Category Archives: Charlottesville City

Fixing Charlottesville NDS Engine Light

By Neil Williamson, President

car-check-engine-lightIf you have ever driven with a “Check Engine” light illuminated, you have an idea of where Charlottesville’s Neighborhood Development Services (NDS) Department has been for some time.

Everyone (land owners, neighborhood associations, developers, etc.) agrees that something is seriously wrong but no one knows specifically what it is or, perhaps more importantly, how to fix it – until now.

In 2016, the City of Charlottesville contracted the Novak Consulting Group to conduct an organizational efficiency study.  Their 152 page report reflects significant engagement by this consultant with not only City staff but also the various departmental “customers”.  For NDS that interaction included members of the development community as represented by the Charlottesville Area Development Roundtable (CADRe).  This type of 360 degree review is to be commended.

The report identifies structural issues with NDS and attempts to quantify the workload of the 37.5 Full Time Employees.  The report highlights five recommendations (number 26-30 of the report) to improve the NDS department.  Three of these recommendations are rather perfunctory, new software, workload tracking and fee schedule review but two of the recommendations stand out as bold and, perhaps, game-changing.  Unfortunately, in reviewing the staff responses to the recommendations (see below), the Free Enterprise Forum is not convinced the culture of NDS will change without significant outside influence.

 

RECOMMENDATION 27: Designate an Assistant City Manager as the owner of the City’s development review process and Chair of the Pre Development Meeting.

Currently all development related applications are processed and managed by staff within NDS.  Front desk staff perform intake, and then an application is assigned to appropriate Planning staff. The Planner assigned to the case reviews the application and sends hard copies of the plans to the appropriate department – such as Public Works, Parks – for comment. All comments are then sent back to the Planner who compiles them and provides them to the
applicant. Then it is the responsibility of the applicant to address all comments.
Unfortunately, this process does not provide an opportunity to resolve issues among comments.

When there is disagreement or conflict between comments, the applicant is often put in the position of mediating the resolution between departments or disciplines. The development review process in Charlottesville needs a designated owner. The owner needs to be in a position of authority in order to provide clear and consistent direction to all
development review staff, regardless of their department. This position should also be the face of the process to the development community. It is recommended that an Assistant City Manager serve in this role. [emphasis added – nw]

Staff response:

Staff agrees that a comprehensive review of the development process is necessary. Staff agrees that a consistent process that ensures responses to applicants that have been reached through a cooperative inter-departmental process is absolutely critical. Staff would like to further explore the efficacy of the model suggested and the connection to the City Manager’s office.

On the face of this recommendation it is clear that NDS lacks appropriate leadership.  This recommendation is not about personalities but about the need for a titular head that has the authority to get things done.  Reading between the lines of the somewhat tepid staff response suggests they acknowledge the lack of leadership issue but are not yet sure how such a reorganization might impact the functions (and individuals) in NDS.

 

RECOMMENDATION 26: Engage the development community in a process to identify development review reforms.

As noted, NDS under its current Director has made concerted efforts to engage more directly with neighborhoods as well as the development community (process improvements, community outreach efforts, communication efforts). Through some of these efforts a group known as the Charlottesville Area Development Roundtable (CADRE) was formed. CADRE is comprised of
over 120 development community stakeholders (such as land owners, architects, engineers, builders, developers) with interest in the Charlottesville community. The group was formed in large part due to a common sense of frustration about the City’s development approval process.

To learn more about these issues, The Novak Consulting Group met with CADRE’s steering committee. The group discussed a series of key issues that they are working to address with the City generally, and NDS specifically:
• Disconnect between Council, Planning Commission, and Staff regarding vision and administration
• Need for strategic planning and urban design
• Poor interdepartmental communication and coordination
• Lack of decision-making authority among staff

It is evident by the stakeholder feedback as well as staff interviews, that the current relationship with the development community is strained. In order to improve the relationship and most importantly identify needed reforms in the development process, it is recommended that the City and the development community engage in an improvement exercise.

The staff response:

NDS initiated this recommendation in February 2016. As a matter of fact, the development community has folded the Developers Roundtable Forum started by NDS into a formal countywide interest organization. NDS Director meets with the organization from time to time. The idea is to discuss mutual ways of addressing improvement to the review process. The development review process will always be a work in process. The developer’s roundtable can be utilized to provide feedback and suggestions.

Amazingly, the staff response honestly believes the creation of CADRe was a part of their outreach to the community.  I attended the February 2016 NDS developer meeting – there were specific questions about the feedback loop.  At the end of the meeting, staff suggested it was a great meeting and the  group should get together again in another year.  A meeting once a year is not engagement – it is a checklist item.

Yes CADRe is a result of NDS — it was the absolute failure of NDS to effectively communicate with the development community resulted in CADRe’s creation.  Engagement is important.  The Free Enterprise Forum strongly encourages the NDS Director to be present at all CADRe meetings not just “from time to time”.

Charlottesville should be saluted for closely examining their organizational efficiency.   In many ways now, the city has a diagnosis of what is wrong.

The question now is if anyone (City Council? City Manager? Citizens? CADRe?) will actually advocate for the fix of the NDS problem or simply ignore the engine light until it is too late.

Stay tuned.

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.

Photo Credits: Carpower.com

The Banana Boat and Charlottesville’s Proposed BPOL Reform

By. Neil Williamson, President

My first car was a yellow 1976 Ford Pinto Station Wagon 1977_Ford_Pinto_rear photo credit motoburg(fondly referred to as the ‘Banana Boat’).  Over time, I upgraded the stereo and dressed up the interior but it never really changed the fundamental fact that my teenage “ride” was a yellow Pinto Station Wagon.

