Monthly Archives: December, 2011

2011 Forum Watch Top Ten

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By Neil Williamson, President

‘Tis the season for Top Ten lists.  The Free Enterprise Forum reviewed all the issues we have followed and built our list based on the importance of the story and its future potential impact on the region.

Honorable mentions included:

Without question our favorite 2011 comment came from “Emory” regarding the first TJPDC story above:

toy story martians“In what way are the local politicians like space aliens?

I’ve never met a space alien, jealous of Mr. Williams in that regard.”

Without further ado here are our top 10 stories from 2011.

10.  Fluvanna County Administrator Jay Scudder resigns suddenly. Fluvanna has been through two administrators in as many years.

Field Officer William Des Rochers reports: “According to multiple sources, Scudder alienated the staff almost from the outset of his tenure and never managed to gain their confidence. SuperJay Scuddervisors became aware of the problem and also had their own difficulties with the administrator. Some believed as administrator, he was developing his own agenda and was not as supportive of the Board’s policies as he might have been.”  Click here for more

9.  Greene County Funds Schools Projects.  After over several years of discussion and public hearings Greene County approves infrastructure improvements at their schools complex (4-2). Athletic facilities and performing arts center to receive significant facelift.

Field Officer Pauline Hovey reports: “For the nearly 11 years thisgreene county track crack reporter has lived in Greene County and attended public hearings, this marks the first time 100 percent of public comments favored a proposal. No public hesitancy or negative comments were expressed at the hearing held at the Raymond C. Dingledine III Performing Arts Center at William Monroe High School. From business leaders to coaches, from parents to seniors with no children in the school system, every one of the 25 individuals who addressed the board fully supported the project, many of them expressing concern about the safety and condition of existing facilities”.(January)  Click here for more

8.  Louisa County gets the worst of the August 23rd earthquake and countless significant aftershocks.  After delays, FEMA grants emergency aid.

Field Officer John Haksch reports: On November 4th Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell announced that clip_image002President Obama, supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), has reversed their previous decision to disqualify Louisa residents and businesses from receiving federal aid following the earthquake that rocked the county on August 23rd. The official request by the governor for assistance was made on September 20th, following thorough, weeks-long investigation by FEMA and both professional volunteers and county staff. Click here for more

7.  Albemarle County Places 29 Master Plan approved.  The Free Enterprise Forum registered its opposition to the plan but it fell on deaf ears

“It is important to note that while we have been an activePlaces29 Bistro Corner participant in the Places29 planning process, the Free Enterprise Forum has been a vocal critic of Places29 for many years.

While some of the concerns we highlighted have been removed, like the Supertax, others remain.  Click here to read more

6. Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) proposed “devolution” moving the responsibility secondary roads to localities.

VDOT logoFrom VDOT: Virginia is one of only a few states where state government has maintenance, operational, and construction responsibilities for local roads.

In most states, the state transportation agency assumes these responsibilities for interstate and primary routes while local governments assume them for local roads.

Except in Arlington and Henrico counties, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) assumes all maintenance, operational, and construction responsibilities on the secondary roads in the commonwealth’s counties.

In 2001, the General Assembly enacted what is commonly known as the “Devolution Statute.” The statute provides that boards of supervisors in any county that wishes to assume responsibility for any portion of the state secondary system of highways within that county’s boundaries may request the Commonwealth Transportation Commissioner enter into and implement an agreement to do so. This is known as “devolution.”

VDOT Devolution is a huge issue as we move into the 2012 General Assembly.

5. 1-Community Launch.  The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission starts its nearly $1 million dollar, three year 1-Community Comprehensive planning project AKA 36 month Planner Employment Plan.many plans logo

The Free Enterprise Forum blog has raised may concerns with this project:

“On the surface such a planning exercise seems benign, perhaps even appropriate but it’s much more than a simple planning exercise.  This may be the first step in changing the priorities in each localities comprehensive plan.

Without being overly dramatic, the Free Enterprise Forum is concerned the “Many Plans, One Community” has predetermined the result of their three year process as if they were programming the destination on their GPS.” To read more click here

4.  Cville Human Rights Commission Proposed City of Charlottesville opens up consideration of new bureaucracy with significant investigative and enforcement powers under the banner of “Human Rights”

The Free Enterprise Forum weighed in early with significant concerns with the legally duplicative  proposal:

“After reviewing all of the material  readily available on this issue, the Free Enterprise Forum fears that moving forward with the politically appointed Human Rights Commission, based on its current construct and goals, will do more harm than good for City economic opportunities across all demographic cohorts.

