Monthly Archives: February, 2009

Greene County Board of Supervisors Discusses School Budget Shortfall

By. Kara Reese Pennella

Action Summary: RZ#08-004 Public Hearing regarding Jefferson Area Board for Aging request to rezone from R-1, Residential to SR, Senior Residential approximately 15.16 acres located near Preddy Creek Road – Withdrawn by applicant

Motion to authorize Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission to seek grant funds for the addition of affordable housing for the disabled to the Comprehensive Plan – Approved

The Greene County Board of Supervisors held an unusually brief meeting on Tuesday, February 24, 2009. JABA withdrew its request to rezone property located near Preddy Creek for a senior residential facility which considerably lightened the agenda. The School Board provided a presentation to the Board of Supervisors regarding a deficit in the 2008 Fiscal Year Budget of about $100,000. While the Schools were actually under budget for the year a reduction in revenue and other unexpected expenses resulted in the shortfall. Superintendent Jeck noted that when the budget was drafted at the beginning of the year they had projected a 1% increase in students. Instead the school saw a 1% decrease in enrollment. This resulted in significant decrease in State funds. In addition, the school system  faced increased fuel and energy costs and legal fees which placed further burdens on its finances. After some discussion regarding why they were just now discovering this shortfall, both Boards decided to add this item to their combined workshop for further discussion.

In matters from the public, Andrea Wilkinson addressed the Board regarding health insurance. She explained that she believes that high deductable plans combined with health savings accounts are going to be the future of health care. She believes switching to this type of insurance will save companies and the County significant money. She also noted that there is a bill being considered by the Virginia Legislature that would require the state and counties to switch to this system.

In other matters from the Board, S Catalano reported that Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission had requested permission to seek grant funds that would be used toward researching and drafting a section of the Comprehensive Plan dealing with affordable housing for disabled individuals. C. Schmitt moved that the Board authorize TJPDC to seek the grant funds. The motion passed by a unanimous vote.

The next Board of Supervisor’s meeting will be March 10, 2009.

Crisis Management

Forum Watch Editorial

By. Neil Williamson

Crisis may be the most overused word in today’s  lexicon.  While the financial situation on a local, regional, national and international level is dire and troubling, too many of us hear the word crisis and only think of the challenges this word represents.

One man who knew a great deal about crisis management, President John F. Kennedy said: 

“When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters.  One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”

On Monday (2/23), The Daily Progress ran a front page story by Scott Shenk outlining Albemarle County Police Department’s cut of $2,164 in a departmental budget of $12.578 million dollars.  While the story indicated an organizational understanding of Albemarle County’s fiscal position, The department highlighted the impact of the proposed cut: 

“There’s no new initiatives,” said Lt. Todd Hopwood. “And there’s no new positions. … We’ve cut back a lot of our positions.”  The tight budget also affects training — to the point, Hopwood said, that the department is “counting bullets.”

These dark economic times are hitting local governments all over the Commonwealth.  According to the Washington Post Fairfax County leaders are seeking to close a $650 Million dollar hole in their $3.2 Billion dollar budget. Fairfax, with a population of over 1 million residents, announced their proposed budget yesterday.  The Washington Post has the story:

The loss of property tax revenue prompted Fairfax officials to propose a hefty binder’s worth of cuts, a 13.5-cent property tax increase and the elimination of more than 800 jobs…..

Early on in this budget cycle, I was speaking with a high level local government official regarding the challenging budget year ahead.  This official perhaps captured the spirit of President Kennedy’s quote.  Rather than speaking of the challenges ahead, this official said,

The economic crisis is allowing, perhaps requiring, us to bring forward innovative concepts, radical reorganization organizational plans and cost cutting ideas that would have been rejected as non starters in other, more generous budget cycles

To be clear, the Free Enterprise Forum never weighs in regarding an appropriate tax rate or appropriate government spending rate for any locality.  We do track and report locality spending in our quantitative Local Government Spending Index (LGSI) but we make no qualitative assessment of local government spending. 

With that disclaimer, we believe that all localities should work harder to add sunlight to their budget processes.  As one who has sat through hours of budget workshops in a multitude of localities, the work can be most tedious. 

