Monthly Archives: March, 2011

Local Sustainability Grant Wants You (to change)

By. Neil Williamson, President

As mentioned in a previous post, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) has been awarded a $999,000 for Housing and Urban Development’s Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant.  The program will be launched late in April but last week the TJPDC provided a preview to the a joint meeting of the Planning Commissions of Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

The TJPDC sees this as a 3 1/2 year program.  According to their website this federally funded program will promote sustainability:

The project will move sustainability in the region from a regional goal to actual implementation through products resulting from this planning effort:

  1. Sustainability Baseline and Performance Measurement System
  2. Common Land Use – Transportation Vision for the Charlottesville/Albemarle Region
  3. Integration of Sustainability Strategies into Comprehensive Plans and the Long Range Transportation Plan
  4. Code and Ordinance Sustainability Recommendations
  5. Plan for Behavior Change Processes

After understanding the overview of the project, the Free Enterprise Forum is very concerned that the TJPDC will clearly be rewriting  both the City and County Comprehensive plans.  In addition, we believe the TJPDC will be allowed the opportunity to rewrite ordinances and, according to their website, create a plan for behavior change.

Over the past few days I have been struck by the planner change agent philosophy that is often found at the TJPDC.  The philosophy was well described in a recent blog post, A War On Cars? Let There Be Peace!,  by New Urbanist Todd Litman:

Current demographic and economic trends (aging population, rising fuel prices, increasing urbanization, changing consumer preferences, and increasing health and environmental concerns) are raising demand for alternative modes. People increasingly want to walk, bicycle and use public transport, provided these modes are convenient and comfortable to use. Meeting this demand can help achieve various planning objectives, including congestion reductions, road and parking facility cost savings, consumer saving, and improved public health, to name just a few. It therefore makes sense to shift a portion of resources (road space and money) currently dedicated to automobile transport to support other modes, and to reform land use policies to help create more multi-modal communities.

But some Americans fear these changes. Many lead automobile-dependent lifestyles and have never experienced an efficient, multi-modal transport system or an attractive and successful urban neighborhood. As a result, they assume that such changes will harm them overall. Some people and groups exploit this fear by claiming that a war exists against cars and suburbs. According to this narrative, motorists are victims of unfair attacks on their rights and freedoms, and are therefore entitled to defend themselves from a devious enemy. [Emphasis added – nw]

The highlighted passage tells the reader a great deal about the arrogance of some in the planning community, ‘If you knew what I know, you would agree with me.  Since you disagree, you must be ignorant about such things’.

When combined with the fifth bullet of the TJPDC Sustainability plan, it seems clear one of the goals of this grant is to change citizen behavior [to better mirror what the planners plan for you to do].  The Free Enterprise Forum believes this will result in limiting mobility by limiting mobility choices.

Is there a war against cars and the suburbs?

vanishing automobile In his 2001 book The Vanishing Automobile, Randal O’Toole highlighted the 1999 “Clinton-Gore Livability Agenda” [interestingly similar to the current HUD program] that the media immediately dubbed the war on sprawl.

Yes, there is a philosophical war on.  It is larger than bus versus car or city versus suburb.  The battle that is raging is between the concept of central planning versus individual choice.

The next 3 1/2 years, as they rewrite the text of the City and County Comprehensive Plans, the TJPDC will be promoting this sustainability grant under the tagline “Many plans, one community”.

Perhaps a stronger (more truthful slogan) would be (to change).

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County.  For more information visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org

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Dominion Resources Presents Annual ‘State of The Station’ Report

 By. John Haksch, Louisa County Field Officer

Dominion Resources presented its annual ‘State of the Station’ report to the Louisa County Board of Supervisors in the midst of the pall cast over the clip_image002[4]industry by the recent tragedy at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. Before going over the highlights of the printed report Larry Lane, Site Vice President of North Anna Power Station (photo), fielded questions regarding the likelihood of a similar disaster occurring at North Anna. 

