Monthly Archives: April, 2017

Greene Supervisors Set 2018 Tax Rates

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

The good news for Greene County residents is on April 25th, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved keeping their personal property tax rate steady for 2018 at $.775/$100.

The bad news is the tax bill is going up.  According to County documents, due to increased assessments and other revenue, the county’s total budget is increasing by 5.22% ($61.267,707).  The assessment increase alone creates “an effective tax increase” of $.055 per $100.

Supervisors Chair Michelle Flynn (Ruckersville) asked County Administrator John Barkley to review the process up to this point and she explained that approval of the budget will be on the agenda for the May 23rd meeting. Barkley started by thanking all of the counties departments, staff, managers and especially Finance Director Tracy Morris , Economic and Tourism Director Alan Yost and Planning Director/Zoning Administrator Bart Svoboda  for their work on the budget.

Barkley outlined the process from the first meeting on March 7th, a workshop with the School Board, another workshop and the advertisement on the March 26th of the proposed rates. Funding for core services are being provided for, a solid foundation for the county’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) to go forward has been established and the county is investing in cross-training of staff.

Barkley did address how the county will partially be funding the increased budget – property assessments have increased approximately 5% which will generate over $1.4 million of additional tax revenue to the county. In addition, drawing down of the Reserve Fund (currently at over $14 million) by $4,158,981 will balance the proposed budget.

This being a public hearing four residents addressed the supervisors.

School Board Chairperson Leah Paladino (Midway) thanked the board for working with the School Board through the joint work sessions during a period that has several significant increased expenditures before addressing additional staffing needs.

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School Board Chair Leah Paladino

Virginia Retirement System (VRS) Increase $326,000

Health Insurance $548,000

2% Raise $481,570

Greene County Schools Superintendent Dr. Andrea Whitmarsh spoke in support of a request made during the meeting by the Jefferson Madison Regional Library to add 4 hours each week. Whitmarsh stated that many areas of the county are without internet service and the expanded hours will help students have internet access to help with their school work.

Bob and Joann Burkholder also spoke, both in support of the water impoundment project stating that work should continue.

All five supervisors expressed support of maintaining the tax rate and highlighted various areas that the county will benefit from the budget to be approved next month. Supervisor Dale Herring (At-Large) explained that 17 departments budgeted reductions while 13 departments requested no increase in their budget and that the increase in the budget is being driven by costs of the regional jail, health insurance and VRS costs being pushed to the county. The Board unanimously approved keeping the tax rate the same and the detailed budget will be reviewed at the May 23rd 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

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Sunny Day? Albemarle Prohibits Greens, Endorses ‘Green’

By. Neil Williamson, President

What does Albemarle want for the rural areas (95%+) of the county?

On this and other issues, Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors is putting the fun back into dysfunctional.

Earlier this month, the Supervisors enacted two Rural Area Resolutions of Intent that are as similar as a ten pound bag of gold and a ten pound bag of manure.  Both weigh ten pounds but one is more valuable than the other because the supervisors like it better.

Please let me explain.

First up on April 5th, buried on their consent agenda as attachment “T”, the supervisors decided they don’t like golf, swim and tennis clubs in the rural areas:

WHEREAS, it is desired to implement the Rural Area Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan by removing “swim, golf, tennis, or similar athletic facilities” as a use permitted by special use permit in the Rural Areas zoning district because those uses are no longer consistent with the County’s policies and objectives for the Rural Area

During the Comprehensive Plan discussion (which reads such regulation should be considered) many of the folks opposed to such recreational activities in the rural area have suggested they generate too much traffic and take up too much land mass.  Interestingly, this would effectively ban new golf courses in Albemarle County as we wrote in a piece earlier this month (A Tradition Like No Other–Albemarle Again Seeks to Ban Golf).

So imagine our surprise when the same Board of Supervisors later on the same day used climate change as the justification for changing their regulations regarding rural solar farms.

To be cost effective, these farms will take a large amount of acreage and require significant additional infrastructure.

The sunny view on solar is different than that of swim, golf and tennis clubs.