This car came to mind as I watch Charlottesville consider important and proper changes to their Business Professional Occupancy License (BPOL) tax.

Please let me explain.

On March 6th, Charlottesville City Council will be considering changes to their BPOL Ordinance designed to promote fairness to mid-sized businesses.  Currently, any business operating in Charlottesville is required to pay BPOL based on its gross receipts. In fiscal year 2016, the BPOL tax generated $6.9 Million dollars in revenue for the City, 4.4% of all City revenue.  All 38 cities in Virginia charge BPOL.  The Free Enterprise Forum believes this is an unfair tax as it is based on gross receipts and has called for it repeal.

Staff provided several examples of the challenges under the existing ordinance:

Charlottesville businesses grossing $50,000 or less per year pay a flat fee of $35 and businesses grossing more than $50,000 pay based on a rate (established in State Code and as determined by the particular type of business) multiplied by annual gross receipts.

As an example, a veterinarian grossing $49,000 per year pays $35 for an annual business license. A veterinarian grossing $51,000 per year pays according to the standard rate for veterinarians and other similar professions ($0.58/$100), and would pay a rate-based fee of $295.80.

A graphic designer grossing $49,000 per year pays $35 for an annual business license. A graphic designer grossing $51,000 per year pays according to the standard rate for graphic designers and other similar professions ($0.36/$100), and would pay a rate-based fee of $183.60. The effect is that similar small businesses with very similar gross receipts end up paying very different fee amounts.

Meanwhile in neighboring Albemarle County, businesses earning up to $100,000 pay a flat fee of $50.  Therefore the business starting out (>$50,000 gross revenue) pays less in Charlottesville until they cross the $50K threshold and then they pay much more.

The Commissioner of the Revenue has reported of hearing significant concerns from taxpayers about what can be a dramatic jump in their BPOL costs as they cross the $50K gross annual threshold.  It is important to recognize that $50K in gross revenue is the point where many businesses may be at the tipping point between viability and failure.

As the staff report outlines:

In an effort to attract, retain, and encourage small businesses in the City of Charlottesville, the Commissioner of the Revenue and City Treasurer are proposing a modest change to the fee structure used to assess BPOL:

  • Businesses grossing $50,000 and below continue to pay $35 license fee
  • Businesses grossing $50,001 to $100,000 pay a $50 license fee
  • Businesses grossing over $100,000 pay the license fee based on applicable BPOL rate

This proposed change would benefit small businesses within the City of Charlottesville by reducing the license fee paid by businesses earning between $50,000 and $100,000. Staff estimates that approximately 450 businesses would benefit from this structural change. There would also be a comparable change in the technology business incentive as well. We are recommending that these changes take place for the upcoming assessment year of 2018.

The Commissioner and Treasurer would note that this is a relatively modest proposal that seeks to provide meaningful relief to small businesses in our community within limited statutory, system, and budget constraints.

These changes do not come without cost.  Staff estimates adoption of this proposal would potentially reduce BPOL revenue by $93,000.

While the Free Enterprise Forum has consistently called for the REPEAL of BPOL, we are supportive of the reforms contained in the proposal.  In addition, we commend the Commissioner of the Revenue and the Treasurer for thinking beyond the bean counter box and seeking reform.  When properly implemented, we see these changes as leveling the playing field with adjoining localities, increasing fairness for small to mid sized businesses and promoting economic development.  1979 pinto cruising wagon

We would be remiss if we did not remind the City that regardless of changing the paint job, adding new tires and a kicking new stereo, you are still driving a Pinto Station Wagon.

Yes, repeal would be better but we support these commonsensical BPOL reforms.

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.

Photo Credits: Motorbug.com, Autospost.com

2016 – A Year of Exits (Executive and Grade Separated)

By. Neil Williamson, President

https://freeenterpriseforum.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/top-ten-list.jpg?w=179&h=161At this time each year, I take time to look in the rearview and see what issues we have covered that have garnered the most attention.  As usual, I am amazed, and thankful, for the large number of people who read and financially support our work.

Here are the Free Enterprise Forum Top Ten 2016 Shaking My Head (SMH) Moments

#10 Is Charlottesville the $17.86 Million Court Jester?

Imagine you are a mayor or a City Manager, if a major employer and economic driver in your city was poised to leave, how would you respond?Image result for Court Jester

Perhaps its just me, but I would likely fight like heck to keep them in the city.  It is much easier to retain a major employer than to attract one.

But what if the employer is actually an arm of a neighboring government, should that matter? …

If Albemarle decides to bring $17.86 million of ‘County’ economic activity back to Albemarle, Charlottesville may end up looking as wise as the Court Jester this Halloween.

 

#9 Bananas and Albemarle’s Outdated Economic Opportunity Map

Imagine being in the banana business — and you have no way to obtain fruit.Image result for Albemarle county development area

That is Albemarle County’s current economic development sales position: “Yes, we have no bananas.”

“If a manufacturer calls interested in locating near a highway, we tell them, ‘We have nothing for you,’. Prospect businesses are looking to move within three to six months if they are not looking to build. We tell them, ‘We have no product ready to go today.’” – Faith McClintic, Albemarle County’s economic development director

#8 Greene Supervisors Approve Overspending FY17 Budget

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

In just the second month of the new budget cycle, the Greene County Board of Supervisors discussed clip_image002two issues last night (8/23) that would allow the county to spend nearly $33,000 over the approved FY17 budget.