Lane stated that the March 11, 2011 earthquake in Japan, which their six reactors survived relatively unscathed, was at least 1,000 times more powerful than any earthquake ever recorded at a nuclear facility in the United States. He further explained that the North Anna power station’s backup cooling systems are completely independent of the local power grid or the water in Lake Anna, so that even in the event of a dam breach and total loss of the lake water, redundant steam- and diesel powered cooling systems would maintain adequate coolant levels.

Lane discussed the ongoing plans for the third reactor that is currently in the permitting process. This reactor was originally to have been situated atop several known seismic faults, as are reactors one and two, but the master plan has since been redrawn to move reactor 3 a significant distance from the original location. The existing reactors are designed to withstand a seismic event of up to 5.9 on the Richter scale…far stronger than any event recorded at the site, before or since the construction of North Anna. Dominion’s position is that due to state of the art upgrades in all systems and an advanced design that is far more stable than that of the Fukushima plant, there is no danger of a radiation leak being caused by a seismic event. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) seems to concur with this assessment.

The report presented included a “Business Impact” statement:

North Anna Power Station is a major employer and taxpayer in Louisa County, and contributes much to the local economy. North Anna Power Station employs approximately 892 full-time employees and 125 supplemental personnel. During refueling outages there are typically 1000 additional supplemental personnel to assist in outage activities. This temporary increase in the station workforce provides additional revenue for Louisa County merchants and the service-related businesses in the County, as well as increased revenue from taxes.

Dominion’s tax payment to Louisa County on behalf of the North Anna Power Station in 2010 was $10.396 million. Total taxes paid to Louisa County from Dominion through 2010 amounted to more than $262 million.

The entire “State of the Station” report can be found on pages 243-258 of the Louisa County Board of Supervisors 3/21/11 agenda packet (pdf).

John Haksch is the Louisa County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  If you find this report helpful, please consider supporting the Free Enterprise Forum.  To learn more visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Greene Supervisors Hesitate to Increase School Project Loan Amount

By Pauline Hovey, Greene County Field Officer

Greene County Board of Supervisors muddled over funding for future secondary road projects and the school athletics and performing arts facilities project at their March 22 meeting. Although funding for the former is determined by the Commonwealth of Virginia and is out of supervisors’ hands, the latter involved their authorization for the Greene County School Board to apply for a $5.3 million vs. $4.7 million loan from the Virginia Public School Authority (VPSA).

Supervisors had previously authorized the School Board to apply for a baseline $4.7 million low-interest VPSA loan, with the understanding the Supervisors would revisit the issue in March once they had more accurate information on the county’s financial standing. The additional $600,000 the School Board is requesting involves another five items that the project’s steering committee deemed necessary to complete, and spending this money now would save the county money in the long run, because the county would eventually be forced to complete these upgrades and renovations over time.

Greene County Schools Superintendent Dr. David Jeck (photo) responded to supervisor concerns, assuring them that no new personnel would need to be hired to maintain the new facilities and that the School Board was committed to not exceed the amount of debt service being retired and to finance the project at the smallest terms possible. Before voting on the amount, Supervisor Mike Skeens (Monroe district) clarified, “So, no new money is involved? Is that correct?”

Jeck reiterated that this is simply a matter of using retiring debt service to fund the project. At a public hearing earlier this year, twenty one residents who spoke unanimously urged supervisors to support full funding of the project. Despite these facts and the knowledge that delaying completion of these five additional items would involve greater expense down the road when costs would entail returning necessary equipment to the facility and paying higher amounts for materials and labor, two supervisors, Buggs Peyton (Stanardsville) and Steve Catalano (at-large), voted against the increase. The resolution passed with Skeens, Carl Schmitt (at-large), and Jim Frydl (Ruckersville district) voting for the $5.3 million loan amount.

In relation to county roads, Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) Karen Kilby and three other VDOT representatives presented the six-year secondary road plan, noting that based on its population, “Greene County gets a smaller piece of the pie.”

