Monthly Archives: January, 2015

Jail House Rocks Greene BOS

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

The Greene County Board of Supervisors had an unusual item on their agenda  at their January 27th meeting – simply a discussion of the Central Virginia Regional Jail budget. Typically the agenda has a rezoning request or a presentation by an agency. The reason the budget of an outside agency drew so much attention is the significant impact to Greene County’s FY16 budget.

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Central Virginia Regional Jail

Back on September 13, 2011 the Greene County Board of Supervisors voted on a resolution to accept the expansion of the Central Virginia Regional Jail.   The project will add 200 new beds, increasing the rated capacity of the facility to 445.   The expansion area of the project also includes a new kitchen, replacing the old. The existing intake and booking area and magistrate’s office will be renovated and enlarged by taking over the space vacated by the kitchen.   Based on a use formula, Greene’s share of the cost came out to be 15.92% of the total.

Supervisor Davis Lamb, Ruckersville District , the representative from the Board of Supervisors on the Jail Authority from Greene County (along with Sheriff Steve Smith), spoke first.

Lamb went on to compare inmate cost per day of other jails in the vicinity. Albemarle/Charlottesville cost $85.55, Middle River (in Augusta County) cost $75.36 and Culpeper cost $81.14 vs. Central Virginia Regional cost $60.97.

County Administrator John Barkley indicated that with the current data it will be a large budget increase – anywhere from $6-800,000. As of now the state has not determined what portion, if any, that they will pick up. The cost increase is having the jail fully functional which may not happen on day one.

Lamb felt that services need to be provided to allow rehabilitation to occur and hopefully the individual can return to Greene County and be a productive citizen.

Supervisor Jim Frydl, Midway District, was shocked to see the cost to the county doubling for a 50% increase in capacity at the jail. To put the additional cost into perspective he equated it to an increase of 4.8 cents on an average  property tax bill or a 6.7% increase just for the jail. If the schools asked for this size of an increase, the Board would be persecuted for contemplating such a funding request.

Supervisor Bill Martin, Stanardsville District, understood that Greene agreed to pay their share of the construction cost but not the operating costs.  Frydl corrected him that some operating costs were agreed to but not all of them. Chairman David Cox, Monroe District, explained that all counties that participate – Orange, Madison, Louisa and Greene – are being hit with this increase.

cva jail photo credit Daily Progress

Central Virginia Regional Jail

Jail Superintendent Floyd Aylor  addressed the Board. He stated that the jail is far from having their new budget completed and they are still working on the final budget. However, he stated that the Board of Supervisors should read the agreement which stated that the county would absorb operating costs of the jail. Aylor said he couldn’t help it if the information that the jail sends out doesn’t reach the Board of Supervisors. He indicated the changes in staff in Greene County since the jail expansion project started may have contributed to the information not reaching them. He also indicated that he was tired of being told that the Board was not aware of the cost increase.

Martin asked Aylor if the increased costs were in last year’s jail budget.  Aylor responded that it was not in the current year but it was in the five year projection and he indicated that the $60 cost per inmate was extremely competitive.  Cox asked Aylor to keep the Board apprised of any changes.

Under the following item “Matters from the Public”, former supervisor Clarence “Buggs” Peyton stated that on July 10, 2011 the jail expansion was approved by the Greene Board of Supervisors and he felt it was a considerable bargain to the county. He recalls seeing financial statements from the jail on a monthly basis during his term on the Board of Supervisors. He questioned why there is a question now when the Board previously approved paying their share. He suggested that supervisors pay attention to detailed reports especially on such a major investment in the regional jail.

Later in the meeting, when  County Administrator John Barkley  gave his report, he indicated that in the upcoming budget the county may have to “bite the bullet” on the jail cost. At this point in the meeting Aylor had left the meeting.

Under the “Other Matters from the Board” agenda item, Frydl stated that he felt Aylor was “very cavalier” in his comments and to his knowledge none of the other counties were aware that the cost for the regional jail would double.

The Free Enterprise Forum reviewed the minutes from The Greene County Board of Supervisors workshop on September 13, 2011:

Mr. Frydl asked if there will be a significant increase in operating costs.  Mr. Aylor felt there would be some increase in operation costs.  The largest expenses are medical costs and staff.