The first issue that County Administrator John Barkley explained was that several positions are needed to be brought up to market value. He further explained that supplemental funds are being requested to fund the $27,250 for the reclassification of positions. Surplus funds from the FY16 budget will allow the county to be able to fund this request.

#7 C’ville’s Hydraulic Houdini

What would you call it when Charlottesville works to make a primary pillar of an integrated

Trafficit knot  @ Proff Rd             Trafficlymead Town Center             @ Hol                       knotTrafficLakes ...

transportation program disappear?

The Hydraulic Houdini.

Please let me explain.

Those with even decent short term memory can remember the argument over the now defunct Western Bypass and the Route 29 “Solutions”.  Rather than building a limited access bypass around Charlottesville’s congestion (The Free Enterprise Forum supported), Bypass opponents proposed a series of integrated “solutions” would increase the existing roadway capacity.

My friend Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) even had a nifty PowerPoint Presentation regarding the  congestion

#6 Albemarle’s Executive Exodus x 2

Albemarle Executive Foley Finds Greener Pastures

Thomas FoleyWith rumors flying around Albemarle County (and Social Media) all day, a 4 pm Stafford County announcement made it official; County Executive Tom Foley is leaving Albemarle County to take up the same post in Stafford County.  In the announcement Stafford highlighted Foley’s service and temperament as key qualities they were looking for in their new administrator:

Albemarle is Losing Faith

leavingyourjobAs anticipated as the sun rising in the east, it is with absolutely no surprise that Albemarle County’s first Economic Development Director, Faith McClintic, will be leaving her position later this year.  In her short  18 month tenure, McClintic often found herself at odds with Planning Commissioners, some members of the public, this writer, and some elected officials.  In addition, she found herself without product as she said in August of this year:

“If a manufacturer calls interested in locating near a highway, we tell them, ‘We have nothing for you,’. Prospect businesses are looking to move within three to six months if they are not looking to build. We tell them, ‘We have no product ready to go today.’” – Faith McClintic, Albemarle County’s economic development director

#5 Albemarle and VDOT Create US29+Rio Lemonade

While the Free Enterprise Forum lost the battle against the US29/Rio Grade Separated Interchange (GSI), we have found Albemarle County (and Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)) to be working exceedingly well together and significantly positively impacting the challenging business environment due to the roadway construction.

rio gsiIn the most recent Route 29 Solutions Project Delivery Advisory Panel meeting, former VDOT Commissioner and PDAP facilitator Philip Shucet indicated the next phase of the Rio GSI project, where the intersection will close for up to 103 days,  “Isn’t going to be a birthday party”.  This might be the understatement of the year.

#4 SOMEONE’s Shameful Sensationalism

Over the last dozen years, I have read literally hundreds of Albemarle County staff reports.  I tend to find the reports to be professional, concise, factually correct and devoid of generalizations or editorial commentary – until last week when I determined that SOMEONE  improperly and sensationally  used a tragedy to further an advocacy position in what was presented as an impartial staff analysis.

In an attempt to sensationalize the need for closing of Earlysville Road to truck traffic, SOMEONE has stooped so low as to cite a terrible teenage 2002 drunk driving accident as justification to overrule the technical analysis of professional traffic engineers.

#3 ‘Snob Zoning’ Crozet Master Plan in the Works?

Recently, C-ville magazine cover story posed the question, “Can Crozet maintain its small town charm snob-zones-640-for-web-194x300.jpgas its population increases?”

Perhaps the question should be “After millions of dollars of planning and infrastructure spending, should Crozet residents be allowed to stifle population and economic growth by hijacking the master planning process?”

We’ve recently learned such a plan is in the works.  And it is a bad idea….

The reality is the CCAC is opposed to density in the development area that is critical to achieve the philosophical goals of the Comprehensive Plan. The community vetted plan calls for densely populated development areas filled with amenities and services surrounded by less populated rural areas that are supportive of agriculture, forestry and open space.

In her seminal book “Snob Zoning”, Liza Prevost, exposed what happens when NIMBY zealots are able to change plans and regulations

#2 Fluvanna Land Use Fireworks

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

OBrien2014-photo-credit-Fluvanna-County_thumb.jpg

“I’m a little surprised board members are so happy to push this under the rug,” said Supervisor Tony O’Brien. . .

O’Brien said there were supervisors who should recuse themselves from the vote because they should know they aren’t compliant with the program.

Eager asked O’Brien to name who he thinks is not compliant as she has done everything to be compliant. He replied he never thought she wasn’t but questioned if Supervisor Don Weaver and chairperson Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) were compliant. He also thought Supervisor Mozell Booker might not be compliant but she was in a different arm of the program.

Sheridan said he asked a cooperative agent if he was in compliance and was told his practices were.

Fred Payne, county attorney, gave a legal opinion that supervisors do not have to recuse themselves just because they participate in the program.

O’Brien also suggested Mike Sheridan should recuse himself because Mel Sheridan is his brother.

Payne’s said Mike Sheridan had no need legally reason to recuse himself. He continued supervisors can always recuse themselves if they feel it is necessary but there was no legal reason to do so.

Weaver, who was quiet for the discussion, called for a vote which ended the discussion.

O’Brien said under his breath after the vote, “Embarrassing.”

#1 $52.5 Million Dollar Indecent Proposal – Albemarle Backs Off Threat to Wedding Industry

Last Tuesday evening, a rare joint meeting of the Albemarle County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors heard a great deal from both wedding venues and the vendors that support them.  Albemarle staff had prepared a proposed ordinance that, among other things, would limit the ability of wineries, breweries and distilleries to 24 events a year.  In the end the supervisors backed away from the most restrictive portion of the ‘indecent proposal’.