Greene County has about 201 miles of secondary roads in the state system and 147 miles of those roads are paved, but secondary road construction funds are distributed to the counties proportionally, mostly according to population. With that in mind, the slow-moving, minimally funded projects are not apt to be completed any time soon. 

VDOT reported that the improvements to Bacon Hollow Road have been completed, making Mutton Hollow Road the number one priority. Mutton Hollow’s current bridges are deteriorating, and the area has been experiencing significant flooding problems, so that every time it rains, the road gets flooded and area residents, as well as school buses, have a difficult time getting through. “It’s a general traffic concern, especially with the school buses, and we’re nervous about it,” Catalano said.

VDOT presented a preliminary design for the Mutton Hollow Road bridge, will seek bids in December, and expects construction will be ongoing by next spring. Other priorities in the six-year plan include Matthew Mill Road, Beazley Road, Simms Rd., Rosebrook Road, and a second bridge on Mutton Hollow Road.

In other matters from the board, Supervisor Frydl expressed his concern that the board had requested reports from the commissioner of revenue and the county treasurer, and although they had received a “professional” report from the treasurer, he was “disappointed that we didn’t receive any information from the commissioner.”

According to Frydl, the Supervisors are now requesting monthly reports from both offices, “to enable us to identify what’s going on in the county and determine important trends.”

Chairman Catalano noted the Board will follow up on the status of the commissioner’s report. It’s expected the status will be addressed at the next board meeting. Both the treasurer and commissioner of revenue are state constitutional officers elected by the citizens, and they are responsible for providing county officials with accurate and useful information that benefits the taxpayers.

Pauline Hovey is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  If you find this report helpful, please consider supporting the Free Enterprise Forum.  To learn more visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Jurisdictional High Stakes Poker

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

The City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County are in the midst of a series of “cooperative” projects that are more like games of high stakes poker than regional cooperation.  Each project is a different game with different poker handoutside players (Virginia Department of Transportation, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Federal Highway Administration, US Corps of Engineers, etc.) but each game features these two marquee players and the public, as either tax payers or rate payers are funding the game.  One thing is certain the friction in one game clearly rubs off to the others in a cumulative manner. 

Meadowcreek Parkway/250 Interchange/McIntire Extended

Perhaps100_0362 the longest poker game on record (43 years), Charlottesville raised the ante by demanding a grade separated interchange be fully funded prior to any of the three independent projects moving forward (the largest in a litany of many conditions).  Despite the interchange funding secured through a Senator John Warner federal earmark,  City Council currently retains a narrow 3-2 split in favor of construction of the City project (McIntire Extended).  There has also been a federal lawsuit filed by a number of city residents. 

When the three independent projects will open is still unclear.  At this point, Albemarle County seems to have an upper hand with a full constructed, albeit closed, road.  The lawsuit is a wild card that may or may not trump Albemarle.

The Community Water Supply Plan

water supply One of the more contentious, and expensive, poker games in recent memory.  This game required each side to fund preliminary engineering on two very different proposals for expansion of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.  At the time, the Free Enterprise Forum opined regardless of who won someone was wasting money because their plan would not be used.  In the end, the jointly run Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority selected the County favored plan of an earthen dam but at a lower height than the county wanted. 

Recognizing that the lower height was the only way the project would move forward at all, Albemarle agreed to Charlottesville’s demands.  In March 2009, Mayor Dave Norris famously said, “We hold all the cards” because the City holds title to the reservoir. 

While the regulatory agencies have not yet approved the modifications to the permit, sources indicate such approval should be relatively easily attained.  This game seems to be won by Albemarle but not without giving Charlottesville a few chips.  Charlottesville played its hand beautifully and still has the dredging card yet to be played.

The “Best Buy” Ramp

Few can argue that the on ramp to westbound 250 and Emmet Street is a choke point.  Between the multiple curb cuts and the bus stop in the right lane, traffic can back up into the Hydraulic US29 intersection.  It is one of the “doable” projects the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce supported in the Places29 masterplan.

