Category Archives: budget

Groundhog Day in Fluvanna?

By Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors’ budget calendar begins in earnest when the calendar flips to February. The county administrator will present a budget proposal that will kick off the vast majority of discussion the supervisors will have regarding the fiscal year 2019 budget.

groundhog day gobblers knobPredictions of actions by this, or any, governmental body can be as reliable as Punxsutawney Phil, but there are times that early session decisions truly foreshadow future votes.

The last few years the board has been able to hold the Real Estate tax rate steady. This year the supervisors had a budget work session in December to help steer staff as Steve Nichols, the county administrator, prepares his budget proposal.

Mozell Booker (Fork Union District) and Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District), the two left leaning supervisors, told Nichols they were ok with a slight raise in the tax rate if necessary. Booker even saying a $0.92 per $100 assessed real property rate was ok. Currently the rate is $0.907.

Patricia Eager (Palmyra District) and Don Weaver (Cunningham District), the two right leaning supervisors, advocated for low as possible. Eager even suggesting a decrease in tax rate.

A decrease in the real property rate will be difficult because the county will begin paying for the Zions Crossroad water project and trying to decrease business related taxes to help jump start development in the ZXR area.

The past four years, Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) has been the one to bridge the gap between the two sides. Last year during a work session Sheridan even suggested the $0.907 tax rate where the supervisors ended up.

In an interesting sign during the 2018 organizational meeting, when nominations for chairman started, Booker quickly nominated Sheridan with a second from O’Brien. Booker has advocated multiple times for a roving chairship after she lost the gavel two years ago.

Sheridan, abstaining from the vote, was unanimously elected chairman. Then Eager quickly nominated Booker for vice chair with Weaver seconding. She was elected unanimously, Booker abstaining from the vote.

Such unanimity could be a sign of further cooperation or it could be a sign of lines being drawn with a budget season just ahead.

Nichols will present his budget on February 7 at 7 p.m.

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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: Onwardstate.com

 

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Greene County Revises Water/Sewer Connection Payment Timing

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

In 2008, Greene County developed a policy to sell Equivalent Dwelling Units (EDU’s) for water and sewer connections.  At the time, concerns were raised regarding the allowance of the speculative purchase of EDU’s, prior to the actual need.  As the cost of EDU’s increased (currently $10,000 for water and $10,000 for sewer) the timing of the EDU’s purchase has become an issue, especially for smaller builders.

At the only December meeting for the Greene Supervisors, Planning Director, Bart Svoboda, explained, numerous conversations with builders that have highlighted the cash flow problem this policy creates. So an alternative policy of charging for the EDU’s as a requirement for issuing a Certificate of Occupancy was proposed for Board consideration. However, the contractor runs the risk of EDU’s not being available if he waits until the project is ready to be occupied.

Chairperson Michelle Flynn (Ruckersville) asked if a builder could opt to buy the EDU’s the way they have up until now? Svoboda answered that yes, the contractor effectively would have the option as to when to buy the EDU. He could buy the EDU like the current policy provides and, therefore, he is sure he has the water and sewer connection before the project is started. Or he could wait until the project is ready for occupancy and then purchase the EDU with no guaranty that water and sewer will be available.

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Jim Frydl

Supervisor Jim Frydl (Midway) commented that the risk of water and sewer not being available is small.

The argument for delaying payment is that paying for the EDU closer to when the property can be occupied allows for the revenue stream of the business/residence to begin and provide the funds to pay for the EDU connections.

Some other Virginia localities do not allow the purchase of EDU’s until the building permit is issued for a specific parcel.  Such a policy significantly impacts the ability to “speculatively” purchase EDU’s at a a lower rate than the cost of such EDU’s at redemption.   This potential reform was not discussed on Tuesday.

At this point County Administrator, John Barkley, clarified that any changes to the EDU policy must first be approved by Greene’s Supervisors and then it can be approved by RSA.