It would be most helpful for the public to have a firm understanding of the philosophy of each of the decision makers as they examine the spending proposals.   Then, the public can better understand the context under which the decisions being made.

The Free Enterprise Forum applauds the many town hall meetings scheduled in some of the localities.  Such meetings will promote transparency and minimize misunderstanding.

When a publicly funded budget is vetted in the glare of citizen sunlight, the result will be a budget that addresses both the danger and the opportunities this current crisis presents.

Greene County Planning Commission Discusses Business District Changes and Comprehensive Plan Vision Statement

By. Kara Reese Pennella, Greene County Field Officer

 

Action Summary:

PC Appeal for an Extension #08-006 – Approved

By-laws regarding conflicts of interest – Approved by consensus

 

 

The Greene County Planning Commission discussed important policy issues at its February meeting. The Planning Commission continued its work on the County’s Business Districts and held an informative discussion regarding the Vision Statement for the Greene County Comprehensive Plan.

 

Business Zoning Districts

 

             Following a call to order and approval of the January minutes with amendments the Planning Commission conducted another mini-work session to put final touches on the new businesses districting zoning ordinance. The Planning Commission has been working hard over the last several months to revamp the business zoning districts. Their goal is to reduce the likelihood that developers will need to seek B-3 zoning because it includes one or two uses that they would like to have in their development then proffer out an entire list of uses they don’t really want and which residents find offensive.  Some definitions that still needed clarification for the Commission included masseur versus massage therapy, night clubs, and temporary versus permanent farmers markets.

 

At the conclusion of the discussion N. Slezak indicated that he felt that the Planning Commissions had missed the mark with this ordinance. He felt it would not make it easier or clearer for the public or developers. He advocated for an ordinance that required a minimum strip of B-1 transitional zoning between all residential areas and B-2 or B-3 zones regardless of the circumstances of the rezoning. Staff responded that the purpose of the ordinance is to identify the types of uses that are appropriate in a given zoning designation. Determining where the County would like to place each type of zoning is a function of the Comprehensive Plan. Staff noted it would like to see the new Comprehensive Plan set forth more specifics regarding where each zoning district should be located.

 

It is expected that following this round of revision the new ordinance will be advertised and a public hearing will be held in March or April.

 

Comprehensive Plan Vision Statement

Staff provided an update to the Planning Commission regarding its recent meeting with Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. At this meeting, staff discussed the January 2009 Comprehensive Plan Workshop. Notes from that Workshop are available at http://www.tjpdc.org/greeneco/index.html. Out of that workshop came a new draft vision statement reprinted below.

DRAFT Vision Statement

2009 Greene County Comprehensive Plan

February 12, 2009

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 encouraging and coordinating the pace and place of growth and development.

Greene County will achieve this vision by:

·        protecting farmland

·        offering all means of travel

·        supporting existing businesses

·        attracting low impact, environmentally friendly industry

·        encouraging tourism

·        creating employment opportunities for its citizen

·        providing quality schools and recreational areas, and

·        preserving the County’s natural resources and cultural and historical heritage

Greene County’s staff facilitated a lively discussion amongst the Commissioner regarding the vision statement. B. Martin noted that he believed that the use of bullet points was inappropriate and the vision statement should only be one or two sentences at most. Staff noted that there had been discussion over whether the each item should be separated by bullets or commas. There was also some concern over whether the bulleted items should be considered a part of the vision statement or viewed as a separate roadmap for the County to achieve the goals set forth in the vision statement.

            N. Slezak raised an issue with the phrase “offering all means of travel” noting that was a very broad statement that it was unlikely Greene County could offer every means of travel possible. The Commission generally agreed that a rewording of this statement was appropriate.

            D. Lamb noted that he was not comfortable with the term “protect”. He thought that it brought forth images of people with weapons guarding the boarders of Greene County. He also felt that the addition of the terms “present and future residents” would be helpful. A. Herring suggested that replacing the word “protect” with “preserve” might soften the statement some. Staff noted that “preserve” could also be seen as a loaded term as well. J. Frydl agreed that changing “protect” to “preserve” would be a good idea and had no problem with adding “present and future residents.” B. Martin agreed that using the term “preserve” was ok but did not think the addition of “present and future residents” was necessary.