100_0402 Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville went together to get special legislation to allow proffer money in one jurisdiction be used in another for an off site improvement.  The bill passed and Stonefield (the mixed use shopping area formerly known as Albemarle Place) has promised through a proffer to provide $1,000,00 to the project.  The local match of VDOT funds is $500,000 (from the city). 

As an outsider looking in, it seems Charlottesville has all it needs to move forward with construction if it would meet the match and finance the proffer.  Considering the favorable climate for construction, why would the city wait?

In a front page story in the Daily ProgressCharlottesville Tomorrow quoted Albemarle County Supervisor Dennis Rooker:

“This improvement has been judged by the city and the county through the MPO to be perhaps the most important project in the area,” Rooker said. “My concern is that if the city doesn’t move to utilize those funds they could end up being lost to the area.”

In this game, the city is holding their cards close to the vest, leaving the other players to wonder about motivations for this delay tactic.

Woolen Mills Pump Station

In the newest project to test City/County cooperation, RWSA is seeking to increase system pumping capacity at (or near) the existing Woolen Mills Sewage Pumping Station (at the end of Chesapeake Street in the City).  When the RWSA Board was queried about their preference of location of the new pump station, Board member (and Charlottesville City Manager) Maurice Jones asked that the item be deferred until he could speak to City Council.

According to a Charlottesville Tomorrow story the options were:

Four sites have been under consideration for the upgraded pump station and each has a preliminary “concept level” cost estimate:

  • Concept A ($25 million): upgrade the pump station at its existing location
  • Concept B ($29 million): up the Rivanna River in Riverview Park
  • Concept C ($37 million): downstream near the old Woolen Mill and Moores Creek
  • Concept D ($34 million): across the Rivanna River below State Farm Insurance

Charlottesville City Council looked at the four options presented by the RWSA and selected the only option not located in the city.  Some in the community decried this as NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) thinking.

The cost impactsof the selection were a source of contention between Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna) and City Councilor David Brown at the RWSA meeting yesterday (3/22).  Mr. Boyd mentioned that Option “D” was $9,000,000 more expensive than Option A and asked if the City was willing to pay the difference.  Mr. Brown suggested that the RWSA Board was not charged with making the “cheapest” choice but the “best” choice.

After some unusually direct conversation regarding the Board of Supervisors role in this discussion between the two elected officials, the issue was deferred to the April RWSA meeting so Mr. Boyd could discuss the issue with his Supervisors collogues.

This particular poker game is just getting started and likely will have more twists and turns before the final cards fall.

Conclusion

One problem with seeing the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County locked in a poker game is that the stakes are very high.  In every case, the public (either tax payers or ratepayers) are providing the chips.  Another problem is that in every poker game I’ve ever played there is always a big winner and a big loser (and lesser of both).   

The Free Enterprise Forum would much prefer the community to come together and work together to build a stronger community.  While there is some natural tension between the two localities, today it is well beyond a normal condition. 

Is this contention the “new” normal? 

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Will the elected leaders find the way to lead the community to a solution or will our mutual road to success remain closed?

Will this green light ever mean go forward?

Stay tuned.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

 

Fluvanna Supervisors: Lurching towards Budgetary Lassitude

EDITORIAL Commentary By. William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer

Photo Credit Band-aid.com

Once again Fluvanna County’s supervisors opted for a small band-aid fix for serious budgetary problems, and instead of confronting long-term structural problems, punted.

Fluvanna’s debt service and infrastructure difficulties are so acute and so persistent that only imagination and creative initiatives could fix them. Some supervisors were on the right track, but in the end the Board opted to increase real estate taxes by just $.03, and personal property taxes by $.30 – both per $100 of assessed value.

Other small band-aids include:

· Assuming that overdue tax collection would amount to $700,000 (equivalent to a $.02 increase in real estate tax assessment); and,

· Anticipating about $350,000 in increased revenue from real estate growth, a one penny increase – but note: residential building permits have declined in Fluvanna every year since 2001 – and last year the value of new home construction, excluding land, amounted to less than $20 million.

