Monthly Archives: February, 2018

Business Vitality Sustains Better Communities

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

In recent weeks, we have heard several calls to slow economic development and advancement in our community.  Many of these calls are accompanied by concerns of gentrification, income inequality and economic fairness. These calls have manifested themselves in vocal opposition to pro-business policies.  The Free Enterprise Forum believes a flourishing business sector is mission critical to creating a vibrant community; beyond the financial benefit a diverse, successful business community generates a positive, accepting, thriving community.  image

The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce recently released the 2017 Sales tax data.  This empirical data does not capture all local economic activity but provides an objective metric to the overall health of the economy.

The reality is, using a ten year lens, all of our localities have increased their sales tax base.  The percent increase is largest in those areas which previously had very little retail but all localities see growth in the last decade.

It is into this context, that I read this morning’s Washington Post opinion piece by economic writer Robert SamuelsonThe political consequences of slower growth”.  In his piece, Samuelson defines the import of economic growth:

The role of economic growth in advanced democracies is not mainly the accumulation of more material goods. By any historical norm, even today’s poor are staggeringly wealthy. Economic growth plays a more subtle role. It gives people a sense that they are getting ahead and are in control of their lives. It serves as the social glue that holds us together and counteracts — to some extent — the influences of race, class, religion, ethnicity and geography, which drive us apart. emphasis added-nw

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the same socioeconomic theory works on the local level and has a correlated counter theory.See the source image  The higher the citizen confidence in their local economy regarding opportunity as well as job growth, tensions between often competing factions are reduced.

If however, the political environment highlights the divisions between groups and accentuates an ‘us vs. them’ mentality, then despite economic positives, citizen confidence generally drops and a drop in economic vitality soon follows.

Earlier this month, Charlottesville City Councilor Wes Bellamy was quoted by Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs chiding an applicant about a requested density increase in the West2nd rezoning:

“Some would say you have made a lot of money in this city and because you have already made so much, maybe you could give one back to us,” Bellamy said.

Later in the month, in a presentation to the Charlottesville’s Housing Summit City Principal Planner Brian Haluska provided an inadvertent counter to Bellamy’s Anti-Profit position:

A developer that does not make a profit is a developer that won’t be around for long

Profit has a place in our economic growth engine.  Absent the opportunity to add value, why would investors put their resources at risk.  Absent cooperation from the localities, market demanded projects (residential and commercial) will be financed and developed ‘by right’ making the well funded vision of localities comprehensive plans nothing but a mirage.

Samuelson’s piece concluded by projecting the influence a declining rate of economic growth has on society:

We should also remember the larger role played by the economy in shaping the nation’s political and social climate. Unless we are able to raise the rate of economic growth — a task whose inherent difficulty ought to be obvious by now — we face an increasingly contentious and politically strained future.

We can expect intensifying competition among Americans (the rich and the poor, the young and the old, cities and states, businesses and governments) for ever-larger shares of the nation’s slow-growing income. We’ll also miss the muffling effect that higher economic growth has on the nation’s other conflicts and grievances.

While I may differ regarding the verbiage “muffling effect”, the sentiment is clear; a community that has economic growth tends to be more cohesive, collaborative, congenial, and accepting.  The community that lacks such economic vitality tends to be more combative, restrictive and protectionist.

The question for our communities is do we want to spend resources fighting for “our” slice of the pie or should we work together to increase the size of the community pie?

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: housedems.ct.gov

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Greene E911 – “A Failure To Communicate”

By Brent Wilson, Field Officer

When the Greene County Board of Supervisors placed on their agenda “Matters from the public” for their February 13th meeting, they may not of anticipated the significant turnout. The Greene citizens responded with an overflow crowd at the County Administration building including two local television stations.

In this era of disrupting meetings, Greene citizens are to be commended as how they addressed the Supervisors – at the beginning of the meeting. The main issue brought up by over 20 speakers was concern about spending funds for a new E911 system when major expenditures for a dam and school expansion have been committed. The general understanding of those in attendance was that the E911 center was going to be moved at a significant cost and the former administrator was retained by the county and works in the County Administration building.

Representatives of the volunteer rescue squad and Fire Departments also addressed the Board of Supervisors. Their message was clear – we are getting “no clear supervision” and it goes back and forth who we are to answer to.

Several other citizens asked that the Supervisors have the courage to back up and revert to how E911 worked since 2012 and then have a committee analyze how best to address E911 services in the future. One of the final public comments was there seems to be “a failure to communicate” in Greene County – just like Paul Newman in the movie Cool Hand Luke.

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After the public comment – Chairperson Michelle Flynn restated what was in the press release from the Board, no decision has been made to move the E911 center. And that the intent of tonight’s public comments is to gather information to provide a safe E911 program for the citizens of Greene County.

Vice Chairperson, Bill Martin, said that since he was Chairperson 18 months ago when the E911 system became an issue, he wanted to recap what has transpired. He began stressing that there is no “plot” and no decision has been made. The Board has two concerns related to E911 – safety of the citizens of Greene and providing a cost effective solution.

In 2012, the E911 system was consolidated with the Sheriff’s office to be cost effective. In August, 2016, Sheriff Steve Smith “terminated” the E911 Supervisor. However, this person is employed by Greene County, not the Sheriff and therefore she could not be terminated by the Sheriff. But, she was refused admittance to the E911 center (within the Sheriff’s office) even though she was never fired by the county. The Sheriff effectively prevented her from doing the core functions of her job.

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Sheriff Steve Smith

Supervisor Martin continued, stating that there were no negative comments in her personnel file. She was provided office space in the County Administration building and fulfilled the rest of the duties assigned to her.

