Monthly Archives: April, 2018

Citizens Ask Sheriff’s Budget Request Be Fully Funded

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

“Matters from the Public” provides citizens the opportunity to address elected officials on any issue that is not on the governing bodies agenda for a public hearing.  On April 10th, the Greene County Board of Supervisors heard from two citizens regarding restoration Sheriff Department FY19 funding.

The Board previously held budget review meetings and made recommendations that will be formally considered on April 24th at 6:30 pm. One of the Board directed changes to the departmental requests was to reduce the Sheriff’s Department requested increase of nearly $400,000 to $157,236 – which was the value of 2 new deputy positions.

Under “Matters from the Public”, Keith Bourne offered an offset to the increase requested by Sheriff Smith that was reduced by the Supervisors – $241,966. His suggestion was to eliminate the subsidy for the land fill/recycling center and have their tipping fees raised to have all costs paid for and, therefore, not require taxpayer funds to support the center. His logic was that this would encourage citizens to do more recycling to minimize the cost to dispose of trash. Those funds could then be used to fully fund the budget request of Sheriff Steve Smith.

clip_image002

Sheriff Steve Smith

Some though think that raising the tipping fees would cause people to stop bringing their trash to the landfill and disposing of it themselves.  In addition to the potential increase in illegal dumping, an increase in cost could decrease use, which could lessen the tipping fees received and increase the need for more of a subsidy.

In speaking with Supervisor Dale Herring (At-Large) about the reduction in Smith’s budget request, he indicated that the supervisors eliminated all headcount increases in the departmental requested budgets.  Herring clarified that the School Board receives a total dollar amount from the Supervisors and they, not the supervisors, determine whether to spend funds on increased headcount and the supervisors would have no say in that matter.

The other citizen, Mallory Lamb, brought up the issue that the school system has been able to keep unspent funds this past year of $700,000 and have accumulated over $3.5 million to date. This is the only department that is allowed to keep any unspent funds and is allowed to use those funds for capital expenditures. This means that these funds could be used for equipment or buildings but not for people or supplies.

This citizen asked that the Board of Supervisors fully fund Smith’s budget request  and explained that the Sheriff’s Department has underspent their budget by approximately $250,000 the past four years. And that looking at these sources of revenue – increased tipping fees or the accumulated unspent funds the past four years be used to fund Smith’s requested budget.

Possibly the policy allowing the school system to “bank” unspent budgets should be reviewed for all county departments. It is important to note schools is not a county department but a separate entity with its own elected Board to oversee spending decisions.  In addition, while other department have limited outside state and federal funding, the significance of variable, attendance based, state and federal funding create an additional level of complexity in school funding.

While most departments have needs for operating expenses vs. the schools having a large need for building and equipment the policy might be offered for expense items. The commitment to recurring operating expenses, such as personnel, would have to be managed so that it can be afforded ongoing. Reviewing spending patterns that show a consistent unspent balance to support a new expenditure could be put in place. However, this begs the question, why is a department consistently favorable to the budget that is submitted.

If the Sheriff’s Department is spending $250,000 less than budgeted for four straight years – why is the request for the prior year’s budget amount plus an additional $400,000 more for next year? Shouldn’t it only be for an additional $150,000 ($400,000 gross increase less $250,000 unspent)?

The final approval of the budget for all departments in the county rests with the Board of Supervisors. If a department is consistently spending $250,000 below budget for four straight years, why would the next year’s budget continue to be the prior year’s budget plus new items? It seems that the Board of Supervisors should look at the historical actual spending of a department, not just the prior year budget.

So if every department’s budget was calculated by using the most recent actual full year spending and a current year to date actual spending, maybe there would be funds available to fund some of the manpower requests, especially for the sheriff’s department which protects the citizens of Greene County.

Inversely, if any department is overspending their budget compared to previous year, it would prompt the question as to why and look for some corrective action.

It is unfortunate is that the different funding source complexities and governance structure results in the school system to march to a different budget beat than the other county departments.

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

Advertisements

The Need for an Albemarle Rain Tax Vote

An open letter to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors

By. Neil Williamson, President, Free Enterprise Forum

Dear Supervisors,

PrintAfter significant public discussion, tomorrow the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will be discussing the future of the proposed Stormwater Utility Fee (AKA Rain Tax).

Your staff has done an exemplary job bringing this option this far. This was time well spent and needed for the community to understand the stormwater needs and costs. The Free Enterprise Forum applauds staff’s accessibility and clarity in their public interactions and documentation.