That, coupled with raiding the “savings account” to cover some other obligations, will make everything all right this coming year, or so we are to believe.

One supervisor commented that the people just didn’t want their taxes raised. Well, an astute observation, but then rarely do they. One citizen, with a remarkable gift for the banal, stated at a recent Board meeting that any [emphasis added] tax increase would turn the county into a “leper colony”.

Supervisors are elected to lead, not just represent – ask Edmund Burke. And one look at Fluvanna’s difficulties demonstrates the need for leadership.

Consider that the sheriff’s office cannot always communicate with its deputies in the field because of the county’s woeful telecommunications infrastructure. Consider also that the county’s sick and dying always cannot be assured that a rescue squad can respond. The county has no water service except to Lake Monticello and Fork Union – and the Fork Union infrastructure is in dire straights.

Supervisors adopted a do nothing policy towards infrastructure and instead just made sure there was just enough money this year to pay for its debt.

One astute observer – and a conservative — has argued privately that budget cuts and tax savings should not go back to the citizens, but rather to infrastructure development: “it’s literally eating the seed corn if [supervisors] do [give the money back]”, he said.

But that is what a vocal minority seems to want.

And unfortunately, a majority of supervisors seem to be willing to do just that, in the form of lost opportunity, and lost infrastructure.

William Des Rochers is the Fluvanna County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  If you find this report helpful, please consider supporting the Free Enterprise Forum.  To learn more visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org

EPA Update on Town of Louisa Well Contamination

By. John Haksch, Louisa Field Officer

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently provided updates that include some of the sampling data that The Free Enterprise Forum requested for the tetrachloroethylene contamination in and around the Town of Louisa‘s Acme well. The report included the associated chemical trichloroethylene and its breakdown products.

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR):

Tetrachloroethylene is a manufactured chemical used for dry cleaning and metal degreasing. Exposure to very high concentrations of tetrachloroethylene can cause dizziness, headaches, sleepiness, confusion, nausea, difficulty in speaking and walking, unconsciousness, and death. Tetrachloroethylene has been found in at least 771 of the 1,430 National Priorities List sites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Trichloroethylene (TCE) is a nonflammable, colorless liquid with a somewhat sweet odor and a sweet, burning taste. It is used mainly as a solvent to remove grease from metal parts, but it is also an ingredient in adhesives, paint removers, typewriter correction fluids, and spot removers. Trichloroethylene is not thought to occur naturally in the environment. However, it has been found in underground water sources and many surface waters as a result of the manufacture, use, and disposal of the chemical.

The original data from the July, 2010 tests are as yet unavailable. In October of 2010, the Town of Louisa resampled the water in the Acme Well. The measured amount of tetrachloroethylene was 6,610 mcg/L (micrograms per Liter.) In a third round of tests in November of 2010, EPA samples showed a level for tetrachloroethylene of 9,200 mcg/L. The EPA’s permissible level for tetrachloroethylene is 5 mcg/L.

The results of tests conducted during the week of January 17, 2011, at four nearby monitoring wells indicate that both tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene are present in amounts far in excess of the mandated maximum allowable levels, as presented in the table below. Tests at monitoring wells 1 and 4 detected no measurable amounts of the listed chemicals.

Allowable Contaminant Levels

  Allowable Levels Well 2 Well 3
Tetrachloroethylene 5 Mcg/L 370 mcg/L (7400%) 390 mcg/L (7800%)
Trichloroethylene 5 mcg/L 2.6 mcg/L (52%) 45 mcg/L (900%)
1,1-Dichloroethane not available none detected .54 mcg/L (n/a)
Trans-1,2-dichloroethene 100 mcg/L none detected .66 mcg/L (.66%)
Cis-1,2-Dichloroethene 70 mcg/L none detected 14 mcg/L (20%)

Two of the three nearby residential wells whose owners permitted testing showed similar levels of contamination “greater than 10 times the maximum contaminant level (MCLs) of 5 microgram/liter for tetrachloroethylene,” according to the EPA report (specific levels are unavailable,) and have since been connected to the town’s public water supply. No tetrachloroethylene was detected in the third residential well.