The testimony Tuesday was insightful and passionate.    Wedding Photographer Jen Fariello asked pointedly “Why are weddings being attacked?”  Wedding planner Adam Donovan-Groves [name correction 9:01 6/20 nw] told of one recent wedding whose local fiscal impact exceeded $250,000 musicians, gift packs, invitations, transportation, jewelry, photographer, etc.

Yes, 2016 has been a year of executive exits, speedy construction and threats of overregulation.  Through it all the Free Enterprise Forum continues to blog, tweet (@neilswilliamson) and Facebook about local issues of significant importance.

The year ahead is filled with promise: the promise of a national search for a new Albemarle County Executive, the promise of so called “Solutions” 29 being completed earlier than scheduled (looks like June), the promise of new form based code development in Charlottesville, as well as the promise of elections across all localities.

seats available2016 will also bring us the opportunity and privilege of attending and participating in  many more government meetings where important policy decisions are made and #SeatsAvailable.

Thank you for your support!

 

Happy New Year

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.

Is The Jury Still Out on Albemarle Courts Relocation?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Tonight (10/24) the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will take “public input” regarding the albemarle-courthousepossible relocation of their courts system.  Of the five options on the table, all but one keeps the courts in the City of Charlottesville. While the Free Enterprise Forum would like to have a favored option, we do not believe the case has been made for any option — considering how far along the process is, we are astonished at the basic questions that remain unanswered.

To review here are the five options:

OPTION 1: DOWNTOWN/LEVY EXPANSION
OPTION 2: RELOCATE COUNTY & CITY GENERAL DISTRICT COURTS TO COUNTY OFFICE BUILDING MCINTIRE

OPTION 3: RELOCATE COUNTY GENERAL DISTRICT COURTS TO COUNTY OFFICE BUILDING MCINTIRE

OPTION 4: RELOCATE COUNTY GENERAL DISTRICT COURTS & CIRCUIT COURTS TO COUNTY OFFICE BUILDING MCINTIRE

OPTION 5: RELOCATE COUNTY GENERAL DISTRICT & CIRCUIT COURTS TO COUNTY SITE

As we examine the decision matrix provided by the county, we have many more questions than answers.

Here are our top ten inquiries:

  1. Has the city offered any economic incentives to support any of the City based options? (see last week’s blog post)
  2. Why does option 1 (stay downtown) cost $12,500,000 more than building in option 5?
  3. Why does it cost $18,000,000 to put the General District Court at the County office building when it appears that most of the infrastructure is already there?
  4. If you build a new county admin facility, where will it be located and, how much does it cost?  Where is that cost shown?
  5. Do options 2-5 factor in the lost property tax revenue for whatever parcel is acquired?
  6. The matrix seems to indicate that options 2-5 strongly support the County’s strategic redevelopment/urban place making priorities.   Doesn’t that really depend on where the County offices are built and how?  It could eat up a bunch of property in the urban area and create little long term value.
  7. Will option 5 allow a mix of uses on their site?  What of creating affordable housing over top of the new county offices?
  8. It seems that you are assuming any new construction by the County in the County has high economic development value.  Why?  What assumptions have been made to draw that conclusion?
  9. Is taking urban county property off the tax rolls good for economic development? Will the development area be expanded to replace this lost land?
  10. Why is the construction risk higher for option 1 than any of the other options?

The public input offered can only be as good as the information provided to them to base that input.  We forwarded these questions to Albemarle County early last week and they indicated they hoped to have answers in their presentation tonight. If that is the case, the public will have limited time to process the information before the public input session closes.

Regardless, these questions need answers before anyone should make a decision on the future location of the court.

The jury is not “still out” — the full argument has yet to be presented.

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 http://www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credits: Albemarle County

Is Charlottesville the $17.86 Million Court Jester?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Imagine you are a mayor or a City Manager, if a major employer and economic driver in your city was poised to leave, how would you respond?

Perhaps its just me, but I would likely fight like heck to keep them in the city.  It is much easier to retain a major employer than to attract one.

But what if the employer is actually an arm of a neighboring government, should that matter?

What if that neighboring government annually gives your city millions in revenue sharing dollars, does that enter into the equation?

As most readers know, Albemarle County is evaluating five options for the needed expansion of their courts system.  The Free Enterprise Forum is currently reviewing the cost analysis provided by Albemarle and will weigh in on Monday (10/24) prior to the public input meeting regarding our thoughts on the various options.

Only one, the most expensive, of the five options keeps the courts in their current position in Charlottesville’s Court Square.Image result for Court Jester

This summer, the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce issued a report: An Economic Assessment of the Current Unified Court Square.  The report found $34 million in salaries could be tied to the courts and the related legal enterprises.  Further the report highlighted $1.6 million in employee meals spending and another $3 million in “other court attendee spending” . Accepted at face value, the combined courts complex has in excess of $38 million dollars in economic impact.

According to the Chamber report:

    • 45.9% of all 2015 General District Court hearings are Albemarle cases
    • 43% of Juvenile and Domestic Relation cases are Albemarle cases
    • 73.9% of the Depositions are Albemarle cases.

Allow me a little cocktail napkin math – A conservative estimate of the impact of Albemarle pulling both courts out of Court Square would be 47% of the case load.  Cocktail napkin math (not a true arithmetic discipline) projects the annual economic impact of moving both courts to be up to $17.86 million dollars (47% of $38 million).

