Monthly Archives: May, 2012

Chloramines Controversy Could Cost Millions

By. Neil Williamson, President

water supplyWhat’s the cost of changing a Water Board decision?

How about 25% – 35% increase in your monthly water bill.  How will that impact those on a fixed budget? 

Should economic impacts have equal standing with scientific data in the discussion?

Please let me explain.

Let’s start with a given that everyone wants a sufficient, clean safe, drinking water supply.

To that end, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates requirements for disinfection of drinking water as well as limits on the presence of byproducts.  The EPA first developed these regulations in 1979 and has regularly been updating (and tightening the regulations).  The most recent change in the EPA requirements caused the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) to approve the use of chloramines as a secondary disinfectant.  While the RWSA Board has approved the use of chloramines, with no public comment, the implementation of this action has not yet occurred.

The Free Enterprise Forum has been troubled by several individuals who have suggested that our water is just fine as is and we do not have to do anything.  An independent analysis by Hazen Sawyer conducted in July 2011 found:

Sampling sites for the Stage 2 DBP Rule were selected through the Initial Distribution System Evaluation process as required by the DBPR. The Initial Distribution System Evaluation (IDSE) found that compliance with the Stage 2 DBPR would be a challenge without water treatment plant (WTP) modifications to reduce DBP formation.

Beyond the knowing violation of federal law, the EPA also reserves the right to fine violators up to $25,000 per day of violation.

While one may not agree with the specific numbers in the federal requirement, the place to argue this is at the federal rather than local level.  So doing nothing is NOT an option.

Interestingly, neither the EPA nor the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) dictate specifically how a municipal water authority disinfects their water.  They simply provide guidance regarding approved options. 

Prior to selecting chloramines as a solution, the RWSA considered several of the EPA/VDH approved options.  In his March 9th Memo to the RWSA Board Executive Director Tom Frederick laid out the capital facility options as:

  1. Granular activated carbon filtration
  2. Magnetic Ion exchange
  3. Chloramines
  4. Membrane nanofiltration
  5. Ultraviolet light

The least costly (about $5 million dollars capital and $102,000 annual operating) was chloramines.  The next least costly option, granular activated carbon, capital costs are $18.3 million dollars and annual operating cost is $980,000.

Not surprisingly, the RWSA Board of Directors supported the staff recommendation to use chloramines to attain the unfunded federal mandate regarding disinfectant.

It is important to note, many municipal water systems nationwide have been successfully using chloramines as a disinfectant.  In fact,  76% of all Virginians today are drinking water disinfected by chloramines; including drinking water in Fairfax County, Norfolk and Richmond.  In fact, Richmond water works has been using chloramines for over fifty years. 

Our research has resulted in uncovering many heart breaking stories regarding potential chloramine impacted skin rashes and diseases. While we feel for those impacted negatively, we have not seen any  statistical evidence linking increases of such diseases between those communities using chloramines and those not.

If a change is made today to reverse course and move to granular activated carbon filtration, sources have indicated that the wholesale rate for water may increase by 25% to 35%.  This fact is under reported and must be a part of the public discussion.

Choices have economic consequences.  

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

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Commentary: Fluvanna’s Budget Morass

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer

The recent school budget unpleasantries in Fluvanna County startled many. They also suggest a change in the way many citizens view their Board of Supervisors and how they perceive county governance in the broadest sense. Three supervisors –- the majority — broke an implicit bond of fair play with citizens that will be difficult to restore in the short term.

Here is a quick overview of what happened: originally, a supervisor budget committee suggested that the school budget be reduced by $1 million for Fiscal Year 2013. Fair enough – it was, after all only an initial proposal. As the budget talks proceeded, and with input from the school board, the funds were restored and a real estate tax rate to support the budget was set at $.68 per $100 of assessed value.

Subsequently, a group of private citizens suggested specific line item cuts to the school budget that would cut $1.2 million from the FY 2012 allocation. The three supervisors: Kenney (Columbia), Ullenbruch (Palmyra), and Weaver (Cunningham), accepted the private recommendations and voted to adopt the last minute proposal and reduce the real estate tax rate to $.5981.

And therein lies the breach of faith and its entrails.

The school board, the school superintendent, and even the two remaining supervisors were given less than three hours notice of the new budget proposal before it was presented. This surprising lack of courtesy to colleagues and other county officials severely undermined the efforts of school superintendent Gena Keller to rebuild trust among elected officials and the community at large.

