Monthly Archives: January, 2017

Albemarle Passes The Bucks ($1.4 Million) To Unelected CACs

By Neil Williamson, President

piggy-bankIn Wednesday’s (2/1) meeting, without so much as a formal public hearing, Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors plans to send a $1.4 million dollar piggy bank to the unelected Citizen Advisory Councils so that the elected officials don’t have to make the hard budget choices.

Nothing they are doing is illegal, it’s just not right.  Please let me explain.

Albemarle’s annual Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) Budget is laborious and involves significant number of staff hours to determine the staff priority for Capital projects such as vehicles, buildings and renovations.

Over the last 13 years the Free Enterprise Forum has been impressed with the level of detail and careful consideration the CIP committee (including citizen representation and 2 elected BOS members) have put into these discussions.  There have been times when one geographic portion of the development areas had CIP projects that garnered higher scores by the committee and these were funded rather than less urgent projects.

The new “Neighborhood Funding Initiative” would siphon off $1.4 million of the annual CIP budget and allocate it geographically and by population.  The staff has proposed a formula to accomplish this task:

17-155 - Proposed Allocation of Funding - View

Staff has simply developed this Board driven concept.  In fact, the staff report hints at a better manner to utilize citizen involvement along with the elected officials within the current CIP process.

staff has conducted best practices research which is summarized as Attachment A that revealed that the majority of these types of community focused improvement funding programs fall into three basic categories:  neighborhood matching grants; formal citizen involvement in capital planning; and citizen-driven Capital Improvement Programs. After hearing the Board’s discussion, staff thinks that the third category may most clearly align with the Board’s preferences, so the program has been designed along those lines.  If the Board would like this program to be more closely incorporated in the already existing CIP review, evaluation and ranking process that would be another viable approach.

The Free Enterprise Forum has long been a critic of the unelected CACs.

In 2009 we wrote:

The Free Enterprise Forum believes citizen groups (including us) should have the ability to be active participants in the workings of local government.  That being said, we are increasingly concerned that the leadership function of some Boards and Commissions may be inappropriately delegating to community organizations.

With the proposed policy change, beyond effective regulatory veto power over development projects that would advance the community vetted comprehensive plan, Albemarle now seems poised to give these unelected “mission creeping” Citizen Advisory Councils the county purse strings as well.

As the Supervisors continue to delegate, I wonder what will be left for them to do … besides run for reelection.

As we said in 2009:

In the end, elected leaders must lead, not delegate, if citizens don’t like the direction they should replace the leaders.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Stay tuned.

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson

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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 and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Greene Supervisors and School Board Kick Off Budget Season

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Prior to the second January Board of Supervisors meeting, the Greene County Board of Supervisors and the School Board held a workshop to begin the budget process. Leah Paladino, School Board Chair, led the discussion and reviewed the schools needs and priorities.

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Leah Paladino

Specifically the next school budget is looking several major issues – 1) a Virginia Retirement System (VRS) increase, 2) health insurance increase and 3) a one-time bonus – depending on Richmond’s decision. The impact of the increased local cost of the VRS is being estimated at $326,000 or a 10% increase.

Superintendent Andrea Whitmarsh’s understanding is that this increase statewide would fully fund the VRS system per what state auditors estimate is required. Health insurance is estimated to increase by 15% or $357,000 and the impact of the potential one-time bonus  is estimated at $291,000.

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At the same time, this reporter has been in communication with Delegate Rob Bell asking him about fully funding the VRS fund. His reply on January 18th was “I continue to supports efforts to achieve full funding with legislation……one of the challenges is that the budget can supercede other bills, which makes it harder to create long-term policy”. I replied asking would he sponsor a bill to prohibit “borrowing” VRS funds for anything other than retirement and when will the VRS fund be fully funded per the states independent auditors. I am still awaiting a response to that email.

clip_image005Supervisor Jim Frydl (Midway), the School Board liaison, commented that the increased VRS cost and the bonus are examples of state mandated costs being passed to the counties while the state maintains they are balancing the state The three items total nearly $1 million before addressing any operational needs – such as new text books, additional teachers and aides, updated computer equipment, etc.