Greene County is not alone in their lack of understanding regarding the scope of the jail’s financial demands.  Regarding the December Meeting of the Jail Board, Gracie Hart Brooks of the Madison Eagle reported:

Aylor said he believes the localities had ample notice that their jail costs were increasing, but declined to comment definitively as to if the December meeting was the first time they had seen real numbers. However, the theme at last week’s jail authority board meeting was sticker shock as the county administrators asked for the creation of a committee to look at budget alternatives and to get a handle on the numbers they were presented last month….

“We’re trying to learn as much as we can, as fast as we can to prepare our [county] budgets,” [Fluvanna County Administrator Steve] Nichols said. “We’re not recommending a budget or approving a budget, but this has a dramatically big impact on our counties. We need to know and present this as part of our [county] budgets. This is a big sea change compare to other years.”

The net cost to Greene County will depend on what the regional jail’s final budget comes out to be and how much, if any, state funding will be received to subsidize the impact to the county. Lamb encouraged all residents in Greene County to contact their state representatives to request that the state absorb some of the regional jail cost.

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

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

Photo Credits: Daily Progress, Central Virginia Regional Jail

C-ville UDO – Merging (Not Fixing) Ordinances

By. Neil Williamson, President

measure twice cut onceOn Tuesday evening, Charlottesville’s Planning Commission is being asked to endorse a new “concept” that would seek to merge the development regulations and subdivision ordinances and refer to the consolidated requirements as a “Unified Development Ordinance” (UDO).

This staff driven concept is allegedly being prompted by a change in state code that no longer allows localities to mandate a preliminary AND final submission.  Therefore, staff desires City Code clearly delineate all requirements for subdivision and zoning final plans in one ordinance.

Originally presented as “housekeeping items”, the Planning Commission balked and questioned the breadth of the significant changes.  The Blue Ridge Home Builders Association (BRHBA) also weighed in with two pages of concerns.

After meeting with BRHBA representatives, Chief Deputy City Attorney Lisa Robertson dismissed their concerns suggesting now was not the time to discuss “substantive” provisions of the two ordinances being merged.  In addition she wrote that the concerns

relate to existing provisions of the City’s zoning ordinance (“Z.O.)” or subdivision ordinance (“S.O.”) and are not new within the draft UDO:

For those not following the ordinance merry-go-round already in motion – Charlottesville has initiated a “Code Audit” that will likely result in significant ordinance changes beyond (and perhaps in conflict with) the changes contemplated under this UDA “concept”.  If they move forward with the UDA this will result in two confusing massive overhauls in City Code.  Why not wait until the audit is completed before going forward with the UDA concept?

With all due respect to the Chief Deputy County Attorney, if the UDO “concept” has significant problems, it is important to raise those concerns prior to endorsing the concept.  It may be that the entire ordinance structure needs to be “substantively reviewed” prior to the Planning Commission providing their proof of concept.

Further complicating matters is the imminent departure of Jim Tolbert who has served as the Director of Neighborhood Development Services (NDS) since its inception.  While we have not always agreed with Tolbert, we know him to be a pragmatic professional and will miss his wit and wisdom.  We fully anticipate a lengthy national search for Tolbert’s replacement and have heard rumors of a potential reorganization of the entire City Planning/Zoning Department.  In the interim, the departments will likely run shorthanded.

design charetteIf the Planning Commission decides now is the best time to push forward an UDO, the Free Enterprise Forum anticipates this will be yet another outside consultant exercise where local understanding of the regulations and policies regarding development operations may become lost in the mirage of charettes and renderings of other localities.

It is rather sad that rather than dealing with the substantive issues raised by the very people impacted by the ordinances, the Chief Deputy City Attorney was dismissive of their concerns.

Could the staff concerns regarding the elimination of preapplication plans be solved without a massive consolidated UDA?

Of course it could.

Will Charlottesville’s Planning Commission challenge staff to deal directly with the issues raised, choose to wait for their own Code Audit to complete prior to overhauling the City Code  or will they chose to follow staff’s direction and put off the important substantive problems with the existing (and proposed) ordinances and push forward with the UDA concept?

I know which way I am betting.