Supervisor Bill Martin commented that the current reservoir project will relieve the limitation of water in Greene County. At that point Chairperson Michelle Flynn proposed that the option to pay when connected be approved and that motion was unanimously approved.

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Marie Durrer

Frydl Farewell

The last action taken at the final 2017 meeting was to thank Frydl who completed his second term. Frydl was defeated in his bid for a third term by Marie Durrer, former Clerk of the Circuit Court in Greene County.  Durrer will be sworn in in January.

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

Albemarle’s $52 Million Rain Tax Department

By. Neil Williamson, President

rain gifFarmers count on rain to feed their crops; Albemarle County is counting on the Rain Tax (AKA Storm water “fee”) to grow government by over Twenty new full time employees and a 10 year budget that exceeds $52 million. [corrected 12/5 9:44]

Please let me explain.

In 2013, Albemarle County thought it needed a Rain Tax (a fee paid by all land owners based on the percentage of impervious surface) in order to meet state mandated Chesapeake Bay regulations for pollutants.

In late 2014, staff projected the costs to be nearly $2.5 Million a year.  During the preparation of Albemarle County’s Chesapeake Bay TMDL  Action Plan they found they would receive credits for the many stormwater Best Management Practices (BMPs) – both private and public – that were already built. Albemarle’s Water Resources Program Manager, Greg Harper Harper explains:

While the County is required to achieve 5% of its long-term required pollutant reductions by July 1, 2018, the current status of reductions is as follows:

pollutant reductions achieved as percent of total, long-term requirement

phosphorus  68%

nitrogen 99%

sediment 137%

All (100%) reductions must be achieved by 2028. As you can see, we are theoretically complete with required nitrogen and sediment reductions and two-thirds complete with phosphorus reductions. [emphasis added-nw].

When it was determined that Albemarle was well on its way to meeting those requirements, the Free Enterprise Forum wrongfully thought this would be the end of the discussion of a rain tax [see Singing in the Rain].

Instead, gifted with this “fee” authority from the General Assembly, Albemarle tasked staff to come up with a plan to spend the money to address the county’s greying stormwater infrastructure – .

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Make no mistake this is the beginning of an Albemarle County Public Works Department with Twenty new full time employees  (corrected 12/5 9:44 am) and an annual budget of roughly $5 million absent any check on its further expansion based on a dedicated revenue source

While the Free Enterprise Forum is not questioning the need for many of these infrastructure improvements, we believe these projects should compete with other capital projects in the biannual Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).  Such project competition breeds efficiency and promotes transparency just as a dedicated revenue source reduces sunlight, breeds complacency and presents the opportunity for mismanagement and malfeasance.

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

Photo Credits: giphy.com, Albemarle County

Local Government Spending Index Released

Study Finds Disparity in Local Government Spending

Charlottesville, VA – As political candidates are vying for election and local governments are starting their FY2019 budget process, a new study shows that the rate of increases in local government spending vary dramatically. The “Choices and Decisions” report, conducted by the Free Enterprise Forum, is based on an independent locality-specific local government spending index (LGSI). The report, which studied fiscal years 1990-2016, identified Nelson County as the locality with the greatest increase in LGSI with Albemarle County a close second.

Free Enterprise Forum President Neil Williamson said, “The goal of the LGSI is to inform and promote dialog. The comparison of local spending trends, combined with population data provides citizens an objective tool to evaluate spending decisions. Equipped with this data, citizens can ask better questions of elected officials during the elections and budget season”.

The LGSI is based on self-reported data required to be provided to the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Auditor of Public Accounts. The numbers focus exclusively on the operating budget of each municipality. This number will not include capital expenditures thus avoiding having single-year spikes in capital spending skew the results or interpretation of the data.