As the school board pointed out, the school staffing in 2009 was 511 and over the next five years the staffing was reduced by 41 to 470 or an 8% reduction while over the same period the number of students rose from 2,852 to 3,099 or 9%. The combination of more students with fewer staff caused the ratio of students vs. staff to increase by 18% from 2009 to 2014.

Whitmarsh’s comment on the dramatic change was that reductions in staffing have been made by 2014 and since then the staff have been in sync with the increase in student population.

County Administrator John Barkley asked Whitmarsh if salaries in Greene were competitive?

Superintendent Whitmarsh indicated that there is an ongoing issue in regards to losing teachers with several years experience to Charlottesville and Albemarle County due to both wages and benefits lagging.clip_image007

Kristie Spenser, Director of Business and Facilities, addressed the health insurance increase and attributed it to four major claims which is causing the loss ratio in Greene to be higher than normal as opposed to last year when claims were below the norm.

Supervisor Bill Martin (Stanardsville) asked Whitmarsh how the morale of the staff in the schools is. Whitmarsh felt that in general it is improving, you always have some happy and some unhappy, but raises have been given recently and Paladino felt that teachers have been empowered, encouraged to innovate and moral is increasing.

Whitmarsh thanked the Board of Supervisors for the meeting and it will help them at their budget work session the next night – Wednesday, January 25th. She asked that if the Supervisors needed any further information to just ask and they will be glad to provide any data needed to help them understand the school’s needs. Likewise Martin offered to meet with the School Board if they felt it would help the budget process.

At the regular meeting of the Board of Supervisors, Michelle Flynn was elected to the Chair for 2017 and Dale Herring was elected to the Vice Chair position.

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Fluvanna Goes Green & Saves Green

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

Energy-Conservation-dollar-sign photo credit xconomyFluvanna’s Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution to pay for energy upgrades via debt financing.

The annual debt payment of $560,000 is offset by the upgrade savings. Trane, the company providing the upgrades guarantees the county will save over $600,000 annually in operation and maintenance costs.

The most frequent update of facilities will be building envelopes at every county facility. The second is changing lighting at all buildings except the administration building. Other planned upgrades are programmable thermostats.

The highest dollar upgrade is at Central Elementary, a planned $3.4 million upgrade to the central plant and controls.

Also at the January 18 meeting, supervisors made a policy regarding salaries of newly elected constitutional officers. There was no current stated policy but the county was paying any newly elected officer the same as the outgoing officer.

The state mandates a salary minimum but the county often increases the salary and pays the difference. On a 3-2 vote, the supervisors made the policy to be the minimum. Chairperson Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) and vice-chairperson Mozell Booker (Fork Union District) dissented.

The salary of an incoming constitutional officer can still be increased by Board of Supervisors action.

At the next meeting the county administrator Steve Nichols will present his budget proposal as the budget season heats up. The county departmental requests for FY18 were an increase of $2.5 million over the current fiscal year. That does not include the School Board request.

Few things are guaranteed in life. The energy savings might be, but all departments getting their full request in the Nichols budget is definitely not.


https://freeenterpriseforum.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/bryan-rothamel.jpg?w=151&h=151The 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: Xconomy.com

Greene PC Recommends Approval of Church Office At US29/33

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

clip_image003At their January meeting the Greene County  heard a request for a special use permit (SUP #15-009)  to allow the northwest corner of Route 29 and Route 33 to “have meeting places for clubs, fraternal and civic organizations” as listed in Article 4-1-2-15 where the Music Store was formerly located.

Zoning Administrator Bart Svoboda reviewed the request for the parcel that is oddly zoned A-1, Agricultural, even though it is on the busiest corner in Greene County. Since the parcel is not zoned business like the clip_image002other three corners, it requires a Special Use Permit in order to allow a church to have an office locate in the two story building on the corner.

While the SUP request is for the 2.41 acres, the Legacy Church (who wants to rent the building as an office) is only looking to use the building where the Music Store was formerly located.

Svoboda went on to explain that the parcel is an odd “L” shape and the building is on the narrow portion of the lot that touches the northwest corner in Ruckersville. The larger portion of the lot continues up Route 29 north and in behind the Greene House Shops and the Jack Shops Restaurant. And he clarified that he recommends that the SUP only be for the two story building, not the motel rooms running up US29 north.

