Monthly Archives: September, 2012

Principals and Students Address Greene Board of Supervisors

By. Brent Wilson, Greene County Field Officer

The agenda for the September 25th Greene County Board of SchoolCenter PictureSupervisors (BOS) meeting was fairly light  but the room was crowded. Greene County Schools made another effort to build the relationship with the Supervisors.

Superintendent Dr. Jeck  and the principals of each school in Greene brought one or more students to address the BOS to give the BOS an update on what they are getting for the extra budget funding they approved on May 8th .

Kyle Pursel, principal at William Monroe Middle School  presented Ryan Deane, Kristin Shifflett and Haley Davis who invited Supervisor Jim Frydl to attend one of their volleyball matches.

William Monroe High School Principal Mike Jamerson joined Greene Technical Education Center Principal Harry Daniel in introducing Mehgan Taylor, Senior Class President. Ms. Taylor invited Supervisor Eddie Deane to be the BOS representative to the high school and invited him to attend the Homecoming Football Game on Friday, October 19th.

Mike Coiner, principal at Greene County Primary School presented Colin Lambert who extended an invitation to Supervisor David Cox to become the schools adopted board member. Mr. Coiner invited Mr. Cox to come to lunch and take a tour of the Primary School.

Nathaniel Greene Elementary Principal Daniel Phillips presented fifth grader Dyllan Davis who presented BOS Chairman Buggs Peyton a card inviting him to visit his school to see all the great things happening at NGES. Charles Heaton, principal at Ruckersville Elementary School  presented 5th grader Ryan Davis who made an invitation to Supervisor Davis Lamb to the Veteran’s Day program on November 9th.

At the end of the students presentations, Chairman Peyton thanked all the principals and students for attending and Supervisor Deane invited all of them to attend future meetings.

The Free Enterprise Forum recognizes the significant effort the school system, and the School Board is putting forward to keep in regular communication with the BOS.  Such familiarity could promote better understanding and communication between the two elected boards as they move into the FY2014 Budget cycle.

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Brent Wilson 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

Photo Credits: Greene County

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Proposed US29 Western Bypass Extension is Too Short – and Too Long

By. Neil Williamson, President

The Charlottesville Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is discussing a conceptual plan to extend the US29 Western Bypass.  This concept is being presented at their September 26th meeting and will be discussed as a part of the Long Rage Transportation Plan for the next couple of months.  Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs has the story in this morning’s Daily Progress

The Free Enterprise Forum believes that this is a great topic for long term discussion but the project is both too long and too short.

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The core benefits of this proposed extension are two fold.  First it would provide improved access to one of our economic development assets the Charlottesville Albemarle Airport (CHO) and it would ease congestion on North US29.

To accomplish the first benefit the road is too long.  A singular project connecting the existing airport to the federally funded Western Bypass [with the ability to later be extended] would be significantly less expensive and, considering the economic development benefit,  would be more likely to be competitive for the ever decreasing transportation funding dollars.

To accomplish the second task of truly easing traffic on US29, the proposed extension is too short.  As any one who drives this stretch of US29 regularly knows, congestion starts north of the Greene County line.  A wider lens is required to see the potential of a longer Western Bypass Extension that would rejoin US29 somewhere north and/or west of the US29/US33 intersection.

While the current MPO is limited by the geographic boundaries of Albemarle County’s growth area, it seems clear that in the next census, Greene County will be forced to join the MPO.  Such an MPO Expansion will most likely take place long before the US29 Western Bypass Extension would be full funded.  Prudent planning would suggest the MPO factor this reality into their planning.

The Free Enterprise Forum calls on the MPO in considering their long term transportation planning to consider the potentiality for both a shorter AND a longer US29 Western Bypass Extension.

Sometimes two projects are better than one.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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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.

US29 Bypass Faces “Obstacle Illusions”

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By Neil Williamson, President

For the last eight weeks, well funded transporus 29 logotation obstructionist organizations have attempted to hijack the US29 Bypass Environmental Assessment review process by changing the dynamics and falsely suggesting this week’s input session is a hurdle that must be crossed to allow the EA to move forward. 

In addition these groups are using a classic form of rhetorical argument where if you do not like the answer change the question.  This creation of “Obstacle Illusions” is confusing and misinforming the public. 

Please let me explain.

According to their website on September 27th the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will be holding a meeting to:

provide the public an opportunity to review and comment on the Environmental Assessment on the Route 29 Charlottesville Bypass project.

The meeting will be held at Jack Jouett Middle School from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. in an open forum format. The school is located at 210 Lambs Lane, Charlottesville, VA 22901.

Written and oral comments will be taken at the meeting. Written comments may also be submitted by Oct. 9, 2012, to Ms. Angel Deem, Environmental Division, Virginia Department of Transportation, 1221 E. Broad Street,  Richmond, VA 23219, or by email to Route29BypassEA@VDOT.Virginia.gov.

