Category Archives: albemarle county

2018 Forum Watch Top 10

By. Neil Williamson, President

top ten listPerhaps the best thing that can be said about 2018 was it was not 2017.

As our community is still dealing with the very real ramifications of August 2017, The Free Enterprise Forum remained focused on monitoring local government, reducing regulatory burdens, promoting market based solutions, protecting property rights, and encouraging economic vitality.

None of this could be accomplished without the generous support of our donors and our regular readers. Thank you.  As we complete our fifteenth year of operation, we remain vigilant, and “pleasantly” persistent.

Each year, we select the top ten blog posts for our year in review.  There were many other blog posts that reached honorable mention status.  I would be remiss if I did not thank our Field Officers Brent Wilson (Greene County) and Bryan Rothamel (Fluvanna County) for their significant reportage in 2018.

With apologies to the now retired David Letterman, here are our Top 10 posts for 2018:

clip_image002#10 Greene E911 – “A Failure To Communicate”  “ …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”

#9 Lack of Infrastructure Investment Dooms Albemarle’s Neighborhood Model …”A funny thing happened on the way to Albemarle urbanization.  Elements of the Neighborhood Model of development [which had been sold as “A” model not “The” model] became part of the Albemarle County code forcing developers to put in curb, gutter, street trees and other Neighborhood Model “amenities”.  Developers built sidewalks interior to their development and Albemarle County has failed to connect the developments and thus failed to create the “walkability” they promised….”

#8 Is Charlottesville ready for Collins’ Affordable Housing “Marshall Plan”? “…At the end of the meeting, [Brandon] Collins presented a different pers

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Brandon Collins

pective on the reports.  He admonished City Council to think big.  If they are really serious about fixing the housing affordability issue, they should stop depending on developers; they should do it themselves with their existing Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority.  Collins’ “Marshall Plan” might include $140 million dollar bond issuance dedicated simply to the creation of new affordable units that will stay perpetually affordable. When pressed by Councilor Wes Bellamy how the city might pay for that debt service, Collins admitted he had not figured that out yet but thought it could be resolved.”

#7 Delta Response Team Rescue Headed to Fluvanna …Fluvanna County will start with a new contract ambulance service this upcoming year.Delta Response Team (DRT), headquartered in Appomattox, was selected after a Request for Proposal (RFP) process was completed by the county. It will cost the county $438,000 for 24-hour services. The county budget $600,000 for FY19.  “We are not here to make a career service,” said Susan Walton, president of DRT.

#6 Albemarle Rushes Rural Rights Reduction “…This proposal has sped through the County’s approval process faster than any in recent memory.  Their “need for speed” is not clear and an e-mail requesting more information has not been returned.

Throughout this speedy process, there has been significant discussion regarding the impact of this land use change on property values.  In testimony before the Planning Commission several residents suggested the value could drop by up to 90%.  One speaker indicated that a potential real estate contract is in peril because of the proposed ZTA….”

#5 Government Tourism Coup Will Produce Poor, Politically Palatable, Promotion and Pitiful Profitability “…So now that the tourist tax dollars have been properly collected and turned over to the government, who should be in charge of making the marketing decisions designed to generate tourism?

The industry or the elected officials?…”

See the source image#4 Top Gun, BRT, and The Dog Bone Roundabout “…The Free Enterprise Forum believes BRT is dramatically better than light rail, but we are not yet convinced that a mere two years after widening North US29, the community is willing to give up a lane on US29 for bus only access.  Since the jury is clearly still out regarding BRT, should we be planning this critical infrastructure piece with the station as the center?

In addition, the long term connectivity plan calls for roads to cut through Fashion Square Mall to connect to a new access road paralleling US29 and a pedestrian/bike bridge over US29 and that’s just the Southeast corner of the plan….”

#3 Parking Is Driving Charlottesville’s Future  “…  Prediction: In 2056, Charlottesville’s Market Street Garage and City Hall Complex will be razed to make way for a new Hotel and Conference Center.  There are two distinctly different paths to this prediction, economic dislocation/collapse [think Detroit 2013] or a capstone of a visionary community investment program – interestingly, parking will be a leading indicator on the City’s direction.