The EPA and its contractor, TechLaw, Inc., along with Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) returned to the site on February 17, 2011, to conduct further testing in an attempt to determine both the source and full extent of the contamination. They collected surface water samples from seven separate locations, sediment samples from four locations, two surface soil samples from debris around the site, and six subsurface samples from soil borings. These borings were screened on-site using a screening device capable of detecting volatile organic contaminants (VOCs) in parts per billion. The subsurface samples taken closest to the well itself indicated VOC contamination levels of 1.2 to 32.4 parts per million (ppm) and will direct the focus of further testing.

The EPA is working to obtain access permission from property owners further from the areas of known contamination. Several of these downgradient (in the direction of flow of the water table) properties have been identified as having drinking water wells, though none are known to be in use at this time by the EPA or Virginia Department of Health (VDH). The EPA also plans to sample water further downstream for surface water or sedimentary contamination, unused groundwater wells in the area, pipes in and around a suspected former lagoon of the Piedmont Metal Fabricators facility, and to research “the feasibility of air sampling in crawl spaces in low-lying areas.” According to the EPA report, “Piedmont Metal Fabricators is cooperating with EPA’s investigation. Piedmont Metal Fabricators does not and has not in the past ever used tetrachloroethylene in its manufacturing process.”

EPA is developing a Fact Sheet to be distributed to the residents in the area and will arrange for a contractor to perform a hydrogeologic study of the affected area. In coordination with VDH and Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), EPA will propose future air sampling of crawl spaces of several residences.  A map depicting sampling locations is also being developed and a trip report summarizing EPA’s sampling activities for the year to date will be released in mid-April.

John Haksch is the Louisa County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  If you find this report helpful, please consider supporting the Free Enterprise Forum.  To learn more visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Greene County Supervisors To Provide Direction for EDA and Cash Reserves

By Pauline Hovey, Greene County Field Officer

The Greene County Board of Supervisors (BOS) remained determined to keep the locality in healthy fiscal condition as they concluded budget work sessions this week, proposing to establish a general policy for cash reserves and to provide more direction for the county’s Economic Development Authority (EDA). During the work sessions, supervisors expressed concern over what appears to be a lack of clarity in the EDA office, some of which is based on the EDA receiving management direction from different sources.

The EDA Director, Tony Williams (photo), answers to both the EDA board tony williams(which is appointed by the BOS) and the BOS, which at times can be confusing and prevent Williams from receiving clear direction. From a logistical management standpoint, Supervisors would prefer to move the EDA office from its current location above the Tourism office on US 29 in Ruckersville to the County Administration building in Stanardsville. 

While  Williams is on the county payroll, the EDA Business Manager, Tracy Wingfield, is not. The EDA is currently funded by three sources: the county, tourism, and the EDA’s own money collected from a one-time sale of property at the Industrial Park.

“What’s the return on the taxpayers’ money?” Chairman Steve Catalano (at-large) asked, clearly concerned about having more control over the direction of this office but uncertain as to the feasibility of such a move. Supervisors agreed to meet with the EDA board to evaluate the situation and attempt to provide the EDA with more clarity and vision of their respective management roles.

Also during the work sessions, Supervisor Jim Frydl (Ruckersville) suggested the Board put a general policy in place establishing what amount the county should have in reserves. “We need to consider what’s the minimum amount we need to protect ourselves?” Frydl said.

Keeping to their conservative philosophy, supervisors proposed establishing a fiscal policy whereby they would keep a 10-percent cash flow in capital funds, which currently equates to $2 million in CDs and $3 million in a checking account. The Board noted that the county does have $9.7 million in reserves for 2009, some of which may be used for capital projects.

After June 30, 2011, when Greene County’s 2010 audit report has been completed, the Board will decide on capital projects proposed for the immediate future, including property acquisition for water impoundment, additional fire trucks and ambulances, five new school buses, and a comfort station at the Greene County Park.