Commissiclip_image006oner Vic Schaff asked Svoboda that if the property were to rezoned to B-1, would the use being requested tonight be changed to a by right use. Svoboda agreed and stated that the SUP would then be void.

Ken Lawson from Grandview Real Estate Services addressed the commissioner and addressed only an issue brought up by the Health Department. The Health Department expressed concerns about the use of the septic system but Lawson clarified that the use is only for the “Music Store” and not the motel rooms. Lawson further clarified he contacted the Health Department and clarified this issue with them and they revised their report to have no problem with using the current septic system that the Music Store used as there would be similar demand on the system.

Chairman Jay Willer asked Lawson if there were any plans to use the motel rooms in the future and he said they did not plan on using the rooms. He further explained that the owners plan on selling the property but wanted to acquire the SUP to get a tenant in the short term.

Commission John McCloskey asked if the church would hook up to the county sewer system. Lawson stated that while they could hook up with a connection line to the pump station, the less expensive option is to use the existing septic system which is their plan.

Willer asked Svoboda if a developer bought the property and built a new structure would they be required to hook up to the septic system and the answer was yes. Svoboda went on to say that the county hopes the parcel is rezoned to business which would increase the uses allowed.

The Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the SUP request and the request will go to the Board of Supervisors for their decision. The question that remains is why is this parcel still zoned Agricultural instead of Business?

The argument goes both ways: leaving it Agricultural is less expensive to request a SUP than to have the property rezoned Business. However, many potential buyers may be attracted to a parcel that is zoned for business and that is what the county wants on the land.  This is one of many commercial looking properties that are on Agricultural land in Greene County.

The real issue is the odd shape of the parcel – the “L” shape significantly limits what can be built on the narrow portion that touches the corner of Route 29/33. Would the Greene House Shops/Jack Shop Restaurant lot, which lies to the west of the parcel, be able to use the corner piece of the property for parking?

Hopefully, a long term solution can be found for this property that meets Greene County’s and the property owner’s long term objectives for this important corner of Ruckersville.

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Greene BOS Postpones Reorganization

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

In most localities across the Commonwealth, the first of the New Year is when the leadership is decided. Not so in Greene County in 2017, with Supervisors Jim Frydl and Michelle Flynn absent from the meeting the reorganization has been postponed to the second meeting in January – until January 24th.

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John Barkley

With only the minimum Supervisors for a quorum in attendance, the Board delayed all items requiring action until the second meeting of the month. The balance of the meeting was basically a single agenda item – the County Administrator’s report.  County Administrator John Barkley lead off by saying that the Board would hold a Strategic Planning Retreat on January 27th and 28th at the County Office Building that would be open to the public.

The White Run Reservoir water analysis  is hoped to have recommendations this winter as data continues to be collected especially on the fee structure to the county and how to manage the project with the Rapidan Service Authority. The analysis will give a roadmap as how to finance the project.

clip_image002The annual budget process is underway and the budget forms have been issued and received back from all county departments. The data is being organized to allow a budget to be presented in an orderly manner to the Board of Supervisors. The Fiscal Year 2016 audit will be presented at the next Supervisor meeting by Robinson, Farmer, Cox and Associates (RFCA) and the preliminary report looks to be favorable.

Another item to be reviewed at the January 24th meeting is the fiscal Reserve Policy and RFCA will also discuss this issue as part of their audit.

Property reassessments have been distributed to property owners in the county and any reviews requested by the property owners have been completed and revised assessments have been issued. The Board of Zoning Appeals will be the final review for any property owner that wants to further discuss their assessment and this is to be completed in the March/April timeframe.

Definition of blighted property and how the county deals with such issues is also on the agenda for a future meeting. The Ruckersville area was mentioned specifically.  According to Barkley, there are several areas that might need to be addressed by this review. It is hoped that there can be incentives offered for current and new business owners to improve the appearance of their properties.

clip_image003The only comment from Supervisor David Cox (Monroe) was that when he had his appointment with Fred Pearson, Professional Assessor related to property assessments, he was disappointed with the lack of professionalism of Mr. Pearson and gave an example to illustrate the problem. He suggested that the county needs to do a more thorough job in searching for whom does the next assessment.