The high school bond issue has been divisive in the community, and the supervisors have praised Ms. Keller widely for her community outreach efforts. In one vote though, supervisors pulled the rug out from under Keller’s efforts and managed to turn popular attention away from a huge school budget and into a new perception of county politics attempting Washington-style back room dealings and hardball. The public was not amused.

Supervisors sought to remove one of its own from the school payroll. Supervisor Mozell Booker (Fork Union) is a part time employee of the school system and the gang of three suggested that the school board abolish her position to save money. The Board of Supervisors has no authority to force a school personnel action and it is striking that the lack of comity on the Board would extend that deeply.

People – virtually all school supporters — emerged from the woodwork and sought to restore the funds, increase taxes if necessary, or even transfer funds from other parts of the budget to support the schools. Social media commentary exploded. The final budget meeting attracted hundreds and all but three speakers supported the schools in some four hours of public comment — $650,000 was restored to the budget, enough to open the new high school.

The significance of the social media discourse cannot be underestimated. It ensnared one supervisor and undermined much of the credibility he had with a large segment of his constituency. According to readers, here are just some of the points made by supervisor Ullenbruch. posted on Facebook:

· He supported schools and strong education in Fluvanna [during the election campaign];

· He could not understand why school supporters would want to alienate him since he would vote on three more budgets;

· He proposed to transfer some one million from E-911 improvements to restore the school funding [he specifically voted against his own proposal at the final budget meeting]; and,

· He would call in the sheriff’s department to enforce trespassing laws if budget protesters picketed his store.

Mr. Ullenbruch’s inchoate concept of constituent service was matched by his attempt to enforce his perspective on regional nonprofits. For example, he stated publically that while Fluvanna partially restored local funding to JABBA and JAUNT for this fiscal year: “it’s a warning, it’s over… we’re giving them [a] one year warning that they have to get their act together and be self sufficient … because this [local funding] isn’t happening anymore”.

Well. Since Fluvanna accounts for just one-eleventh of JAUNT’s service population, one can only imagine the foreboding within the JAUNT offices over the Ullenbruch ultimatum to change its business model.

Ultimatums, implicit threats, whether directed at institutions or individuals, ill-become elected officials and citizens equally, especially at the local level. Fluvanna residents certainly deserved better in the recent budget process, and they should expect more from their supervisors in the future.

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William Des Rochers is the Fluvanna 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

Top Ten Spin – Is C-ville “Endangered”?

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

A headline in the Washington Post caught my eye over the weekend (5/20/12)  Potomac ‘most endangered’? Just hype Post columnist Robert McCartney highlighted the lack of scientific data behind an environmental groups declaration that the Potomac as “America’s most endangered river”.  McCartney writes:

The top ranking wasn’t based on pollution levels or other scientific data. It wasn’t warranted by trends or policy changes that threaten our river more than any other. It isn’t as if the Potomac has been gradually creeping up the roster and finally reached the peak. This was its first appearance since the annual list began in 1986.

No, the advocacy group American Rivers highlighted the Potomac this year primarily for slick political and public relations motives. The group picked what it called “the nation’s river” in order to rouse citizens to fight efforts in Congress to weaken the Clean Water Act on the law’s 40th anniversary. It helped that it’s an election year, when Washington is in the news.

I thought that I had seen an  Albemarle County project highlighted in a similar list recently.  A quick web search found that the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) had listed Charlottesville as one of the Top Ten Endangered Places 2012 (www.stopthebypass.org)

In reviewing the supporting material placing Charlottesville on this list, it was clear, like the American Rivers designation,  there is not significant scientific ordering to the ranking.  The “threat” as described by SELC is as follows:

A wasteful, destructive bypass would mar landscapes, cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, endanger public health, and fail to solve traffic problems.

Interestingly another environmental group, who is also opposed to the bypass, the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC), issued a media release in January highlighting the number of acres that have been permanently placed on conservation easement in Albemarle County:

In Albemarle County, 2,283 acres were protected by conservation easements in 2011, adding to a total of over 85,700 acres, or 18% of the total land. . . . In total, conservation easements in Albemarle County now protect 372 miles of streams and rivers, 32,000 acres of prime farmland, 57,000 acres of forests, 23,000 acres along Scenic Byways, and 36,000 acres in historic districts. These resources make Albemarle and Charlottesville great places to live and are fundamental to the local and state economies. [Emphasis Added – NW]

PEC’s trumpeting the large volume of land under permanent conservation easement seems to be in conflict with the idea that Charlottesville is “endangered”.