With all due respect, the Free Enterprise Forum calls on the supervisors to do two simple things as a part of that discussion:

  1. Make a recorded vote up or down
  2. Vote NO on the Rain Tax.

As you know, The Free Enterprise Forum has been opposed to the Rain Tax concept  since it was first discussed.  We are asking you to put your vote on the record to counter the vote of September 2016 when your body endorsed a one vote majority committee position to move forward with the Rain Tax.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because you have heard the hundreds of citizens who have attended town halls, telephoned or e-mailed their very real concerns with the inequity in the proposal.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because the community has expressed support for the important stormwater projects but not for this top-heavy funding mechanism.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because as proposed $1.2 million dollars annually would go toward “enforcement/regulation and administration”.  These funds could be better spent on significant community needs, including stormwater infrastructure improvements.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because GIS mapping is structurally flawed as it is based on the hand drawn tax maps rather than recorded plats. The results include buildings being placed on the wrong parcels. One local surveyor estimated 25% of all GIS mapping has some errors (many undercounting buildings).

Vote No on the Rain Tax because projects developed in the last decade include significant stormwater mitigation, resulting in better stormwater quality (and velocity) than the predevelopment condition. These mitigation practices are expensive, to then asses a fee to these property owners would be effective double taxation.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because 95% of Albemarle is rural and many of these tax payers will see no “utility” from the proposed Rain Tax

Vote No on the Rain Tax because of the “over 20 localities” who have enacted such a measure only 3 are counties, none of which has the same demographic or geographic considerations as Albemarle.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because stormwater is a community good not a utility. It rains on everyone and the environmental stewardship is everyone’s responsibility. Just as you would not consider a user fee for Public Safety or Schools, the community is better funding stormwater through the general fund.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because you can. Albemarle County is not mandated to enact a Stormwater Utility Fee. While staff has suggested regulators may prefer a fee funding formula, that is NOT a mandate.

Finally, Vote NO on the Rain Tax because it is the right thing to do.  Let’s use this positive community energy surrounding this issue to improve stormwater via the general fund.

As always, thank you for your service to our community.

Respectfully,

Neil Williamson, President

 

Greene Examines Needed Emergency Communications Upgrade Options

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

clip_image002The Greene County Board of Supervisors asked engineering consultants from  engineering consultants Black and Veatch attend their March 27th meeting to present three alternatives to improve the communication systems between Sheriff, Fire and Rescue throughout Greene County.

Don Bowman, Consulting Manager of Black and Veatch, provided the Supervisors an update on the coverage that currently exists with the system which are extremely concerning. The Sheriff can communicate about 80% outside of a building and that drops to 15-60% inside depending on the type of building they are in. Fire and Rescue range from 35-55% depending on where in the county they are located (outside of a building) and it drops down to 5-25% (inside a building). In addition, the equipment is over a decade old.

Based on the consultant assessment, Greene County needs to upgrade their system; Black and Veatch presented three options to accomplish that goal. The options varied on whether Greene County would go alone in developing a system, the second option was to partner with Madison County and the third option was to join forces with Madison, Louisa and Fluvanna Counties and utilizing Fluvanna’s existing system.

All three options show significant improvement vs. the current situation – the in building connectivity ranges from 50-90%. But the costs go down from the first option of creating a standalone system in Greene County to the two options to partner with other counties. The cost impact of the three alternatives is telling:

Greene County alone $6,167,000

Greene and Madison $5,616,000

Greene, Madison, Louisa and Fluvanna $5,291,000

(these are estimated onetime costs for Greene County with estimated annual operating costs of $220K)

Chairperson Michelle Flynn (Ruckersville) added that not only is the cost less to partner with other counties but it logically makes sense to be able to communicate with nearby counties as has been demonstrated in the past. Supervisor Bill Martin (Stanardsville) asked if there was any improvement in coverage with option 2 or option 3.   Bowman indicated that option 2 would provide some overlap benefit to both Greene and Madison Counties.

Supervisor David Cox (Monroe) expressed concerns with the life of the solutions.  Bowman had representatives from Motorola present at the meeting and they assured that the system would be functional until 2040. Martin asked where Madison County is in their communication assessment/acquisition process and was assured that Madison is very interested in partnering with Greene County.

The Board of Supervisors is to be commended for pursuing this upgrade for the safety of the citizens of Greene County. The ability to have the Sheriff, Fire and Safety effectively communicate can mean the difference of life and death. These are the type of issues that need to be recognized and prioritized in the Capital Improvement Plan for the future of Greene County.

