diversification of the neighborhood, and a much needed improvements to the area against the negatives of displacement, decreased low income housing, and the perceived weaknesses of the plans ability to offset the detrimental effects of increased density. The Commission seemed for a while as if it were teetering on the edge of deferring the petition, but was very vocal, especially Commission member Cheri Lewis, about the need for more specifics and details in the plan as to how it was to offset some of their concerns. The discussion concluded with a William Emory successful movement to deny the petition for rezoning, opposed only by Ms. Lewis and Chairman Jason Pearson.
Conservation Districts (click here for staff report PDF)
The second most discussed issue of the evening was an ordinance to establish conservation districts. These “CV” Districts as reported by city Preservation and Design Planner Mary Joy Scala are “intended to protect the character and scale of the more modest historical neighborhoods that are facing increased development and tear downs, without imposing excessive requirements on the current residents who may want to remodel their homes”. Tuesday was the second time in time in three months the Planning Commission has seen a proposal for CV Districts, the first time being back on November 11th, 2008 when the Commission moved to defer the request in order to address concerns raised by the Piedmont Housing Alliance.
CV Districts could be instituted, if requested, by a neighborhood where the majority of the structures exceeded fifty years in age, and are seen as a less restrictive version of Architectural Design Control Districts. ADC districts are seen as the less flexible of the two as they mandate review of all exterior changes to a structure within the district, while CV Districts require review of new construction and most additions and demolitions, but not rehabilitations.
For the most part the Commission seemed very supportive of the proposal with concerns primarily coming from Vice-Chairman Michael Farruggio over its potential burdens on homeowners attempting to expand their homes, and member Dan Rosensweig, among others, over the process in which residents would be informed if their neighborhood were considering this move and how they would be solicited for input. After Ms. Scala assured the Commission that residents would receive notice of public hearings on the move and a parade of neighborhood association members spoke favorably of the ordinance during the public portion of the hearing, also insuring that they would find a democratic way of finding consensus within their neighborhoods about the move to being a CV District, the Commission softened to the proposal and Mr. Farruggio’s movement to approve was confirmed unanimously. In closing nearly every member of the Commission praised the proposal and echoed gratitude for the timeliness and appropriateness of it.
Definition of a Bed and Breakfast (click here for staff report PDF)
Following their conversation on CV Districts the Commission moved forward to discuss a self initiated alteration to the definition of a Bed and Breakfast. The amended definition would be three tiered and far more detailed than the previous definition which all members agreed was quite inadequate. In an extended discussion that often times spiraled off topic and seemed quite rushed with an audible level of frustration in the room the Commission members settled their disagreements over details of the new definition and approved a motion to accept by Mr. Farruggio with only one dissenting member. The basics of the new definition break Bed and Breakfasts down into three groups, a Bed and Breakfast Homestay containing one to three rooms acceptable in all zones, a Bed and Breakfast containing four to eight rooms acceptable in R-1, R-2 zones, and a Bed and Breakfast Inn containing nine to fifteen rooms acceptable only in commercial and mixed use zones. Other discussed particulars of the definition limit stays to 90 days in any 365 day period, limit deliveries to the establishment to before 6 p.m., allowed Bed and Breakfast Inns to serve more food than just breakfast, and allowed a resident manager to live on premises. In the end all Commission members agreed on the parameters of the definition except for Mr. Rosensweig who believed it remained too restrictive.
Affordable Housing (click here for copy of the ZTA)
The final matter of business in the over five hour long meeting was the largely clerical approval of Affordable housing legislation signed into law by Governor Tim Kaine in March 2008. The legislation, HB 883, gives the city more authority to require affordable housing in new developments that go through the zoning or special use permit processes.
Under this new authority, developments that exceed a 1.0 floor area ratio are required to have 5% of their residential square footage beyond that 1.0 FAR marker to be affordable, meaning they are committed to being affordable to households with 60% or less of the areas median income for a 30 year period. Since this proposal is allowed under enabling legislation from Richmond the Planning Commission was unable to alter the text, a fact that did not prevent unanimous vote on a motion to approve the amendment by Mr. Rosensweig. The Commission members were overwhelmingly positive about their recommendation of approval of this measure to the City Council, although members like Ms. Lewis believed it may not be aggressive enough to combat the increasing need for affordable housing in the area.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 13, 2009
Study Finds Disparity in Local Government Spending
Charlottesville, VA – As local governments prepare to submit their budgets for review and approval, a new study shows that the rate of increases in local government spending vary dramatically. The biennial “Choices and Decisions” report, conducted by the Free Enterprise Forum and Decker Economics, developed a locality-specific local cost of government spending index (LGSI). The report, which studied fiscal years 1990-2007, identified the County of Albemarle as the locality with the greatest increase in LGSI.
