Monthly Archives: September, 2013

Hook Up Fees Again on The Docket in Greene

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Greene County’s Board of Supervisors (BOS) have been discussing the cost for initiating public water and sewer service (also called “hook up fees”) for well over two years.  Most recently on August 27th, Vice Chairman Davis Lamb (Ruckersville) initiated a committee to more formally study what changes should be made to the Water and Sewer Equivalent Dwelling Unit (EDU) policy to incentivize development.

Greene County Administrator John Barkley heads up the work group that includes County Planner/Zoning Administrator Bart Svoboda, County Consulting Engineer (from WW Associates) Herb White and Supervisor Lamb. The stated goal of this work group is to reduce barriers to development in Greene County.  The BOS has identified the EDU fee as a detriment to projects moving forward.

In the September 24th meeting of the Board, Barkley presented an interim report.

The Rapidan Wastewater System Purchase Policy (2004) and Ruckersville Water System Purchase Policy (2006)  each provide a current foundation for the County’s EDU process and costs. These would need to be amended if a different payment schedule is to be adopted including a meter based connection system.

Barkley outlined the assumptions the committee were given:

  • The Board wants to incent economic growth in Greene County
  • The Board believes the current fee structure limits growth
  • EDU’s (Equivalent Dwelling Unit) currently are purchased at the time of issuing of a building permit
  • The General Fund is paying for water and sewer costs
  • Ideally, Reserve Funds should only be utilized for emergency or capital needs
  • The has been no increase in the water and sewer connection fees since January, 2007
  • Fee structures should be reviewed annually in synch with the budget process

Barkley then went on to outline payment and process options. The benefit to an incremental payment schedule would make it easier for smaller customers to afford starting up. Delaying the payment of EDU’s to the time of occupancy would ease the burden for customers. The risk is that if payment is not made timely then more collection effort would be required.

Meter based connection fees were then discussed – using meter size (from 5/8 inch to 10 inch) and usage as a basis. This would allow flexibility in fee schedules and limits could be set for monthly usage – as allowed by state law.

The next steps for the committee will be to research how other localities receive payments. The committee will consult with legal counsel regarding legal and process issues. Benchmarking vs. other neighboring localities fee structures for meter based connections is to be reviewed. The hope is to make recommendations to coincide with FY 2015 Budget, Tax Rate and Fee approval process. The committee will update the BOS monthly on October 22nd, November 12th and December 10th.

Supervisor Clarence “Buggs” Peyton (Stanardsville) spoke to thank Davis Lamb for initiating this process and then thanked Mr. Barkley for reducing the plan to writing. He believes it is critical since the current EDU policy doesn’t fit with today’s economy. The current connection fees deter growth in Greene County and therefore don’t allow growth in sales tax revenue.

According to Peyton, Greene needs growth, especially in the Gateway Center in Ruckersville. It was never the intent to have residents subsidize the sewer rates, but that is effectively what is happening. We need to act quickly to get in place a new policy before the Reserve Fund is spent. Small contractors need help and a meter based system seems to be a good fit. Peyton’s final comment was that he doubted that the economy would get much better.

Chairman Jim Frydl (Midway) believes this report is a good first step and that the hiring of Barkley as County Administrator is a good start in revising the system. Frydl recommended two things be done. First, would be to change the payment schedule and defer payment from the issuing of a permit to the issuance of the certificate of occupancy. Second, is to review the current system. The volume of fees collected today is not paying the total cost being incurred by Greene County.

When asked after the meeting if the committee would have a recommendation by the December 10th meeting, Barkley was not sure if the study would be completed by that time.

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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.

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Questions Lead to Local Government Spending Top 10 List

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Since the recent release of the 2013 “Choices and Decisions” report, some are asking particularly insightful questions.

In the original coverage of the report by Aaron Richardson of The Daily Progress, Charlottesville Vice Mayor Kristin Szakos was quoted asking “I would want to know how Charlottesville would compare to other cities because cities across the state have lost state funding and have had to make up for that locally.”

What a great question.

