Monthly Archives: January, 2014

Who Puts the DL in TMDL?

By. Neil Williamson, President

albemarle stream credit c-vileAs Albemarle County considers the funding source for state mandated Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) reductions in storm water,  The Free Enterprise Forum was curious who (and what) was responsible for these nefarious contributions to our waters.

Absent any locality specific data, we examined the TMDL existing conditions for the state of Virginia based on ChesapeakeStat [for the purposes of this examination we ignored wastewater (as it is mitigated under separate authority) and atmospheric contributions].

In each of the three pollutant measurements (Nitrogen, imagePhosphorous, Total Suspended Solids), Agriculture and Forestry are the largest contributors to the TMDL.  It could be generalized that Development contributes 15% of the storm water problem and rural areas (including agriculture) contribute 60% of the total problem.  Rural areas therefore contribute about 4 times more storm water pollution than developed areas.

While the significant rural area contribution may seem counter intuitive, there is good news.  Mitigating storm water contributions in the rural areas tend to be less expensive than retrofitting existing land uses in the development areas. 

One must consider not only the baseline but what the mandated 2025 TMDL goals strive to achieve.  Under the so called “TMDL diet” Agriculture is targeted to reduce its contribution of Phosphorous and Nitrogen by over 65% while Urban Areas are looking to cut their relative contributions to each by 25%.  The reality is that the cost for achieving a 25% reduction in the Urban Areas may prove to be greater than the cost of attaining the larger percentage rural area goals.

One could argue that the urban areas are only contributing to 15% of the problem and thus should only pay for 15% of the fix.  That is a fatally myopic view.  This is a community issue the entire community should come together to find cost efficient and effective solutions.

To date, Albemarle County has not developed a specific five year plan to meet the TMDL goals.  The estimated costs are instead based on the average cost to meet the TMDL targets.  If the goals can be most cost effectively met in the rural areas clearly that is where the programs should be instituted.

What types of projects might be funded?  The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has highlighted a number of  potential storm water funded projects that have community benefit beyond just improved water quality:

Photo: So just where exactly do stormwater fees go you ask? Try rain gardens, streambeds, ponds, and other job-creating projects that not only improve our water quality, but beautify our communities, too! Learn more in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s special investigative report on polluted runoff: www.cbf.org/PollutedRunoffReport

Based on all of the above, and our belief that storm water mitigation has a community wide benefit beyond just TMDL reduction.  We continue to support the concept of funding this program through the General Fund.  If there is a desire to create incentives for storm water mitigation, a separate grant program could be developed that would more efficiently deliver real value than small credits on a monthly utility fee.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credits: C-ville, Free Enterprise Forum, Chesapeake Bay Foundation

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Ruckersville Interconnectivity Goes Forward

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Owners of a 7.4 and 2.0 acre tracts on Route 29 just south of Ruckersville received rezoning from A-1 and B-1 to B-3, for approximately 5.5 acres on Tuesday, January 28th. This now converts all of the property owned by the Dean Family, LLC to B-3 which is a mixed use density.

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One key element to this rezoning is that the parcels that were rezoned sit behind the road front property on Route 29 and have connectivity to Stoneridge Drive. Stoneridge is the development coming off Route 33 East before the Ruckersville intersection of Route 33 and Route 29 and is opposite the entrance to the Gateway Shopping Center which contains Walmart and Lowes

As Stoneridge Drive is developed from Route 33 East to connect back to Route 29 South near Bank of America and Virginia Power Motorsports , access will also be available through the Dean property. This is continuing the development of Ruckersville as a town center concept.

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The only speaker from the public was David Holtzman from the Piedmont Environmental Council. He applauded the rezoning as it will lead to taking pressure off Route 29 and it makes sense. His only concern is that there was no definition to what type of development is anticipated for the parcels, residential and/or commercial.

All of the comments from the four Board of Supervisors (Monroe Supervisor David Cox was called to his job due to the snow forecast)  were positive. Supervisor Bill Martin (Stanardsville) asked how the parcels would be interconnected with the roadway on the back side in Stonehenge Drive?

Bart Svoboda, Zoning Administrator/Planning Director, indicated that roadways are now required by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to provide interconnectivity when in the past it would be offered as a proffer. There will be an easement for the roadway to provide access like the parcels facing Route 29.