WHEREAS, the Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan (hereinafter “the Plan”), Chapter Four, Natural Resources, Objective Eight states the County shall, “Recognize changes occurring to the earth’s climate to anticipate and mitigate impacts to the County.”; and

WHEREAS, the County, the City of Charlottesville, and the University of Virginia formed the Local Climate Action Planning Process Steering Committee (hereinafter “LCAPP Committee”) in 2010, which recommended that all three entities integrate the role of energy and carbon emissions in projects and planning and that the entities identify and promote actions that enable the community to reap the health, economic and environmental benefits that accompany sound energy-based decisions; and

WHEREAS, the Board accepted the LCAPP Committee’s recommendations on September 7, 2011; and

WHEREAS, the Plan, Chapter Twelve, Community Facilities, Objective Ten, Strategy 10(a) provides that the County will, “Continue to ensure the adequate provision of electricity, telephone, fiber optics, and natural gas services to support existing and anticipated development in the County through coordination with utility companies”; and

WHEREAS, permitting the siting, development, construction, operation, integration, and decommissioning of large-scale solar energy systems may assist the County’s efforts to achieve the aforementioned objectives in the Plan as well as the LCAPP Committee’s recommendations;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT for purposes of public necessity, convenience, general welfare, and good zoning practices, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors hereby adopts a resolution of intent to consider amending the Albemarle County Zoning Ordinance to achieve the purposes described herein;

So, despite the Comprehensive Plan’s discouragement of commercial activity in the rural areas, it is OK if they like your product or service provided.  As property rights advocates, we believe both uses should be permitted in the rural areas. 

We even agree that a special use permit is an appropriate route to make sure swim golf and tennis clubs as well as solar farms have adequate protections in place to remain harmonious with the surrounding rural areas.

We do not understand how the Board of Supervisors can call for a ban on rural area recreation the same day as they endorse the concept of a commercial field of glass that will require regular maintenance, transmission lines and have equal if not greater significant neighborhood impacts.

Perhaps there are some politics involved in such in-congruent decisions.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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 Credits: Sigora Solar via Facebook

Fluvanna Financing Fun

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors approved debt financing plan for Zion Crossroads water project at the April 19th meeting.

The project doesn’t have final design or numbers yet, but the possible funding source will be the Virginia Resource Authority (VRA).

The supervisors approved applying in the summer bond pool with the VRA. The application will be for $10 million, the latest estimated cost of the project. The deadline for the application is May 1.

The county should get a final design and cost in the next month. At that time, the supervisors can decide how much financing they want to use and amend the application. The county administrator recommends putting $4 million from the county’s cash balance to the project.

In regards to current county debt, the high school bonds have a window of about 100 days in the fourth quarter 2018 where $57 million can be reinvested. The county has two known options.

One option is to issue a ‘float agreement’ where the county contracts with an investment firm now at a locked in amount. The investment firm gives the county a set amount now with the hopes the firm can invest that money for a better return when the window opens.

If the county issued a float agreement right now, it is estimated it would bring in a $74,000 immediate payout. They could also ask for a specific amount and once a bid comes in at that price, accept it. The county can issue the float agreement at any time but as the window nears, firms will be less like to ‘bet’ high.

A second option is to purchase a state and local government series (SLGS) when the 100 day period occurs. The only issue is the SLGS are sometimes blocked to be purchased. Two years ago SLGS were not allowed to be purchased for most of the year.

Supervisors directed staff to ask more questions about possibilities to Raymond James, the county’s financial adviser.

At April 12th meeting, the supervisors approved the FY18 budget and tax rates on a 4-1 with Don Weaver (Cunningham District) dissenting.

The real estate tax rate is set at $0.907 per $100 assessed. The personal property stayed at $4.35 per $100. The business rates decreased in an effort to help local businesses.

Late changes to the budget included giving staff a 2 percent raise to start January 1, increasing the budget for county attorney, additional funds for the Sheriff’s Office and Earth Day hazardous waste collection. The supervisors also are using cash to purchase a new brush truck for emergency services.

More public was present at the meeting but overall the budget season had few county residents active in the process.

The supervisors will next meet on May 3 at 4 p.m. for a regular session. A work session on county projects, including the Zion Crossroads water project, is expected before the May 17 meeting.


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

Ruckersville Rezoning

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Virginia Code requires, absent a proactive rezoning by a locality, property owners must ask for permission (and pay an application fee) to have their property’s zoning changed to match the community vetted Comprehensive Plan.  Last night (4/19) such a request came before the Greene County Planning Commission for a public hearing and recommendation.  After the planning commission recommendation the application then must go to the Board of Supervisors for a public hearing and final zoning determination.

ARA Properties owns two adjoining parcels, each about ¾ of an acre nearclip_image002 Ruckersville behind CVS on Moore Road.

One is currently zones B-2, Business while the other is zoned R-1, Residential (60-(10)-2 – three parcels north of Route 33 east of Ruckersville.

A representative of ARA Properties addressed the Planning Commission at their April meeting and explained that they are requesting the rezoning clip_image004to have both parcels zoned the same – B-2, Business so that they can are more apt to be used for commercial uses.