To be ultimately successful true questioning must be seeking answers not seeking to reaffirm preconceived notions.  A good friend of mine once wrote a small poem inspired,  in part, by The Book of Questions by Pablo Neruda.  In his poem, my friend asked:

When is it appropriate

A ripe moment for a fertile question

A season ready for asking

When will I know

The question posed by the Vice Mayor arrived serendipitously at a “ripe moment for a fertile question”

While the Local Government Spending Index is revenue blind (it does not care where the funds originate), the concept of where do the localities stand compared to other localities in the Commonwealth in terms of per capita spending is clearly worthy of additional research.

Prompted by this insightful inquiry, we went again to the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Auditor of Public Accounts and used self reported numbers for 2012 population and 2012 operating spending.  We divided the operating spending by the population and found that Charlottesville is the second highest locality in spending per capita in the state ($4,753).  The City of Falls Church is first with 12,567 residents and per capita spending of $5,201.74.

Here are the top 10 Per Capita Operating Spending Virginia Cities for FY2012

No. Population City  Per Capita Operating Spending
1             12,567 Falls Church  $    5,201.74
2             44,471 Charlottesville  $    4,753.14
3               4,099 Norton  $    4,382.08
4               5,946 Emporia  $    4,292.19
5             22,866 Fairfax  $    4,222.00
6           143,464 Alexandria  $    4,208.72
7               7,125 Galax  $    4,177.23
8           206,238 Richmond  $    4,152.88
9               8,680 Franklin  $    4,066.59
10             13,902 Martinsville  $    3,888.28

The highest spending County per capita in 2012 is Arlington with $4,635.86.  Albemarle County placed 16 out of 95 counties at $2,859.93.

Here are the top 20 Virginia Counties based on 2012 Per Capita Spending

No. Population County  Per Capita Operating Spending
1         214,373 Arlington  $    4,635.86
2      1,096,023 Fairfax  $    3,949.75
3             6,968 Surry  $    3,793.25
4         324,337 Loudoun  $    3,687.85
5             4,797 Bath  $    3,584.31
6           15,762 Dickenson  $    3,419.29
7             2,295 Highland  $    3,383.26
8           24,006 Buchanan  $    3,232.55
9           65,780 Fauquier  $    3,225.24
10         414,531 Prince William  $    3,201.28
11           16,180 Alleghany  $    3,195.71
12           12,433 Northampton  $    3,180.13
13           65,973 York  $    3,073.07
14           29,014 Russell  $    2,929.59
15             7,410 Rappahannock  $    2,876.77
16         100,780 Albemarle  $    2,859.93
17           12,565 Charlotte  $    2,856.39
18         131,067 Stafford  $    2,836.41
19           68,874 James City  $    2,803.87
20             7,049 King & Queen  $    2,796.49

The full chart of all Virginia localities can be accessed here

Examining the data found that the City of Fairfax, the City of Richmond and the City of Alexandria all had significantly lower per capita spending numbers than Charlottesville (<$500).  This line of questioning led to another question, how does density relate to per capita spending.

Absent complete density data readily available, we did a spot check of the City of Alexandria with a population of over 143,000 and a density of 9,314 residents per square mile (compared to Charlottesville’s 4,393/per sq mi).  The City of Alexandria ranks sixth on the “City” per capita spending list and spent $544.42 LESS than Charlottesville per capita in FY2012.

Thus anecdotally, we did not find causality between density and spending.  This will be an area for additional statewide research. 

The Free Enterprise Forum sincerely appreciates questions regarding our research.  We seek to develop objective metrics that help citizens evaluate their local government.  When we start such a journey, we do not know where the questions will lead.  As my friend pointed out in the concluding verse of his questions poem:

What potential might be revealed

When I ask the question

Where will it end

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Funding Process Approved for James River Water Authority

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

PALMYRA — The James River Water Authority (JRWA) now has a funding process set between the two parties responsible for the entity. The agreement is pending the expected acceptance of an amendment to the original contract.

Fluvanna Board of Supervisors passed the contract with amendment that set funding breakdown between Louisa and Fluvanna counties for the JRWA with a 3-2 vote on Sept. 18. Don Weaver (Cunningham District) and Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District) dissented.

The counties will evenly split costs of JRWA infrastructure which includes costs of reapplying for a withdrawal permit, intake facility and short pipeline, estimated to be about a mile long.

The one-time cost is estimated to be around $3.5 million to shared equally. The counties will also evenly split fixed costs of operating the JRWA year to year. JRWA will divide non-fixed operating costs based on percentage of usage to the two counties.