Please let me explain….”

#2 Over 1/3 of Albemarle’s Entrance Corridors Are Illegal “…The Free Enterprise Forum has learned that eight of Albemarle County twenty-one Entrance Corridors fail to meet the state requirements for such designation.  Some of these have been in violation since inception in 1990.  This revelation, made by staff, calls into question the legality and enforceability of any ARB conditions placed on properties along the eight illegal entrance corridors….”

and the #1 post for 2019  Albemarle’s RAIN TAX Bureaucracy “…Albemarle’s Stormwater https://freeenterpriseforum.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/no-rain-tax-logo.jpg?w=175&h=175Utility Program’s 10 year budget is $52 Million dollars But note there is no new department….Albemarle County’s program budget (chart below) shows that roughly 1/3 of every dollar generated by the RAIN TAX foes to these two line items.  That between $1.2 – $2 million dollars annually.   The Free Enterprise Forum contends absent this funding mechanism, those funds could be used for stormwater infrastructure if they were not being spent on administration and enforcement.

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But most of all THANK YOU, the readers and supporters of this blog and our work in Central Virginia.  Without your generous support, we would not exist, thank you!

BRING ON 2019!

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.

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Government Tourism Coup Will Produce Poor, Politically Palatable, Promotion and Pitiful Profitability

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Local government is poised to cook the golden goose — tourism.

After a series of political moves over several years, local government, not the local tourism industry, is now in charge of marketing our community to the outside world; they honestly don’t know what they don’t know.

And they are about to become more powerful.

Please let me explain.

Imagine if your business was required to calculate, collect and turn over to the government additional taxes purportedly to promote the region and therefore generate more business for you.

That’s how § 58.1-3819. Transient occupancy tax (TOT) works.  This is the taxes paid by those who stay in a particular locality (Hotel, Motel, Campground, AirBnB, etc.) for the privilege of doing so.

So now that the tourist tax dollars have been properly collected and turned over to the government, who should be in charge of making the marketing decisions designed to generate tourism?

The industry or the elected officials?

The state code section seems to have an opinion about that specific issue:

….may levy a transient occupancy tax not to exceed five percent, and any excess over two percent shall be designated and spent solely for tourism and travel, marketing of tourism or initiatives that, as determined after consultation with the local tourism industry organizations, including representatives of lodging properties located in the county, attract travelers to the locality, increase occupancy at lodging properties, and generate tourism revenues in the locality. If any locality has enacted an additional transient occupancy tax pursuant to subsection C of § 58.1-3823, then the governing body of the locality shall be deemed to have complied with the requirement that it consult with local tourism industry organizations, including lodging properties.

The Free Enterprise Forum joined with many in the tourism and hospitality industry raising concerns when the elected officials changed the structure of the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau (CACVB) Board from being industry led (a best management practice across the nation) to being led by elected officials and government employees.  The current Executive Board includes a representative from each elected body, as well as Charlottesville’s city manager, Albemarle’s county executive, an economic development staff member from both the city and the county and a representative from the University of Virginia and two industry representatives, one each appointed by the city and the county. This means currently two-thirds (66.6%) of the current board is elected or works for the locality.

The localities want this to change, they want MORE POWER.  Next week (12/12) Albemarle County will accept public comment on the proposed changes to the CACVB.

From their proposed proclamation:

WHEREAS, the County and the City desire to amend the Agreement to authorize two members of the Board of Supervisors and two members of the City Council to serve on the CACVB’s Executive Board and to making any corresponding changes to the Agreement as provided in the amended agreement attached hereto as Attachment A (the “First Amended Agreement”).

Regardless of the individuals in the positions, this means that marketing and advertising decisions will be made by a a board where 73% of the members are not directly involved in tourism (either elected officials or work for the locality).  Does this sound like the kind of consultation contemplated under State Code?