With almost $18 Million dollars on the table, one has to ask – Where is the City of Charlottesville?

Where is the economic development arm that has supported businesses relocating to the city in the past?

Considering the documents released by Albemarle yesterday indicate keeping the courts in court square is the most expensive option ($42.4 million), shouldn’t the city make any offers NOW before the Board of Supervisors hears from the public and chooses to literally “leave town”?

Perhaps Charlottesville is already having such discussions with Albemarle – if so, the public should know.

If Albemarle decides to bring $17.86 million of ‘County’ economic activity back to Albemarle, Charlottesville may end up looking as wise as the Court Jester this Halloween.

Stay tuned.

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 Credits: dinardaily.net

Singing In The Rain! Albemarle Rain Tax Going Away!

By. Neil Williamson, President

The Free Enterprise Forum has long expressed concerns regarding the Singing in the Rain1stormwater fee AKA “Rain Tax”.  But now we have reason to join Gene Kelly and be “Singing in the Rain”.

Please let me explain.

Across all localities, we have steadfastly supported funding  stormwater programs through the general fund [Albemarle Hears the Siren’s Song of New Rain Taxing Authority]

Since 2013, in both Albemarle and Charlottesville a great deal of educational effort was made to gain an understanding of the import of Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and a divisive community conversation regarding who was responsible for water “pollutants” and who would pay was pitting farmers against development area residents.

The Albemarle County staff even prepared a lovely video outlining the new unfunded mandates (they do not refer to them as such) as well as two of the three options currently under consideration: stormwater utility fee and a service District:

Water Resources Video

Well, Nevermind.

 

In a March 4, 2016 e-mail to the Stormwater Advisory Committee, Water Resources Program Manager, Greg Harper wrote:

You should be aware that staff will be making the following recommendations to the Board:

· accept the 10-year Program Plan as recommended by the Advisory Committee

· defer moving forward with developing and implementing a dedicated funding mechanism [emphasis added – nw]

What the email revealed, and some thought all along,  – Albemarle (and likely Charlottesville) are much better off on the mandated stormwater requirements than originally thought.

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.  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].

Wait a minute, where is the parade?

Albemarle has already met the 2028 pollutant reduction goal for 2 out of 3 pollutants!

Why wasn’t there at least a media release trumpeting the good stewardship of Albemarle landowners?

Sure there is still important work to do on the phosphorous levels but the cost for this work is SIGNIFICANTLY ($2,000,000 annually) less than the original TMDL program.  Harper explains:

While we will continue to proactively achieve pollutant reductions through our capital program (in fact, we just received a DEQ SLAF to support a stream restoration project), the need to instantly and dramatically expand the program has greatly diminished. We’ve revised the estimated cost to implement the TMDL program as $500,000 per year, recognizing that this may change in the future. The lower total program cost makes it more difficult to justify investing in a discrete, dedicated funding mechanism at this time.

singing in the rain broadwayDuring the busy stressful  budget season, it is nice to have a reason to smile and enjoy the inevitable spring showers.

The Free Enterprise Forum wonders how Charlottesville, with their existing stormwater fee, is doing on their plan’s objectives and if soon citizens might be looking for City Hall to repeal Charlottesville’s Rain Tax.

Keep your eyes to the skies.

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 Credits: MGM Studios, Albemarle County,  behindthefootlights.blogspot.com  

The Economic Development Snowstorm

By. Neil Williamson, President

As I write this, social media is all a buzz regarding projected significant snowfall for the region late this week. It seems as though that despite the differences in the various predictive models (European, American, etc.) all have some amount of snow in the forecast.  Latest update, they have just named the storm “Jonas” (hopefully not for the Disney movie based boy band).

A “Storm of the Century”, especially in the Mid Atlantic states requires a specific environment to occur; the same is true for local economic vitality.

The jet stream must have the just proper bend to bring the storm up the coast, but not the warmth to the region; localities must have a clearly stated vision, and actions to match, to let businesses know they are welcome to come or to stay and grow here.

Possible East Coast Storm Setup

To achieve a super storm,  the atmospheric  temperatures must be high enough to allow water to condense and low enough to support snow formation; the regulatory environment must be high enough to provide a quality community but low enough to allow businesses to responsibly grow here.

A great deal is being made of the ice damming effect on this storm; just as the storm needs the ice dam to fully develop absent a trained workforce economic development will not reach its full potential.

Possible East Coast Storm Setup

If there are not specific humidity levels just prior to the storm’s arrival, it does not materialize; if there is not land ready and permitted for business use prior to the prospect business expansion, economic development goes elsewhere.

Just as the winds can’t be too high to push the storm through too quickly; citizens must recognize and acknowledge the value of new (or expanding) business, new tax revenue, new jobs and economic advancement or such advancement will be pushed away.

Unlike the super storm formation, local government controls many, but not all, of the economic development environmental conditions.

How do you think Central Virginia’s local governments measure up?

Are they creating a positive economic development environment?

What letter grade would you give your locality?

Just as with “Jonas” – time will make the results readily apparent.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

Neil Williamson December 2 2015 Albemarle BOS meeting Photo Credit Charlottesville TomorrowNeil 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:   Charlottesville Tomorrow, The Weather Channel, Snipview.com, quazoo.com

Year of Shaking My Head – 2015

By. Neil Williamson, President

It is amazing to look back and see how often this year, I was top ten listdumbfounded by the strategy, actions and inactions of public officials and the lack of action by some because while the process was broken, it was meeting their need.