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 Proposed FY19 Budget has $400K Deficit

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The needle has slipped across the record known as the FY19 Fluvanna County budget.image

County administrator Steve Nichols briefed the Board of Supervisors on April 4th on updated numbers. The big shocker was the health insurance quote for next year is an increase of $435,000. There were some additional revenue numbers that meant at $0.929 real estate tax rate, the supervisors will still be $400,000 in the hole.

There were four tentative nods at $0.929 but unless the supervisors cut personnel or the school budget, they will need an even bigger increase.

At the public hearing on the tax rates, capital improvement plans and budget, one person spoke. Perrie Johnson, School Board member, spoke as a resident. She spoke in favor of funding the schools.

Since the last meeting in March, the county found another $68,000 in tax revenue. The expenditures grew as the supervisors approved a new pay raise policy that added another $32,000 to the budget.

The new policy is employees will receive any pay raise as long as they are on-board six months before the start of the raise and off probation period. The previous policy was must be on board before the start of the fiscal year and not receive a pay increase in the fiscal year the raise is given.

The vote to set the new policy was unanimous however supervisors were uncommitted to budget. They are slated to approve a budget on April 11.

Eager2016Cropped

Patricia Eager

Patricia Eager (Palmyra District) ask if the board desires to pull more from the county savings, the fund balance. “You don’t want to go too far down that road,” replied Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District).

That leaves either cutting expenses or raising the tax rate. Per state code, the highest rate the supervisors can institute is $0.945 [The rate advertised for public hearing].

One issue the county doesn’t project is significant new tax revenue coming in immediately to help next year’s budget. Expenses aren’t getting cheaper considering the vast majority of the county’s budget.

The silver lining is this year the county had two new debt service payments starting for FY19 that equated six cents. There is no expected debt payments to start in FY20 but also no significant debt retirements.

“We shouldn’t have the problems we are looking at this year,” said O’Brien.

There is hope the county will get a lower number for the health insurance increase. The issue is the county has had several high claims and have only been with the insurer for a single year.

The supervisors next meet on April 11 at 6 p.m to adopt a final budget. The budget calendar does have a possible overtime week of April 18.

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

Fluvanna Budget Discussion Includes New Business

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

It takes three to tango during budget season and the Fluvanna County  Board of Supervisors is working its way to a final budget number.  During the latest work session the supervisors left with four nods on stopping at a real estate tax rate of $0.929 per $100 assessed. The current rate is $0.907.

The supervisors got a boost by additional tax values and increasing fees for items like trailers.

But to get to $0.929 and fund the schools its full request of $600,000, the supervisors will pull money from the county’s savings, the fund balance. It is a practice that is highly discouraged because the fund balance is typically used for one time expenses. But school staff is confident the school system will return a few hundred thousand to the fund balance when the current fiscal year is complete.

At the end of the March 28 work session, only Don Weaver (Cunningham District) didn’t give a nod to the budget but he said he would think about it.

Supervisors will have a public hearing on the budget on April 4 at 7 p.m.

Also on March 28 the supervisors held two public hearings on industrial sites in the Zion Crossroads area.

The first hearing was for the old Cosner Brothers location. M&M Salvage owns the property and trying to rezone the front part to I-1 and the back portion to I-2.

The property currently has a zoning violation issued against it for non-conforming use. The property is being used by contractors for the Colonial Gas Pipeline, per the owner. County staff has ruled it is being used as a contractor’s yard, which is a by-right use for an industrially zone property but the property is currently zoned A-1.

“I think you are able to consider this [a violation],” said Fred Payne, county attorney, to the supervisors.

Next to the property is a small cluster subdivision, Fox Glen. Residents continually complain to staff of work consistent with a contractor’s yard.

“People are entitled to the quiet enjoyment of their property and it is being interrupted,” said Charles Hess, who lives in the subdivision.

Residents have complained of the loud noises and lights used to work early in the morning and evenings. One complaint listed a 1 a.m. start time.

“This I-1 and I-2 use next to the residential is less than ideal,” said Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District).

Supervisors denied the rezoning 5-0. The owner filed an appeal of the non-conforming use to the Board of Zoning Appeals. BZA will hear the case on May 15.

LKQ is coming to town thanks to approval of its special use permit, 5-0. The supervisors added provisions to increase buffer areas near residents and restrictions on hours of operation.

The property was previously rezoned, at the direction of the Board of Supervisors, in December. The property is located behind the Cosner Brothers property and was once the back half of Cosner. It is 90 acres.

Residents of Fox Glen aren’t exactly touching it but the subdivision is about 200-300 feet from the property line. LKQ offered to increase its buffer from 50 feet from property line to 75 feet. The company will build an eight-foot fence and plant trees.