While we remain very concerned with human rights, we are equally concerned that unnecessary red tape will push more businesses out of not only Charlottesville but the entire region.

If the region loses economic opportunities  for the fear of over regulation, the region, and the residents of the region, lose.” to read more click here

3.  Meadowcreek Parkway (Albemarle Project) Opens. Albemarle pushes VDOT (and Charlottesville) to open their completed Meadowcreek Parkway Project.  While this will technically occur in 2012, it is a 2011 story.

The Free Enterprise Forum called out this issue in early summer under the headline “High Stakes Poker”

“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”

In December Albemarle County requested VDOT open the road.  Charlottesville, in an act of true chutzpah placed a number of conditions for the opening of a road that starts in Albemarle County runs through Albemarle County and currently terminates in Albemarle County.  VDOT plans to address the conditions Charlottesville set forth and plans to open the Albemarle County project on January 6th click here for more

2.  Community Water Supply Plan Moves Slowly ForwardRivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) plan to move forward with 30’ height earthen dam is approved by DEQ.  The RWSA is positioned to award the dam bid as early as this Wednesday December 28th.  Back in March, the Free Enterprise Forum, who is a long time supporter of the Community Water Supply plan wrote:

“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.”

When one considers the infrastructure Rivanna is planning to replace dates back to 1908 (and South Fork Rivanna Reservoir was built in 1966), one can recognize this issue may have has the greatest generational impact.

Charlottesville Tomorrow has a well written summary of the most recent DEQ action.  Click here to read more

1. Western Bypass US 29 Bypass revived, approved and goes out to bid.   Albemarle Board of Supervisors, Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) approve funding of the Western US 29 Bypass.  Nine vendors qualify to bid on the project.

Bypass Headline April 2011No story got more readership this year than our work on the US29 Bypass.  Starting with a small mention in an April 2011  VDOT Freight Report ending with a 3-2 vote on the MPO and a 12-1 vote on the CTB.

The Free Enterprise Forum has been a vocal advocate for the Bypass.  In a widely read editorial in the Daily Progress we opined the Western Bypass may reduce traffic to the levels that would allow the vision of Places 29 to become a reality:

Our stretch of US29 is the most dangerous portion of the entire US29 Corridor. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has reported that 49% of all motor vehicle accidents – 41% of all personal injury accidents – within the Commonwealth of Virginia along US 29 occur in Charlottesville or Albemarle.  The current roadway is increasingly unsafe and the US29 Western Bypass will increase safety on our main street dramatically.Rt29logocorridor study

Current VDOT data estimates that an average of 57,000 motor vehicles cross US29 at Hydraulic Road every day. VDOT has further estimated between 10%-20% of those vehicles are “thru-traffic” with no intention of stopping in our community. Using the median range (15%) means that more than 8,000 vehicles, many heavy trucks, would be removed. In addition each day as many as 10,000 or more vehicles within our region would bypass ‘Business 29’….

Each year the Federal Government and Virginia collect more than $40 million in motor vehicle taxes in Charlottesville and Albemarle.  The last major public road project completed locally is the widening of US29 (mid 1990s).  It has been estimated that as a community we have paid $600 million in motor vehicle taxes in the sixteen years since VDOT constructed any new road project here. It’s time our community got some of its infrastructure investment back.

us 29 logoTwenty years from now, citizens will look back on this discussion and not talk about the meritorious Western Bypass but instead wonder, as with the Route 250 Bypass, “How would our community survive without the vitality of ‘Business 29’?”

All of these issues and the local elections, 2011 is headed to the history books but I know I have learned a great deal.

Thank you for reading the blog.  The field officers and I work hard to provide you with informed commentary on local issues that impact you.

In 2012, The Free Enterprise Forum is moving into our eighth year.  As for most enterprises, 2011 has been a challenge. If you find our work helpful, please consider financially supporting the Free Enterprise Forum.  Please click here for our secure server donation page!

Thank you for the opportunity to serve.  May you and your families have a Happy 2012.