Stay tuned.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credit: Free Enterprise Forum, aggieworkshop.com, arbroath.blogspot.com

Fluvanna’s Inevitable Property Tax Increase

By Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

Fluvanna County residents should expect an increase in taxes this year, that much we know. How much? It’ll be more than just a few cents and could be high.

That assumption is drawn off of public conversation at Board of Supervisors meetings.

On January 21, the supervisors spent an hour going over a budget update before they got their budget proposal. In that process, they delayed over $300,000 of CIP projects to help fund fiscal year 2016. That’s just over a penny of real estate tax.

Projects include restroom and picnic shelter at Pleasant Grove and rechassis of a Fluvanna ambulance.

But, delaying some other projects will ‘kick the can down the road.’ A phrase that was used no less than 10 times during the meeting, and probably much more frequently.

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Steve Nichols

“First of all, you need some of this money,” said Steve Nichols, county administrator.

He will present his budget proposal at the Feb. 4 meet, at 4 p.m. The drafts that supervisors have looked at were described as shocking.

Nichols’ reputation is a strong budget proposer too. His budgets have historically been viewed as fair and politically passable. Supervisors wouldn’t divulge any aspects of the budget except to say a tax increase is inevitable.

“In a budget year you don’t have a lot of options (to lower costs), it is an option,” said Nichols as the supervisors perused previously approved Capital Improvement Plan projects that they had the ability to be delayed or canceled.

Before getting through just the first few projects, Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District) asked, “Is that kicking the ‘can down the road’?”

Nichols responded, “Yeah. A lot of these are.”

That was in regard to replacing the HVAC system in the county administration building. Also could be included in that discussion is fixing the potable water issue at the Fluvanna Public Safety and Library complex. Or not replacing Sheriff Office vehicles.

One budget item that will probably get slashed but is still on life support was theback_in_time wireless internet hardware at Fluvanna County Public Schools. All schools except the high school are operating on hardware from 2003. The hardware had a 10-year license and now whenever there is a power failure, the information technology team has to reset the system to 2013 to operate again. In 2015, the wireless system has to think it is 2013 to function.

Beyond power blips from the power company causing issues, the hardware is not supported to have every student in every classroom with an internet-abled device, bandwidth for the amount of users on the network, network handoff from device to device and countless other technology advancements since 2003.

The high school has 150 wireless access points in it. The four other schools have 120 (combined) and want to increase that to 240 to 280. It will require additional infrastructure to get the up to date technology to work at standards.

Besides power issues, bandwith and lack of access of the wireless system, there is a fear that the system will stop working for another unknown issue.

“We will potentially find new problems or the wireless will stop working,” said Josh Gibson, director of technology for FCPS.

If supervisors delay the estimated $600,000 project into multiple years, supervisors could save $200,000 this year. That is just under a penny of real estate tax.

The forecast based on conversations around the supervisors is FY16’s budget will be a doozy and won’t stop the problem. Comprehensive Services Act for At-Risk Youth and Families (CSA) will need an increase, the jail the county uses will need a few hundred thousand this year and possibly more next year, costs associated with the James River Water Authority will be known, Zion Crossroads water infrastructure cost, increase in cost of providing current county services and schools.
There will be a reassessment that will take affect, lowering this year’s tax rate because property values increase. Still, Fluvanna will need an increase in revenue to support current operations.

Nichols’ budget will be formally presented on Feb. 4 at 4 p.m.

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bryan-rothamel.jpgThe 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

Photo Credits: Fluvanna County, Harvard University 

Indecision on Fluvanna EMS Future

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

Fluvanna County emergency services will remain status quo until the Fire and Rescue Association and the Board of Supervisors make a decision regarding the future of rescue services.

At a supervisor work session in December, the two boards decided to begin the process of having Lake Monticello Volunteer Rescue take over as the sole rescue operation in the county. All Fluvannafluvanna rescue squad members would belong to LMVR but still be stationed in home communities in the county.

Now, just over a month after that meeting where everyone appeared ready for that future, there is backtrack.

The Fire and Rescue Association (FRA) can not come to a consensus on that being the best path forward. FRA can’t come to a conclusion on the best path overall. The biggest fear is the effect on volunteers from any possible merger.