Chairman Jay Willer opened the hearing to the public but there were no speakers signed up for the hearing. Planning Director Bart Svoboda  advised Willer that no comments were received from the adjoining land owners. In addition, Svoboda went on to explain that the parcel is in a growth area of Greene County which is designated to encourage a mix of commercial, office and residential uses.

Willer stated that he felt this is an appropriate use given the Comprehensive Plan of Greene County and the goal is to have commercial activity in that part of the county. Commissioner John McCloskey added that he was glad to see that the owner came forward to request the rezoning.

The Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the rezoning and it will now be forwarded to the Board of Supervisors for their public hearing and final zoning decision.

The April Planning Commission meeting was the first meeting for Commissioner Steven Kruskamp, Jr., taking the place of former Commissioner Vic Schaff.

Good Signs Are Good For Business

By. Neil Williamson, President

Adapted from comments made to the Albemarle County Architectural Review Board April 17, 2017

Your agenda today includes a work session on sign regulations.  In the years I have been following issues in Albemarle, two specific localities always come up in signage conversations: Hilton Head, South Carolina and Route 3 in Fredericksburg.  Neither is appropriate to the discussion of Albemarle.

5th street station credit NBC29It is also important to note as you discuss the size, number and proportion of signs that you also consider their purpose – to help customers find businesses.

The Free Enterprise Forum is aware of at least one planning commissioner who believes we will have no signs in the future as our autonomous cars and GPS tracking will make them obsolete; we do not share that view.

In fact we want to share some relatively recent sign statistics from two surveys in 2015.  The first was commissioned by FedEx Office, measured the importance of signage to business operations and consumer decision making.  The second by the Economic Center, University of Cincinnati, measured the impact on business owners in different industries.

The surveys found that:

  • Nearly 76% of consumers (8 in 10) said they had entered a store or business they had never visited before based simply on its signs. (FedEx)
  • Nearly 75% indicated that they had told others about a business simply based on its signage. (FedEx)
  • About 68% of consumers believe that a business’ signage reflects the quality of its products or services. (FedEx)
  • About 67% of the consumers surveyed said they had purchased a product or service because a sign caught their eye. (FedEx)
  • Nearly 60% of consumers said that the absence of signs deters them from entering a store or business. (FedEx)
  • Roughly 60% of businesses reported that changing the design or enhancing the visibility of their signage had a positive impact on sales, number of transactions and profits, with an average increase of about 10%. (UC)
  • Over 50% of survey respondents indicated that poor signage (e.g., poor quality, misspelled words) deters them from entering a place of business. (FedEx)
  • 38% of large companies with multiple locations identified branding/image as the most important purpose of effective signage, while small firms and single establishments perceived signs to be most important for making their business stand out and for helping customers find their location. (UC)
  • Legibility was chosen by both consumers and businesses as the most important characteristic of signs. (UC)

open for businessWhile we know that the ARB is seeking to make our community great (to coin a phrase).  It is important to remember that the tax paying businesses in Albemarle’s 20+ Entrance Corridors NEED signage to attract and retain customers.

Albemarle is currently outsourcing their economic development strategic plan to a Richmond based consultant.  When we talk about being business friendly, changing the corporate brand colors (ARB trivia – who changed the red in Red Lobster) might not be the best first impression.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

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.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo credit:  NBC29

New SNP Superintendent Updates Greene Supervisors

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

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Superintendent Jennifer Flynn

Shenandoah National Park (SNP) has a new superintendent – Jennifer Flynn, as of 2017. She addressed the Greene Board of Supervisors at their April 11th meeting.

Flynn succeeds Jim Northrup who retired after a 36 year career and she served as Northrup’s deputy superintendent since 2009.

Flynn reported that 2016 saw a record 1.45 million visitors in the park, up 8.3%, which was in celebration of the centennial of the SNP. The park also held its first naturalization service with 80 new US citizens. In addition, she highlighted the parks Night Sky Program  and the musical programs as highlights of last summer’s programs.

The fiscal benefits to Greene County being beside the SNP are tangible. $87.9 million was spent in the park and the surrounding 50 mile area in 2016. 300 jobs were provided within the park and it is estimated that over another 800 jobs near the park exist to service the visitors of the park.

Flynn visited Madison County earlier in the day to celebrate the first memorial for the Blue Ridge Heritage Project.  The project is seeking to place memorials in the eight counties surrounding SNP with the family names of those who were made to leave their homes in the creation of the park. erect Already erecting a temporary memorial, Greene County is in the planning and fundraising stages for their permanent  memorial to remember the families that were forced to give up their land to form the park.

clip_image006Flynn invited the supervisors to visit the park if they haven’t in several years. The food service is in the middle of a 10 year contract with a new food vender and the increased revenue has allowed the park to upgrade many of their facilities.