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, Louisa and  Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credits: Pixar, Albemarle County, Fluvanna County, Office of Governor,  VDOT

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Greene County Planning Commission Denies Fried Companies Rezoning Request

By Pauline Hovey, Field Officer

The Greene County Planning Commission unanimously denied the Fried Companies’ request to rezone its development off US 29 and Preddy Creek Road from residential to planned unit development (PUD) at a December 21st public hearing. When asked after the meeting whether he would pursue his company’s request with the incoming Board of Supervisors, Steve Jones, Fried’s chief operating officer, said he was uncertain what direction the company will take from here.

Fried Companies has been attempting to address changes in the real estate market by asking the county for more flexibility in changing its planned residential development from 800 single-family homes on one-acre lots to 1180 homes, 580 of which would be townhomes. The thought is that less expensive townhomes on smaller lots would provide more diverse and affordable housing for county residents and create more rooftops, which would be attractive to commercial development. Jones explained this would be a 20-year project, with the first single-family home being built in 2014. “It’s a long-haul project,” Jones said, “and we believe it’s consistent with the county’s vision for the comp plan.”

Among the proffers Fried Companies offered for the rezoning included cash proffers of $1,500 per unit, a public use area of 3 acres set aside on the property, and a connector road through the development, connecting Preddy Creek Road and US 29, which Jones said would alleviate the additional traffic created by the development and help ease traffic concerns of residents already meeting heavy traffic on their morning commute along Preddy Creek Road. Other benefits the county would experience as a result of this rezoning, according to Jones, include increased revenue through tap fees and property taxes that the additional townhomes would generate.

Although there was a full house in attendance, only a handful of residents spoke against the rezoning. However, the Planning Department had received numerous letters and emails from residents opposed to the rezoning. Residents questioned Fried’s statistics concerning vehicle traffic and number of school children a development this size would incur. Most were concerned with the traffic along Preddy Creek Road—a narrow winding and dangerously curved road on which drivers sometimes travel at unsafe speeds. Brian Higgins, of the Piedmont Environmental Council, also addressed environmental concerns affecting Preddy Creek Park, which has trails abutting the proposed development.

In addition to opponents, three county resident business owners spoke in favor of the rezoning, citing the county’s need for commercial growth, which will be enhanced and encouraged by “more rooftops” in the county. “We need potential new customers for our business,” said Larry Dudding, a Stanardsville resident and State Farm insurance agent who is a member of the Greene County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Authority board.

Commissioner Bill Martin said he “appreciate the diversification of the housing stock, but the main issue here revolves around Preddy Creek Road. It’s an unsafe road right now. I can’t see an additional 380 townhomes without VDOT making improvements to the roads.”

Chairman Norman Slezak agreed, noting that his major concern with this request is the traffic on Preddy Creek Road and how it will affect the quality of life for residents in that area.

Commissioner Frank Steele said he was also concerned about the impact on schools and the environment. He suggested the county would have to raise taxes to meet the increase in services needed for the additional residents in that area. “I think it will cost us more than the revenue [the project] will generate.”

Jones argued that “the commercial development won’t come without increased rooftops. You need a mix.”

The commissioners had an easier and shorter time deciding to approve the rezoning application to amend proffers for Ted Corp, Inc., Greenecroft LLC, located on Rte. 33 West. The proffers that the Board of Supervisors had accepted back in 2004 required the development to consist of a maximum of 21 1-acre commercial parcels. The company was requesting an amendment to allow greater flexibility in the use and design of the commercial property.

Commissioner Martin said he was “pleased to see the developer is maintaining 30 percent commercial. This will be our first mixed-use PUD.” Chairman Slezak was also pleased with this model, and the commissioners unanimously approved the application.

During the meeting, Commissioner Davis Lamb excused himself from the proceedings, citing conflict of interest since he will begin serving in his new position on the Board of Supervisors in January.

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Pauline Hovey is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.

The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Greene County Ends Year with Significant Board Turnover

By Pauline Hovey, Greene County Field Officer

The December 13th meeting marked the end of an era for the Greene County Board of Supervisors as Chairman Steve Catalano (at-large), imageknown for his conservative fiscal decision making, ended 12 years of public service on the board. Joining Catalano in his departure are supervisors Mike Skeens (Monroe district) and Carl Schmitt (at-large), both of whom lost their bids for reelection. This change represents a 60-percent turnover in the five-member board and a possible change in setting policy for the future.