There is concern that if Fluvanna Rescue is under the Lake Monticello umbrella, it will further drive current and future volunteers away. Currently, Fluvanna Rescue only has five members.

One idea now being championed is combining  Fluvanna Fire and Fluvanna Rescue. This would eliminate the need for two stations in each of the three areas of the county and could help for crossover volunteer help.

Not everyone in Fluvanna Fire is on-board with this idea. There are fire members who are concerned they will have to bear too much of a load in both volunteer and paperwork-wise. Kents Store Fire is in support of this because they already have members who help drive for Fluvanna Rescue out of the Kents Store station.

“I don’t want anything that would jeopardize the Fluvanna Fire organization,” said Mike Brent, Chief of Fluvanna Fire. “I don’t want to cause so much dissension in our organization, it may take us down.”

The main reason this is being so heavily pushed now is each fire station in the county was recently built and they all have space for equipment. It also continues the tradition of serving in your community because each station is identified by area name.

One solution being implemented to lower response times is the hiring of an full time provider for night shift out of the Palmyra Rescue station. That will begin by March 1. The contract crew has had an 18 minute response time to a call in Bremo Bluff.

Still, five members of Fluvanna Rescue cannot sustain itself to handle all the paperwork and volunteer recruiting, let alone the ability to cover multiple shifts.

The supervisors clearly thought FRA would provide an answer but the FRA is saying there are too many competing priorities that cause fear of driving even more volunteers away.

“We can make that decision amongst us in an evening,” said Bob Ullenbruch, Palmyra District.

OBrien2014 photo credit Fluvanna County

Tony O’Brien

Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) stressed the importance of finding ways to run more efficiently because the board has already discussed not funding vehicles that were previously approved.

Len Bozza, president of Lake Monticello Volunteer Fire and Rescue said based on the FRA meetings, “The FRA is unwilling to [make a decision].”

The Board of Supervisors really cannot make the decisions on how each corporation will operate. Legally, the multiple organizations are each separate private corporations. The Board of Supervisors then authorizes each corporation to respond to calls. The supervisors also help fund each corporation.

The supervisors could unauthorize a corporation and not fund it while funding a different corporation and further authorize that second corporation to respond to calls, but it cannot force it to combine into another corporation.

Supervisors are giving the FRA another chance to make a decision. The board will hear a final proposal in May on the future of Fluvanna emergency services.

Jamie Stafford of Fluvanna Rescue said, “Can we maintain 100 percent volunteer? Probably not.”

Starting in January 2014 the supervisors paid for daytime contract services through the University of Virginia to run one ambulance out of the Palmyra station. This year and just four months of the current budget year, the supervisors are paying from the county reserves for nighttime services also.

The 24-hour operation comes to over $600,000 for a full budget year, well over two pennies of the real estate tax rate.

To help defray some of those costs, expect the supervisors to begin cost recovery of rescue services in FY16, which starts July 1, 2015. While getting it started at the beginning of the fiscal year could be a challenge, it probably will be in place by the end of the calendar year.

A committee that was charged to research the program has recommended to the supervisors to institute a ‘compassionate billing’ program with hardship waivers, resident tax benefit and payment plans.

The compassionate billing option means all insurance companies would be billed, everyone would get a bill of the remainder, however the county would not aggressively go after payments. After typically three attempts at collection, bills would be written off. There would be no collection agency calls.

It is estimated the county could recover $600,000 to $700,000 a year. This year the county spends $1.8 million in emergency services with a budget request of $2.5 million for next year.

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Bob Ullenbruch

Ullenbruch was not interested in compassionate billing but an insurance only option.

“Having to prove you have a hardship is hardship itself,” said Ullenbruch.

The ‘insurance only’ option bills the insurance company only and whatever is paid, is considered paid in full. Often times insurance will only pay 85 percent of cost.

Supervisors will consider a compassionate billing option with hardships and a resident tax benefit at a future meeting. An insurance only option will also be presented. Implementing requires public outreach but most prominently volunteer rescue personnel training of the additional information needed for billing.

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bryan-rothamel.jpgThe 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

Photo Credits: NBC29, Fluvanna County

Supporting Economic Development, Greene PC Recommends Changes to Parking Ordinance

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

As with most localities, different business uses have different parking space requirements under Greene County’s parking ordinance.  Unlike many localities, Greene’s ordinance currently makes no distinction among different retail uses even though their parking needs differ greatly.   While a need exists for changes to the entire parking ordinance, the proposal before the Planning Commission last night (1/21) was limited to a reduction in required Antique/Craft shop parking.