Both the American Rivers and SELC “endangered” top ten lists lack clear methodology.  The Washington Post article discussed the American Rivers communications strategy: 

Public relations experts faulted both American Rivers for hyping the story and the media for being too ready to bite.

“The number one ranking implies that the Potomac is worse than everything else. How is that not a lie?” said Paul Argenti, a corporate communication professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.

“You have to have some sort of measurable justification when you do a ranking,” he said.

Just as Mark Twain once wrote, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story”, The Free Enterprise Forum takes the SELC (and American Rivers) top ten listings with a grain of salt.

We do not believe Charlottesville is one of the most endangered places due to the construction of the US 29 Bypass.  Conversely, we believe when constructed the Bypass will not only improve the safety of our areas roadways but also both provide efficient and effective traffic/freight  movement.

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

US29 Bypass Delays Increased Project Costs by $30.9 Million

MEDIA RELEASE

Charlottesville, VA – An independent financial analysis, conducted by The Free Enterprise Forum, suggests the U.S. 29 Bypass would have cost more than 23% less had the project been completed when it was permitted twelve years ago when Federal Highway Administration approved and signed the Environmental Reevaluation on March 13, 2000.

Instead of moving forward with construction, legal challenges followed by political obstruction stopped this important improvement to a national highway. 

Utilizing data from the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Free Enterprise Forum converted the US 29 bypass apparent low construction bid from 2012 dollars to 2001 dollars.  By reverse application of the Consumer Price Index, the Free Enterprise Forum determined the bid in 2001 would have been $30.99 Million dollars lower.

 2012 Bid                     $135,988,000

In 2001 Dollars    $104,988,910

                                    ==========

                                       $ 30,999,890

 

Free Enterprise Forum President Neil Williamson said, “Our goal in researching this issue was to have an objective, independent analysis.  As the community has been engaged in this vibrant debate, costs have been increasing.  The community must recognize that these delays have financial impacts.  Quantifying the cost of delay is fundamental to understanding the impact of our action, or in this case, inaction to move forward with transportation solutions”.

The Free Enterprise Forum is a privately funded, public policy organization. 

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After Raucous Public Comment, Greene Supervisors Change Course

By. Neil Williamson, President

Shortly after midnight this morning (5/9), after a meeting that more resembled a high school pep rally than a budget discussion, the Greene County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to fund the School Division with a budget increase of $2.109 Million (Peyton-Stanardsville – opposed).  This was a change in direction for three of the supervisors (Cox, Dean, Lamb) who in last week’s budget work session had indicated support for a smaller increase in funding.GCBOS 1130 pm May 8th

Over ninety Greene County parents, teachers, students and business owners spoke during the over three hours of public comment.  The majority of the audience remained (photo right @11:30 pm) until late into the evening.

The Free Enterprise Forum does not have any positions on schools funding, budgets or tax rates.  We do believe that a proper public process needs to respect the views of all.  While there was almost unanimity in support of the schools request among those speaking in the over capacity Ray Dingledine Performing Arts Center, The Free Enterprise Forum takes issue with the manner in which the meeting was conducted.

Clarence “Buggs” Peyton serves as the 2012 Chairman of the Board of Supervisors.  According to the Greene County Board of Supervisors Bylaws, adopted January 10, 2012, Robert’s Rules of Order will be followed unless otherwise indicated.  Under Robert’s Rules, the Chairman has specific responsibilities to ensure a meeting is well run:

The presiding officer duties include …… To open the session at the time at which the assembly is to meet, by taking the chair and calling the members to order; to announce the business before the assembly in the order in which it is to be acted upon; to recognize members entitled to the floor;  to state and to put to vote all questions which are regularly moved, or necessarily arise in the course of the proceedings, and to announce the result of the vote; to protect the assembly from annoyance from evidently frivolous or dilatory motions by refusing to recognize them; to assist in the expediting of business in every way compatible with the rights of the members …to enforce on all occasions the observance of order and decorum among the members,… [emphasis added]

In failing to prevent the public from cheering and clapping during the meeting, the chair fostered a hyperbolic atmosphere that was not conducive to constructive discord.  A number of citizens left the meeting early describing the setting as ‘mob rules’.

In failing to limit each speaker’s time and allowing them to speak directly to the audience gathered, the chair created an atmosphere where rules were absent.

The meeting which lasted until 12:30 am could easily have been concluded an hour earlier with a firm speaker time limit and without the delay from applause.

The public, however, is far from without blame in this instance.  While speaking with passion and conviction is important, to suggest that funding the schools at anything less than the requested amount is “child abuse” is over the top.  This is just one of many examples heard last night, where the message could have been delivered in a more tactful manner.