Chairman Jim Frydl (Midway) indicated that the BOS will look at high density mixed use in the future. Currently County Code has a 10 acre minimum size for Planned Unit Development (PUD). The minimum size eliminates many of the parcels in Ruckersville.  Some in the community believe in order to transform Ruckersville to a good village, higher density must be achieved. The Board and Planning Commission will likely be discussing this issue well into the summer months.

The rezoning request was passed by a 4-0 vote.

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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 BOS Retreats to Set Priorities

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors recently spent two days looking at the county situation and future planning during a retreat at the Fluvanna County Library.

Mike Chandler, the retreat facilitator, helped the board through county issues and plans.

The supervisors had five items it wants to complete in the next two years. They include education support, tourism development, changing how it handles capital maintenance, support of local businesses and a plan for infrastructure.

The retreat also allowed the new board to develop ideas on how it wants to operate.

Chair Mozell Booker

Chair Mozell Booker

“I think we’ve done a good job,” said chairwoman Mozell Booker (Fork Union District) at the completion of the retreat. “We’ve done a lot so far.”

“It has been surprisingly good and positive and goal oriented. Like we said earlier, there’s a lot of words written around us here,” said Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District) as he motioned to the walls, lined with paper of things the board discussed throughout the retreat.

He continued, “It’s nice to have a plan — if you don’t carry it out, it is just a plan.”

Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) said, “It is easy to solve today’s problems but we need to solve tomorrow’s problems too.”

The supervisors have picked a new vision statement of the county, “Fluvanna County: The heart of Central Virginia and your gateway to the future.” The board wants to include various tag lines in marketing including, “A great place to live, learn and play” and “Proud of our past, confident in our future.”

Other changes for 2014 include a new mission statement. Supervisors plan on initiating a comprehensive plan review, to start in 2014 and go into 2015. The board will look at additional revenue streams, including different taxes.

“I think [the retreat] has been a big help for Steve (Nichols, county administrator),” said Don Weaver (Cunningham District).

The board next enters the heart of the budget season. The board is slated to have a water infrastructure plan in place during 2014, and water will certainly impact the budget already. The board will need to pay for James River Water Authority costs plus any infrastructure to Zion Crossroads.

Other impacts to the budget include the education piece. That currently looks to be at least an increase of over $1.5 million from fiscal year 2014 but the School Board hasn’t set priorities for the budget yet. The number could also change because of the the state budget with a new governor.

Supervisors have met privately with Nichols to discuss the budget but he will formally present his budget proposal at the Feb. 5 meeting. It starts at 4 p.m. in the Fluvanna Circuit Courtroom.

The supervisors have a planned meeting and/or work session scheduled for each Wednesday starting on Feb. 5 until April 16.

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bryan-rothamelThe 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 covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum.

UVA Survey Finds Majority Support Western Bypass

us-29-logo_thumb.jpg Editor’s note – The timing of any media release is important.  The following media release was transmitted on a Friday afternoon prior to the three day Martin Luther King Holiday weekend. – NW

Posted: Jan 17, 2014 12:47 PM EST Updated: Jan 17, 2014 1:12 PM EST

University of Virginia Press Release

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., Jan. 17, 2014  A strong majority of Charlottesville-area residents thinks a U.S. Route 29 bypass around Charlottesville is needed, and a majority favors construction of the proposed Western Bypass, according to the Jefferson Area Community Survey just completed by the University of Virginia Center for Survey Research.

Sixty-two percent of area residents say a U.S. 29 bypass is needed; 25 percent say a bypass is not needed, and 12 percent expressed no opinion. When considering only those who did voice an opinion, 71 percent say a U.S. 29 bypass is needed, while 29 percent say a bypass is not needed.

Asked more specifically about the proposed Western Bypass, 53 percent favor construction of the much-discussed road, 30 percent oppose it and 17 percent voice no opinion. Of those who have an opinion, about one-third (32.2 percent) strongly favor construction, another third (32.1 percent) somewhat favor it and the remainder are somewhat opposed (16.6 percent) or strongly opposed (19.2 percent).

The survey was conducted by telephone from late November to mid-January and included more than 900 respondents representing the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson counties. All of the interviews took place after the Nov. 5 elections, in which three new representatives were elected to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, all of whom have taken positions against the Western Bypass.