This ordinance review was originated by a Greene County business looking to grow.  The Ruckersville Gallery located next to Blue Ridge Café on Route 29 south in Ruckersville is considering expansion. The current facility is 30,000 square feet and the plan is to expand to 50,000 square feet. clip_image002

One significant consideration regarding  the potential expansion will be the need to have additional parking that meets Greene County’s zoning ordinance. Currently, antique/craft shops are included in the category of retail stores which requires one parking space for each additional 200 square feet. In this case, the additional 20,000 square feet would require an additional 100 parking spaces.

The representatives of the Ruckersville Gallery – Milestone Partners  – asked Greene County to revise the zoning ordinance  (Article 16-8-9) to identify parking requirements for antique/craft shops separate from all other retail business as Article 16-8-9A. Bart Svoboda, Greene County’s Zoning Administrator presented the request and explained that Milestone Partners asked that the new section of the code read – “Antique or craft shop: One (1) space per employee on the maximum working shift, plus one (1) space per company vehicle operating from the premises, plus one (1) space per two hundred (200) square feet of customer service area, but with a minimum of one (1) space per one thousand (1,000) square feet of gross floor area.” Svoboda explained that this language is the same as Rockingham County.

Svoboda explained that Greene County plans on reviewing this ordinance in the near future but the applicant requested that this specific issue be addressed now so they could determine their cost of expansion. Mr. Louis Lopez III from Milestone Partners stated he believes the current requirement of one parking space for 200 square feet of retail space (which currently calculates to 150 parking spaces) is more than what is required. The additional 20,000 square feet which the current ordinance would require an additional 100 parking spaces. Lopez believes that this is way more parking spaces than is needed for his client’s store. And that the additional cost to provide the 100 parking spaces is cost prohibitive for going forward with the expansion. He believes that the ordinance similar to that of Rockingham County would better fit his client’s needs.

Chairman Jay Willer  asked Lopez if the 1 space per 200 square feet for customer service could be eliminated. Lopez felt that requirement could be deleted.

The hearing was then opened to the public for comment. David Holtzman from the Piedmont Environmental Council stated he was OK with the deletion of the customer service requirement and supported the revision. Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum  was the second speaker and he stated he believed that the change made good common sense, especially considering the new demands of the federally mandated storm water runoff requirements and he recommended support of the zoning ordinance revision.

The meeting shifted to the Planning Commission. Commissioner John McCloskey stated he was glad to see growing business driving the need. Commissioner Vic Schaff explained that the request was logical and suggested that the commission review all parking ordinances.

Willer felt that Greene County needed to stay competitive with other counties in their policies.  Schaff suggested deleting the customer service need for parking. This lead Commissioner Eva Young to offer a motion create 16-8-9A which would require one (1) space per company vehicle operation from the premises but with a minimum of one parking space per one thousand (1,000) square feet of gross floor area. Commissioner Frank Morris seconded the motion and it was passed unanimously.

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

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

The ARB Should Follow The EPA on U.S. 29 GSI

By. Neil Williamson, President

Earlier today, the Free Enterprise Forum asked the Albemarle County Architectural Review Board (ARB) to follow the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lead and issue a limited categorical exclusion for business signage in the U S 29/ Rio Road Grade Separated Interchange (GSI) Impact Area.

The EPA determined that the GSI project qualified for a categorical exclusion from environmental review, shouldn’t businesses attempting to survive the onslaught of construction and new traffic patterns receive the same kind of treatment from the ARB.

Please let me explain.

Even those not directly involved with business understand that businesses exist to meet the needs of customers.  If a customer is unaware of a business it is impossible to meet the customer needs.  This is where customer awareness and signage comes in.

While potential customers may not stop in to a North 29 business every time they travel on the road – they do see it and this raises company awareness.

In a recent project in Gainesville (Linton Hall Interchange) we watched many local businesses suffer Jiffy Lube Linton Hallthrough their construction time line.  Predictably, some did not make it.