The most significant decision coming out of this board’s last meeting was its unanimous decision to revise a zoning ordinance prohibiting the keeping of livestock and fowl on parcels less than 5 acres in the agricultural district. No one seemed to know how or why the 5-acre restriction originated but all agreed it was particularly prohibitive to constrain residents from keeping such livestock as chickens or goats on their rural property, especially when surrounding counties and the city of Charlottesville all allow residents to keep such animals on much smaller lots. Many residents, unaware that rural Greene County would have such restrictions, have been keeping such animals on their property and have basically gone undeterred until recently when the ordinance was brought to the public’s attention and the zoning officer approached the “offenders.”

Several residents appealed to supervisors to change the restriction, imagebut the two little girls who approached supervisors with pictures of their “pet” goats and chickens and their heartfelt appeal to be allowed keep their animals probably had the most effect. Although Supervisor Schmitt expressed concern about the occasional resident who may abuse such allowances by having too many animals on their property, which would lead to health issues, supervisors agreed that other entities are in place, such as the State Board of Health, to address such concerns should they occur. Catalano in particular noted he would like to see the restrictions on zoned agricultural areas “relaxed,” and was concerned that residents have had to come before the board to ask for special use permits, such as the recent request for an equine facility on a 204-acre property in a zoned agricultural area.  Staff was directed to move forward on revising the ordinance for consideration by the new Board of Supervisors in 2012.

In another rezoning request, the board unanimously disapproved what they termed to be a “spot zoning” request to rezone a 2.66 acre property on Fredericksburg Road/Spotswood Trail from A-1 agriculture to B-2 business, citing the traffic impact of the applicant’s proposed use of the property and its inconsistency with the comp plan.

The board also noted that on January 11, the Virginia Department of Transportation will hold a public hearing at Ruckersville Elementary School to begin receiving input from residents on establishing improvements at the intersection of Rtes. 607 and 29. And after more discussion among supervisors still unclear on the terminology of a proposed fund balance policy, any decision on setting such a policy was deferred for further review, placing it on the shoulders of the incoming board in 2012.

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Pauline Hovey is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.

The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support our work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credits: Greene County, www.petsandanimal.com

Fluvanna Supervisors Enhance Rescue Service

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer

At its December 7th meeting, Fluvanna County’s Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to contract with the University of Virginia to provide enhanced medical recue service to the county. The additional unit would provide an advanced life support crew (including a medic) and greater response capability to a system currently under great stress. The crew would supplement the Lake Monticello Fire and Rescue department, which currently provides countywide service during the weekdays.

This is the first introduction of paid service to the county and the six-month contract (for $150,000) will be reassessed at its conclusion to determine its utility. The idea of paid service has provoked opposition from the community, as has the proposal to institute cost recovery. Supervisors have gone to lengths to assure residents that no one will be turned away, nor billed if they cannot afford payment.

The Fluvanna County Fire and Rescue department, the Lake’s counterpart, has been unable to reach full strength through volunteers and in many cases throughout the county as a whole, the volunteer staff has been aging. The county’s rescue leadership unanimously endorsed the proposal, although opposition remains within its ranks.

Supervisor Shawn Kenney (Columbia) briefed his colleagues on the progress of the Governor’s Task Force on Mandates to localities. Mr. Kenney, a member of the Task Force, stated that there are over 600 mandates imposed upon localities and they have identified some 70 that could be eliminated.

Kenney also noted that if secondary road maintenance were to devolve to localities, the cost to Fluvanna would be some $3 million per year – the equivalent of an additional $.10 to the county real estate tax rate – currently at $.57 per $100 of assessed value.

Supervisors also declined to accept an offer to place 94.6 acres into a conservation easement. According to staff the county would have been unable to administer the easement and would have acted as a “placeholder” until the property could be transferred to the VA Department of Forestry. That agency is not prepared to consider the transfer until 2012.

The supervisors will hold their final meeting of the year on December 21st.

VDOT to Open Meadowcreek Parkway

By. Neil Williamson, President

On Monday night, Charlottesville City Council outlined 5 conditions it wanted to see happen prior to the opening of the County’s Meadowcreek Parkway project.

Today, (12/7) The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors voted 6-0 in meadowcreek closed 2support of opening the recently completed Meadowcreek Parkway.  This afternoon, Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) issued a news release outlining how they plan to address Council’s stated conditions and open the road.