State law dictates that once a locality advertises a property tax rate for public hearing they can decrease that rate but not increase it without additional advertising and another public hearing.

According to Greene County’s website:

Total assessed value of real property, excluding additional assessments due to new construction or improvements to the property, reduces last year’s total assessed value of real property by 14.01 percent.

Supervisors agreed to advertise a property tax rate of $.69 the same rate as 2010, because of the decrease in property values, this equates to a tax cut to most home owners. The county will be able to make up this difference because the number of properties assessed has increased since last year.  Greene County’s total budget will grow by 3.2 %.

Final budget decisions are expected to be completed by March 21 and posted on the county website at www.gcva.us shortly thereafter.  The public hearing on the tax rate and the Greene County budget will be held on April 26th at 7:30 pm at the County Administration Building

Photo Credit: Greene County EDA

Pauline Hovey is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  If you find this report helpful, please consider supporting the Free Enterprise Forum.  To learn more visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Fluvanna’s Budget End Game

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer

Once again, it will come down to the schools, and how much the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors wants to spend on education in the FY 2012 budget that starts on July 1st. Over the past few days, there have been developments that have brought the issues into starker relief.

Fluvanna County Administrator Jay Scudder has circulated a revised  staff budget that holds the real estate tax rate at $.54 per $100 of assessed value, exclusive of debt service costs and any education funding increases. The previous budget recommendation included a $.04 tax increase.

Mr. Scudder made several new recommendations, including:                                 

· Increase the personal property tax by $.20 to $4.00 per $100 value;

· Fund the county real estate reassessment costs through a $250,000 drawdown in the county’s “savings account” – the undesignated fund balance;

· Collecting the equivalent of two cents in overdue real estate taxes; and,

· Closing the county landfill and deferring hiring an economic development coordinator.

Separately, the School Board is expected to ask for at least an increase of $1 million for operating expenditures; but the number may be as high as $1.9 million. A majority of the School Board would like to restore pay cuts ($900 thousand) instituted during the current fiscal year. At weeks end there was a report that the School Board may back down. The school budget proposal will be presented on March 16th to the supervisors.

School Board wants aside, supervisors will face a difficult decision on funding school debt. Funding debt alone will add several cents to the tax rate, and the Board also is considering adding another two cents to the tax rate to fund the new high school’s operations.

The supervisors currently are divided over addition funding for the School Board requests. Reportedly, several members actually would like to cut current funding levels, especially in light of the large tax hike needed to fund current school debt.

Also, drawing down the fund balance to pay for a reassessment and anticipating two cents worth of additional revenue ($750,000) from back tax collection will strike some as a bit of a contrived fix, brought in at the last minute to minimize a needed tax increase.

Supervisors expect to set the advertized tax rate at their next meeting on March 16th.

William Des Rochers is the Fluvanna County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  If you find this report helpful, please consider supporting the Free Enterprise Forum.  To learn more visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Louisa Town ACME Well Contamination an Ongoing Concern

By John Haksch, Louisa Field Officer

In July of 2010 the Town of Louisa embarked on a proclip_image002ject to secure additional water sources for the town’s water system. One of the potential sources was determined to be the ACME well near the southeast corporate limits off Route 33. Since the well had not been in use for 20 years, according to Town Manager Brian Marks, water quality and safety testing were deemed mandatory as the first step in the reactivation process.

Tests conducted by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) shortly thereafter showed the presence of the toxic chemical tetrachloroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene or ‘perk’, in quantities far in excess of the .005 milligrams per liter (.005 mg/L) level that is mandated as safe by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The actual levels detected have yet to be published by the EPA. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) considers the substance to be a carcinogen and recommends minimal contact. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry provided further information on the contaminant.

A second round of tests was conducted in October of 2010 to determine whether the first test was detecting a transient event. The results indicated a similar level of contamination as the earlier tests, so the contamination was duly reported to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ).  The VDH then identified four residential properties using private wells, and also a shared well serving a mobile home park, whose residents were potentially at risk of contamination. The VDH contacted the EPA for assistance in sampling these wells.