            J. Frydl noted that he found the use of the terms “encouraging and coordinating” and the “pace and place” redundant. He proposed dropping “pace and place” in favor of “encouraging and coordinating.”  Staff noted that “pace and place” had been kept in the statement because some people thought is sounded better.  B. Martin argued that “pace and place” was less offensive. Further, he sees the role of the County to be more as determining the pace and place of growth and to be less as “encouraging and coordinating” growth.

J. Frydl noted that legally the County should not be controlling pace of growth. B. Martin felt that is exactly what counties could and should do and gave examples of other counties who have and have not permitted growth in Virginia. Staff noted that legally the County could not place a moratorium on building because it did not want to grow; however, other factors such as refusing to expand sewer service would effectively limit growth.

A. Herring noted that this is a document that will be available to anyone considering moving to Greene County or seeking information about the County. He felt that “pace and place of growth” did not communicate an appropriate message about Greene County. J. Frydl noted that this was a marketing tool and should not be too overbearing. B. Martin questioned whether “place and pace” sounded too much like a directive to limit growth. J. Frydl responded that it sounded overly blunt and harsh.

After a lengthy and productive discussion the Commission seemed to reach a consensus that it would like to see some of the revisions discussed during the meeting. Staff noted that the next advertised public hearing for a Comprehensive Plan Meeting is planned for March and will be advertised so that all Planning Commissioners may attend.

Other Matters

The Planning Commission also made some updates to their bylaws. They agreed to add a section addressing conflicts of interest. The also approved the addition that would allow for a majority vote instead of a 2/3 vote. 

As Chair J. Frydl indicated that he would like to add an item “New Business from the Commission” to the agenda of each meeting. This would allow Planning Commissioners to bring forward any new ideas or problems that they feel need to be addressed. The Commission will then be able to discuss whether the idea is something that the Planning Commission needs to address in future meetings. No Planning Commissioner had any new business to bring forward and the meeting was adjourned. 

Charlottesville City Council Starts Dialogue on Quality of Service and Efficiency

By. Justin West, Charlottesville Field Officer Intern 

 

            On a Presidents’ Day delayed, second monthly meeting of the Charlottesville City Council only one major issue was voted on, an amended definition of Bed and Breakfasts, while a few significant reports were presented, most notably a quality of service and efficiency study conducted by the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center.

 

Quality of Service and Efficiency Study

 

            The most prominent portion of Tuesday February 17th’s, meeting was an extensive report of the quality and efficiency of the city’s services. The purpose of the study, presented and led by Brad Hammer, former Assistant County Executive in Chesterfield County, Virginia, was to find ways to potentially cut expenses within city government while maintaining the level of service Charlottesville residents have come to expect. The consulting team spent months combing over records and interviewing city staff and elected officials in order to come to numerous recommendations.

           

     Much of the first portion of the report was spent pointing out a praising Charlottesville’s strengths, as compared to its peer cities across the state and country. Hammer highlighted Charlottesville’s high quality of life, appearance in lists of top cities to live and do business, tourism industry, outstanding credit, and impressive array of human service programs making Charlottesville praiseworthy as a city that provides “compassionate” services. However, the prognosis was not all positive, a wide variety of deficiencies, coupled with potential solution suggestions, were pointed out. Most outstanding, was the city’s foster care placement rate, which is five times the state average. Hammer was quick to point out, though, that the city is providing plenty of money and social services staff committed to dealing with issues of this kind. Additionally the report criticized the city for not having enough vocational training and job availability for young people with less than a college education and a weak middle school system. Despite strong elementary and high schools Hammer identified the middle schools in the city as an area that needs a lot of work in order to keep students on the path to high school graduation.

            The Weldon Cooper Center consultants also presented quite a few long term planning and growth ideas to Council. Among which, were the need for more hotel capacity South and West of town to continue to allow Charlottesville’s strong tourism industry to grow, the recommendation that Preston Avenue between 29 and downtown become a mid-rise, mixed use area allowing for retiring baby boomers, UVa graduates, and commercial activity to move closer to downtown, and finally the reuse of the old Martha Jefferson building as a priority. The report also suggested that the city try to save money by combining many of its services, such as IT, finance, purchasing, and risk management with its school system. Also, in what was seemed like quite a significant surprise based on rhetoric around city hall, Hammer claimed that the city has an “excellent public, affordable housing program”, which could be improved by setting goals and performance measures for continued improvement into the future.