Please put “Route 29 Charlottesville Bypass Environmental Assessment” in the subject line.

It is important to note, this public input session is not mandated by Federal or State code it is an additional step VDOT is taking at the request of local officials.  The goal of the meeting is to accept feedback from the public regarding the EA.

The EA seeks to answer the question of measuring the environmental impacts, the metrics used and, if the measurements exceed acceptable levels, what mitigation will be completed.

In print and television advertisements, opponents have suggested this is the opportunity to speak out against the US 29 Bypass.  These advertisements suggest the public meeting is a hearing on the bypass itself creating an “obstacle illusion” that the outcome of this input meeting could stop the bypass. 

One Letter to the Editor suggested “The bypass will operate to our detriment for the next 50 years in terms of meeting future needs.” (John Martin Daily Progress September 24th).  Clearly Mr. Martin is not directing his comments to the EA but rather the decision to fund the roadway.

The Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club chose to focus their opposition on materials that might be permitted to be transported on the proposed roadway rather than the roadway’s direct environmental impacts:

“Presence of nuclear industries at Lynchburg suggests that radioactive materials and other goods related to nuclear industries will be transported on the Route 29 Bypass if it is built.”

Really???? The nuclear card??  And  if the Bypass is not built wouldn’t those same materials go right through the heart of the community???????

It seems equally ironic that  Morgan Butler of  the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) suggests in his September 23rd Daily Progress Letter to the Editor that  the focus of the September 27th meeting should be on roadway design not the Environmental Assessment.

In a fun, albeit inaccurate,  slide show on the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) website, Field Officer Jeff Werner suggests that six of the  “doable” projects discussed in Places29 may not be funded if the bypass goes forward.   Werner is well aware that three of the six fixes (North US29 lane expansion, Hillsdale Drive Extension, “Best Buy” Ramp) are already moving forward with actions by the Secretary of Transportation or the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) 

The inconvenient truth (to borrow a phrase from Al Gore) is that those opposed to the road can’t argue with the methods and metrics included in VDOT’s Environmental Assessment.  Instead they are rallying support and donations on a false premise regarding the meeting’s purpose. 

We fully anticipate the majority of participants in this week’s meeting will focus incorrectly on the roadway design due to the opponents’ aggressive advertising efforts. 

It is unfortunate that thanks to road blocking groups fanning the flames of self serving “obstacle illusion”, VDOT will likely not get  informed public comment on their well written Environmental Assessment.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

**Editor’s Note 9/27/12 John Martin Letter to the Editor quote corrected -nw. 

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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.

TJPDC Livability ‘Joint Vision’ Needs Glasses

By. Neil Williamson, President

The Free Enterprise Forum has highlighted concerns with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) livability project since the first media release describing the nearly $1,000,000 grant hit our inbox.

On Tuesday, September 18th the Planning Commissions from the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County are holding a joint meeting on the Joint Vision and Goal Language of the project.

This meeting is a fairly high level of “wonkiness” the Joint Vision does not have any legal standing but will be used as these independent jurisdictions work on their specific comprehensive plans.  To further muddy the waters, tneed glasseshe state mandated Comprehensive Plan does have legal standing but only as a “guide”.

To date much of the discussions at the livability work sessions has been talking about what they want to talk about when they get the two Planning Commissions together.

Much of the language that has been drafted is at such a high level of thought that it is too vague to criticize.  For example the Economic Development strategy is “Continue to coordinate staff efforts to support regional economic development.” It is difficult to find anything in that sentence to be opposed to. 

The vague ‘Vision’ is true throughout the document with three glaring exceptions:

  • Environmental interventionism in neighborhood design
  • Mandated Historic Preservation
  • Declared War on Automobile (and by extension independent mobility)

kermit-greenIt’s not easy being “’Green”- Under the Environment heading the ‘Joint Vision’ seeks to “Create a community of green neighborhoods, healthy waterways, clean air, and sustainable natural resources”. 

Why is green given such prominence? 

It could be argued that cars are not green.  If cars are not green should the neighborhood provide infrastructure for them? Do streets even exist in a truly “green” neighborhood?

If streets do not exist how are emergency services delivered?

Isn’t health and safety of our citizens at least as important as greenness of our neighborhoods?

With all due respect Mr. Kermit T. Frog, the Free Enterprise Forum prefers a more balanced word than ‘green’ in the Joint Vision.  We like the language regarding healthy waterways as striking a balance within a system to focus on the goal of health.  We believe either use the word “healthy” to describe ideal neighborhoods or choose other language that describes a proper balance between environmental demands and human needs (health, safety and welfare). 