Although a majority of residents is still in favor of a U.S. 29 bypass, there has been a modest but significant decrease in support since we last asked about this issue two years ago, said Tom Guterbock, director of the Center for Survey Research. In our January 2012 survey, 69 percent said a bypass is needed, compared to 62 percent right now.

By far the strongest predictor of opinion on these road issues is political views, he added.

The survey shows that, among those with an opinion, a slight majority of those who identify themselves as liberals oppose the Western Bypass (47.5 percent in favor, 52.5 percent opposed) in sharp contrast to conservatives (81 percent in favor) and moderates (63 percent in favor). Party identification mirrors this ideological divide, with favorable opinions toward the Western Bypass expressed by 86 percent of Republicans, 66 percent of independents and a bare majority (52 percent) of Democrats.

There are geographic differences in views of the Western Bypass. Among those who had an opinion, about 58 percent of Charlottesville and Albemarle residents favor the road’s construction, while 84 percent of Louisa County residents favor it. Education has an affect as well: Respondents who hold advanced degrees are less favorable than others (55 percent for the Western Bypass, 45 percent against).

The survey also asked respondents if they consider traffic congestion on U.S. Route 29 going through the Charlottesville area to be “a major problem, a minor problem, not too much of a problem, or not a problem at all. Forty-nine percent of all respondents said this is a major problem. That represents little change from opinion in January 2012, when 52 percent said traffic on the road was a major” problem.

Not surprisingly, people who think traffic is a major problem on Route 29 are more likely to say a bypass is needed (87 percent of those with an opinion) and more likely to favor construction of the Western Bypass (81 percent).

“Of course, we don’t use referendums to decide where to build our roads,  Guterbock said. But if the Western Bypass were put to a vote today across our region, it would very likely have enough popular support to win approval. Nevertheless, the two political parties would probably take opposite sides of the issue, as we are seeing in the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.”

The Jefferson Area Community Survey is a regional omnibus survey carried out twice a year, reaching adults across the region via landline and cellular phones. The survey is supported financially by government agencies, nonprofits and University researchers who place questions on the survey.

Questions about the bypass issue are unsponsored questions that were included in the survey by the Center for Survey Research for their public interest value. With 904 interviews completed between Nov. 21 and Jan. 10, the survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Big Transportation Thinking on US 29 – Over, Under, or Around?

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

100_1004What will US 29 look like in Albemarle and Charlottesville in 2070?

Will technological advances such as driverless cars that park themselves increase roadway and storage capacity?100_1003

Will the built environment drive the market or will the market drive the built environment?

Will light rail be part of the transportation solution?

The answer is both yes and no to all of the above – please let me explain

This past week, the Free Enterprise Forum was honored to participate in The University of Virginia’s Architecture School 2014 VORTEX focused on reimagining US 29.  We along with the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, The Piedmont Environmental Council, The Southern Environmental Law Center and City Councilor (and architect) Kathy Galvin took part in a kick off panel discussion moderated by Brian Wheeler of Charlottesville Tomorrow.

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While the results of the VORTEX were fantastic (see drones delivering groceries) the concepts were pure and devoid of any fiscal, or in many cases technological, restraint.

Each of the 27 segments presented spent time defining the problem.  Most highlighted the challenge US 29 faces serving as a local road and a major transportation corridor.

100_0987As is rather typical for these university  events, there was the expected anti-automobile undertone with about half of the solutions relying on light rail to accommodate people moving [ironically, the parking lot outside the hosting Carver Recreation Center was as full as I have ever seen it].

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Many of the presentations focused on the concept of the death of big box.  One presenter suggested “Route 29 would be reduced to 2 lanes with nature trails winding along the side with views of the ruined big box store husks”.  Others indicated significant societal changes would occur that would accelerate the demise of the sprawl.

While I was impressed a number of segments addressed the need for freight transport along the corridor and recognized the topographical challenges, none of the segments designed significantly considered the property rights issues that will be obstacles to implementation.

100_0990It is important to remember the students were seeking approval and recognition of their hard work from the faculty.  We believe some of the statement included in their presentations such as “Corridor of Consumption” and “Landfill to Landform” were designed to pique the interest of the visiting professors.  It is less than surprising when one competitor suggested making US29 “to the scale of the University”.