Here are the Free Enterprise Forum Top Ten 2015 SMH moments

#10 U.S. 29 is not a city street Kevin Bacon and Albemarle’s Thank You Letter for VDOT’s U.S. 29 Steamroller

While we have found former Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)  Commissioner Phillip Shucet to be a most effective facilitator and an honest supporter of the McAuliffe administration positions, we believe the public has not been, nor will be, fully “engaged” in the process.  As an example, In  last week’s BOS meeting Supervisor Ann Mallek suggested there would be a public hearing on the design of the interchange – Nope.  Even though this is a design build process, the VDOT proposed design (not what will actually be built) was already taken to public hearing, satisfying the legal requirements.

Aubrey Layne photo credit VDOTIn his Daily Progress opinion piece on Sunday (1/11), [Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey] Layne used the same song sheet as he wrote somewhat single mindedly of Albemarle County’s economic engine that is North US 29:

“Between Short Pump to the east, Staunton to the west, Danville to the south and Gainesville to the north, no section of highway carries more traffic than U.S. 29 between U.S. 250 and Rio Road – not even Interstate 64. U.S. 29 is not a city street.  It is a major Virginia arterial highway” Emphasis added-nw

#9 Fluvanna sees higher taxes as far as the eye can seeFluvanna 4% Property Tax Increase Proposed

This year, Fluvanna is projecting a five-year forecast to see how future budgets will look, conceptually, based on what decisions are made this year. It includes a two percent rate of inflation along with anticipation of certain upcoming projects.

The projection based off of Nichols’ budget shows a real estate tax rate of $1.05 in FY17, $1.06 in FY1Weaver20146 and FY19 and a $1.11 in FY20.

“Even if they are ballpark figures, it is alarming,” said Don Weaver (Cunningham District).

Nichols replied, “It is absolutely alarming.”

#8 Albemarle’s Political Cover Committees – Meanwhile, back in Albemarle County the county is seeking a diversity of opinions as long as they all agree #SMH  Eliminate Albemarle’s Mission Creeping Community Councils 

In addition, Albemarle’s new Community Council Policies also suggests the councils reflect a diversity of perspectives as long as all members of the councils support the approved master plan:

The Advisory Councils will provide assistance, feedback and input to County staff and the Board of Supervisors on community and county efforts related to implementation and support of the adopted Master Plan, in accordance with established county procedures. Advisory Council members will communicate with their constituencies to increase understanding of and support for successful implementation of the Master Plan. The membership is broad-based to incorporate a variety of perspectives and ideas and to provide citizens, business people, and representatives of community highlight added-nw

If all the members of the Community Council must be drinking the Kool Aid that the Master Plans came down on stone tablets from the Board of Supervisors – What’s the point?

#7 ARB managing views that can’t be seen  In June, we were shaking our head when we asked about  the authority of the Albemarle Architectural Review Board (ARB) over the Rio area businesses that will not be visible to at least half of the US29 motorists Is The Rio Ramp An Entrance Corridor?

Are entrance ramps arterial streets? wendy's frosty

While a Wendy’s Frosty is good, is it historic?

Interestingly, the ARB seemed equally concerned how to best treat this new Rio GSI reality.  “I don’t even know how to think about this,” said ARB Chair Bruce Wardell.

For those not paying full attention VDOT has awarded a contract to build US 29 under Rio Road thus making those businesses above somewhat invisible to through traffic.

rio gsi

#6 Albemarle Comprehensive Plan Places Preservation of Natural Resources as #1 Priority What abut citizen health Safety and Welfare? Albemarle’s Natural Resources Chapter Rewrite – More Planners, Less Property Rights

The newly revised goal is much more expansive and interventionist in its tone:

“Albemarle’s ecosystems and natural resources will be thoughtfully protected and managed in both the Rural and Development Areas to safeguard the quality of life of current and future generations.”

If there was any question the direction the Chapter is headed, the BOS rewritten chapter declares

“Natural resource protection is the County’s highest priority.”

Really??

Natural Resource Protection is the Highest Priority?

Over the safety and protection of your citizens?

Over the education of the children where you currently dedicate 60% of your budget?

The Free Enterprise Forum believes this is philosophical hyperbole and is not supported by the facts (or four supervisors), we hope such inflammatory and incorrect language will be removed from the plan.

#4 Albemarle Planning Commission Attempts to Bully staff The Albemarle County Planning Commission was unhappy that the economic development office did not come to them first regarding the Deschutes Brewing prospect.  Despite being beyond their role in government, their egos were bruised in the process.  This lead to our #4 SMH moment Albemarle PC Seeks Improper Staff Influence

How much is designated Light Industrial in the Comprehensive Plan but not in the underlying zoning?

These would seem like a set of objective questions to ask of a professional staff to produce an objective report – But not in Albemarle County.

Please let me explain.

Oct 20 PC meetingAt the very end of this week’s lengthy Albemarle County Planning Commission meeting, Commissioner Tim Keller (At-Large), with just two members of the public in the audience (FEF & SELC)  and with the consent of his fellow commissioners, explicitly directed staff to have Economic Development Director Faith McClintic meet with the Planning Commission PRIOR to finalizing her inventory report on Light Industrial land.

Remembering that the Planning Commission is made up of politically appointed individuals (one of which is running for Scottsville Supervisor), one might reasonably ask why should the Economic Development Director, who reports to the County Executive, be required to run her professional report past the PC before it goes final?

The ONLY reason is because they want to impact the content of the report.

While I’ll agree the PC should see and comment on the report after it is written, to give them editorial control seems far beyond the pale and entirely unprofessional.