Each county will also pay and maintain any county owned pipeline from the JRWA section. Louisa is planning to build a pipeline from the JRWA pipeline to the Louisa County line and build a treatment facility in Louisa. Fluvanna has no plans to use the JRWA raw water.

The Fluvanna supervisors are asking Louisa for an amendment to the contract, requiring Louisa to build and maintain a larger pipe for a portion of its pipeline. Louisa would also place another ‘T-junction’ location, allowing Fluvanna to connect to in the future.

The idea of this amendment proposal is it would allow Fluvanna to connect to the JRWA raw water line in a more centralized location without paying for the expanded pipe.

The proposed area for the Louisa-paid junction would be near Kents Store. Fluvanna could connect to that junction and run raw water to Palmyra. There, a centrally located treatment facility could disperse the water to all sections of the county.

Fluvanna, though, has no current plans to connect to the second junction or building a water treatment facility.

Louisa will have to agree to the amendment, which is expected. Fluvanna then would also pass the amendment to complete the contract. Earlier this year Louisa supervisors offered to pay for the entire JRWA operation and pipeline with Fluvanna only paying if wanting to connect in the future.

The ‘second junction amendment’ was proposed late in the night so county attorney Fred Payne suggested requesting the amendment but still passing the contract pending the amendment. This allowed other portions of the contract to move forward, like the counties requesting a change in the permit.

The permitted withdrawal location is currently near Bremo Bluff. JRWA would request moving the permitted withdrawal to a location near the town of Columbia. The process would be more along the lines of requesting a new permit and relinquishing the original. A new permit could also change the permitted withdrawal amount and the Fluvanna-Louisa breakdown.

The current permit evenly splits the permitted three million gallons per day. In the request process, Louisa could demonstrate a need for five million gallons per day and Fluvanna only three million gallons per day. The permit withdrawal could then be for a total of eight million gallons a day, the breakdown would change to such a request.

Department of Environmental Control could lower or even reject the request. The change in permit withdrawal location is pending DEQ approval.

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The Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® and by the support of readers like you.

bryan-rothamel

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum.  He is the founder of the Fluco Blog.  Additional writings can be found at www.Flucoblog.com

2013 Local Government Spending Index Released

Study Finds Disparity in Local Government Spending

 

Charlottesville, VA – As political candidates are vying for election and local governments are starting their FY2015 budget process, a new study shows that the rate of increases in local government spending vary dramatically.    The third iteration of the “Choices and Decisions” report, conducted by the Free Enterprise Forum, developed a locality-specific local cost of government spending index (LGSI).  The report, which studied fiscal years 1990-2012, identified the City of Charlottesville as the locality with the greatest increase in LGSI.

Neil Williamson

Neil Williamson

Free Enterprise Forum President Neil Williamson said, “The goal of the LGSI is to inform and promote dialog.  The comparison of local spending trends, combined with population data provides citizens an objective tool to evaluate spending decisions.  Equipped with this data, citizens can ask better questions of elected officials during the budget season”.

The LGSI is based on self reported data required to be provided to the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Auditor of Public Accounts.  The numbers focus exclusively on the operating budget of each municipality. This number will not include capital expenditures thus avoiding having single-year spikes in capital spending skew the results or interpretation of the data.

 2013 FINAL Combined Chart

It has been theorized that inflation adjusted spending would largely track changes in population and school enrollment.  While a correlation was found in some localities studied, this trend was not universal:

Albemarle County – adjusted for inflation, Albemarle County’s total spending increased by over 129% during the study period while population and school enrollment increased by 49% and 30.75% respectively.

City of Charlottesville – During the study period (1990-2012), Charlottesville experienced an average annual rate of population increase of just 11.36%, the smallest of the municipalities being studied. In addition, Charlottesville experienced a cumulative decline in School enrollment (- 4.38%), by far the largest decline in the study group in school enrollment (Nelson -1.29%).

In contrast, inflation-adjusted operating expenditures increased at 79.37% during the study period.  The LGSI in Charlottesville was 176.31 in 2009, but had declined the following two years.  In FY2012, Charlottesville’s LGSI had increased by 5 points to 156.41 still markedly below its 2009 apex.