The challenge of getting officials to understand marketing outside of their world was made exceedingly clear in the October CACVB advertising pitch.  Allison Wrabel of the Daily Progress has the story

CACVB Interim Executive Director Adam Healey said that the campaign is aimed at 25 to 44 year olds in the Washington, D.C. area and Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill in North Carolina, who are looking for short or overnight trips.

“You are not always your customer when you’re doing marketing,” he said…..

…Board member Roger Johnson, Albemarle County economic development director, said he thought the same general concept, but with a regional brand that “wasn’t so Charlottesville centered” would be “better accepted by the folks in Albemarle County who are taxpayers” and the target group….

…Albemarle supervisors Diantha McKeel and Ann Mallek said they hardly saw the county mentioned….“It will be a surprise to no one that it took me seven years to get Albemarle on the logo and I’m not going to give it up,” Mallek said….

Many of the industry representatives on the board supported using “C’ville” in some fashion and said they thought the proposed campaign was a great start.

“In my mind, the C’ville six letters identifies the region,” said George Hodson with Veritas Vineyard & Winery, the county tourism industry representative on the board. “I think we can’t lose sight of the forest through the trees and kind of lead with our own baggage. C’ville identifies this region without saying Charlottesville.”

“Why try to gum up peoples’ mouths with phrases and long things that aren’t going to be marketable?”

The proposal is the groundwork of a good campaign, he said.

With the latest government expansion it is being made abundantly clear that the government, not the practitioners will control the marketing message.  It’s difficult for many to understand, the message that resonates to you (and your voters) may not be the message needed to attract young visitors with disposable income and free time.  If such decisions are left to municipal officials, it may be a very expensive lesson.

We believe this structural error goes against best management principles and is in conflict with the intent of the state code.  We believe the imbalance should be reversed, those who collect tourist tax dollars [and have a vested interest in their success] should have the ability to impact where and how the promotional dollars are spent.

In addition, many of the officials on the CACVB board wants to change the performance metrics away from hotel occupancy rates “Heads in Beds” to something else.  If the funding comes from those “Heads in Beds” shouldn’t that be the promotional focus and evaluation tool?

I really hope we are wrong about the officials’ CACVB marketing blind spots and the localities don’t waste millions of visitor (not residents) tax dollars in poor promotion.

If we are right, unfortunately, it will be the tourism industry that will first feel the pain of a poor, politically palatable, promotion producing pitiful profitability.

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credit: http://angielskidlakazdego.blox.pl/resource/goldenegg.jpg

The Countdown — Time to Think About 2019

By. Neil Williamson, President

Recognizing today is the ‘Morning After’ Election Day 2018, it may seem premature to start talking about 2019.  It’s not.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the vast majority of the candidates for the 2019 races will make their decisions in the next 60 days.

That’s right, by the time you watch the ball drop on New Year’s Eve, who will be on the ballot in November (and the primaries) will likely already be determined.

Wait, we just had an election.

Yes, this is Virginia, we love elections so much we vote EVERY year.  What are we voting for in 2019?  So glad you asked — from Virginia’s Board of Elections:image

Some might look at that list (on the left) and believe this is not that important an election, we think otherwise.

While the Federal and statewide offices get a significant amount of publicity (and paid advertising), it is the local races that bring government home.  These are the elected officials you run into at the grocery store AND who control your property taxes, school spending as well as the majority of your land use decisions.

Who is up?

In addition to the House of Delegates, Virginia Senate, School Boards and Constitutional officers, here is the list for Board of Supervisors and City Council –

Albemarle County: Board of Supervisors Ann Mallek, White Hall; Rick Randolph, Scottsville; Norman Dill, Rivanna

Charlottesville:  Wes Bellamy, Kathy Galvin, Mike Signer [important note Primary Date is June 11th]

Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors Mozell Booker, Fork Union; Patricia Eager, Palmyra

Greene County Board of Supervisors David Cox, Monroe;  Michelle Flynn, Ruckersville; Dale Herring, At Large

Louisa County Board of Supervisors Willie Gentry, Cuckoo; Troy Wade, Louisa; Toni Williams, Jackson;

Nelson County Board of Supervisors  Thomas Bruguiere, Jr, West; Larry Saunders, South

Without question local (and state) government impacts your life.