The full text of the VDOT news release is below:

 

clip_image001

 

VDOT BEGINS FINAL PREPARATIONS TO OPEN MEADOW CREEK PARKWAY

Modifications will include lane restriping, installation and timing of traffic signals

CULPEPER — The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will begin the final work necessary to open the Meadow Creek Parkway to traffic after receiving a resolution from the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors requesting that the road be opened.

“The necessary work includes installing the traffic signal heads at the Parkway’s southern terminus at Melbourne Road as well as installing and programming the traffic signal controllers. That work will be coordinated with the city of Charlottesville since the signals at that intersection will be operated by the city along with the signal at the intersection of Melbourne Road and East Rio Road/Park Street. Other improvements that will be made include restriping travel and turn lanes in several locations and modifications to the traffic signal timing to move traffic more efficiently.

“VDOT will evaluate concerns recently identified by the city and coordinate with the city staff on appropriate action. It is anticipated that all the modifications can be completed and the Parkway opened in less than a month.

“After the Parkway is open to traffic the temporary traffic signal at East Rio Road and Dunlora Drive will be removed.

“Construction of the Meadow Creek Parkway was completed on Oct. 13, one day ahead of the scheduled completion date.”

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

Louisa Supervisors Enact Meals Tax

By. John Haksch, Louisa County Field Officer

The Louisa County Board of Supervisors, in a vote of 5-0, with 2 members absent, adopted an ordinance to establish the 4% Meals tax that won voter support in balloting on November 8th.

imageThis new tax on all prepared foods will not affect the towns of Louisa or Mineral, which already have a similar local tax in place.

With the economic crunch and added financial burdens imposed by state and federal funding cuts, the county hopes to raise revenue from residents, visitors, tourists and other transients who buy prepared food within the rest of the county, notably in Zion Crossroads, Gum Spring and the Lake Anna areas. Restaurants, fast-food outlets and those grocery store delis or convenience stores who sell ‘ready to eat’ foods will be impacted.

The hoped-for increase in tax dollars could provide as much as a $500,000 annual boost to the county treasury.

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John Haksch is the Louisa County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.

The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support our work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Municipal Mugging – Local Government Raid on $750,000 Tourism Fund

By. Neil Williamson, President

First the good news, regional tourism is up and the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau (CACVB) is achieving these objectives while under spending its budget.

The Bad News – the two local local governments want the money.image

Please let me explain.

Where the money comes from: Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville jointly fund the CACVB with monies earned from the lodging tax (also known as the Transient Occupancy Tax).  Virginia State Code § 58.1-3819 – Transient occupancy tax specifically delineates what these funds may be used for

The revenues collected from that portion of the tax over two percent shall be designated and spent for promoting tourism, travel or business that generates tourism or travel in the locality.

The concept behind this tax is the better job the tourism board does its job, the more revenue it generates for the community as a whole and to support their promotional activities.

After many years of annual budget wrangling, the discussion of a dedicated income stream developed,  According to C-villepedia:

In 2004, a new operating agreement was approved by the Charlottesville City Council and the Albemarle Board of Supervisors. A regional tourism council was eliminated, and the funding formula was changed to reflect that the CACVB would be funded from 30% of Charlottesville and Albemarle County’s annual transient occupancy taxes.

Where the money is spent:

According to their website the mission of the CACVB is:

“to enhance the economic prosperity of City and County by promoting, selling and marketing the City of Charlottesville and County of Albemarle, as a destination, in pursuit of the meetings and tourism markets.”

The CACVB accomplishes this mission through advertising, promotion, attending trade shows, staffing welcome centers as well as funding special projects.  This work is overseen by a Board of Directors that includes representation from both Albemarle County and The City of Charlottesville, The Regional Chamber of Commerce and representatives from the tourism industry.

Earlier this month, the two members from local government communicated with their colleagues in the CACVB Board  explaining their action (not the Board action) to ask staff to create a plan to draw down the accumulated the CACVB savings by shifting it to them.  The letter said in part:

The County Executive and City Manager have directed staff to develop a method for drawing down the fund balance to a more appropriate level, with the funds to be distributed back to the County and City.

While there was a promise in the letter to use these restricted funds for “tourism related purposes”, the Free Enterprise Forum believes both local governments are raiding the tourism cookie jar and punishing the CACVB.