In FY2012 per capita spending is as follows (in 2012$):

In FY2012 per capita spending was as follows (in 2012$):

Albemarle – $2,837.55

Charlottesvlle – $4,689.66

Fluvanna – $2,129.75

Greene – $2,487.05

Louisa – $2,442.55

Nelson – $2,33.35

It was also theorized that growth in inflation-adjusted per capita spending among the localities would be similar because of the high percentage of programs mandated by the state and operated by the localities.  In contrast, the analysis clearly indicates wide variation in per-capita spending decisions made by the localities.  During the study period, Charlottesville had the greatest increase spending per capita at 61.07%, Albemarle increased 54.24%, the balance of the localities increased less than 50%.  Nelson County (29.8%) had the lowest increase.

It was also anticipated that school enrollment growth would track population growth. While it does [with 2 exceptions] in every instance the percentage growth in school enrollment was smaller than the growth in population.  The Free Enterprise Forum is a privately funded public policy organization dedicated to individual economic freedom.  The entire report, and supporting documentation, can be accessed under Reports Tab at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

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Greene PC Considers Pocosan Mountain Lodge and B&B

By Brent Wilson, Field Officer

At the September 18th meeting of the Greene County Planning Commission Whitt Ledford, the former owner/operator of the Lafayette Inn located in Stanardsville, approached the Commission requesting a Special Use Permit for a Lodge and Bed & Breakfast on a 58 acre parcel he owns west of Stanardsville. Currently the Ledfords offer overnight lodging in a  Yurt  on the “Cair Paravel Farmstead” property. The property is zoned C-1 Conservation District and requires a Special Use Permit (SUP) for the use requested.

Bart Svoboda, Greene’s Zoning Administrator/Planning Director, presented the request stating that through a SUP conditions can be placed on a property that doesn’t carry those rights by zoning. The uses stay with the property regardless of the owner of the land. According to Svoboda’s analysis, Greene’s Comprehensive Plan supports this project in that it supports tourism in the county. The application indicates a maximum of 6 lodging houses would be developed on the property and staff supports this SUP.  Svoboda concluded that both the Health Dept. and Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) had no concerns with the project.

With there being no public comments Vice Chairman Jay Willer, acting in place of the absent Chairman Anthony Herring, asked Commission member Norman Slezak to give a site report . Mr. Slezak reported that he and Mr. Svoboda visited the property which sits on a remote site in western Greene County off of Route 33. The site is heavily wooded, provides great views of Greene County and is well maintained.

Commissioner Frank Morris questioned whether the facility would host outdoor parties and was assured that would not occur. Commissioner Vic Schaff’s comment was that this seemed to be a good use of the property. Mr. Slezak added that he believed the facility would be a plus for Greene County and would support tourism for the county. It is a beautiful area and he supports the request for the SUP. Vice Chairman Willer asked for clarification about the use of the pool. Mr. Svoboda assured the commission that this is an accessory use, not a pool where memberships are sold. It is solely for the enjoyment of the renters of the lodge and therefore an accessory use. With no other questions, the Planning Commission unanimously approved the SUP and this will request will go to the Greene County Board of Supervisors for final action.

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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.

Fluvanna Supervisors Move Aqua Proposal Forward

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

PALMYRA — The Fluvanna Board of Supervisors voted to move the partnership with Aqua forward in a split vote.

The meeting began with the lengthy public hearing on the public-private partnership with Aqua Virginia. The proposal from Aqua Virginia is to build a pipeline to Zion Crossroads and a sewer line from the Fluvanna-Louisa border to the Department of Corrections along Route 250. The plan calls for yearly payments for 20 years.

The public hearing had 15 community members speak including one non-county resident. Only one person spoke in favor and another spoke in generalities of economic development but not specifically for or against the proposal.

Residents raised concerns about mandatory hookups, cost of the proposal, costs associated with the proposal, Aqua America’s company record including Lake Monticello’s history, what possible effect water infrastructure would have on economic development and requesting a referendum.

Aqua representatives gave a lengthy presentation going through why the proposal is a win for the county. The main talking points centered around the company providing the infrastructure without Fluvanna having to borrow money upfront to pursue it alone. The representatives also highlighted high revenue projections from recent studies as the proposal being a chance for the county to receive millions in revenues from new development.