Interestingly just as the VORTEX teams were finalizing their projects, The University of Virginia Center for Survey Research released the results of their annual Jefferson Area Survey which indicated:

A strong majority of Charlottesville-area residents thinks a U.S. Route 29 bypass around Charlottesville is needed, and a majority favors construction of the proposed Western Bypass

Sixty-two percent of area residents say a U.S. 29 bypass is needed; 25 percent say a bypass is not needed, and 12 percent expressed no opinion. When considering only those who did voice an opinion, 71 percent say a U.S. 29 bypass is needed, while 29 percent say a bypass is not needed.

Asked more specifically about the proposed Western Bypass, 53 percent favor construction of the much-discussed road, 30 percent oppose it and 17 percent voice no opinion. Of those who have an opinion, about one-third (32.2 percent) strongly favor construction, another third (32.1 percent) somewhat favor it and the remainder are somewhat opposed (16.6 percent) or strongly opposed (19.2 percent). [Emphasis Added-NW]

The results of this survey closely mirror the 2004 Mason-Dixon conducted survey commissioned by the Free Enterprise Forum.

The US29 problem is well understood by the students, who walked the five miles of US29 from the University to the Rivanna River, as well as the residents in the survey.  There is a need to reduce the traffic volume on US29. 

Blade RUnnerWhile some students believe creating a “Blade Runner” like tunnel or delivering all our shopping needs via drone is the solution others suggest forcing increases in  population density will create a more efficient development pattern and reduce society’s automobile dependency.

The Free Enterprise Forum is excited to see the students push the US 29 envelope but we continue to believe that the expeditious construction of the Western Bypass will result in a context sensitive ‘Business 29’ that meets the citizen expectations, enhance economic development  AND the goals set out in the UVA VORTEX.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credits: Free Enterprise Forum, Warner Brothers Studio

 

Greene PC Talks Infrastructure and Capital Spending

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Greene County’s  Planning Commission  started the new year by reviewing the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). All departments within the county have provided feedback to Bart Svoboda, Zoning Administrator/Planning Director, who in turn presented the data to the Planning Commission.

The CIP is mandated of all localities as enumerated in Section 15.2-2239 of the Code of Virginia:

“Local planning commissions to prepare and submit annually capital improvement programs to governing body or official charged with preparation of budget. — A local planning commission may, and at the direction of the governing body shall, prepare and revise annually a capital improvement
program based on the comprehensive plan of the locality for a period not to exceed the ensuing five years. The commission shall submit the program annually to the governing body, or to the chief administrative officer or other official charged with preparation of the budget for the locality, at such time as it or he shall direct.

The capital improvement program shall include the commission’s recommendations, and estimates of cost of the facilities, including any road improvement and any transportation improvement the locality chooses to include
in its capital improvement plan and as provided for in the comprehensive plan, and the means of financing them, to be undertaken in the ensuing fiscal year and in a period not to exceed the next four years, as the basis of the capital budget for the locality. In the preparation of its capital budget recommendations, the commission shall consult with the chief administrative officer or other executive head of the government of the locality, the heads of departments and interested citizens and organizations and shall hold such public hearings as it deems
necessary.”

Svoboda mentioned that after last year’s CIP was prepared the Board of Supervisors recommended a committee be formed to work on the format of the CIP but to wait until the county administrator was hired. To date, this committee has not yet been formed. One key issue Svoboda mentioned is that most departments still put all requests at the highest priority, therefore, the document has little use in determining what should be done first. What needs to be done is to prioritize replacement old equipment, what has to be done to support growth, vs. what is just nice to have.  The Free Enterprise Forum sees this practice as dysfunctional government.  With a new County Administrator now well established, it should be mandated that departments prioritize their requests or have the administrator prioritize them.

Planning Commission Chairman Jay Willer primarily spoke for the PC since he is the only commissioner to have dealt with the CIP in prior years. Willer and Svoboda discussed what format and information would be most useful to the BOS. Commissioner Vic Schaff agreed that what is needed is a prioritization for what is necessary vs. what is wanted, what is routine maintenance vs. what is new. On the other hand, Svoboda stated that in order to get grants projects have to be listed on the CIP. So while some projects seem unrealistic, if a grant is found that would provide funds for the project, the project needs to be listed on the CIP in order to qualify for the grant.

This brought up the issue of how does the county know what funds are needed when some projects may have grants to pay for part of the project or some person or groups may make donations to help offset the cost of a project . Greene County has been very fortunate to receive gifts for many projects from the library/PVCC building to the county park.