Sheriff Smith then requested $77,000 additional funding to the budget to fund the hiring of a replacement. This request was denied by the Board. Smith then filed a lawsuit against the county.

Pat Fitzgerald’s article in the February 7th Greene County Record picks up the story:

In October, a judge ruled in favor of the county.

“That case is still pending even though the county says otherwise,” Smith stated last Friday.

The county’s news release issued that week, however, stated: “On December 19, the County Administrator, with the full support of the Board of Supervisors, sent a memo again clarifying that the county-owned E911 center is under the management and direction of the county Emergency Services Coordinator. The notification did not suggest a separation or relocation of any E911 dispatch services and, in fact, the Board maintains that it changed nothing about the structure.

“The Sheriff continues to maintain the fully trained and qualified Emergency Services Coordinator will not be permitted in the county E911 dispatch center to provide management supervision,” the county stated. “He also asserts that the Sheriff must have full authority to determine who enters and is employed in the county-owned dispatch center because it is located in the same building the county provides for the Sheriff’s department….

Smith, however, said Friday “the statement that was put out by Chairman Michelle Flynn is inflammatory and mostly untrue.”

Martin requested that we get all of the stakeholders at the table and find a solution that provides a safe county at no additional cost.

In the end, it was agreed that a meeting with all the stakeholders, including Flynn, Board liaison Supervisor David Cox, Smith, the three fire chiefs in the county and the rescue squad be held. Sheriff Smith stated that his lawsuit would be dropped if an agreement could be reached.

Obviously personnel matters are confidential but many in the community hope that this power struggle between the Supervisors and the Sheriff can be resolved.  Some have suggested the following:

1) The Supervisors would review the information that Sheriff Smith used to justify the termination of the E911 supervisor

2) If the Supervisors agreed with the data then the employee should be terminated and a new employee hired to work at the Sheriff’s Office

3) If the Supervisors disagreed that the employee should be fired then they should try to work out a solution with Sheriff Smith to have the supervisor return to work at the Sheriff’s office

4) If an agreement cannot be reached, either: the employee should be reassigned to other duties outside of the Sheriff’s office and a new E911 supervisor be hired or a new independent E911 center should be created outside of the Sheriff’s office.

5) The Sheriff and the fire chiefs need to discuss the several instances where the E911 response dispatched did not follow accepted procedures.  Both parties must agree to a response protocol that protects citizens.

6) If such an agreement can not be reached, E911 must be removed from the Sheriff’s office and an independent E911 facility must be established outside the Sheriff’s office building.

Any needed changes need to happen quickly as an effective and efficient E911 system is critical the the health and safety of Greene County citizens.

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 http://www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Fluvanna Budget Proposal Includes Real Estate Tax Increase

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

Steve Nichols

Fluvanna County’s Administrator Steve Nichols presented his budget proposal to the Board of Supervisors on February 7. It included just over a three cent increase in the real estate tax rate.

The current real estate tax rate is $0.907 per $100 assessed. Steve Nichols proposed a $0.939 tax rate for FY19.
His proposed budget holds the line on county services and programs. It adds one position and includes no pay raises for staff.  Nichols’ budget increase is primarily from additional debt the county brought in for the Zion Crossroads water project. The county also has additional maintenance cost for the new radio project.  Debt service for the county went up an additional $275,000, just under the equivalent to a penny in real estate tax rate. The emergency management budget went up $225,000.  Department heads asked for four new positions and six upgraded positions. The Nichols proposal provides one position.

Don Weaver

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Don Weaver (Cunningham District) pointed out Fluvanna is still highest county for tax rates in the area and asked if a tax cut was possible.  “Unless you cut people or programs, you can’t,” said Nichols.
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The two major issues that aren’t addressed in Nichols’ budget are health insurance costs and additional money for the school system.
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Staff is awaiting final numbers for the insurance cost and it is looking to be a slight increase to steady. A finalized number will be available soon.
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Nichols level funded the schools. The superintendent, Chuck Winkler, presented his budget proposal to the School Board the same day Nichols’ proposed his. A report from NBC29 listed the school budget proposal to include increases.
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Fluvanna’s continual real estate tax raises will continue until additional tax revenues work their way into the coffers. One way to entice additional businesses to come to the county is lowering the business and public utility personal property tax. Nichols proposed to lower it from $2.90 to $2.40 per $100 assessed.  It is more a symbolic move to attract new businesses and help current businesses. Overall it isn’t a huge reduction in taxes received. The change in collections is $45,000.
The county is attracting one new business. The salvage yard operator LKQ, going behind the old Cosners’ location, will bring in an estimated $150,000 in tax revenue. That was a low end estimate, per staff.  The outlook for future years is not nearly as grim as it was a few years ago. Unless the county starts taking on additional debt, it can hold the tax rate rather steady, Nichols estimates.
“Frankly, (future) budgets…look steady state,” said Nichols.  Fluvanna had previously kept a sizable unreserved savings account, known as the fund balance. That unreserved amount is slowly being spent.
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It currently is $6.3 million but supervisors have verbally committed to spending a large portion of that to cash fund part of the Zions Crossroads water project. That is estimated to be a $3.5 million commitment.
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“It really is in a tight, tight position,” said Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District).  The fund balance accumulates when the county receives more revenue than expenditures, either through higher tax collection or budgets not be fully spent. Previous years the fund balance has been used for capital improvement plan items. Last year to the tune of $1.2 million. This year that number decreases to $1 million.
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Supervisors will have various work sessions on the budget. The next one on February 14 with the constitutional officers.

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The 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