Fred Payne, Fluvanna’s county attorney, told the board he had three main problems with the proposal in its latest iteration. He raised concerns of constitutionality of the proposal, enforceability and prudence for the county.

The proposal is really five contracts. The contracts are one each for bulk water rates, sewer pipes, water pipes, water service and sewer service. Payne had no issues with the bulk water rate contract and both service contracts for the water and sewer.

He gave a few examples of issues he had with the water and sewer lines contracts.

In regards to constitutionality, his interpretation of the contract is it would be a debt to the county because of the structure of some payments. Debt incurred by the county for such use would have to go to referendum. Other areas of the contract change the debt load to ‘subject to annual appropriations,’ which passes legal muster because it does not require yearly debt.

Payne had issues with the ability to enforce the contract. An example he gave was a portion of the agreement that requires Fluvanna to enter into a sewer agreement with the Department of Corrections for ‘approximately 150,000 gallons’ of sewer treatment a day. DOC recently told the county it could only give 100,000 with another 25,000 in reserve.

An example of prudence Payne gave was the requirement of Fluvanna to secure 120,000 gallons of water service request before Aqua begins the project. That threshold requires significant commitments to meet the requirement.

There was also language that made a ‘grandfathering clause’ of current well users vague. Payne wanted language more concrete that allows existing well users to continue such use until the well fails.

Payne always requests in all county contracts that if the contract shall be disputed, it should be disputed in Fluvanna Circuit Court. Because Aqua has included a subsidiary incorporated in Pennsylvania to handle the pipe ownership and maintenance, federal district court would be the venue used.

“I cannot approve these [contracts] as to form,” Payne told the board. He does not rule if the contracts are good or bad business matter but only if the form is in the county’s interest.

Attorneys representing Aqua believed the form of the agreements could be hashed out more, even if previously stating the contracts were the final draft. Payne mentioned that whenever he previously tried to fix an issue he saw, another portion of the agreement would change.

“I’ve never had a negotiation that was such a moving target,” said Panye.

The board only had two options after the public hearing. It could have rejected the proposal or move it to the next phase which is a 30-day waiting period. In 30 days, Fluvanna can then approve it or still reject the proposal.

Don Weaver (Cunningham District) called it a bad deal, citing that after 20 years of payments and usage the county would not own the main infrastructure and would have to renegotiate another deal.

“When we spent $83 million on the high school, at least we have something,” said Weaver.

Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District) also said it was not a good business deal. He said the plan would be approved regardless of the terms.

“It has been told to me this will be stuffed through before the next election,” said Ullenbruch.

His mention is of Joe Chesser (Rivanna District) and Shaun Kenney (Columbia District) who will both complete their terms as this year ends.

Kenney gave a passionate speech ending with he took an oath to serve his term until Dec. 31, 2013 and will do that.

Chesser said during his remarks, “If the legal issues [Payne highlighted] are not resolved, I will not vote for it.”

Mozell Booker (Fork Union District), a six year member of the board, said she has seen the water issue come up too often only to be pushed to another board. She said, “I am determined we will have [water] infrastructure at Zion Crossroads.”

Booker, Chesser and Kenney voted in favor of sending the proposal to the 30-day waiting period with directive to Aqua to rework the agreement to fit legal concerns. Ullenbruch and Weaver dissented.

The board’s second October meeting is before the 30-day window ends. The supervisors could call a special session to vote on Aqua or push it to a November meeting.

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The Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® and by the support of readers like you.

bryan-rothamel

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum.  He is the founder of the Fluco Blog.  Additional writings can be found at www.Flucoblog.com

Fluvanna Supervisors to Decide on Water Options

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

water-supply_thumb.jpgPALMYRA — The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors will finally make at least one vote and possibly a decision on both water plans.  According to many observers, these decisions will have significant impact on future economic development.

The first plan is the public-private partnership agreement with Aqua America. The plan would bring water from the Aqua facility near Lake Monticello to Zion Crossroads.

aqua-america-logo_thumb.jpgAqua would own the pipes but Fluvanna would control the service district. This means Fluvanna would collect the connection fees, set the rates and own potential new customers.

Aqua would sell water at a bulk rate to Fluvanna and maintain the infrastructure. The agreement would be for up to 500,000 gallons a day.