Jiffy Lube was one of the local businesses impacted severely. After the highway construction was started they petitioned and got a small sign placed just past the “Jersey” barrier (photo left).  In a phone interview, the Jiffy Lube manager indicated the sign has helped “bring some of the customers back but we have lost a ton of business.”  

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the time is NOW to get the changes in place in Albemarle.  Not only do we want to have little or no ARB constraint, we believe the signage permitted should be at least doubled for impacted businesses and height constraints be considered due to the change in roadway elevation.

Further, we ask that Route 29 Project Delivery Advisory Panel member (especially Mark Graham and Brad Sheffield) champion this cause and do what ever can bspeed reevese done to fast track the ordinance change process.

I recognize this may seem like an alarmist call to action but believe me, just like Keanu Reeves in the 1994 film Speed, this entire project is rolling very fast and will explode if we don’t take action.

The ever speeding US29 Solutions steamroller is on schedule.  Despite significant public outcry the Rio Road GSI is prioritized first.  According to the Route 29 Solutions website:

[US29/RIO GSI] Construction is scheduled to begin in 2015 and will be completed no later than Dec. 2, 2016. Construction that restricts movement on Rio Road through the intersection must be done between May 23 and Sept. 2, 2016. During that time, Rio Road will be closed to through traffic and left turns at the Route 29 intersection.The Rio Road intersection must be reopened to all traffic movements no later than Sept. 2, 2016. [Emphasis added-nw]

Four lanes in each direction on Route 29, and two lanes in each direction on Rio Road, will be maintained during construction except during the period between May 23 and Sept. 2, 2016. During that time traffic on Rio Road will be limited to right turns onto Route 29 and traffic will not be able to cross the intersection. On Route 29 two southbound lanes and three northbound lanes will be maintained between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. and right turns onto Rio Road will be allowed at all times.

A temporary intersection at Route 29 and Berkmar Drive, controlled by a signal, will serve as a detour and allow traffic from Berkmar to turn right or left onto Route 29 and travel north or south to Rio Road and businesses along Route 29 north or south of Berkmar. That signal will also have preemption equipment that allows priority access for emergency vehicles.Traffic from Route 29 north and south will be able to access Berkmar at the temporary intersection.

Recognizing Albemarle’s unceasing  desire to have homogenized entrance corridors, the Free Enterprise Forum has requested that the sign ordinance and ARB regulations be lifted for 24 months.  This time frame would provide those owners who choose to make the investment in temporary signage to impact consumer travel and shopping patterns during and AFTER construction.

Two members of the ARB, Chuck Lebo and Fred Missel, seemed to be in general agreement with our suggestion.  The third member present, Vice Chair Marcia Joseph asked to receive the information in writing so she might consider it from all angles.  The ARB asked staff to consider the concept and perhaps draft a resolution to the Board of Supervisors regarding our proposal.

If we fail to act NOW, the businesses will be dying on the vine before the regulatory relief can help them.

Then we will see signs that really negatively impact the community:

going-out-of-business-closed

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credit: Free Enterprise Forum, christheentrepreneur.wordpress.com

Greene Supervisors Learn of Flat Property Reassessments

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

In a critical step in their budgeting process, the Greene County Board of Supervisors learned the results of the recent county wide reassessment.  Fred Pearson  of Pearson’s Appraisal Service  addressed the Greene County Board of Supervisors at their January 13th meeting. Pearson reported to the Board of Supervisors that the assessed property values in Greene County are essentially flat.  Property taxes (based on property values) are the lion’s share of revenue in Greene County’s annual budget

Pearson further explained that homes were grouped by neighborhood to determine assessed values. Last fall 30 home owners called to schedule appointments to discuss their property valuation. Of that group, half had reductions given to their assessed values. Owners are interested in a lower assessed value since it would lead to a smaller property tax bill.  Pearson further indicated that only Dogwood Valley had a significant decline in value. He expressed his thanks to Commissioner of the Revenue Larry Snow and County Administrator John Barkley for assisting in his reassessment.