            Overall Charlottesville got a pretty favorable assessment in the report, there was no commentary claiming the city is wasteful with tax dollars or overstaffing, in fact the city was slightly below the national average in public works staffing for a city its size. The report required no motion or vote but was as Mayor Dave Norris commented simply “the start of this conversation”.

 

Zoning Ordinance Amendments related to Bed and Breakfast Establishments

 

            In the January City Planning Commission meeting a recommendation was made for City Council to amend, what was widely understood to be a poor definition for Bed and Breakfasts. Tuesday’s meeting saw a vote on the ordinance. The definition as recommended by the Planning Commission broke Bed and Breakfasts down into three groups, Bed and Breakfast Homestay’s containing one to three rooms acceptable in all zones, Bed and Breakfast’s containing four to eight rooms acceptable in R-1, R-2 zones, and above, and Bed and Breakfast Inn’s containing nine to fifteen rooms acceptable only in commercial and mixed use zones. This definition, however, received significant criticism by Councilor Satyendra Huja who, without any objection from the rest of Council, claimed that Bed and Breakfast’s and Bed and Breakfast Inn’s should not be acceptable in R-1 and R-2 zones. Huja argued that such, higher occupancy, establishments would threaten the integrity of R-1 and R-2 neighborhoods, as well as burden traffic. Mayor Norris also suggested raising the sign size maximum for all establishments under this ordinance from one square foot to two. The discussion closed with Councilor Huja’s motion for approval of the ordinance with the alterations above passing 4-0.

 

Other Items on the Agenda

 

            There were quite a few other items on the Council’s agenda, including two reports, one from the Piedmont Council for the Arts and another from the Rivanna River Basin Commission. The latter concluding with the Councils 4-0 vote for a letter of support to the National Fish & Wildlife Service on behalf of the RRBC, affirming a planned project that the Commission is proposing in order to get a $72,000 grant. The grant, from the National Fish & Wildlife Service, would go towards a proposed demonstration of stormwater retrofits at the Charlottesville High School Performing Arts Center and toward the Commissions work in developing workshops, outreach, and incentive programs. Council also voted to move an ordinance to convey a lot on Elliott Avenue to the Habitat for Humanity, which would be used to build an ecohouse, to a later date. The meeting ended with Council unanimously voting for a, Huja requested resolution, opposing a cut to City Drug Court funding.  

 

Does Not Share Well With Others

By. Neil Williamson

If you had to pay your neighbor 5% of your income to keep him from illegally hitting you with a fish, would you do it?

Welcome to the Albemarle County/City of Charlottesville Revenue Sharing Agreement.  The agreement calculates the amount of money Albemarle County gives the City of Charlottesville in exchange for the City of Charlottesville for not annexing parts of Albemarle.  Shortly after the agreement was signed, a moratorium on city annexation was enacted by the General Assembly. 

Henry Graff of NBC 29 has been doing a series on the revenue sharing agreement and the potential for adjustment coming from Richmond.

So much has changed since 1982, The Free Enterprise Forum believes, at a minimum, the fundamentals of the revenue sharing agreement should be examined. 

First, the name of the agreement is a misnomer, revenue sharing sounds like both parties are sharing.   This is not the case.   

According to Albemarle County $115,931,909 have been “shared” with the city from 1982-2007. I have found no evidence of significant dollars being “shared” back to Albemarle County.

Ignoring for a moment that the City no longer retains the ability to annex land in Albemarle County, significant fairness problems exist regarding the equation determing the amount “shared” with the City.

The equation used to develop the annual payment is based on the tax on the assessed value of the land.  With the rural areas making up 95% of Albemarle County and some 65% of those lands in land use taxation, Albemarle County actually pays more to the City of Charlottesville in “revenue sharing” than it collects in taxes from these parcels.  I have been told this was an issue in the early 1980s as the agreement was being drafted but negotiators could not get the city to accept any thing less than full assessed valuation. 