Chairman Bill Martin (Stanardsville)  said that the work toward the pavilion on the county administration property was going forward with Stanardsville Mayor Gary Lowe, Stanardsville Area Revitalization (STAR) and Barkley working on the details of the agreement. Finally, Martin announced that there will be a budget work session with the School Board prior to the next Board of Supervisor meeting.

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Fluvanna Approves New Townhouses

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors approved a 40-unit townhouse community near Lake Monticello at its last meeting of 2016.

Rivanna Heights, approved on a 4-1 vote, is situated on land on South Boston Road (Route 600). The development is up the hill on South Boston, up the hill from the intersection with Lake Monticello Road (Route 618).

Patricia Eager (Palmyra District) raised concerns about where the community sits on the road. “My primary concern is of the people that will live there,” said Eager.

The road’s speed limit is 45 mph and will now add a community in between the intersection with Lake Monticello Road and the Riverside section of Lake Monticello.

Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) said, “I’d rather see this further up the road than it is right now.” He also mentioned the county might have to lobby the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to lower the speed limit of the windy road in the future.

The community will have a separate entrance and exit. The homes will form a triangle with two way traffic allowed on two sides but all traffic will have to funnel through the entire community. VDOT required to have one way traffic for a certain distance from entrances and exits.

Developers are giving the public safety officers an area to run radar and will also have emergency entrance.

Rivanna Heights is expected to have townhouses with 1,300 square feet, priced between $180,000 to $240,000. Representatives of the applicant repeatedly called the development “affordable housing.”

“You can get a free standing house for $200,000,” said Eager.

Eager was the lone vote against the development.

In the first meeting of 2017, the supervisors are keeping status quo of board leadership with chairman Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) as chairman for 2017.

In an primer to the FY18 budget season, supervisors were updated by staff. The reassessment equalized real estate rate will be $0.882 per $100 assessed. The current tax rate is $0.917 per $100.

The county’s savings account, known as the “Fund Balance”, has an unrestricted balance of $8.4 million. In June the unrestricted balance was $9.1 million. The county also keeps an additional 12 percent of the budget ($8.1 million) as a reserve.

County administrator Steve Nichols will formally present his FY18 budget on February 1.

The next supervisors meeting is January 18 at 7 p.m.


https://freeenterpriseforum.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/bryan-rothamel.jpg?w=151&h=151The 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

Albemarle Prefers Pigs over Pinot

By. Neil Williamson, President

Albemarle County has a large number of wineries and vineyards as a part of its agricultural economy.  The Monticello Wine Trail, which includes all of Albemarle, produces roughly 1/2 of all the wine produced in the Commonwealth.

According to the Washington Post:

Virginia ranks fifth in the nation in the number of wineries — with more than 255 — and is the nation’s fifth-largest wine grape producer, officials said. According to a 2011 economic impact study, the wine industry contributes almost $750 million to the state’s economy on an annual basis.

More than 1.6 million tourists visited Virginia wineries in 2013.

Albemarle County’s official website includes a page to “Discover your Albemarle Crush”

pigsWhy then is Albemarle now proposing new regulations that prefer swine over wine?

If the proposed regulations are adopted, a landowner may have a pig pen directly on the property line but a tasting room, parking lot or even a tent for a winery event must be set back 125’.

Rather than valuing the viticultural operations and allowing these rural farms to operate most efficiently (including events), Albemarle is seeking to dictate many of the business decisions including, tent setbacks, hours of operation and even how they bottle their product.

But this is FAR beyond the Supervisors original intent.

Please let me explain.

Last March, the Board of Supervisors determined that they wanted to create a more direct linkage between Albemarle County agricultural use and the ability to hold events at farm wineries, farm breweries, and farm distilleries (FWBDs).

The 1979 Virginia state law, which was designed to promote viticulture in the state, allows farm wineries to utilize leased vineyards anywhere in the state.  Albemarle, seeing to promote viticulture in Albemarle and prevent “faux” farm wineries from becoming by right event spaces in the rural areas, asked staff to address this concern in new event regulations.