It has been theorized that inflation adjusted spending would largely track changes in population and school enrollment. While a correlation was found in some localities studied, this trend was not universal:

Albemarle County – adjusted for inflation, Albemarle County’s total spending increased by over 152% during the study period while population and school enrollment increased by 55% and 36% respectively.

clip_image004City of Charlottesville – During the study period (1990-2016), Charlottesville experienced a population increase of almost 23%, the second smallest of the municipalities being studied. In addition, Charlottesville experienced a cumulative growth in school enrollment of just over 1%. In contrast, inflation-adjusted operating expenditures increased over 80% during the study period.

It was also theorized that growth in inflation-adjusted per capita spending among the localities would be similar because of the high percentage of programs mandated by the state and operated by the localities.

In contrast, the analysis clearly indicates wide variation in per-capita spending decisions made by the localities. During the study period, four localities had roughly 50% increase in per capita spending, while two, Albemarle and Nelson, increased per capita spending by over 60%.

The Free Enterprise Forum is a privately funded public policy organization dedicated to individual economic freedom. The entire report, and supporting documentation, can be accessed under Reports Tab at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Greene Supervisors Approve $28.16 Million School Bond

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

The Greene County Board of Supervisors took the final step to approve going forward with a general obligation school bond not to exceed $28.16 million at their August 22nd meeting. . Virginia Public School Authority (VPSA) will purchase the bonds by the fall of this year.

The agenda item was presented during a public hearing – but no one showed up to comment. Chairperson Michelle Flynn (Ruckersville) took this to be a favorable commentary on the open process for the past two years leading up to tonight. She also indicated that she has received only positive feedback related to the project. Former Chairperson Bill Martin (Stanardsville) echoed the same sentiment and that the project will be good for the community and the school system.

Supervisor Jim Frydl (Midway) is the Board’s liaison to the schools and has been involved in the process over the past 30 months. He further stated that high schools are the most expensive schools to build and the project to renovate the high school and other schools in the Greene County School System is the most efficient way to provide quality educational facilities. At the same time, the study was a forward looking process with a look toward 20 years into the future.

Finally, Flynn said that the best way she could summarize the process is to quote Supervisor David Cox (Monroe) – “do it once and do it right”.

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Greene County School System Project

The gross cost of the project of $28.16 million will cost nearly $41 million ($1.63 million x 25 years) assuming an interest rate of 3 % over 25 years. The accumulated Capital Fund Balance of $2.814 million represents excess tax revenue that taxpayers have paid in previous years. When Supervisor Dale Herring (At-Large) was asked if these funds should be used to help pay for the project, he indicated that Tracy Morris, Finance Director and Stephanie Deal, Treasurer indicated that these funds should be released over a period of time and not in a lump sum.

This raises the question – why?

Herring also indicated that the project will solicit quotes from multiple vendors and the project may cost less than the architects estimated – $28.16 million.

Logically, spending the $2.814 million at the beginning of the project would reduce the need for new tax revenue. Plus this is tax revenue already collected from taxpayers. One explanation not to spend it all up-front, has been that the unspent capital needs to be held back for unexpected capital requirements. That may be true to some degree, but it seems excessive to some observers.

The other comment in response to spending the $2.814 million excess capital is it would draw down cash too far. This seems to beg the question, how low should the cash balance be allowed to get down to – especially right before personal property taxes are collected in June and December (the lowest points each year).

The county has a Reserve Fund target, which includes cash and all assets which their auditors have recommended. But you can’t write checks against total assets, you have to have cash in the bank. As nationally known financial advisor Dave Ramsey advises – you need 3-6 months of living expenses on hand for emergencies.

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Dave Ramsey, Financial Advisor

Perhaps Greene County could look to live by Dave’s advice.

If the Board is so inclined, they could easily agree on a transparent Cash Reserve Fund calculation so that a clear, well thought out policy can be developed.

Such a policy could provide the data to clearly determine how much cash could be spent to pay for the school project from excess capital funds. The concerns raised by the Treasurer and Finance Director are testament that there needs to be some safeguard – but it should be formalized. The current board may not spend too much but who is to say that a future board may be too aggressive and get the county back on the edge of bankruptcy.