LKQ is a salvage yard company that recycles parts mostly from totaled cars. The company buys cars wholesale then goes through the cars to sell parts to repair cars.

The company will fill the property with stripped cars and once it needs more space, it crushes cars. Supervisors put restrictions on hours the company can work in yard to pull parts. Restrictions were also placed on crushing cars to six days a week. Work inside the building have no restrictions.

“This is a very clean facility,” said resident William Hensley, who toured a similar LKQ facility.

LKQ is expected to pay $200,000 to $300,000 in taxes. A penny of real estate taxes is less than $300,000.

“I would love to keep Fluvanna green,” said resident Tom Payne. “But we are going to have to keep Fluvanna with another green (money).”

Some neighbors still were not pleased of the salvage yard coming to town.

“Would you like your daughter or son or grandkids to live there?” said Jeff Wagner.

Katie Ward, said she purchased the neighboring property months after Fluvanna started negotiations with LKQ, “We were robbed to have our voices heard.”

Ward distributed flyers before the meeting of a FOIA request she had that showed the county in discussions with LKQ as far back as February 2017.

The Fluvanna Board of Supervisors will meet on April 4 for a regular session at 4 p.m. followed by a 7 p.m. public hearing session on the budget.

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

Albemarle Mission Creeping Planning Commission

FORUM WATCH EDITORIALcreeping

By. Neil Williamson, President

After a January 2018 determination found that 1/3 of Albemarle’s Entrance Corridors are illegal, the Board of Supervisors has yet to act on a resolution of intent to fix this issue.

In this vacuum, Albemarle County’s Planning Commission decided they don’t need no stinking Architectural Review Board – they can mission creep far beyond their state mandated advisory role and institute architectural demands on projects regardless of their location.

Please let me explain.

First it is important to note, the Free Enterprise Forum does not take positions on specific projects.  The examples below are used to show a broken process, we do not have an opinion regarding the applications’ individual merit.

Example #1

During the Architectural Review Board review of a project (SP-2017-00016) in the Scottsville District on Avon Street Extended, it was determined that Avon Street Extended is not an arterial roadway (a requirement for an Entrance Corridor designation).  The applicant went through the initial review without this knowledge and after the determination was made, the planning commission was briefed.  Based on the applicant’s testimony at the Planning Commission, it was clear they were never told that they were not under the ARB regulations.  Only late in the public hearing did the Deputy County Attorney mention that the applicant would not need to go back to the ARB for a final review.

Instead, the mission creeping Planning Commission seeking to achieve ARB-type control created a new class of conditions to codify the architecture as a part of a special use permit for a body shop.

b. Additional fenestration or architectural features shall be added along the “02 Left Elevation (South)” façade to provide a pedestrian orientation to the satisfaction of the Director of Planning or his/her designee. Priority should be given to providing additional fenestration or a combination of wall plantings, architectural features and fenestration along this particular elevation. [emphasis in original – nw]

Conditions in a Special Use Permit generally mitigate negative impacts on adjoining property owners, taking this to mean architectural elements is a LARGE LEAP beyond normal review.

Example #2

The following week, the Planning Commission considered a Special Use Permit application  for a new church on Rio Road East (SP201700010).  Rio Road East has never been established as an entrance corridor; it is mentioned as a corridor for possible entrance corridor consideration in the Comprehensive Plan (Page 5.20).

Strategy 8f: Consider additional EC designations as appropriate, or as road classifications change, for roads such as the John Warner Parkway, Route 614 (Sugar Hollow Road), Route 692/712 (Plank Road), and Route 810 (Brown’s Gap Turnpike).

It is important to note there has been no resolution of intent or any other forward motion on making the John Warner Parkway an Entrance Corridor beyond the notation above in the 2015 guiding planning document.

That mere mention is enough for this activist Planning Commission to mission creep into mandating architectural features as a function of the Special Use Permit process.  In this case now they have precedent, based on the SUP they railroaded the week before (Example #1).  Honestly, the applicant never knew what hit him.

The Free Enterprise Forum is very concerned that the mission creeping Planning Commission is unchecked in its power grab beyond state code.  As an advisory body, nothing becomes final until accepted by the Board of Supervisors.

When the Board of Supervisors considers these applications later this year, will any Supervisor (or County Counsel) raise the red flag regarding these architectural demands absent a significant community benefit OR a strong legal nexus?

I know which way I am betting.

Stay Tuned,

 

Neil Williamson, President

Photo Credit: Bartblog.bartcop.com