Historic Persecution – One of the challenges planners face is the City of Charlottesville has a Historic Preservation ordinance and Albemarle County does not.  In a gross generalization, planners tend to like historic preservation ordinances because it provides a planning control.NR_Albemarle_CovesvilleHD_002-5038.photo4 credit VA DHR

While the Free Enterprise Forum believes voluntary historic preservation by property owners is a good thing and can often result in an increase in property value, we have held firm for over ten years that a Historic Preservation ordinance would be punitive and would diminish individual property rights.  We have held firm if you want to preserve it – buy it.

It is with this philosophical backdrop that we take issue with the ‘Joint Vision’ statement that reads “Build upon the historic character of the region by protecting and promoting existing historic and cultural resources”

We believe the statement should read “Respect historic property owners’ rights and the historic character of the region by encouraging historic property protection and by promoting existing historic and cultural resources”.

War on the Automobile – Under the Transportation heading the ‘Joint Vision’ calls to “Promote regional multi-modal transportation options that reduce auto dependency”. 

This is a great example of planner vision seeping into a policy document.  Is the elimination of auto dependency really a goal of either Charlottesville or Albemarle?

It is interesting that in the section of the ‘Joint Vision’ document speaking of housing it articulates a need for housing to be connected to “facilities, parks, trails and services” but fails to mention roads. 

At the risk of sounding paranoid, I firmly believe this war on the automobile is not the true will of the community or even a majority of either planning commission.

In reality any war on the automobile is, by extension, a war on mobility.  For as Joel Schwartz, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute wrote:

There is no realistic alternative to automobile-based transportation that would not require large reduction in people’s autonomy, prosperity, and quality of life…Nevertheless, for the past couple of decades, policymakers and activists have focused their efforts on finding ways to override people’s individual choices and impose their own plans for how they believe people ought to live and travel.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes that alternative Neil Bikeforms of transportation should be encouraged and supported.  We call for the passage regarding Transportation be changed by dropping the language about the war on the automobile.  It would instead read “Promote regional multi modal transportation options.”

While we understand this is well intentioned, well funded, attempt at coordinating the locality comprehensive plans, we believe the regional ‘Joint Vision’ is in need of glasses to better represent the community user rather than the prescriptive planner perspective.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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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.

Photo Credits: Children’s Television Workshop, Virginia department of Historic Resources

Greene County School Board and Supervisors Work on Communication Issues

By. Brent Wilson, Greene County Field Officer

Back on May 8th, the Greene County Board of Supervisors faced a very vocal meeting about the funding for the school system. After that meeting, the Greene County School Board again promised to be more open and transparent with the Board of Supervisors regarding issues going forward.

The paradigm in Virginia is different than other states as both the School Board and the Board of Supervisors are elected by voters.  The Board of Supervisors has the ability to tax (the School Board does not); the Board of Supervisors allocates tax revenue for schools but can not dictate how it is spent.  This structure tends to generate friction between the Board of Supervisors and the School Board in localities across the state.

As a part of their new communication strategy, on September 11th School Board Chair Michelle Flynn provided the Board of Supervisors a comprehensive review including a budget update, energy consumption, and news from Richmond (funding and education). All schools are fully accredited. There have been changes in personnel but there is no increase in staffing in total.

Greene County Schools Superintendent Dr. David Jeck reviewed the school facilities project for the athletic facilities. 95% of the work is complete with two areas needing to be finished – landscaping and a punch list of items. The contractor has defaulted and the school system is now dealing with the insurance company. The low bid general contractor underbid the project and that caused subcontractors to go unpaid. There was a completion bond required under the contract and the bond provides for all of the contracted work to be completed to the satisfaction of the Clerk of the Works to ensure that work is done in compliance to the contract. The baseball and softball fields along with the track are all certified by the Virginia High School League (VHSL) and the facility is now qualified to host district and regional play.

School Board member Troy Harlow covered the upgrades in communication with the community in the past four years. Both Dr. Jeck and the school system have a twitter page that are kept current. The school system uses an automated calling system to ensure information to passed on to parents and teachers. The most recent upgrade is Power School  which allows parents to access their child’s academic record in real time.

Further community dialog is promised in the future.  The School Board plans to hold two community budget meetings to outline the needs of the school system. In addition, a Growth and Facilities Study hopes to be undertaken this year to keep a look to the future needs of the school system.

The Board of Supervisors responded favorably to the presentation. The only question was related to the state not providing funding for the 20 – 25 special education students. The school system receives federal funding instead of state funding for these students.

Ironically, prior to the School Board presentation, Mr. David Blount, Legislative Liaison at TJPDC  addressed the Board of Supervisors. The Board Of Supervisors actually had feedback for Mr. Blount. Jim Frydl took exception to the state claiming to fully funding education when a large portion of the increase was taken back to help with VRS funding. Chairman Buggs Peyton asked Mr. Blount to take the message to Richmond to not send any more unfunded mandates.