The final question is – who determines if spending is to be made from the excess capital funds that the school system has accumulated. Per Herring, while the funds are designated for school capital funds, it is part of the overall county reserve position.

Currently, the determination of the usage of the excess capital reserve has not been decided. This needs to be clearly defined so that funds can be easily consumed when needed and done in conjunction with a Cash Reserve Policy so that the county doesn’t revert back to where it was several decades ago – nearly bankrupt.

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

Photo Credit: Greene county, Dave Ramsey

The Hindsight Report Asks ‘What If?’

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.

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

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

Greene Supervisors Receive Updates On Major Projects

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

The March 28th Greene County Board of Supervisor meeting was basically an update of major projects in the county. The first update from County Administrator John Barkleyclip_image002 was on the White Run Reservoir and he reported that the team was reviewing the sources of revenue to build the reservoir.

Barkley announced that a work session would be held on April 11th at 6 pm to go over the analysis of future water demand projections and long term revenue sources. Barkley encouraged the public to review the plan on the Greene County website and to attend the April 11th meeting.

The second major project in Greene County is broadband access and was addressed by Supervisor Dale Herring (At-Large). Herring explained that currently surveying is in process – last weekclip_image004 a survey went out with all students report cards to identify who has what level of service. In addition, property owners are also receiving a survey in their property tax bills. By the end of June all of the surveys will be completed and the next phase of planning for broadband will go forward.

Barkley suggested that carriers be invited to attend a meeting to ask them their plans for future connectivity in Greene County.

The last major project reviewed was the upcoming budget for fiscal year 2018. To date, three public workshops have been held and on April 25th a final public hearing will be held. On May 23rd the Greene County Board of Supervisors will meet to adopt the 2018 fiscal budget .

The supervisors decided to hold that meeting at the county office building vs. the Performing Arts Center where that meeting is normally held. The logic is that the county office building is now set up to broadcast the meetings live over the internet and they wanted to have the ability for the most citizens to view the 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

Greene Supervisors Approve Capital Improvement Plan

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

The Greene County Planning Commission had recommended approval of the county’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) to the Board of Supervisors back in December.   At the February 14th meeting the BOS held a public hearing to consider adopting the CIP.

Planning Director Bart Svoboda presented the CIP and, while it has taken time to get to this point, he stated that the CIP will provide a  good budgeting tool for the Supervisors. Two of the largest projects for the county are the water impoundment system  and the school expansion projects.

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The CIP process has been refined to delete the maintenance items and set a threshold for inclusion at buildings of $20,000 and $5,000 for equipment items. Svoboda continued that the CIP will help the Board be forward looking as the plan goes out five years at a time.

Commissioner Bill Martin (Stanardsville) hopes to make the document part of the budget process in the next budget period. Svoboda indicated that the county may not have enough funds to do all the projects in the plan so that prioritizing is critical. The next step to be done is a facilities assessment study to determine what needs to be done in what order. And then to sort based on safety and legal requirements as being the most important.

Supervisor Dale Herring (At-Large) agreed that the goal of the Board should be to conduct a facilities assessment and incorporate that into the CIP. Supervisor Jim Frydl (Midway) thanked Jay Willer (Chairman of the Greene County Planning Commission) and those that helped him to get the plan to this point. Frydl stated that “this is a positive step that needs to go further”.

Chairperson Michelle Flynn (Ruckersville) agreed that the Board needs to be forward looking and that the Capital Improvement Plan will help them do just that and will allow them to be proactive instead of reactive. The CIP was unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors.

Unfortunately the delay of the approval of the CIP until after the budget data has been received back from the county’s departments has made the current Capital Improvement Plan useless for the budget cycle that is currently underway.

The CIP needs to lead the process so that it can be used to guide the Supervisors to include or exclude projects in the new budget cycle and incorporate the cost of the projects in their budget. Hopefully the Board of Supervisors will start the cycle of the next CIP before the 2019 budget process begins. Otherwise it is just a wish list on a spreadsheet.

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