The Aqua agreement would also have sewer pipes but Fluvanna’s previously agreed upon water and sewer agreement with the Department of Corrections would treat the sewer.

The plan requires Fluvanna to pay just over $900,000 a year in payments plus 10 percent escrow. The escrow payments are then added to the end of the agreement so the last few years the county would not pay anything because of those escrow payments.

The agreement also requires one year’s worth of payment as a down payment within 45 days of signing the agreements. That also is added to the end of the agreement.

 The bulk water cost is set throughout the length agreement but raises only with the consumer price index.

The Aqua water line does not go onto Louisa County land. It stops at the Fluvanna line but Fluvanna could later add Louisa as a customer, if desired. There would be an elevated water storage tank in the Zion Crossroads area.

The second water plan is the James River Water Authority (JRWA) . The JRWA is a partnership with Louisa to take water from the James River. Fluvanna and Louisa split all JRWA costs and only JRWA costs.

The plan with the JRWA is to take water from the James just upriver from the town of Columbia. The JRWA would have an intake facility then send the water four miles inland to a junction point near Route 6.

Estimated costs for the JRWA are $3.35 million, split between the counties. The JRWA’s withdrawal permit is 3 million gallons a day.

Each county pays to take the water from the Route 6 junction to where ever each county wants. Louisa wants to build a Louisa owned pipeline to the Ferncliff area. That would follow the gas line, parallel to the Fluvanna-Goochland county line. It could require special use permits or a change of Fluvanna code.

Fluvanna has no plans to use any water from the JRWA and would allow its allocated portion to go unused. In the future, Fluvanna could take water from the junction or work an agreement with Louisa to take from another junction. That type of agreement would require another payment, more than likely.

The only cost to Fluvanna is the initial JRWA intake facility and four mile pipeline to junction point.

The Aqua agreement will have a public hearing at the Sept. 18 meeting, per state law on PPEAs. There is a month waiting period to sign the agreement so a vote in favor would be delayed. The supervisors could vote to reject the proposal Wednesday.

The JRWA is an action item for the Sept. 18 meeting.

The Fluvanna Board of Supervisors will meet in the Fluvanna County High School Auditorium, starting at 7 p.m.

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The Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® and by the support of readers like you.

bryan-rothamel

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum.  He is the founder of the Fluco Blog.  Additional writings can be found at www.Flucoblog.com

Should Albemarle Pay The PEC $57 Million in “Reverse Density” Cash Proffers?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Jonathan Swift once wrote of “A Modest Proposal”.

This blog post, while not nearly as well written or important, is drafted from a similar satirical philosophical positioning.

Is local infrastructure spending a zero sum game?

If one has to pay to increase residential density in the development area of Albemarle County, shouldn’t one get paid for decreasing residential density in the rural area of Albemarle County?

If one accepts the argument that cash proffers should be paid by landowners seeking rezonings to pay for increased infrastructure required by said rezoning (and to buy in for infrastructure previously paid for by existing residents), should it not naturally follow that if a rezoning application was submitted to reduce the development potential, the locality should pay the landowner for this reduction in infrastructure requirements.

Huh?  Please let me explain.

Under Albemarle County’s current cash proffer program land owners seeking to rezone their property, in accordance with the approved comprehensive plan, must pay $19,753.68 per single family home (SFD) included in the development, regardless of the existing density.

On Tuesday night (9/10), the Albemarle County Planning Commission will be considering an application from the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) seeking to reduce the development potential of a previously approved, not yet built, rural residential neighborhood. 

According to the staff report, if developed to the maximum potential the existing zoning could support well in excess of 3,000 residential units (34 units an acre + commercial/industrial uses) the proposed rezoning proposal would reduce development potential to 80 units.

To be clear, the Free Enterprise Forum has no opinion regarding this specific application; in addition we do not believe the “reverse density” cash proffer concept is good public policy.  Rather we believe this extreme example helps illuminate our concerns regarding the logical underpinnings of the entire cash proffer system.

How much would the “Reverse Density” proffer be worth If “reverse density” cash  proffers were in place for the PEC application this would result in a check from Albemarle County to the applicant for $57,682,720.97 ($19,753.68 SFD Cash Proffer * (3,000 – 80)) lost density.  That’s a great deal of money.