WHEREAS, conducting such activities and events on lands designated Rural Area in the Comprehensive Plan and on lands zoned Rural Areas where there is little or no connection to agriculture is contrary to the policies in the Rural Area section of the Comprehensive Plan and the purposes of the Rural Areas zoning district; and

WHEREAS, in order to address these concerns, it is desired to conduct a new study of the relationship between activities and events at FWBDs, their agricultural nature, whether the activities and events are usual and customary as agricultural activities and events, whether and under what circumstances the activities and events are creating adverse impacts on other properties, and the economic impact of any such regulations that may be considered to address these concerns; and

WHEREAS, if the study so warrants, it is desired to consider amending the zoning regulations by strengthening the requisite relationship between agriculture and the activities and events at FWBDs, reasonably addressing any adverse impacts by performance standards or other means identified in the study in order to protect the public health, safety or general welfare, and to address any other issue identified in the study deemed to be necessary and appropriate. Emphasis Added – nw

Staff used the last line in the last Whereas to be a blank check to impact the very business operations of the FWBDs.

While the Free Enterprise Forum is understanding of mandating 5 acres of on site planted acreage to hold events, therby tying agriculture to the events,  the balance of the proposed ordinance goes too far:

1.  Increasing setbacks from 75’ front/25’ side/35’ rear to 125’ from property line.

This relatively arbitrary increase seems to be directed at mitigating impact on the neighbors.  Proper enforcement of existing regulations would seem to be a better less property rights limiting manner to achieve the same result.

In addition, when queries via email regarding agricultural setbacks the Zoning Administrator:

There is no Albemarle County zoning setback for those things [livestock].  We also don’t have setbacks for fencing in general.

Clearly, if enacted as drafted the setbacks portion of this code would significantly favor slopping hogs over sipping hops near the property line.

2. Mandating and not defining “regular hours open to the public”

The concept behind this suggestion is good; any winery seeking to hold events should have enough wine to sell to the public regularly.  Unfortunately, the concept does not hold up to close examination.  Today there are nearly 300 Napa Valley (CA) wineries operating on a ‘By Appointment only’ including such industry stalwarts such as Opus One and Duckhorn Vineyards.  There are a number of high end wineries with significant production in Virginia operating under a similar business model (RDV, Boxwood Estate, etc.).  One local winery (Mountfair Winery) is now closed to the public selling the majority of their production via their wine club.  From their website:

Mountfair Vineyards A private club winery! Mountfair Vineyards, nestled at the base of the Blue Ridge near Charlottesville, is a family owned and operated Club Winery serving our club members through appointment and special events. Mountfair is no longer open for regular tasting room hours.

Considering the reduced neighbor impact of an appointment only winery, why should Montfair (or other properties like them) be excluded from holding events?

This market reality raises the question why Albemarle would seek to require wineries that need not be open to make their business model work open their doors to hold events.

Further, a lack of definition of “regular hours” allows the zoning administrator (and her successors) significant latitude in their interpretation of the code.

3.  Punishing the Sunday Bride – Curfew on amplified music.

Currently there is no curfew on amplified music beyond the noise ordinance.  Staff heard loud and clear (pun intended) in the Joint Board of Supervisors/Planning Commission meeting that current practice is to stop all amplified music at 11 pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.  Rather than accepting a self imposed industry practice and adopting it as code staff selected 10 pm on Sunday night to be the cut off.

One winery, who has been commended for their noise cancelling practices, indicated 20% of their wedding business is Sunday weddings.  If we assume the wedding season runs from May – October (6 months), allowing an 11 pm Sunday cutoff would amount to 24 additional hours of operation (if all dates were booked).  Why not accept the market reality and be done with this – enforce the noise ordinance without punishing the Sunday bride.

Albemarle wineries and cideries (more than breweries and distilleries) have a long history of being good neighbors and benefiting the local economy with their events.  Albemarle can tie the event ordinance to the land but should step away from the mission creep of dictating the business activities on the land.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.

Photo Credit: http://www.droid-life.com/2014/08/13/t-mobile-identifies-data-hogs-p2p/