The question is who will step up to fill these important leadership positions.

  • Will the current incumbents run again?
  • Will they have any opposition?
  • Who will step up?
  • Will there be a primary challenge?
  • Do you know someone who should run?
  • Should you run for office?

Once again we have more questions than answers but this much we do know – the candidates (and their families) will likely decide by NYE 2019.

The Free Enterprise Forum maintains an open door policy to talk with anyone regarding running for local office and what is required to serve.

As a non-partisan organization, we do not endorse candidates but we do support contested elections.  We believe uncontested elections make untested officials.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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.

The Hindsight Report Back in the News

The Free Enterprise Forum’s 2017 ‘Hindsight’ Report was mentioned in Allison Wrabel’s  Daily Progress  article this morning. 

For context, we are reposting our original post on the topic.  The Free Enterprise Forum welcomes the community discussion of the agreement.

By. Neil Williamson, President

Often the most enlightening questions start with, “What if?”

Working with co-author Derek Bedarf, we looked at developing empirical data to answer the question, “What if Charlottesville’s annexation was successful compared with the results of the negotiated Revenue Sharing Agreement?”

After significant research and deliberation, it was determined that this information was available but not assembled in a manner that made such calculations easy. Utilizing Geographic Information System (GIS) technology for the real estate assessment data and 15 years of Albemarle County budget documents for the other taxes (sales taxes, consumer utility taxes, business taxes, motor vehicle licenses  and prepared food and beverage taxes.  Other taxes excluded from this study, for a variety of reasons, include utility consumption tax, short term rental tax, clerk fees, transient occupancy tax, penalties  interest, and audit revenues), The Free Enterprise Forum calculated the tax revenue generating power of the study area.

The resulting “Hindsight Report” examines the tax generating power of the proposed annexation area as it compares with the revenue sharing payments.

  •  The Hindsight Report indicates that over the study period (2001-2016), Albemarle County received, from the study area, over $277 million in local tax revenue compared with the $212.9 million revenue sharing payments made to the City of Charlottesville (+$64.1 million).

  • Had Charlottesville been successful in the annexation and the revenue sharing agreement not been in place, the City would have received $304.7 million in tax revenue from the study area during the study period compared with $212.9 million in revenue sharing payments from Albemarle County (-$91.8 million).

 

  • During the study period, study area property owners paid $72 million less in real estate taxes by being in Albemarle instead of the City of Charlottesville. This “Non-Annexation” Dividend averaged saved (Albemarle) property owners between $3 million and $4 million annually topping out at $6 million in 2007.

The question the data does not answer is whether the Revenue Sharing Agreement was a good deal for all involved.  This is a subjective question that can only be answered in context.

At the time, the historical record suggests annexation was a very real threat and revenue sharing negotiations were heated.

The historical public record also shows many citizens at the public hearing raising some of the same questions regarding equity and fairness that remain part of the discussion today.

Was it a good deal?

Hopefully this data will help you decide.

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to discuss the Revenue Sharing agreement during their second August meeting on Wednesday August 9th.

Founded in 2003, The Free Enterprise Forum is a privately funded, public policy organization focused on Central Virginia’s local governments.

The entire Hindsight Report can be accessed at www.freeenterprisefoum.org under the reports tab.

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.

Dissecting A Decade of Data

By. Neil Williamson, President

Did you ever have a question gnaw at you?

Earlier this month, I attended the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® Development Summit.  A panel of area developers were discussing Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce’s recently released 2018 Jobs Report and attempted to correlate how job creation related to the local housing market.  Absent any specific data, the panel inferred the new jobs in the region clearly were one (not the only) driver of housing demand.

imageMuch like Timothy Hulbert’s inspiration for the first Chamber “Jobs Report” fifteen years ago, I knew this data set could be assembled and I set out to obtain this objective new housing unit data.