In any rezoning, the applicant is desiring to make a change in the property’s development potential.  As such change is a discretionary decision on the part of the Board of Supervisors, Virginia State Code allows for “voluntary” proffers to be offered to mitigate the impact of the development (VA Code § 15.2-2298). 

If a locality is enabled to increase the cost of development (and reduce housing affordability) for a perceived increase in infrastructure demands, why shouldn’t it be required to pay when such demands are decreased?

Some might argue the locality is already providing incentive by reducing the tax liability on the land that is not as intensely developed.  Using the same logic would be an argument NOT to utilize cash proffers as the locality is receiving increased tax benefit by the increase in residential density.

Others may contend that any application that reduces potential rural residential density furthers Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan for rural preservation thus should be considered in a different light than one seeking to increase density.  The reality is that every rezoning in the development area that is seeking to increase density is also following the goals of the community supported Comprehensive Plan.

While a development area rezoning often has an increase in value with an increase in density, significant tax benefits exist for land placed into conservation easements (and Ag/forestal districts).  In the application before the Planning Commission Tuesday night cites the desire to place the land into a protected status as the reason for the request for rezoning.  As a rezoning is not required to place the land into conservation easement, it would be disingenuous to suggest monetary influence  It would be hard to argue that any applicant would engage in the costly and time consuming rezoning process without some economic benefit.

So the question remains, if Albemarle is willing to demand significant cash proffers for development area density, will they be willing to pay “Reverse Density” cash proffers of equal value for rural area development rights that are extinguished?

Why not?

Perhaps the reality is that infrastructure spending is not, and never has been, a zero sum game.  Localities, including Albemarle, are using proffer revenue as a new piggy bank and are growing to rely on proffer income to fund existing needs (see Stonefield’s $500,000 cash proffer being used to to fund Northside Library).

No, we are not advocating Albemarle County cut a $57 Million Dollar check to the applicant but we do believe this example shows the faulty logic that is at the core of the cash proffer paradigm.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

clip_image0024_thumb.pngNeil Williamson is the President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local government public policy organization located in Charlottesville.  www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Revised Water Plan on the Table in Fluvanna

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer 

PALMYRA -The Fluvanna Board of Supervisors will be busy in the month following its annual summer break.

The biggest item to come to the board for the Sept. 4 meeting will be the James River Water Authority.

The proposed JRWA plan being discussed is to move the permit to the Columbia community planning area (CPA) then allow each locality to build a raw water line to each needed area from a nearby junction location.

In the proposal, the JRWA would be responsible for the capital costs of building an intake facility and operations and maintenance costs. Some costs would be shared fixed maintenance costs while other costs will fluctuate dependent on use of withdrawal capacity.

The JRWA would own a raw water line to a proposed ‘T’ junction. Either county would then own any pipeline from the junction, proposed near Route 6 in the Columbia CPA.

Fluvanna would be responsible for the Fluvanna pipeline and share costs if in the future Fluvanna wants additions to the Louisa pipeline. Louisa would be responsible for the Louisa pipeline. The parties would own any property they construct.

JRWA’s estimated costs are just below $3.5 million to construct a 3 million raw water intake facility and a raw water line to the junction plus the modification of the permit from Bremo Bluff to Columbia area. Unknown costs are easement acquisition along the Colonial gas line.

Water allocation would be based on needs each county established and agreed in a Columbia withdrawal permit and Department of Economic Quality summary findings. Each county could have a temporary reallocation or purchase bulk water from the other locality. A county could request a withdrawal permit increase and would be responsible for costs.

Supervisors will also consider the approval process Louisa would have to go through to construct a water line in Fluvanna. Current county code requires another locality apply for a special use permit to construct major utilities through Fluvanna.

Fluvanna could alter the current county code which could allow another locality, including Louisa, to develop major utilities by-right.

Louisa County Board of Supervisors previously said it was interested in executing the JRWA without Fluvanna’s full participation. The goal for Louisa was to bring water across Fluvanna’s eastern border following the Colonial gas line to Louisa to help alleviate Louisa’s water concerns in its southern portion of the county.

Fluvanna Board of Supervisors will meet on Sept. 4 at 2 p.m. in the Fluvanna Circuit Courtroom.

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bryan-rothamel

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum.  He is the founder of the Fluco Blog.  Additional writings can be found at www.Flucoblog.com