Category Archives: economics

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

New SNP Superintendent Updates Greene Supervisors

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

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Superintendent Jennifer Flynn

Shenandoah National Park (SNP) has a new superintendent – Jennifer Flynn, as of 2017. She addressed the Greene Board of Supervisors at their April 11th meeting.

Flynn succeeds Jim Northrup who retired after a 36 year career and she served as Northrup’s deputy superintendent since 2009.

Flynn reported that 2016 saw a record 1.45 million visitors in the park, up 8.3%, which was in celebration of the centennial of the SNP. The park also held its first naturalization service with 80 new US citizens. In addition, she highlighted the parks Night Sky Program  and the musical programs as highlights of last summer’s programs.

The fiscal benefits to Greene County being beside the SNP are tangible. $87.9 million was spent in the park and the surrounding 50 mile area in 2016. 300 jobs were provided within the park and it is estimated that over another 800 jobs near the park exist to service the visitors of the park.

Flynn visited Madison County earlier in the day to celebrate the first memorial for the Blue Ridge Heritage Project.  The project is seeking to place memorials in the eight counties surrounding SNP with the family names of those who were made to leave their homes in the creation of the park. erect Already erecting a temporary memorial, Greene County is in the planning and fundraising stages for their permanent  memorial to remember the families that were forced to give up their land to form the park.

clip_image006Flynn invited the supervisors to visit the park if they haven’t in several years. The food service is in the middle of a 10 year contract with a new food vender and the increased revenue has allowed the park to upgrade many of their facilities.

Finally, a new program is being tried this April. On April 23rd the north district is being closed off the motorized traffic so that bicycles, joggers, etc. can safely use the road. Already 4,000 bikers have reserved to participate for the day.

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

A Tradition Like No Other–Albemarle Again Seeks to Ban Golf

By. Neil Williamson

Adapted from comments to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors April 5th, 2017

Wow, did you fit a great deal into today’s consent agenda.

The sheer number of resolutions of intent required almost the entire alphabet for attachments.  Clearly what started as “Code Housekeeping” has been greatly expanded to a seismic shift of Albemarle’s Planning Philosophy. In the interest of time I will highlight only two of these shifts.

Old Trail Golf Course (in the Rural Area)

#1.  Banning golf courses.  Perhaps it is fitting that this week, the week of the Masters golf tournament, the Board of Supervisors is voting on effectively eliminating new golf courses. Attachment T of your consent agenda item item 8.4.

While this proposal would eliminate golf, swim and tennis club special use permits in the Rural Areas, it really would ban golf courses in Albemarle County.  The concept of putting a golf course in the development area would be an economic challenge and would eliminate roughly 200 acres of developable land. The Free Enterprise Forum notes earlier in this meeting you thanked the donors of 1,500 acres of rural area land for a park – does not parkland recreation have many of the same impacts as a golf course?  Perhaps Albemarle wishes to eliminate your rural park policies as well.

#2 Shrinking the Development Area using Net vs. Gross density – This deep in the weeds issue will have the likely intended consequence of lowering by right residential density therefore increasing the demand for rezonings and increasing the cost of housing in the community.  For two decades, we have heard that placing residents in the development areas provides more efficient delivery of government services.  Why now are you going the other direction?  The perhaps unintended consequence of this action will be to significantly reduce the carrying capacity of the development areas and therefore accelerate the need for an expansion of the development areas.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes these two examples can trace their lineage to individualNIMBY-sign-0411b applications (or proposals) that ended up not moving forward.  In these cases the NIMBY’s (Not In My Backyard) won.  Now these same forces are pursuing regulatory changes that are counter to Albemarle’s planning philosophies but suit their needs; rather than pursuing an anti economic development spot zoning decision they are pushing the NIABY (Not In Anybody’s Backyard) agenda.