#5 Greene County battles with Jail Superintendent over budget and plan There was a great deal of head shaking in Greene this year (gun range, recycling center, public comment) but the Jail has been a source of some interjurisdictional anger.  As out own Brent Wilson reports Jail House Rocks Greene BOS

Bill Martin Greene County SupervisorSupervisor Bill Martin (Stanardsville District) expressed concern about the poor timing in the budget process of the CVRJ and the impact to Greene County. Up until December, there was no indication of a significant increase and then in December, 2014 [Central Virginia Jail Superintendent Glenn] Aylor announced over a 50% increase in operating cost allocation to Greene County.

[Ruckersville Supervisor Davis] Lamb responded that there are a lot of pieces to the prison budget.

Martin stated he understood the complexity but all five counties that utilize the regional jail were caught by surprise by the size of the budget increase. Residents of Greene County are pushing back on a $10 facility fee on the water and sewer bill, Martin can’t imagine what residents will say when they see the cost increase for the jail in the upcoming budget.

Martin continued to state that the communication between the Greene Board of Supervisors and Aylor has been poor. He was not impressed when Aylor spoke at the last board meeting and Martin questions who is serving whom.

[Midway Supervisor Jim] Frydl questioned Lamb why the alternative budget that the five counties had presented at the last jail meeting wasn’t considered? Lamb’s only reply was that if you can find a better plan to bring it to the meeting and there are many variables. Frydl asked Lamb if he was ok with the jails budget to which there was no reply.

#3 Greene County Muzzles Public Comment The Free Enterprise Forum continues to have issues with Greene County’s current Matters from the Public Policy but after months of “inappropriate” public comments Greene seemed to want to muzzle public comments as Brent Wilson reports

The hearing of comments (or not hearing comments) from the public has been a work in progress the past several weeks in Greene County. The year started with all comments being allowed at BOS meetings with very little guidelines or restrictions. Several weeks ago, the Chairman decided to eliminate all comments from the public from the July 28th agenda.  The Board discussed the issue at the July 28th meeting and adopted (4-1 Deane opposed) a very restrictive procedure in place to allow public comment at the July 28th meeting

This takes us to the most recent Board of Supervisor meeting. Chairman David Cox, Monroe District, started the meeting stating that it is critical to hear comments from the public. He has not been trying to silence the public but trying to control rude and confrontational behavior.

Supervisor Bill Martin, Stanardsville District, stated he believes that Cox has an impeccable record in allowing all comments – sometimes to a fault. Cox would never disallow the public to speak and he believes that Cox will be fair to all citizens and not infringe their freedom of speech.

The Free Enterprise Forum has written extensively regarding the import of public comments and we believe they should be placed near the top of every agenda. While the comments some citizens make may cause you to shake your head, not hearing those citizens speak is much worse.

#2 Albemarle Chooses Not To Have a Beer – In a clear affront to the County’s new Economic Development Initiatives, Albemarle County decided not to expand its development areas enough to accommodate Deschutes Brewery [and about 100 new jobs]  from Bend, Oregon while shaking our head we did come up with  Da Lessons from Deschutes

Deschutes-BrewingIt is entirely possible that [Former Albemarle Supervisor] Sally Thomas’ position of keeping growth in check may be the majority opinion of Albemarle County citizens.  If the philosophy of the Board is that any business is lucky that we are allowing them to locate here and should be happy to jump through our bureaucratic hoops, then there is not “A new day” in Albemarle.

The current and future leadership of Albemarle County need to determine the direction of the Economic Development Department.  That decision, perhaps more than any other, will determine not only the success of businesses to locate and expand; but also the jobs that may or may not be available as well as the percentage of government costs that will be carried by property taxes.

Da Lesson from Deschutes – Albemarle was not ready.

Da Question from Deschutes – Do they really want to be?

But this year’s #1 is without a doubt

#1 If I call you Karl Marx is it an insult?  Fluvanna County’s Board of Supervisors gave us plenty to shake our heads about this year including accusations of Communism.   The Board meeting sounded more like a playground taunt than a governing body as our own Bryan Rothamel reported Fireworks at Fluvanna Supervisors Meeting

After Parish briefly started his presentation on the [employee] recognition program, which includes monetary gifts for various awards throughout the year, Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District) raised his issues with the recognition program.

Ullenbruch2014

Ullenbruch compared the recognition program as a pat on the back and children in youth sports getting a participation trophy. He then concluded his remarks and what ensued was Ullenbruch leaving the meeting after Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) responded.

Here is a transcription from the end of  Ullenbruch’s statements. It was the 1 hour, 59 minutes mark of the meeting.

Ullenbruch: You are hired to do a job. You are hired to do a job the best you can. I’m not saying our employees are paid enough or they’re not recognized enough. I’m not saying that at all. I’m trying, once again, keep people from being divided. This is devise. I’ve lived in this atmosphere of awards and plaques and that-a-boys, in the back, in the little huddles, in the little corners, it becomes a bitch session. The intent is not for that to happens, but it happens.

O’Brien: You sound like a communist, Bob. I mean honestly, why don’t we–

Ullenbruch: Wow. Wow. That’s on tape.

O’Brien: Yeah, your idea is that people don’t appreciate recognition. That they should just do their damn job, to use your words.

Ullenbruch: I’m just saying it causes divisiveness.

At this point Ullenbruch stands up to leaves. The two began talking over each other but O’Brien responds to Ullenbruch’s comments with, “I mean, that’s what you sound like. I’m sorry you feel that way.”