Reaching out to each of the localities (two required Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)Requests) we assembled the new housing unit data (2007-2017) and compared it on a locality basis the Jobs report data for the same study period.

We then compiled this data on a regional basis and found (or perhaps did not find) a most interesting correlation and perhaps an impending tipping point.image

As of 2017, the cumulative number of new jobs since 2007 is growing closer to the number of new housing units created in the same study period.

There is a distinct lack of correlation between the number of jobs created and the number of new housing units.  Even when the region was losing jobs in 2009, there were over 900 new housing units created [It was the lowest number of units in the study period].

This line of inquiry led to considering the other significant impacts on the housing industry beyond Jobs.  The enrollment at the University of Virginia for instance increased by 2,408 students from 2007-2017.  Regionally the population increased by 30,633 persons.  Overlaying The Weldon Cooper Center’s population estimates with our other gathered data started to prove the population demand driver.

image

Examining the introduction of the population trend line leads to a number of new questions:

  • In 2007, just prior to the Great Recession, how many excess units existed before our study period?
  • If our regional household size is ~2.4 persons (US Census), then new housing units should equal 41.6% of the population growth.  In those areas with higher than 41.6%, likely have a lower number of persons in the household.
  • Considered on a locality basis, job creation does not have a direct correlation to new housing units.  We anticipate this lack of correlation is related to the relative ease of working in a different locality than you reside. Louisa and Orange Counties seem to have the closest direct correlation between job and housing creation.
  • Anecdotally, we continue to see an increase in the number of retirees relocating to the region.  While retirees are included in the Weldon Cooper population information, we have yet to find an objective metric to track this data separately.

Dissecting this decade of data (2007-2017), we again end up with more questions than answers.

But often, the best questions drive the best community discussion.

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

Usurping Authority – Crozet Community Committee Resolution Recognition Request

Adapted from comments to the Albemarle County Planning Commission July 17, 2018See the source image

Good evening.  Tonight, under new business, you have been asked to formally recognize a resolution from the Crozet Community Advisory Committee.

This would be a mistake.

Beyond being a very close vote (8-5) of an unelected advisory body, this type of mission creep is exactly what the Free Enterprise Forum warned about as the power of the Community Advisory Committees has expanded.

In 2015 we told the Albemarle Board of Supervisors:

While these entities may have been well intentioned at their formation, they have become an unelected mandated review sieve that provides planning commissioners and members of the Board of supervisors more than just a sounding board – they have become gatekeepers and defacto political cover for the Board of Supervisors.

The resolution provided to you, without your specific input seems to cite specific survey data and Master Plan sections but such items can not be taken in the abstract but should be considered in the context of the entire master plan to provide planning guidance not prescriptive or eliminate consideration of important economic development opportunities.

From the resolution:

WHEREAS, a combination of the current Crozet Master Plan (CMP), the recent survey results, and the opinion of the CCAC support this vision and these principles;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the CCAC requests that the Board of Supervisors schedule the update to the CMP as soon as possible, given the continued rapid growth in the Crozet area.
AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the CCAC requests that the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors formally affirm the following principles in the CMP to provide direction and guidance in future decisions until the CMP Update is completed and adopted. As the prevailing vision of the CMP is to preserve Crozet’s “small town feel,” even while the area experiences further significant development, the following guiding principles support this vision:
1. Do not alter nor expand the current Crozet Growth Area Boundary [CMP pg.5, 32;survey slides 17,18].
2. Ensure that Downtown Crozet is the center of development for the Growth Area and a priority area for the focus of public capital investment and resource allocation [CMP pgs.21,24,54;survey slides 20, 21, 22];
3. Limit development along Route 250 West, west of Crozet Avenue [CMP pgs. 30, 37; survey slides 24, 25].
4. Recognize that Route 250 West is a State Scenic Byway containing aesthetic and cultural value and honor its status when making land development decisions [CMP pg.18; survey slide 24, 25]
5. Do not approve any rezoning for development of the I-64 and Route 250 interchange area (Fringe Areas and the Route 250 West Corridor) [CMP pgs. 32, 33; survey slide 26].
6. Expand transportation options in the Crozet Growth Area, and ensure that necessary infrastructure improvements keep pace with new development. [CMP pg. 41; survey slide 29] Priorities should include:
a. Library Avenue extended to Parkside Village [CMP pg. 39]
b. Bus and Shuttle services to the area [CMP pgs 40-41; survey slide 29];
c. Bike and Pedestrian pathways and improvements along Routes 240 and 250 [CMP pgs. 37, 38; survey slide 29];