Considering the City of Charlottesville’s stated environmental goals, and recognizing the importance of Albemarle County’s rural areas to our region’s ecological condition, would the city reconsider the land-use tax calculation?

If the answer is no, it seems they are putting Albemarle County into a position where they may have to do away with land use taxation (they are not required to offer it).  If this occurs, I have been told many landowners will sell their land — likely to be converted for large lot development.  While the large lots may generate more tax revenue, the ecological contributions of these residences will likely be less than their current state.

What is unclear at this point is Charlottesville’s willingness, in these challenging economic times,  to revisit  a 27 year old agreement when today they get all the revenue and do none of the sharing. 

I know which way I am betting.

The Bottom Ten — Dredging Albemarle’s Survey

By. Neil Williamson

Earlier this month, Albemarle County released their  Biennial Citizen Survey (300+ page PDF) conducted by the University of Virginia’s Center for Survey Research. Understandably, when the survey was released Albemarle County focused on the many positive aspects of the report.

The Free Enterprise Forum has studied the survey results and finds many positives.  One measure the survey attempts to track is the importance of particular service items.  Table III-1 ranks 38 service items by importance. 

While the top end information is interesting, I was fascinated by what I call “The Bottom Ten”  These are the ten lowest ranking service items based on the 2008 survey data:

28.  Promote the development of affordable housing

29.  Support affordable child-care

30.  Provide support for people in financial need

31.  Make it easy to get around by bus or van

32.  Preserve historic buildings

33.  Make it easy to get around by public transportation

34.  Provide learning opportunities for adults

35.  Preserve historic buildings not protected by private groups

36.  Support cultural and entertainment opportunities

37.  Regulate outdoor lighting to reduce light pollution and glare

38.  Promote tourism in our area

It is understandable that politicians generally focus on those areas where citizens want additional funding but it should be of at least equal if not greater value those services that they do not rank as very important.  This may or may not indicate a lack of interest in the issue merely a lack of interest in government support of the issue. 

Number 31 and 33 reflect the generally low priority for public transportation as local officials were seeking the power to impose a sales tax to pay for an expanded transit system (and other transportation projects).

Even as the citizens place low priority on historic preservation of buildings, Albemarle County has a historic preservation ordinance in the Community Development work plan.

As one who spent the time reading the expansive cross tabulated survey results, it is of critical importance that Albemarle County officials read and understand the Top Ten and the Bottom Ten.

If information is power and the opinions of the people matter, one might expect a reduction in government expenditures (and staff time) in those areas ranked low in importance. 

Unfortunately, the cynic in me thinks not.

Charlottesville Planning Commission Recommends Adoption of Updated Zoning Map

By: Justin West, Charlottesville Field Officer Intern

 

            The Charlottesville City Planning Commission had before it, in its February meeting, one item requiring action, an updated zoning district map. In what amounted to a less than two hour long meeting the new map was praised and recommended strongly for adoption by a 5-0 vote. 

 

Zoning Map Update

 

            In November of last year the Planning Commission deferred an opportunity to move the new zoning map along to City Council in order to receive more complete public feedback and scrutiny on the document. On Tuesday (February 10th) the updated map got its blessings from all five present members of the Commission. The map, replacing the 2003 version, contained two major changes from the November edition. First, a layering problem with the new software the city is using to produce the maps, incorrectly covered up the B-1 Business Zoning on a section of 1308 East Market Street, a mistake that was corrected. Second, a Special Permit designation on 1610 East Market Street was removed as the Zoning Administrator couldn’t find record of a designation at that address. Additionally the Commission had to act on two errors in the 2003 map that were to be corrected in the new map. One, in 2002 the city rezoned 336 Parkway from R-3 Residential to R-1S Residential, but the 2003 map did not reflect this change, and the other 407, 405, and 501 Hedge Street were mistakenly zoned R-1S Residential, R-1S Residential, and R-2 Residential, respectively on the 2003 map, despite their correct designation being R-3 Residential.