So while the local elected officials are working to try  to communicate better, they may have a shared enemy in the local funding shortfalls legislatively created by elected officials in the statehouse in Richmond.

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Brent Wilson 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

Louisa Treasurer Highlights 25% Tax Delinquency Rate

By. John Haksch, Louisa County Field Officer

In a report to the Louisa County Board of Supervisors, Treasurer Henry B. Wash stated that 25% of the county property owners were delinquent in paying their county taxes.

In an effort to raise awareness of this issue, the County Treasurer’s office sent a letter to all Louisa County employees. Several members of the Board of Supervisors received calls from constituents withclip_image002 questions and complaints regarding this letter.

In part, the letter stated:

“As Employees of Louisa County you are aware that the taxes are the lifeblood of our government. Because government cannot operate without tax revenues, we have adopted specific methods of collections according to the Code of Virginia § 58.1-3919.

With the addition to the previous Tax Delinquent notices mailed to all taxpayers of Louisa County, the next action of our collection program is to give our own county employees the opportunity to pay their delinquent taxes before sending the debt to collections. Collection efforts include such actions as Treasurer’s lien, Warranty-in-Debt for Judgment, Withhold Vehicle Registration at DMV, Withhold Virginia Income Tax Refund, Distress Levy and Judicial Sale.

We have added internal payment plans designed to fit your budget needs, and a new local ordinance approved by the Board of Supervisors to help get your taxes current.”

Several of the county employees who complained about the letter pointed out that at no point did this letter state whether or not they themselves were delinquent in their tax obligations, nor that it was simply a form letter sent to all employees. These omissions, according to Willie Gentry (Cuckoo District), “are unacceptable.”

According to Mr. Wash, the delinquency rate among county employees is consistent with the 25% rate of county at large, and is similar to the rates encountered in neighboring jurisdictions. He stated that he felt county employees should be held to a higher standard than the general populace, since they derived their incomes from the taxes paid by all the county residents, and that all county employees should be current with their tax liability.

Mr. Wash went on to explain that his office was trying to raise awareness of the options available to any county employees who may be delinquent in their county taxes – not to single out individuals. He conceded that while it may have been more appropriate to limit the letter to those known to be delinquent, the computer systems currently in place – used to identify the owners of a property – are unable to “see” any names beyond the first person listed on a deed, which means there is no way to determine whether or not any names exist after the first, or if those names might be those of a county employee.

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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

Louisa Water Proposes New Discharge Location and Ordinance Changes

By. John Haksch, Louisa County Field Officer

By design the Louisa County Water Authority (LCWA) is an independent authority.  While the organization operates as if it were a semi-autonomous county agency.  Their independence from direct county control insulates Louisa County from the many legal squabbles foisted on LCWA by Historical Green Springs, Inc. (HGSI) – a corporation formed to protect the historical significance of the Green Springs District.

The latest lawsuit of HGSI against the LCWA (over $130 million) concerns the discharge of treated waste water into Camp Creek, which flows along a small part of the border of the historical district.

As a part of the suit, it was determined that as the holder of a land trust, HGSI established standing in the case. 

The Historic Green Springs, Inc. land trust (HGSI), in its amended complaint had stated that “protecting water quality in Camp Creek [a water body into which the Water Authority discharged treated sewage wastewater] is a core duty in [HGSI’s] overall purpose of preserving and protecting the properties that comprise the District, which it accomplishes through the use of conservation easements that, among other things, protect the riparian rights and beneficial uses of Camp Creek

As a potential resolution to this suit and tighter regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Dean Rodgers, general manager of the LCWA, proposed a plan that would divert the discharge to a much further distant point, along the South Anna River. This new location would provide a larger dissipation area and thus dilute the discharge below the new regulatory limits. This $8 million project would serve to mitigate several problems, including the excessive naturally-occurring zinc levels in the discharge.

Along with the relocated discharge solution, it was proposed that residents along the pipeline route would “hook up” to the line.  The ordinance change as reported in The Central Virginian was:

The water authority has proposed requiring residents within certain distances of a pipeline to connect to municipal water and sewer.” This caused quite a furor among county residents, particularly in the affected area: “residents along Route 250 were concerned that the expansion of water and sewer pipelines would force them to move off their well and septic and pay about $10,000 in residential connection fees.”

The actual proposal was that any new dwelling constructed within 100 feet of the water and sewer pipelines be required to use county water and sewer. The cost of these hookups would, in fact, be less than the cost of putting in a well and septic system.

In an interview, Mr. Rodgers corrected the published misconceptions and stated that no existing dwellings would be affected unless the well or septic system was irreparable and had to be replaced completely. He also supplied a map of the affected area:

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This map can also be found by following this link.

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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