In this election year, I know this Board will not reject any of the alphabet soup attachments on the consent agenda.  I can only hope that these proposed ordinance changes will be fairly researched and debated by all and that the Board of Supervisors stands up to the CAVE (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) agenda and consider the impact of your decisions on the basic pillars of your planning philosophy.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

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

Photo Credits: Old Trail Golf Club

Albemarle Economic Development X Files

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

i want to believeAlbemarle County says that it is in favor of economic development.  The former County Executive Tom Foley went so far as to say it is a “new day in Albemarle” regarding being open for business.  A couple of supervisors have even gone on the road attempting to drum up public support for economic vitality.

I find myself thinking of the 1990’s science fiction series the X-files where two FBI agents, Fox Mulder the believer and Dana Scully the skeptic, investigate the strange and unexplained, while hidden forces work to impede their efforts.

Just as Fox Mulder in the X-Files, I want to believe Albemarle, but the facts keep getting in the way.

Please let me explain.

In big ways and small, Albemarle seems to be losing ground.

Losing Faith, Missing Deadlines

When Economic Development Director Faith McClintic resigned in October 2016, Foley stated:

I am pleased that Faith will continue leading the development of the county’s first economic development strategic plan through the plan’s presentation to the Board in mid-December, and we will work with her during that time to assist in her transition to her new job responsibilities in Richmond.

But that did not happen.

In the same article, McClintic seemingly dissed Albemarle stating:

“I have told the county that I will finish the economic development plan so that if they get the political will to do it, they will have a roadmap,” she said. [emphasis added –nw]

Perhaps because of her comments on her way out the door,  McClintic did not complete the work she started.

We now understand a Richmond based consultant has been engaged to conduct stakeholder interviews and complete the economic development strategic plan with a late May delivery date to the Board of Supervisors.

False Expectations

Interestingly, as Albemarle’s Planning Commission seems to want the opportunity to weigh in on all sorts of issues beyond their direct scope of work, I was heartened when the Chairman wrote in an e-mail to the Free Enterprise Forum in Late July 2016:

 

“Last evening (7/26), under New Business (after your departure) the planning commissioners briefly discussed your comments under “matters from the public.” We wonder if you might expand on your thoughts in a 1-3 page “discussion piece” for our review, reflection and comment at a future meeting.

Thank you.

Best regards,

Tim

J. Timothy Keller – At-Large Commissioner and Chair
Albemarle Co. Planning Commission

Never one to turn away an opportunity to participate, I provided my Economic Development Homework Assignment from Albemarle PC.  In the post I posed a simple question:

The question is not only does Albemarle want to compete – the question is does Albemarle want to win?

Then………crickets.

Despite specifically requesting my input for their “review, reflection and comment” the Planning Commission has yet to take up the six basic concepts we raised in our so called “thought paper”.

Perception is Reality

Last week, Virginia Business ran an article about “Getting on the Radar” regarding Richmond’s economic development efforts.  Writer Paula Squires quoted national site consultant Tom Striger who explained why Austin, Texas is not as hot as it once was:

… he referred to Austin as a cautionary tale. For years, it enjoyed the buzz of being a young, hip, university town, and it drew corporate relocations.

Yet when Austin needed to invest in infrastructure, such as building new roads or expanding its airport, the city balked, Stringer said, out of fear of damaging its charm.

That’s where Austin has gone off the rails. People don’t go to Austin anymore. 

It takes three years for a building permit, and there’s no incentives. You have to live 20 miles from the city or put the facility near San Antonio. ‘It’s a privilege to be in Austin.’ That’s the mindset you have to avoid.”[emphasis added –nw]

Sound familiar?

Back in 2015, during the Deschutes Brewery discussion we wrote about Albemarle’s New Day or Arrogance:

 During my daughter’s accepted seniors college tour we heard two types of pitches from the schools she was considering the first “We are a great school, you are lucky to be considered” vs the college president saying directly “If you hear just one thing today please know, we want you here”.  Guess which school we selected. …

…. Please do not return to the Albemarle Arrogance that says to those who want to operate a business “you’re lucky to be here” and instead say you are “open for business” [emphasis added –nw]

Albemarle could benefit from a good hard look in the mirror.