The Free Enterprise Forum will ferociously defend the freedom of speech for all citizens but we do also ask for the same respect for all citizens, regardless of their political views.

Last night’s Greene County meeting is only the most recent public meeting that failed to provide a forum for opposition views to be welcomed.

As a community, we should demand better, from our elected officials, from our neighbors and from ourselves.

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/Graphics Credit: Free Enterprise Forum

Fluvanna: Anatomy of a Budget Deal

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer

At the end of April, a group of citizens in Fluvanna County gathered quietly to examine in detail the school division’s budget proposal and current expenditures. They had reason to. Some of the group had strongly opposed the proposed real estate tax rate of $.68 per $100 of assessed value, which would have increased the tax rate by nearly 20 percent.

The group was told by one official that in order to make any headway with the Board of Supervisors, it would have to recommend specific school budget cuts, not just a “generic cut”. They did. The crux of the budget cuts that the Board approved on May 2nd emanated from this private group. The budget cuts reduced the real estate tax hike from $.68 to $.5981, or to an increase of 5 percent.

kenney_200pxGiven the private recommendation, Chairman Shawn Kenney (Columbia) came on board at the end of April. Now there were three votes to approve cuts to the school budget. This was the deciding vote to cut the school funding and reduce the tax rate.

In order to manage the political process, Kenney quietly informed two county staff members that the budget numbers might change and requested new budget data. But according to sources, no one informed either the schools or other supervisors of the new proposal. It was hardball politics to ensure that the word did not spread.

The school administration and the other supervisors (Joe Chesser (Rivanna) and Mozell Booker (Fork Union)) were informed about three hours before the supervisors’ public meeting that the deal was cut. School Superintendent Gena Keller attempted to address each of the potential cuts to her budget proposal, but given the short notice, was ill prepared to provide detailed information.

Supervisors cannot dictate specific dollar cuts to the school board; either they provide a single figure for an aggregate budget, or they can provide figures for broad categories. Therefore, the specific cuts proposed by the supervisors are only recommendations. But here are some of the recommendations:

Reduce health insurance contribution by $359,000 – according to one source, the county overfunded health care last year and this is a catch up;

Reduce the retirement “bonus” work program and eliminate one part-time position – which currently occupied by supervisor Mozell Booker – total value: $332,000;

  • Grab the Virginia new windfall contribution: $238,000;
  • Deny a 2 percent salary supplement: $452,000;
  • Close two schools and eliminate automobiles: $369,000

Overall, the schools were cut $2.33 million over the last advertised budget. But the cut is less than that when measured against the FY 2012 budget. The county contribution to the schools, when measured against that figure, amounts to a $1.4 million, or a 10.2 percent cut.

Supervisors also made a significant cut in the county’s contributions to non-profit organizations, and completely eliminated its contribution to JAUNT, thus calling into question as to whether there will be any public service transportation in the county starting in July. Last year, Fluvanna contributed $91,000 to JAUNT.

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William Des Rochers is the Fluvanna 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

Photo Credit: Shaunkenney.com

Greene Schools Budget Cut By a Million Dollars Six Days Before Public Hearing

By. Neil Williamson, President

In last night’s (5/2) hastily arranged budget work session, the Greene County Board of Supervisors tentatively agreed to increase funding for the schools by $1.1 million dollars in Fiscal Year 2013.  This was approximately 1 million dollars less than was requested by the School Board.546285_3902573207763_1382207635_4636189_1560106096_n

The increased local funding request was based on an increase in Virginia Retirement Services costs (passed on by the state) of $1.2 million dollars, a 10% increase in health insurance costs, increased fuel costs and a reduction in state funding due to a recalculation of Greene County’s Local Composite Index [ability to pay].

The size of the Greene County’s reserve fund (Currently about $16 million) was an item of contention among several supervisors.   The failure of the board to define a reserve fund policy (see our September 2011 post) created friction among Board members and

Greene County had worked through a series of budget workshops with the School Board (and the other county departments) and had even advertised their budget with school funding at the $2.123 Million dollar level. 

If this budget cycle seems to be condensed, it is.  The delay in the enactment of a State budget, as well as its content, has had ripple effects in all of the localities the Free Enterprise Forum operates.  