Regardless of the format, the CIP is a required document of the state. The Planning Commission decided to defer the CIP until the February, 2014 meeting and will work on format and quality of content.

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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.

Flu Delays Fluvanna Supervisors Action

By Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

PALMYRA — It seems it is the season to be sick. With three important Fluvanna County players sick, the Board of Supervisors January meeting did not get much done in depth.

The two items thought to have action were both deferred.

The first, a public hearing for a storage facility in the Village of Palmyra, was deferred at the request of the applicant, Cowboys, LLC. Vice chairman Bob Ullenbruch has reportedly been battling the flu and the applicant requested to have the item heard by the entire board.

It only takes three supervisors to meet a quorum and four were present. Don Weaver (Cunningham District) was ready to hear the item but Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) said he heard some residents were not at the meeting because of rumors of deferral. Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) also knew of residents who were not present because of the mid-afternoon rumors.

The board decided to defer the action until February.

The only item under action items, a grant application for school resource officers, was delayed because Gena Keller, schools superintendent, and Sheriff Ryant Washington were both battling illness.

The grant application is for three school resource officers (SROs), one for each physical building the school system operates. The grant pays for salary but not supplies and vehicles. The estimated county contribution over the course of the four-year grant is around $300,000. After the grant is completed the county would have to fully fund the positions. Currently only FCHS has an SRO.

Fluvanna has already submitted the grant because the deadline was last week but can withdraw or change it after submission. The board will need to approve or deny the submission.

The board did hold a discussion with the School Board on the school budget. Early projections are the fiscal year 2015 budget will require an additional $1.527 million.

The system will receive additional funds from the state while other funds disappear. The new funding will mainly fund Standards of Quality while losing grants and last year’s teacher bonus money.

The $1.527 million in extra local funds potentially needed over FY14 comes from increases in mandatory Virginia Retirement System contributions, addressing staffing needs, maintaing programs previously funding externally, adjustment of salary scales and health insurance mitigation to the county model.

This will undoubtedly change because the School Board has not met to discuss the budget yet. Their first session was postponed because of inclement weather. Also, the state budget projections was from the Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) budget proposal. Changes could occur with Gov. Terry McAullife (D) now living in the mansion.

The Board of Supervisors FY15 budget calendar starts in earnest next week with supervisors meeting with county administrator Steve Nichols privately. Nichols formally presents his proposed budget, capital improvement plan and tax rate on Feb. 5. The School Board presents its budget request to the supervisors on March 19.

Last year the Nichol’s proposed budget was highly praised by the previous board and only tweaked before approval.

The current year’s school budget will affect FY15’s budget and CIP because the school system is projecting another shortfall. The average daily membership (ADM) is coming in lower than projected, resulting in a potential $230,000 shortfall.

This can have damaging effect to next year’s budget because the CIP is often times funded through the ‘fund balance’, or county savings. Less money in the fund balance restricts a potential budget income stream and/or the main CIP funding source.

The projected school shortfall has lowered. Previously it was over $300,000. For FY15 the school system will use a different ADM projection model to minimize the potential for overshooting it again.

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bryan-rothamelThe 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 covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum.

Greene County BOS Approves Ruckersville Elementary School Resource Officer

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

The day after an arrest was made in the bomb threats to the Greene County schools , the Board of Supervisors approved the matching funds ($23,137)  needed to apply for a grant  for a Resource Officer for Ruckersville Elementary School. Debbie Brown, Director of Human Resources & Administrative Services, made the request while also lending support were Superintendent of Schools Andrea Whitmarsh and Sheriff Steve Smith.

Currently the Greene County Sheriff’s Department has two Resource Officers to cover the six schools in the county.  The grant application cites coverage at Ruckersville Elementary School as a critical need.

The grant request indicates:

Greene County has six public schools; Ruckersville Elementary School, Nathaniel Greene Elementary School, Greene Primary School, William Monroe Middle School, William Monroe High School, and the High School Technical Education Center.  We currently have a SRO assigned to the middle school and the high school on a daily basis.  When time permits, these individuals are responsible for site visits to the remaining schools.  As call volume for the middle school and high schools increase, the visits to the remaining schools are becoming almost obsolete.  Five of the school locations are within 2.23 miles of one another, with the Sheriff’s office itself only 1.83 miles from four of the facilities and .4 miles from the fifth.  The remaining school, Ruckersville Elementary School, is over 8.5 miles away from the middle/high school and the Sheriff’s office.  The overall concern for the Sheriff’s office as well as the school system is the specific location of the school and the subsequent response time during an actual event.

