WarGames and Albemarle’s Proffer Paradox

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL  (adapted from Comments to the Albemarle County Planning Commission May 24)

By. Neil Williamson, President

war-games1Tonight, you will be hearing from newly appointed County Attorney Greg Kamptner regarding the Virginia State Code changes and how this will impact your ability to calculate, collect and legally defend the use of so called “voluntary” proffers in the future.

The entire exercise reminds me  of the penultimate scene in the 1983 move WarGames (more on that later).

To be clear, despite being on your agenda, the Free Enterprise Forum does not believe this issue is within your areas of expertise and we believe you are being used by the Board of Supervisors for political cover.

The Free Enterprise Forum has long contended that cash proffers are nothing more than a “Welcome  Stranger Tax” that provides an unreliable and relatively insignificant revenue source for infrastructure capacity improvement.  While we actively supported the new legislation, we continue to believe the elimination of cash proffers is good public policy and good fiscal policy.

Katherine Hafner of The Virginian-Pilot has a good wrap up of the new legislation which goes into effect July 1st.

Introduced by Sens. Mark Obenshain, R- Harrisonburg, and Richard Saslaw, D- Fairfax County, the legislation prohibits localities from asking for proffers deemed “unreasonable” or not directly related to the impacts of a development itself.

The state proffer system, enacted in the mid-1970s, started with modest goals, allowing landowners to chip in for road improvements and the like when new homes appeared likely to strain city services.

The system has evolved into a form of taxation on the industry and new homeowners, said Mike Toalson, CEO of the Homebuilders Association of Virginia.

“The bill was brought forward to rebalance it back to a system that would make it more fair,” said Toalson, who worked with legislators.

The law stipulates that developers should offer money or improvements only for impacts “specifically attributable” to their projects.

The proffers are also now restricted to core public facilities such as schools or sewer systems. Toalson said his association saw some cities extract money from developers for unrelated, offsite enterprises such as retirement homes.

“We’re not going to be the bank anymore for whatever you might want within your capital improvements program,” he said.

As you can see from your Capital Improvement Plan Public Hearing this evening,  Albemarle County has failed to maintain the concurrence of infrastructure needed to support its existing population.  This failure is not the result of newly rezoned property but is in fact due to a lack of a political will to spend the money required to enact the vision stated in your much vaunted Comprehensive Plan.

Despite having no budgetary control, this Planning Commission has often raised concerns regarding the amount of work being placed on limited staff resources.  Mr. Lafferty, in particular, has raised this issue in many of your discussions.

Reading the new proffer legislation, we believe it would be irresponsible for Albemarle staff to move forward without a determination of the total staff cost associated with the calculation, collection and defense of the cash proffer policy for each and every rezoning.  The Proffer Paradox is that the likely revenue generated from a standard size rezoning in Albemarle County will be exceeded by the staff costs associated with obtaining the proffer.

WarGames-are we still playingThis is where WarGames comes in.

In the climactic scene, where a rouge computer is running all the models for thermonuclear war, as it is quickly decoding the numbers needed to launch the missiles – it determines that the only way to win is not to play – will Albemarle be smart enough to see this as the solution to their cash proffer policy? Or will the potentially empty proffer piggy bank be too alluring to refuse?

Stay Tuned.

Neil Williamson December 2 2015 Albemarle BOS meeting Photo Credit Charlottesville TomorrowNeil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.

Photo Credits: MGM

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