Pearson explained to the Board of Supervisors that there was approximately a 1% reduction in value since his last assessment. When asked what he anticipated in the next few years, Pearson indicated that gasoline prices are down, the economy is improving and the real estate market is strong. So he would assume that prices may start to move upward in the future. Supervisor Bill Martin, Stanardsville District, referred to the recently released Charlottesville Area Association of REALTOR’s (CAAR) Market Report that showed Greene County had a 12% growth in housing sales in 2014 over 2013.

Pearson stated that he only made changes to the assessed value when the change in value was at least 2% different from the prior assessment. Supervisor Jim Frydl, Midway District asked that Pearson consider making changes when the value changes by 1% so that homeowners see smaller increases rather than wait until the increase reaches 2%.

Supervisor Bill Martin also suggested that Greene County announce when the reassessments are being mailed to landowners. He noted that this information was only posted on the county website last fall. Finally Supervisor Davis Lamb, Ruckersville District, asked if the cost of living goes up, does that mean that real estate values will increase. Mr. Pearson indicated that no, this would not necessarily mean an increase in property values.

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

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

Fluvanna Economic Development – Just Add Water (and Debt)?

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

add waterFluvanna County wants to diversify the tax base to shift less tax burden on residential homes and more on businesses. The issue a recent land development study showed, Fluvanna needs water.

RK&K Engineers has been working on a water study of the Zion Crossroads area to give the Board of Supervisors a better look at what is available and what would be most cost effective.

There have been over 10 various studies performed on the area. The latest study could be the last and still not a single resident appeared for the preliminary results consultant RK&K presented on Dec. 17 afternoon.

RK&K found various options for Fluvanna to get water to Zion Crossroads. There are using existing wells or drill new wells at the Department of Corrections Women Correctional Facility (known as DOC). Another option is buy water from Louisa County Water Authority (LCWA), Albemarle or Aqua Virginia at Lake Monticello.

Two other options would be to buy the excess capacity at the DOC’s surface water system or utilize Fluvanna’s portion of the James River Water Authority.

To get sewer service Fluvanna could use the DOC excess capacity, LCWA, Albemarle at Glenmore, Aqua, alternative drain fields, Fluvanna’s water treatment facility in Palmyra and other alternative ideas such as trading sentiment credits.

RK&K’s study shows that if the Zion Crossroads area was completely built out, it would use 1.9 million gallons a day. That would include multiple mixed use areas, retail, business parks and industrial. A complete build out would take several decades.

RK&K suggests doing water in phases to grow as the need grows. The first phase is to building five miles of pipe with one pump and tower. Sewer would have three pumps. This plan would utilize the 75,000 excess capacity DOC is offering of treated water. It would also use the 125,000 excess capacity DOC offered for sewer. Both would be purchased at a wholesale rate.

“I think DOC is a very good option,” said Jeff Kapinos of RK&K when asked which one he recommends.

He later said, “From everything I know now, DOC is a good option.”
RK&K estimates phase one for a water and sewer system would cost $8 million. If supervisors authorize this year, the new five mile system could be operating by March 2017.

A water system would move Fluvanna properties closer to being more ‘ready to developed’ based on the Timmons Group report heard in November. But $8 million means the county goes further in debt.

The county was $96.2 million in debt as of June 30, 2014, based on the annual financial audit. Some of that debt was refinanced this past year but the supervisors also authorized new debt to pay for school maintenance items.

To further complicate things, the county’s policy about debt is annual governmental debt service payments should not exceed 12 percent of the government revenues. In 2014, the ratio was 17.5 percent. With the county taking out more debt in the past six months, that ratio is not getting better.

Another stickler is Fluvanna can not just pay for $8 million of water from savings. The county’s unassigned savings is sitting at $9.5 million. The county policy is to have at least 12% of the budget in unassigned savings. That percentage converted to dollars would be $7.4 million for June 2014.

In 2009, the county’s savings were over $15 million, according to the staff yearly financial report. This upcoming fiscal year gets tighter because costs are increasing but the county still only get significant tax revenue from residents.

It becomes a chicken and egg situation for Fluvanna. In order to diversify the tax base, a water system is needed based on numerous reports. However, in order to build said water system, Fluvanna would have to further add to the debt load. For perspective, $8 million in resident tax cents would be 29 cents.

RK&K will come back to the Board of Supervisors this spring to present a more detailed report.

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bryan-rothamel.jpgThe 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

Photo Credit: World Bank