EPA officials were able to obtain permission to sample three of the wells and determined that the water posed a health risk to the residents. The decision was made and implemented to provide bottled water until the affected residences could be connected to the town water supply.

Further testing has yet to determine either the source of, or the extent of the contamination though several other residential wells that have been tested also showed elevated levels of tetrachloroethylene. These residences are also being supplied with bottled water at no cost until they can be connected to the town’s supply. These residents have been advised to refrain from using the well water for drinking, cooking or bathing.

As of February, 2011, the EPA is conducting further tests to determine the full extent of the contamination and to attempt to identify the origin of the tetrachloroethylene. Testing at the former ACME plant from which the well derives its name showed no indications of contamination from that source.

John Haksch is the Louisa County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  If you find this report helpful, please consider supporting the Free Enterprise Forum.  To learn more visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Greene Supervisors Approve PVCC Lease to Fill Library Second Floor

By Pauline Hovey, Greene County Field Officer

Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC) may soon occupy office space that has sat vacant atop the Greene County library for the past several years. Tuesday night (3/8) supervisors unanimously approved leasing the county property to PVCC for use as a satellite campus. Fried Companies, Inc., drew up the term sheet for the proposed lease and is working with PVCC to build out the space for the college. Ken Lawson, representing Fried Companies, said they expect once they build out the space to use it for the full 25-year lease.

frank_friedman “We have been wanting to do this for a number of years and are very excited about providing convenient educational opportunities for the residents of Greene County,” said PVCC President Frank Friedman, who attended the meeting.

photo credit PVCC

Supervisor Mike Skeens (Monroe district) welcomed the decision as it will assist the numerous William Monroe High School students taking PVCC courses. Compared with surrounding counties, Greene has one of the highest percentages of high school students taking dual enrollment courses at PVCC. Opening this campus will enable these students as well as adult residents enrolled at PVCC to remain in Greene and avoid traveling south of the City of Charlottesville where the main campus is located. Residents will also benefit from onsite distance learning, especially those now using dial-up Internet service.

The only resident speaking at the public hearing on the issue was Roy Dye, representing the Stanardsville Area Revitalization Project (STAR). “This gives us a real shot in the arm in terms of our efforts to revitalize the area,” Dye said. He anticipates the presence of college students along Main Street will encourage new business, including coffee shops and other such businesses students frequent.

PVCC will pay for maintenance related to the interior of the space while Greene County will handle the exterior of the building and the site. Particulars of the lease will be worked out at a future date in terms mutually agreeable to all parties.

The Board also unanimously approved moving the Stanardsville voting precinct location from the Fire House (on Celt Road) to the American Legion Hall on Route 230, mainly because of parking and pedestrian issues along Celt Road during large turnouts for elections. County code will be amended to reflect this change.

Region Ten representatives Steven Stern and Morgan Lanier gave a presentation of services the organization provides in Greene County and discussed possible effects of proposed legislation. Expecting challenges and reductions in funding, given the state’s fiscal situation and pending federal health care legislation, the gentlemen wanted to make the county aware of the significance of the services they currently provide, including services for mental health support, substance abuse and addiction, outpatient therapy, crisis intervention, and a wounded warrior program for veterans.

In other matters from the public, resident Patsy Morris asked the board to consider changing the combined income figures and percentages of real estate tax relief for the elderly and disabled. Those currently eligible for real estate tax relief must have a combined annual income of no more than $20,000.

The Board also approved the following nominations to the Economic Development Authority’s board of directors: Don Pamenter, Chad Kelley, and Bill Losiego.

Budget workshops begin Wednesday morning, March 9, and will resume on Friday, March 11, with all departments presenting their budgets to the supervisors. Chairman Steve Catalano (at-large) said he wants to have the budget settled by March 21st. Supervisors expect to be conservative in their budget decisions.

Pauline Hovey is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  If you find this report helpful, please consider supporting the Free Enterprise Forum.  To learn more visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org