Yes, there are a couple champions for economic development on the Board of Supervisors, but they are not in the majority.

Five months after McClintic’s departure and with Foley now leading Stafford County, Albemarle is without a County Executive, without an Economic Development Director and without a strategic plan to move economic development forward.I still want to believe

But I still want to believe.

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.

Charlottesville’s Paid Parking ‘Canary in the Coal Mine’ ?

By. Neil Williamson, President

According to the Fairfax County Times, about five hundred people marched in protest on March 4th of the paid parking system implemented by Reston Town Center (RTC) owner and manaReston march 4 Parking Protest Phot Credit Angela Woolsey Fairfax County Timesger Boston Properties in January.

Yesterday (3/13) The Washington Post ran an article titled End of Free Parking is the Last Straw for Some Reston Residents which highlighted business owners concerns:

But businesses in the Northern Virginia suburb, about 23 miles west of Washington, say there has been a noticeable drop in customer traffic since the fees took effect and parking enforcement officers began writing tickets.

Why should Charlottesville care about what is happening in Reston? 

Because we see this push back on this private sector parking operation as a ‘Canary in the Coal Mine’ for Charlottesville

In the early 20th Century, coal miners used to take canaries into coal mines with them. Canaries are more sensitive to dangerous gases than humans are. As long as the bird was singing, the miners knew they were safe but if the canary stopped singing/died, the miners knew to evacuate.

RTC, much like Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall, was a long time in coming mixed use economic success.  Founded in 1990 (the same year Charlottesville removed parking meters), RTC is a new urbanist walkable development is surrounded by parking decks for customer/resident parking.  The retail mix within both properties is similar in type (banks, clothing, hotel and restaurants) if not specific brands.  An important distinction between the Downtown Mall and RTC is that RTC is privately held by a single entity and does not require governmental approval or significant public process to change parking regulations on their private property.

Parking, which in most of Northern Virginia’s shopping districts is ‘free’ has become an issue in both Charlottesville and Reston.   

According to the Washington Post story:

Boston Properties, which took over full ownership of the town center in 2015, had planned for years to implement fees for garage and curb spaces. In 2011, when it was moving to acquire town center parcels, the company estimated that the parking fees would generate as much as $8 million per year. Officials now say the amount will probably be lower…Reston Parking Enforcement Phot Credit Pete Marovich Washington Post

… Im Sun “Sunny” Park, owner of Obi Sushi restaurant, said sales have dropped by about a third since January. As she spoke, she watched a Boston Properties parking enforcement officer outside the restaurant leave a citation on the windshield of a car parked on the street.

“I see them giving tickets all day,” Park said. “They are killing business.”

Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs reports Charlottesville is moving forward with their test of metered parking:

A six-month test of parking meters around Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall could begin as early as August. Officials believe that if the project is successful, it will improve the chances of finding a parking spot near the mall.  “What we hope that it does is open up some of those spaces,” said Rick Siebert, hired last year as the city’s first parking manager. “What we’d like to do is have people drive down a block and actually see an open space.”…

The council also has authorized the establishment of an enterprise fund to support creation of the city parking department, which is overseen by Siebert. The department will be supported by revenue from parking garages, parking meters, fines and payments for permits required for special zones in the city.

It is interesting the different visions of free parking among those involved in the process.  One of the commenters to the Washington Post story (hockeymom1) wrote:

I live nearby and will not go to any of the retail or restaurants at Reston. Tysons, Mosaic and Dulles are free. Bethesda, which has less parking available and expensive land, charges quarter an hour! $2.00 an hour is insane! This article was good. I had not realized that once the developer had full control they wasted no time implementing fees! 

On the other hand, perhaps not surprisingly since his new department will be funded by such fees, Charlottesville Tomorrow quoted Charlottesville’s Parking Manager:

“When you make something free, people don’t value it,” Siebert said. “People look for those spaces and they tend to camp out in them. Everyone’s heard of the two-hour shuffle, where people drive around the block after two hours looking for another space, adding to traffic congestion.”