Albemarle County is a large county with many demands, to elevate Development Area Citizen Advisory Councils as drafting resolutions to limit development fails to fully recognize the primary import of the Development areas to the Comprehensive Plan goals: to provide an area to develop!

While we concur with the Crozet community’s frustration at Albemarle’s failure to provide concurrent infrastructure, but we balance that concern with the reality of significant infrastructure infrastructure that has been focused in Crozet.

At best this is unnecessarily usurping the authority of those properly elected to serve Albemarle County, at worst it can be seen as a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) statement from a designated growth area that has seen significant infrastructure investment.

Please do not endorse, accept, or recognize this unbalanced resolution.

It is another step down a very slippery slope.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Photo Credit: be-hockey.com

Egotistical Entrance Corridor Expansion Effort

By. Neil Williamson, President

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are times when local public policy fails to follow logic.

When we learned in January the 1/3 Albemarle’s Entrance Corridors (EC) are Illegal, the Free Enterprise Forum was convinced Albemarle County supervisors would do the right thing to correct this code by reducing the number of roads designated as “Entrance Corridors”.  Imagine our shock to learn that this week, the Supervisors have a Resolution of Intent (on the consent agenda) to ADD a twenty-second road to the bloated EC list.

Please let me explain.

Late last year, according to a member of county staff, during a routine preapplication meeting, a question came up regarding the posted speed limit on the entrance corridor.  Staff researched the issue and determined both the speed limit and that the roadway was not an “arterial street”.

Virginia Code §15.2-2306 enables localities to establish entrance corridor districts encompassing parcels contiguous to arterial streets and highways found to be significant routes of tourist access to the county and to designated historic landmarks, structures, or districts within the county

This revelation, led staff to research each of the current twenty-one entrance corridor designated roadways and found eight did not meet the state “arterial” requirement.

To their credit, staff prepared a resolution of intent for the Board of Supervisors to consider in their February 7th meeting.  The purpose of this resolution is to revise the Entrance Corridor Ordinance removing those roadways that do not qualify as arterials.

In the first action of the February 7th meeting, Board Chair Ann Mallek asked that the Resolution of Intent be removed from the consent agenda:

so some technical items can be worked out before it is brought back for further discussion.

Despite multiple requests of staff and supervisors, we have not received any update regarding these “technical issues”.

As of last month, the staff indicates they are not enforcing entrance corridor regulations on those roads that do not meet the state definition of “arterial” roads.  This is not a fix, it is a band aid.

Meanwhile in February, the Planning Commission was flummoxed by its inability to mandate architectural review on proposed changes to City Church on West Rio Road.  Therefore they passed a resolution of Intent to bring West Rio Road/John Warner Parkway as the twenty second road on the bloated list of “Entrance Corridors”.  This is the true origin of the Resolution of Intent the Supervisors have on their consent agenda this week.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes any changes to the Entrance Corridors MUST FIRST fix the illegal Entrance Corridors – If not, we are left to ask

How long will Albemarle choose to ignore the law?

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credit: vancouver.mediacoop.ca

Icarus, Municipal Hubris, and Tourism

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

When you are traveling outside of Central Virginia, where do you tell people you are from?

Do you say “Free Union”, “Albemarle County” or do you say, “Charlottesville”?

Seemingly an academic question but it is one that is at the heart of the current governmental coup of the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau (CACVB).

According to an April 25th Daily Progress article by Chris Suarez:

In December, former Albemarle Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Diantha McKeel sent a formal notice to [Then CACVB Executive Director Kurt] Burkhart that said the county intends to terminate an existing organizational agreement on June 30.