Free Enterprise Forum President Neil Williamson said, “The goal of the LGSI is to inform and promote dialog. The comparison of local spending trends, combined with population data provides citizens an objective tool to evaluate spending decisions. Equipped with this data, citizens can ask better questions of elected officials during the budget season”.
The LGSI focuses exclusively on the operating budget of each municipality. While this number will include the debt service on capital expenditures, it excludes the capital expenditures themselves, thus avoiding having single-year spikes in capital spending skew the results or interpretation of the data.
It has been theorized that inflation adjusted spending would largely track changes in population and school enrollment. While a correlation was found in some localities studied, this trend was not universal:
Albemarle County – adjusted for inflation, Albemarle County’s total spending increased by over 121% during the study period while population and school enrollment increased by 37.3% and 26.2% respectively.
City of Charlottesville – During the study period (1990-2007), Charlottesville experienced an average annual rate of population increase of just 0.12%, the smallest of the municipalities being studied. In addition, Charlottesville experienced an average annual decline in School enrollment of 0.48%, the only municipality in the study group to experience a decline in school enrollment.
In contrast, inflation-adjusted operating expenditures increased at an average annual rate of 2.66%. The LGSI in Charlottesville was 148.81 in 2007, but had declined in each of the last two years.
It was also theorized that growth in inflation-adjusted per capita spending among the localities would be similar because of the high percentage of programs mandated by the state and operated by the localities. In contrast, the analysis clearly indicates wide variation in per-capita spending decisions made by the localities. During the study period, Albemarle County had the greatest increase spending per capita at 60.98%, Charlottesville increased 53.24%, the balance of the localities increased less than 50%. Fluvanna County (38.73%) had the lowest increase.
It was also anticipated that school enrollment growth would track population growth. While it does, in every instance the percentage growth in school enrollment was smaller than the growth in population. This may be reflective of larger demographic trends being seen on a national basis such as the general aging of the population. As demographic forces change the demands on local governments, additional study may be needed in this area.
The Free Enterprise Forum is a privately funded public policy organization dedicated to individual economic freedom. The entire report, and supporting documentation, can be accessed at http://www.freeenterpriseforum.org/research.php?articleID=121
By. Neil Williamson
On Tuesday night (1/13), Albemarle County’s Planning Commission is considering increasing some fees up to 15 times the current rate (example $65 to $1,000 for a reinstatement fee). The proposed fees are based on Albemarle County recouping 100% of the costs associated with the various functions directly from applicants. In these fiscally constrained times, such a cost capture strategy may seem advantageous but a touch of analysis proves the cost allocation to be troubled from the start.
Many years ago, a boss told me “Whenever you walk into a meeting, know if you are buyin’ or sellin’.”
If Albemarle County is truly interested in 100% applicant cost recovery, the applicant should be considered the buyer. In a free market system, as the buyer, the applicant would be able to demand greater accountability, attention to deadlines and greater responsiveness. In addition, a free market system would provide a competitive alternative to the permit process. The Free Enterprise Forum recognizes local government is, by design, a monopoly and not subject to the demands of the free market.
In the case of community development application, who is the end user? The obvious answer may seem to be the end user or the applicant. I disagree. The regulatory environment was designed, by local political entities, to serve the public good. So now we have at least two or three (local political entities) as interested stakeholders in the application equation.
What of the Planning Commission itself? Should it not share in the cost burden it imposes by not allowing administrative reviews to handle routine applications? If an application is called up by a Commissioner or neighboring parcel should they pay the cost of drafting the staff report?
Should the Board of Supervisors, who enacted the regulatory maze that results in multiple submissions of the same plan share in the costs for administering the applications?
In every one of the cases covered by these fees, the applicant attempting to develop their property in accordance with Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan, should the local government carry some portion of the cost burden?
What will be the increased cost to public projects such as schools and libraries? Will this increased cost burden further delay the multitude of infrastructure improvements that have not yet been fulfilled?
How will this impact the cost of new development in Albemarle County? Will this further impede the already sluggish new construction market? Is the timing of this fee escalation designed to freeze new development?
Albemarle County is currently awaiting the results of a resource utilization study. I anticipate the study may produce changes to the application approval process. Why would Albemarle wish to move forward with the fee increase prior to the results of the efficiency study? If it does choose to move ahead, and the utilization study results in changes that would reduce the fee cost, state laws mandatesAlbemarle County review and revise the fee schedule (including advertising and holding a new set of public hearings). Doesn’t this seem to be cause for pause, at least until the study is complete?
Considering all of the above a 100% applicant cost recovery system seems to be both unfair and untimely. It is unfortunate that the Free Enterprise Forum believes Albemarle County Planning Commission will likely pass this proposal with little if any changes.
It will be left up to the Board of Supervisors to show leadership in deciding how to best allocate costs between the demands of applicants, the process and the public.