            The new zoning map became necessary when Neighborhood Development Services decided it wanted to switch the old map, done with its older Arcview 3.2 software, with a newer map developed with a new platform, called ArcGIS 9, that Staff reports said is “more stable, has a higher degree of accuracy and is maintained on a secure server in our Information Technology Department”. There was consensus that the new map which Commissioner William Emory claimed to be “confident and excited about” was an improvement over its predecessor and after a couple minutes of reaffirming comments the Commission, Vice-Chairman Michael Farruggio moved to recommend adoption of the new map including the corrections on Parkway and Hedge Street, a movement that passed 5-0.

 

Preliminary Discussion on PUD at Corner of Cherry and Ridge

 

            In other business the Commission engaged in dialogue with representatives from Southern Development, who plan to petition for 7 parcels fronting on Cherry Avenue and Ridge Street to be rezoned from R-2, R-3 and CH to PUD later this year. The applicant’s representative presented a model of the mixed use development containing 40 units of housing and 40,000 square feet of commercial space. At this point the development is still months away from appearing before the Commission as the developer is currently beginning a traffic study of the area and opening discussions with the Board of Architectural Review. Commission members, voiced concerns about tree coverage on the road side of the development, high amounts of impervious pavement encircling the project, a lack of a landscape buffer between it and adjacent sites, increased pedestrian, bike, and car load to the area, and reinforced the need for adequate affordable housing. In the end, however, the project seemed to garner widespread support with Chairman Jason Pearson asserting that the project looks towards the future of the city’s vision for the Cherry Avenue Corridor mixed use zoning district.

Fluvanna Tax Hike Ahead?

BY WILLIAM J. DES ROCHERS, Fluvanna Field Officer

  Supervisor Gene Ott (Rivanna) surprised his Fluvanna colleagues at their first budget work session on February 11th.

Mr. Ott suggested a tax increase of some three to five cents – if it supported his major concerns.  He specifically proposed that the debt service fund be increased, and that additional funds be provided to the schools, social services, and the sheriff’s office.  The county administrator G. Cabell Lawton IV had prepared a budget with no tax increase and significant operational cuts.  Mr. Lawton said that he had relied on conversations with a number of supervisors.

Several colleagues, including: Mozell Booker (Fork Union), John Gooch (Palmyra) and Marvin Moss (Columbia), quickly supported Ott’s broad proposal.  His idea was sufficiently general to win support but also specific enough to signal that some other members were favorably disposed towards a tax or fee increase.

 Each supervisor was invited by Chairman Moss to present his or her views.  Some of the more salient comments included:

·        Charles Allbaugh (Rivanna):  “If we can go a year without a tax increase we should go for that …[it is] very important for us as a general principle; it buys us more credibility with our constituents. … We could play with the [tax] collection rates because eventually we get it [the late payments] all back.   We need to take a time out from growing the fund balance [the county “savings” account]”

·        Don Weaver (Cunningham):  “I’ve never heard of such a thing, there are a lot of games being played here.  I think the whole thing is irresponsible.  It never stops [and] the employees are the ones who suffer.”  At this point Mr. Allbaugh said:  “I resent that [games are being played]…all you do is complain.”

·        Mozell Booker:  “We need to take care of our core services for our people.  I’d like to look after schools, social services, and [public safety]. … [I would rather] not raise taxes for our people; there are going to be better days for us.”

·        John Gooch:  “I agree with Gene.  What it [the proposed budget] implies is not funding the three cents [a previously anticipated tax increase] for debt service. …I could be persuaded to go as much as three cents.”

·        Marvin Moss:  My preference is that we not raise taxes at all.   There has to be a balance between the taxpayers paying and the citizens who need our services. … [I am] close to Gene – put in a penny or two but weigh that against the core services…. If necessary, I’d vote for a couple of cents increase”.  Emphasizing that it was not a proposal, Mr. Moss continued:  “there will be an overall 18 to 20 percent decline in the personal property tax base … should we make that loss revenue neutral [by increasing the personal property tax to make up the difference]?  We could look at that and see if it’s something we want to do.”

Supervisors then instructed the staff to apportion a two-cent tax hike across the appropriate budget categories and see what the impact would be.  Staff was also requested to provide supervisors with additional information regarding the implications for debt service if the county did not increase the tax rate by three cents for the debt service fund.  Previous bond analyses assumed that there would be a steady tax increase path to build up sufficient reserves so that some of the debt service could be deferred.