The letter says the city and county’s elected officials had been discussing the CACVB’s “limited focus and reluctance” to promote locally owned wineries, breweries and distilleries, history and heritage tourism and ecotourism, as well as specific activities such as bicycling, hiking, canoeing and kayaking.

“We feel destination development is currently lacking,” the letter says. “Although the targets for hotel vacancy rates are important and currently successful, their vacancy rates and other directly related indicators should no longer be the primary driving metrics.”[Emphasis Added-NW]

The friction between CACVB Executive Director Burkhart and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors had been simmering for several years.  [Burkhart retired earlier this year]. While Burkhart touted hotel occupancy rate data; focusing on proving the return on investments in tourism using economic models showing $6 or $7 benefit for every dollar invested, supervisors questioned the methodology of these models and noted the large number of hotels in the City.

imageIn addition to Burkhart not filling funded positions quickly and maintaining a large fund balance, the root of much of the concern was focused on the belief that Albemarle was not being promoted enough in the marketing of the region.

This “Municipal Hubris” has been gong on for over a decade.   I recall when the latest logo redesign [left] was competed several years ago, it was a requirement that Albemarle be in the logo and then there was a concern regarding the different size font. Then there was a discussion, I am not making this up, that it was not alphabetical.

See the source imageAccording to www.Merriam-Webster.com

To the [Ancient] Greeks, hubris referred to extreme pride, especially pride and ambition so great that they offend the gods and lead to one’s downfall. Hubris was a character flaw often seen in the heroes of classical Greek tragedy, including Oedipus and Achilles. The familiar old saying “Pride goeth before a fall” is basically talking about hubris.

So what does Charlottesville City Council think about this internal branding conflict.  We believe the answer can be found between the lines of Councilor Kathy Galvin’s polite answer quoted in the Suarez article:

“What happens next (including whether or not a city/county CACVB committee persists and I remain the city’s liaison with the county) is a matter, in my view, to be decided by the City Council,” Galvin wrote. “I will be raising that question at a City Council meeting in May.”

At the end of the May 21st City Council meeting, they selected Councilors Galvin and Signer to represent Council in the CACVB reorganization work; but there was no further discussion beyond the appointment.

To review, the proposed CACVB Executive Committee would control all aspects of the organization and would consist of  one member from the City Council and the Board of Supervisors; the city manager (or a designee); the county executive (or a designee); a tourism or economic development official from the city and county; a University of Virginia representative; two industry representatives, one each appointed by the city and county.  All but three of these members sit on or answer to either the City Council or the Board of Supervisors.

Considering the many conflicts and concerns between the City and the County right now, I anticipate the jointly funded marketing of regional tourism objectives to be an area where the city (and county) end up walking away from the “new deal”.

The result will be duplicative efforts (though they will claim collaboration), inefficiency and a lack of accountability.  Tourism will become a division of each locality’s Economic Development departments and lack the import and independence it enjoys today.  In addition, we see further weakening of the required nexus between tourism and line item expenditures.  Transparency is lost.

Perhaps a brief review of Greek mythology [Daedalus and Icarus] could prove helpful prior to moving forward with the dissolution or dismemberment of the CACVB.

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credit www.frederickmordi.wordpress.com

 

 

 

Albemarle’s Rain Tax Answers (Part III)– Utility?

By. Neil Williamson, President

PrintIn preparation for an April 11th work session, Albemarle County has released a set of answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) regarding their proposed Stormwater Utility Fee (AKA RAIN TAX).  Generally, we support good information getting out to the public on such an important issue.  Unfortunately there was some clear political spin to some of the answers – not untruths, but spin.  This is the third in a series of blog posts to unpack the answers.

Today’s question: What is a stormwater utility?