Ms. Brown thanked the Sheriff and his department during the past two weeks of bomb threats. Geographically, Ruckersville Elementary  is isolated from the main public schools campus in Stanardsville and this geographic separation creates what was described as a “critical” resource officer need. The request faced a deadline of Wednesday, January 15th – the day after the meeting. She concluded her presentation asking the BOS for their support of this request.

Chairman Jim Frydl (Midway) commented that the funds for this type of request would be funded by both the Sheriff’s department and the School Board in a ratio of 35/65. Supervisor David Cox (Monroe) took time to compliment the school system in their response that he saw a year ago when a similar issue arose and he also we very complimentary of the Resource Officers and that he agreed with the need for one at Ruckersville.

New Supervisor Bill Martin (Stanardsville) also was in support of the addition of a Resource Officer. It not only was the right thing to do but may also avoid liability if the officer is not added. Supervisor Davis Lamb (Ruckersville) commented that the cost of the Resource Officer was a small price to pay to protect our children. Chairman Frydl stated that the BOS approved a similar request last year and saw no reason not to approve this request. Supervisor Eddie Deane (At-Large) commented that this is the way life now is and there was no choice but to add the officer. He believes the community supports this action.

The action unanimously was passed by a 5 – 0 vote.

In other Board business, Frydl was reelected Chairman and Cox was elected Vice Chair.

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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.

Albemarle Hears the Siren’s Song of New Rain Taxing Authority

By. Neil Williamson, President

SirenIn Greek mythology, the Sirens were dangerous and beautiful creatures portrayed as femme fatales who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island.

The new Albemarle County Board of Supervisors is headed toward much the same fate as they consider establishing a new ‘Rain Tax’ Service District/Utility.

Please let me explain.

While there is little argument that the new regulations promulgated by Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will cost Albemarle approximately $1 Million per year for the next five years, there is a question of how to fund that cost. Two new taxing authorities are under consideration along with the General Fund.   At first glance, each of these funding options seem to have benefits but a closer examination finds the direct and indirect impacts and hidden costs of such new taxing authorities are as dangerous to Albemarle’s economic well being as as the rocky island coast is to ships at sea.

Under the Stormwater Utility model, the utility calculates a parcel’s runoff impacts and assesses a fee.   Generally this fee is $X per 1,000 square feet of impervious surface.  The City of Charlottesville, 10 square miles in size, adopted this model last year.  Such a model fails to recognize the runoff contribution of agricultural uses.  The perceived benefit of this approach is the ability to incentivize stormwater mitigation.  The reality is such mitigation is already strongly encouraged if not required for new development and relatively difficult to retrofit into existing development.    In addition, the administration of such a stormwater utility, and its variances, credits, appeals would create a new administrative bureaucratic labyrinth for property owners to navigate.

Under the “Service District” model a geographic portion (or all) of the locality is identified as the service area and those properties in the service area pay the tax.  The perceived benefit is as a dedicated tax it would not be subject to Albemarle County’s current policy of splitting new real estate tax revenue 60/40 with the school district.  Such a benefit is disingenuous, it is merely a county policy that can be changed at anytime by a simple vote of the Board of Supervisors. 

Most of the DEQ mandated stormwater improvements will be in the development areas.  If Albemarle creates the service area to match the expenditure area, it will further discourage development in the development areas. 

The Free Enterprise Forum believes that rain falls on everyone and that the required upgrades to Albemarle’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) benefit all county residents and should be funded as a part of the General Fund. 

County Supervisors will be wise to redirect the good ship Albemarle away from staff’s desired separate taxing authority (AKA Siren’s song) and insist on total transparency regarding shipwreck1MS4 spending within the General Budget. 

If instead, the supervisors fall under the Siren’s spell, the good ship will be headed directly toward the hidden dangers of over taxation, hyper regulation and an ever expanding staff.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credits:

The Siren, Sir Edward John Poynter http://www.illusionsgallery.com/siren-poynter.html

Anna Maria Shipwreck Antique Postcard – Stormy Ocean Scene with Woman Distressed over Old Boat Wrecked on Ocean Rocks www.etsy.com