Earlier today, a letter was circulated from School Board Chair Troy Harlow and Superintendent of Schools Dr. David Jeck.  The letter stated in part:

Greene County currently has a reserve fund containing ~$16 million. This amount represents a 30% reserve which is twice the reserve amount recommended by the county auditor. Over $1.4 million of that amount was directly contributed by the school system through disciplined money management and strategic financial decisions. These strategies allowed the school system to contribute those funds while still cutting spending by an additional $1M. These cuts were realized primarily through the elimination of 38 positions, and a 20% decrease in material and supplies funding. At the same time, GCPS added approximately 200 new students. [emphasis in original-nw]

BOS Chairman Buggs Peyton (Stanardsville) indicated his reluctance to to use funds that are in the reserves: 

It[the reserve fund] is the only safety net to avoid future tax increases.  If we deplete the reserves inevitably it will result in a tax increase.  Shortfalls should not be saddled with the taxpayers of Greene County.  The VRS funds were robbed out of the fund and I think this county has reached the limit on taxing its citizens.”

Supervisor Jim Frydl (Swift Run) took issue with Peyton’s comments and expressed concern that the proposal included an increase in local government pay and personnel while cutting the schools.

“I would assume the Board would agree that with an increase of student population we should have an increase in responsibility.  We can’t maintain the same local funding and serve more students.

“I think it is hypocritical, at least, in increasing local government spending while the schools have absorbed cuts.  To say we are spending wisely and at the same time increase the size of government is hypocritical.  Gaining wait is not losing weight

You are advocating spending increases in raises and new positions on general government and not providing equal increases [to the schools].  We are advance collecting taxpayer money to put in reserves.

The balance of the supervisors, all of whom were elected in November each weighed in regarding their concerns about increasing spending.  As this was a work session and not a formal meeting, Finance Director Tracy Morris was looking for direction (but not a vote)  from the Board regarding what numbers to provide for the public hearing scheduled for Next Tuesday (5/8). 

Peyton suggested all new revenue go to the schools in the amount of $582,000. eddie_deane

At Large Supervisor Eddie Dean (photo left) indicated he had an issue back filling a federal program that was no longer funded and also did not thing the “carry forward” money should carry forward.  If it is not used during the budget year he believed it should revert to the general fund.  Currently, the schools retain those funds which can be seen as an incentive to cut costs.  Based on those two reductions, he proposed $1.1 Million in new schools revenue.

Frydl proposed spending $2 Million and took exception to the timing of this work session, six days prior to the public hearing:

People are going to assume this is going forward on how they wanted.  We will vote on a budget that is a million and a half less than we advertised.  This is the first conversation we had about it.  Due to timing the public won’t know.  No one is at fault – we can point to Richmond.  I think we are making a conscious decision to grow the reserves further rather than fund the school’s request.  In this year, we could spend a million to a million and a half and not impact the reserves significantly.

Supervisor Davis Lamb (Ruckersville) asked about county schools debt and indicated you can’t spend borrowed money to get out of debt.  He felt comfortable at $1.1 Million in new funding for the schools.

After some thought, Supervisor David Cox (Monroe) agreed with Dean and Lamb at $1.1 Million increase for the schools.

In their letter, Harlow and Jeck advocated for the public to speak at the public hearing and provided a preview of the impacts of this new proposed budget:

We [Greene County Schools] have reduced our staff by 38 positions over the past three years; however, if the budget passes as consented to at the May 2 workshop, the Greene County School Board may not be able to rule out the elimination of positions. Other options to consider include:

· Drastic increase in benefits costs for employees

· The elimination of essential programs such as the career and technical education center, the preschool program, school bus transportation, and/or athletics

· Furlough days for all employees

· Salary reductions

None of these options are pleasant or easy. They will be painful for all and will mean a significant “step backwards” for our nearly 500 school employees and nearly 3000 students, but this is the reality of cutting $1 million dollars out of an already lean budget.

The supervisors will hold a public hearing on Tuesday May 10th.  After the public hearing, the board will vote to approve a budget.  While previous indications seemed to be pointing to a quieter budget hearing, one can anticipate significant public turnout on both side of the spending debate.

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/Graphics Credit: Free Enterprise Forum, Greene County

Fluvanna Budget Surprises

By. William Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer

The conservatives on the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors stunned most observers — including the School Superintendent — by cutting the school budget by over $2 million and setting the real estate tax rate at $.5981 per $100 of assessed value.  The current rate is $.58.  Previously the supervisors had entertained a rate of $.68.  The last minute decision even caught one supervisor by surprise, having learned of the new proposal at 11:15 am on Wednesday.

More details will follow.

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William Des Rochers is the Fluvanna 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