 

Albemarle Consultant Calls for Economic Development and Streamlined Planning

This week (2/11/09) the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute presented their Resource Management Review of Albemarle County Government.  The 111 page report is exceedingly well researched and well written.  The overarching theme of the report is Albemarle County is well run by a professional staff implementing stated county policies.

While the report contains no revelations or “silver bullets” to make County Government more immediately more efficient, there is an undertone throughout the document that the Board policies, and the related implementation strategies may go further than necessary and may actually create harm in the process.

In addition to recognizing the importance of The University of Virginia to Albemarle’s economic health, the Resource review indicated many business opportunities will be missed if this is the only strategy.  The report recommended significant changes to the priority of Economic Development in Albemarle County:

4.  Approve a strategic plan which could make economic development a priority and identify the area as a major potential generator of revenue.  The County is considering an amendment to the land use plan that addresses economic development in many respects and should move forward to adopt a plan that can direct staff and the regional economic development effort toward the business development that can best bring the right resources to the County.  For example, the right economic development strategy for Albemarle County might be recruiting high investment projects.  Since large job creation results in higher demand and higher cost of providing services, such a strategy would require fewer jobs to operate.

Interestingly, the very first recommendation in the report focuses on improving the speed and efficiency of permitting within Community Development Department:

1.  Streamline the planning process to make it a more cost-effective operation.  

Within the recommendations regarding community development (page 85), one recommendation in particular stands out:

7.  Site plans and subdivision plans are primarily technical in nature, and, if a plan meets all criteria, it must be approved.  These plans may be approved by staff, except for County Code (14.218).  The code stipulates that the Planning Commission will review a plat plan if anyone requests they review.  This is in keeping with the County’s commitment to maximum citizen participation, but may mislead citizens as to their degree of impact at this stage.

The Free Enterprise Forum has witnessed countless painful planning commission public hearings regarding plans that have met the criteria of the regulation but have been called up by either a commissioner or a neighboring parcel owner.  Citizens, empowered by the ability to call the action to a public hearing, fill the auditorium and provide testimony indicating the proposed action will cause harm to their community.  After all this effort, the Planning Commission must tell the citizens “thank you for coming out but our hands are tied”, if it meets the regulations they must approve the plan. 

We sincerely appreciate this suggestion and believe in the end it will save Albemarle County money and citizen frustration.

The Free Enterprise Forum applauds Albemarle County for initiating this voluntary, comprehensive, professional resource review.  Based our anecdotal conversations with staff and Board Members, these recommendations will not sit on a shelf but will be acted upon to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of local government.

We look forward to examining the results of the recommendations when (not if) they are implemented.

Greene County Board of Supervisors Discuss Budget Issues, Changes in Board Policy and Stormwater Runoff

by. Kara Reese Pennella, Greene County Field Officer

           

Action Summary:

J. Allen was absent due to illness.

Proclamation regarding “The Big Read” program at Jefferson-Madison Regional Library – Approved Unanimously

Amended Regional Jail Agreement – Approved Unanimously

Rivanna River Basin Commission grant opportunity from National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for the County Park – Approved Unanimously

Virginia Association of Counties (VACo) state budget resolution – Passed by Consensus

Review Rules of Order and Liaison Functions – Unchanged by Consensus

 

Despite a light agenda the Greene County Board discussed many important issues at their first meeting of February 2009. Budgetary concerns were frequently referenced while addressing issues such as a resolution from VACo and hiring within the Sheriff’s Office. The Board also discussed changes to their policies and announced a new representative to Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.  Other matters addressed in the meeting included a presentation by the Rivanna River Basin Commission a grant proposal regarding stormwater runoff, the regional jail authority and an expanded leash law.

 

Budget Woes

 

The County’s budget issues were brought to the forefront of several debates. The Board considered and adopted by consensus a resolution from VACo seeking a greater range of taxing authority for localities and asking that the State not provide unfunded mandates. In approving the measure the Board was indicated their support for the resolution, but was not optimistic that the resolution would make much difference. 

 

The budget was also the center of a hiring discussion when the Sheriff’s Office sought permission to fill two vacancies within the Department. The Board of Supervisors recently implemented a hiring freeze which requires agencies to seek Board approval before filling vacant positions. After much deliberation the Board gave the Sheriff’s Department permission to advertise and interview for the positions, but requested that they not hire anyone before more information on the Budget is obtained in March. Board members were afraid if they gave approval to hire now they might end up cutting the same positions during the budgeting process if sufficient funds are not available.  