Ullenbruch talks from the doorway. O’Brien responds, “I don’t think calling someone a communist is necessarily insulting them, Bob.” He turns back to the board, “That’s a first. Sorry. Apologies.”

Yes, the Free Enterprise Forum will look back on 2015 as the Year of Shaking My Head.

Perhaps 2016 will be different.

I know which way I am betting.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

Neil Williamson December 2 2015 Albemarle BOS meeting Photo Credit Charlottesville TomorrowNeil 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:   Charlottesville Tomorrow, Fluvanna County, Greene County, Virginia Department of Transportation,

Restrictions in Charlottesville’s West Main Down Zoning May Further Gentrify the Neighborhood

By Neil Williamson, President

Tonight, Charlottesville City Council will hold their last meeting of the year and have the first reading of the West Main Street Downzoning.  This will be the final meeting for DedeHujaMayor Satyendra Huja and Vice Mayor Dede Smith.

There have been rumors that this Council may dispense of a second reading and enact the ordinance – the Free Enterprise Forum believes that would be a huge mistake and remains hopeful that the new council will have the opportunity to vote down this ordinance in the name of affordable housing.

Please let me explain.

Over the last few weeks, I have been reading a great deal about rental housing economics.  A recent Harvard study showed that the homeownership rates dropping while the renter households increased.  The media has been very interested in the increase in the cost of rental units and its impact on the middle class.  Considering the proposed downzoning on Charlottesville’s West Main Street, one only needs to look to the larger cities to see how land use restrictions can impact the fabric of the community.

image

Interestingly, the Harvard study did not go into the reasons for the increases in rental costs.  Fortunately, The Washington Post’s Emily Badger wrote recently about Why it’s so hard to afford a rental even if you make a decent salary

This chart, from a report on America’s rental housing from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies published today, illustrates that only about 10 percent of our recently added rental apartments would be affordable to the nearly half of renter households in America who make less than $35,000 a year:


Note: Rents based on 30% of income affordability standard. Sources: US Census Bureau, 2015 Survey of Market Absorption, 2015 CPS. Harvard JCHS.

Badger’s article, unlike the Harvard study does speak to the reasons the rent for new apartment housing is increasing:

The number of renter households in the top 10th of the income spectrum rose 61 percent over that decade, more than for any other group. So developers are not simply building luxe apartments no one wants to rent.

But they’re also responding to the worrisome dynamic that we’ve made it very, very difficult in many cities to construct market-rate housing that would be affordable to the middle class or modest renters. It’s economically challenging for developers to create new apartments the median renter could afford — at about $875 a month — while covering the costs of constructing them.

Height limits, parking requirements and zoning restrictions all push up the cost of construction. So do lengthy design reviews and legal battles with neighborhoods opposed to new development. Developers must also build at the densities communities allow, and in the limited places where they allow higher density. And if a given parcel of land is only zoned for about five stories of apartments, those apartments may have to command $2,500 a month each to make the project profitable. Emphasis added-nw

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman’s New York Times column entitled  “Inequality in the City” also identifies New York’s land use regulations as a major factor in increasing rents.

And this is part of a broader national story. As Jason Furman, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, recently pointed out, national housing prices have risen much faster than construction costs since the 1990s, and land-use restrictions are the most likely culprit. Yes, this is an issue on which you don’t have to be a conservative to believe that we have too much regulation.

The good news is that this is an issue over which local governments have a lot of influence. New York City can’t do much if anything about soaring inequality of incomes, but it could do a lot to increase the supply of housing, and thereby ensure that the inward migration of the elite doesn’t drive out everyone else. And its current mayor understands that.

But will that understanding lead to any action? That’s a subject I’ll have to return to another day. For now, let’s just say that in this age of gentrification, housing policy has become much more important than most people realize.

For all the lip service paid to affordable housing, it will be most interesting if this last meeting of this Charlottesville City Council will addresses this question before they exacerbate the situation with even more costly regulations.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

Neil Williamson December 2 2015 Albemarle BOS meeting Photo Credit Charlottesville TomorrowNeil 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:  City of CharlottesvilleCharlottesville Tomorrow

LGSI Released Finds Disparity in Local Government Spending

By. Neil Williamson, President

As political candidates are vying for election and local governments are starting their FY2016 budget process, our 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 cost of government spending index (LGSI). The report, which studied fiscal years 1990-2014, identified Albemarle County as the locality with the greatest increase in LGSI.

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. clip_image002

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 130% during the study period while population and school enrollment increased by 52% and 35% respectively. 2015 Albemarle Indicators

City of CharlottesvilleDuring the study period (1990-2014), Charlottesville experienced a population increase of just 18%, the second smallest of the municipalities being studied. In addition, Charlottesville experienced a cumulative decline in school enrollment  (-2%).

In contrast, inflation-adjusted operating expenditures increased at 62% during the study period. The LGSI in Charlottesville was 133.28 in 2014 markedly below its 2009 apex.

2015 Charlottesville Indicators

For other localities (Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelsonclip_image004) see the Choices and Decision Report.

In FY2014 per capita spending is as follows (in 2014$):

Charlottesville $ 4,119.32

Albemarle – $ 2,867.31

Nelson – $ 2,637.11

Louisa – $ 2,537.49

Greene – $ 2,419.63

Fluvanna – $ 2,201.50

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, Albemarle had the greatest increase inflation adjusted operating spending per capita at 51.33%, the balance of the localities increased less than 50%. Greene County (28.81%) had the lowest increase.

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

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

20070731williamson

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.