Finally, a new program is being tried this April. On April 23rd the north district is being closed off the motorized traffic so that bicycles, joggers, etc. can safely use the road. Already 4,000 bikers have reserved to participate for the day.

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 Budget Increases Without Public Comment

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

With the Fluvanna Board of Supervisors considering a budget of $75 million, no one spoke during the public hearings on April 5 for the budget or tax rates.

The supervisors advertised a budget with a real estate tax rate of $0.907 per $100 assessed. The equalized rate for last year was $0.882 per $100.

The supervisors advertised no change to the personal property rate of $4.35 per $100. The business related personal property is proposed to lower from $4.35 to $2.90 and a machinery and tools from $2 to $1.90.

The budget is much of the same from the previous year. The schools were bumped up $320,000. The county is starting to pay the lease for the emergency radio project this year.

Before opening the public hearing the supervisors were updated by staff regarding changes since their last meeting. The slight changes could let the supervisors lower the real estate tax rate or fund items that were previously not funded.

Previously the board tried to find other cuts including an attempt to go line item by line item led by Patricia Eager (Palmyra District). After going through two line items, it proved to be more time consuming than ability to find cuts.

“About three years ago when we were on hard times, we went through the budgets,” chairman Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) said during that work session.

The Fluvanna budget is is hard to maneuver much. The advertised budget includes 13.8 percent of the expenditures going towards debt service. The rest of the budget is heavily affected by salaries.

Don Weaver (Cunningham District) estimated at the last work session that 80 percent of the budget is staffing.

“It is very difficult to cut 20 percent,” said Weaver at the time.

The public hearing on April 5 was only attended by three members of the public, three media members and various county staff and constitutional officers.

The Board of Supervisors will meet to debate and possibly adopt the budget on April 12 at 7 p.m. in the Circuit Courtroom. The board can postpone a vote until April 19 without effecting the operations of the Treasurer’s office to get tax bills mailed.


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: Fluvanna County

A Tradition Like No Other–Albemarle Again Seeks to Ban Golf

By. Neil Williamson

Adapted from comments to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors April 5th, 2017

Wow, did you fit a great deal into today’s consent agenda.

The sheer number of resolutions of intent required almost the entire alphabet for attachments.  Clearly what started as “Code Housekeeping” has been greatly expanded to a seismic shift of Albemarle’s Planning Philosophy. In the interest of time I will highlight only two of these shifts.

Old Trail Golf Course (in the Rural Area)

#1.  Banning golf courses.  Perhaps it is fitting that this week, the week of the Masters golf tournament, the Board of Supervisors is voting on effectively eliminating new golf courses. Attachment T of your consent agenda item item 8.4.

While this proposal would eliminate golf, swim and tennis club special use permits in the Rural Areas, it really would ban golf courses in Albemarle County.  The concept of putting a golf course in the development area would be an economic challenge and would eliminate roughly 200 acres of developable land. The Free Enterprise Forum notes earlier in this meeting you thanked the donors of 1,500 acres of rural area land for a park – does not parkland recreation have many of the same impacts as a golf course?  Perhaps Albemarle wishes to eliminate your rural park policies as well.

#2 Shrinking the Development Area using Net vs. Gross density – This deep in the weeds issue will have the likely intended consequence of lowering by right residential density therefore increasing the demand for rezonings and increasing the cost of housing in the community.  For two decades, we have heard that placing residents in the development areas provides more efficient delivery of government services.  Why now are you going the other direction?  The perhaps unintended consequence of this action will be to significantly reduce the carrying capacity of the development areas and therefore accelerate the need for an expansion of the development areas.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes these two examples can trace their lineage to individualNIMBY-sign-0411b applications (or proposals) that ended up not moving forward.  In these cases the NIMBY’s (Not In My Backyard) won.  Now these same forces are pursuing regulatory changes that are counter to Albemarle’s planning philosophies but suit their needs; rather than pursuing an anti economic development spot zoning decision they are pushing the NIABY (Not In Anybody’s Backyard) agenda.

In this election year, I know this Board will not reject any of the alphabet soup attachments on the consent agenda.  I can only hope that these proposed ordinance changes will be fairly researched and debated by all and that the Board of Supervisors stands up to the CAVE (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) agenda and consider the impact of your decisions on the basic pillars of your planning philosophy.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

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 Credits: Old Trail Golf Club