 

The Board plans to hold its first Budget Workshop on March 4, 2009.  All four Board Members present at the meeting agreed that it was going to be a difficult budget session this year. It still remains unclear what additional cuts in State funding the County will face.

 

Personality Woes

 

On the agenda as “Review Rules of Order and Liaison Functions” was a proposal to limit the term of the chairman on the Board of Supervisors to two consecutive one year terms. B. Peyton had initially requested that the item be added to the agenda; however, he requested that it be withdrawn from the agenda. Noting that this is the last year of his term on the Board, he felt that it was a bad time to change the policy and maybe something that should be changed next year.  However, before the Board moved on to the next matter on the agenda, C. Schmitt jumped in to keep the issue alive. He felt very strongly that it would be a good idea to shift the chairmanship around amongst the Board members. He believed that if they rotate every year it would take away from any “personality conflicts” on the Board. M. Skeens noted that it was something that the Board had done before, but felt that if changes were going to be made in the policy it should wait until after the next election cycle takes place. S. Catalano acknowledged that it is possible to be Chair too long, however, there are also many issues that have come up over his time as Chair that require a continuity of leadership beyond one or two years. He also noted that rotating the position more frequently would not change the fact that someone still has to be elected to the position by the Board each time it a new Chair is chosen. He also noted that if the Board was displeased with the Chairman, that person can always be removed. Finally, S. Catalano indicated that he had not decided if he wanted to remain Chairman next year. The Board determined by consensus of 3 to 1 that they would not make any changes to the Board policy on the Chair’s term this year; however, it may be revisited next year.

 

The discussion provided more questions than answers about the future of the Board of Supervisors. One could not help but wonder if this was thinly veiled attempt by a Board Member to gain leadership of the Board of Supervisors. Also two Board Member’s terms expire at the end of the year:  B. Peyton of the Stanardsville District and J. Allen of the Ruckersville District. It was unclear whether B. Peyton meant to imply by emphasizing that this is the last year of his term that he might not seek reelection.  

 

It is also interesting to note that J. Allen of the Ruckersville District stepped down as Liaison to the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. Andrea Wilkinson of the Ruckersville Citizen’s Council was appointed by the Board to fill that position.  This represents a change in Board policy as previously an elected member of the Board of Supervisors served this function. 

 

 Rivanna River Basin Commission

 

Leslie Middleton of the Rivanna River Basin Commission sought approval of the Board to move forward with a grant opportunity from National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for the County Park. The grant would provide the funding for the proposed rain garden at the County Park. The only match required by the County would be staff time. C. Schmitt moved to authorize S. Catalano to sign the letter that would allow the RRBC to move forward in seeking the grant. The motion passed unanimously.

 

 During her presentation L. Middleton also addressed new stormwater regulations that may soon be instituted. The RRBC plans to hold a Developer Round Table in Greene and other counties to counteract “misinformation” about the cost impact of the regulation on new development. In her presentation she noted that implementing the stormwater policy is “control over the way people do business” but indicated that it was for the higher good.

 

The Free Enterprise Forum is well aware of the stormwater provisions Ms. Middleton mentioned and strongly disagrees with her dissmissive discription of new proposed regulatory barriers that, if enacted, could pose enormous economic harm to localities throughout the state.

  

Other Matters

 

            The Board of Supervisors voted to approve a modified version of the Regional Jail Agreement.  According to the County Attorney the new agreement incorporates changes that would give the County more oversight over the operation of the jail.

 

            The Board also responded to complaints by the public regarding dogs that are not properly leashed in residential areas. After public comment and some discussion the Board requested that staff draft an ordinance revision that would require the leashing of animals in residential areas. The Sherriff’s Office briefly addressed the issue stating they did not expect it to significantly increase the number of complaints they responded to; but instead, would give them the ability to take action when they receive complaints about dogs running loose on other people’s properties.

 

            The next meeting of the Greene County Board of Supervisors will be February 24, 2009 at 7:30 pm.