Albemarle’s FAQ’s response:

Utilities are funding mechanisms that charge a fee for services provided. A stormwater utility supports stormwater management and other programs related to water resource protection. While property taxes are based on the value of the property, a stormwater fee must be related to each property’s contribution to the problems being address by the programs, namely through discharges of stormwater runoff and pollution. Fees are typically based on property characteristics having a strong relation to runoff and pollutants, such as impervious area. A utility is not a tax and revenues generated from fees must only be used to support water resources programs. (emphasis added-nw)

While Albemarle’s definition of utility seems entirely reasonable, it also does not accurately describe the proposed rain tax.  Examining the image below, I can see the paved and gravel grace episcopalareas around the church that would create runoff, however from this perspective I anticipate the majority of the stormwater would be absorbed long before it reached a stormwater conveyance or even a stream – what utility is being provided?

Even if one of the few green infrastructure/open channel maintenance projects (8% of the FY19 program budget) is being completed in the area – the direct utility is extremely limited.  pepe-le-pew-warner-brothers

The Free Enterprise Forum believes this is a rain tax, collected from all property owners (including churches) to pay for a community good – stormwater infrastructure.

We agree the proposed rain tax does create revenues that are restricted to only support water resources programs.  We don’t think this an unchecked dedicated revenue source is a good idea but we agree this is what is planned.

Calling the proposed rain tax a stormwater utility fee does not make it any less offensive than calling a skunk a cat.

Call it what it is a rain tax and yes it stinks.

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 Credits: Google (accessed 3/20/18), Warner Brothers/Loony Tunes

Albemarle’s RAIN TAX Bureaucracy

By. Neil Williamson, President

PrintIn preparation for an April 11th work session, Albemarle County has released a set of answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) regarding their proposed Stormwater Utility Fee (AKA RAIN TAX).  Generally, we support good information getting out to the public on such an important issue.  Unfortunately there were some clear political spin to some of the answers – not untruths, but spin.  This is the first in a series of blog posts to unpack the answers.

Today’s question ‘Will the stormwater utility result in the creation of a new bureaucracy?’ 

Albemarle’s FAQ’s response:

A stormwater utility will not result in the creation of a separate organization or a new County department. Revenues from the utility will be used to support existing staff and mandated programs related to stormwater management and water resource protection, as well as some program enhancements to better achieve County needs and goals [link to below “New Programs”]. Administration of the utility is expected to require the equivalent of about one-half additional staff. [Emphasis added-nw]

To be fair, like a good politician, Albemarle did not answer the yes/no question posed.  Perhaps we have a different definition of bureaucracy.  Merriam-Webster defines it as follows:

image

In the answer above,  Albemarle references the revenues will be used to “support existing staff”; true but not complete.  The program budget projects staff INCREASES from the current  ~16.5 Full Time Equivalents (FTE) to 23.4 staff in FY28 (nearly a 42% increase).  But note there is not a new department.

Albemarle’s Stormwater Utility Program’s 10 year budget is $52 Million dollars But note there is no new department.

The program budget approved by the Board of Supervisors included two line items that we think of as bureaucratic (absent the fee they are not needed):  Program Management/Administration and Regulation and Enforcement.

Albemarle County’s program budget (chart below) shows that roughly 1/3 of every dollar generated by the RAIN TAX foes to these two line items.  That between $1.2 – $2 million dollars annually.   The Free Enterprise Forum contends absent this funding mechanism, those funds could be used for stormwater infrastructure if they were not being spent on administration and enforcement.

2018-03-15 14_00_44-Rain Tax Figures - Excel

Let’s the question for the class; ‘Will the stormwater utility result in the creation of a new bureaucracy?’

PrintYES!  The Free Enterprise Forum believes the RAIN TAX will create a new bureaucracy (but not a new department).  The storm water mitigation credits allowed by the RAIN TAX will need to be verified at installation and regularly inspected to ensure proper compliance.  In addition, the mapping services required to make parcel corrections and other adjustments will be most significant in the first five years.  While we can understand some considering this work a part of the stormwater protection, we contend this specific, bureaucratic work would not be required if this funding mechanism was not used.

To paraphrase William Shakespeare, “A bureaucracy by any other name would smell as sweet”

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