The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce has sent communication to the City and the County advising against this “take back” –

Such a measure is ill-advised and opposed by our Chamber of Commerce.

These accumulated funds have been generated by local lodging taxes and are dedicated for direct tourism promotion funding – as compared to local general fund revenues available for any appropriate local funding options.  As such these funds should and must be expended only for direct tourism promotion purposes.  Unlike general tax revenues, dedicated tourism promotion funding is not to be available for general fiscal relief to County of Albemarle and the City of Charlottesville.

Earlier today, Board of Directors of the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau passed a resolution (with the City and County government representatives abstaining) that said in part:

dedicated local direct tourism promotion funding – as compared to local general tax revenues – should and must be expended only for direct tourism promotion and is not to be available for fiscal relief to County of Albemarle and the City of Charlottesville;

Further, the Free Enterprise Forum has taken issue with the methodology Albemarle County has used in the past using tourism dollars to help fund the Acquisition of Conservation Easements (ACE) program for properties that have tangential relationship (in our opinion) to tourism promotion.  We have little faith that reprogramming these dollars will increase tourism support; in fact we believe it will be used to replace  the small amount of direct local government support for tourism.

The CACVB Board of Directors has now started to take ownership of the fund balance that currently exceeds three quarters of a million dollars ($767,272).  It is important to note that the funds were accumulated over years of reduced spending.

  • Has the current CACVB Board provided staff proper direction to spend the funds allocated?
  • If so, how did the the fund balance get so high?
  • How will local government respond now that the usually amenable CACVB Board of Directors has stood tall and challenged what we see as a municipal mugging?
  • Considering all of the above should the entire construct (and budget) of the CACVB be reconsidered?

Once again, the Free Enterprise Forum has more questions than answers.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

Can One Oppose C-ville Human Rights Commission Concept and Still Support Human Rights?

By. Neil Williamson, President

An associate of mine asked the question posed in the headline regarding Charlottesville’s latest exploration into the potential expansion of local government.

In the academic/philosophical world the question is between the current checks and balances of government versus a new politically appointed human rights commission.

In the real world however, this associate warned, if you oppose the human rights commission you risk the public appearance that you oppose human rights.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Please let me explain.

Monday night (12/5) Charlottesville City Council will consider moving forward a Human Rights Commission concept brought forward by the “Dialog on Race”.  This concept, which would require  significant new empowerment by the state legislature and significant funding, is according to City Attorney Craig Brown’s memo:

The Proposal suggests that the Commission “would have the power to hold hearings, conduct investigations, issue reports, impose fines and remedies” (Proposal p. 3).    The Commission’s enforcement duties would include “investigating complaints and bringing them to resolution through conciliation, hearings, findings and ordering remedies, such as back pay,  job  reinstatement, rental  of  an  apartment or  damages.” (Proposal p.  13)    The Proposal also states that the City’s ordinance could include “a system of fines of up to $5,000.00 to be imposed for employers or landlords found to be out of compliance with
the local ordinance”. (Proposal p. 13)

The Free Enterprise Forum firmly believes in human rights.  We firmly believe when employees and or tenants are treated in a fair and equitable manner both parties benefit.  In addition, we steadfastly believe that any and all regulations should be considered and vetted by all those impacted by the proposed regulations.  We are very concerned that, to our knowledge, despite months of “dialog” on these issues no one has proactively reached out to property owners and employers.

To suggest that employers and landlords feel “left out of the loop” is an understatement.  While Mr. Brown’s memo outlining the next steps for the proposal was readily available on the City website, the actual proposal that drove the memo was not.

The Free Enterprise Forum has obtained the proposal (thanks to the City) and while we appreciate the Dialog on Race for reaching out to “several” community groups, we are surprised we are not aware of any direct interaction on this proposal with the Downtown Business Alliance, the Blue Ridge Apartment Council, or even the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce

After reviewing all of the material  readily available on this issue, the Free Enterprise Forum fears that moving forward with the politically appointed Human Rights Commission, based on its current construct and goals, will do more harm than good for City economic opportunities across all demographic cohorts.

While we remain very concerned with human rights, we are equally concerned that unnecessary red tape will push more businesses out of not only Charlottesville but the entire region. 

If the region loses economic opportunities  for the fear of over regulation, the region, and the residents of the region, lose.

We propose taking a step back and engaging ALL stakeholders in this discussion.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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