Perhaps Charlottesville can learn from Covington’s MainStrasse parking fiasco.  A popular neighborhood outside of Cincinnati, their innovative paid parking plan included solar powered parking kiosks. When launched in March 2016, the Covington City Website sounded very similar to Charlottesville’s current parking diagnosis:

“The goal with this plan is to alleviate existing issues and modernize parking on streets and in City-owned lots,” said City Engineer Mike Yeager. “The parking plan was created after working with the community to understand concerns about things like residents having a difficult time finding available on-street parking and businesses being affected by to the unrestricted parking times in front of their buildings.”

According to a January 17, 2017 article on Cincinnati.com the MainStrasse program fell swiftly on its face:

Under the parking program, the city charged for parking in MainStrasse for the first time in the history of the neighborhood. It also restricted many blocks to residential parking only.

But residents and businesses complained it made parking much more difficult. Parking kiosks didn’t work. Businesses lost customers. … The pay parking pushed cars into the residential areas not restricted by permits.

The city commission suspended the parking program indefinitely until the city can come up with a new parking plan.

The pay parking kiosks will be shuttered and the residential parking restrictions in MainStrasse lifted, Mayor Joe Meyer said.

canary in coal mine photo credit share.america.govWhile it is heartening to see Charlottesville position parking meters as a “pilot” and only a part of the parking solutions considered. 

Available parking is the life’s blood of most small businesses. 

The Free Enterprise Forum hopes the City Council will pay attention when the canary stops singing – local businesses (as well as the jobs and taxes they generate) will be at risk.

Only time will tell.

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: Angela Woosley, Fairfax County Times, Pete Marovich, Washington Post, Share.America.gov

March Madness–Albemarle’s Planning Philosophy

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Oregon_St_Utah_Basketball.JPG_t1140Imagine you are a college basketball player and in the final tournament game, the officials change the rules – calling fouls that usually would be ignored and ignoring others that would usually be called.

In addition, the basket automatically changes height dependent on which player is shooting and from where. There was no change at the rules committee, there was no open discussion amongst coaches – those charged with making the decisions just changed how they judged things – this is Albemarle County planning philosophy today.

Please let me explain.

Albemarle, in big ways and small, is changing the way they look at property where the Rural Areas and Development Area boundaries meet. The Comprehensive Plan, which is only a guideline, calls for density up to the edge of the development area (see below) but recent actions see that philosophical pillar being eroded.

On the development area side, the Adelaide proposed subdivision  on the edge of the Crozet development area provides one example of eroding, or perhaps evolving, planning philosophy.

In the Crozet master plan the land was designated for “3-6 dwelling units an acre” – the Adelaide proposal came in at 5.5 units an acre. (editor’s note the Free Enterprise Forum does not take positions on specific projects only policy thus had no position on this or any other application).

In her defense of her vote in opposition, Supervisor Ann Mallek wrote to the Crozet Gazette:

I stand behind my vote to deny Adelaide to uphold important features of the Crozet master plan … .The primary reasons for my vote were stated in the resolution I read as part of my motion to deny. Three supervisors thought the density was acceptable at the high end of the range. Three thought the density should be at the low end of the range. A 3-3 tie results in denial of the application.

Additional reasons for my vote:

  • New density on the edge of the growth area, surrounded by forest and rural uses, should be at the low end of the range suggested in the comprehensive plan and master plan for Crozet. …
  • The highest density buildings were placed at the highway, further encroaching on the rural nature of the State Scenic byway. Emphasis added – nw

Regarding the rural side of the line, earlier this year during a discussion of Farm Winery, Brewery and Distillery events, Supervisor Diantha McKeel said:

We’re looking at, in my district, on Hydraulic Road, in the middle of the urban ring.. an event center [winery] essentially an event center surrounded by 25,000 homes. It is in the rural area but in the urban ring.  The folks that live in the area are very patient with music from Albemarle High School, they love the band on Friday night – but to have something that brings in this type of traffic and noise and impacts without some restrictions is unnerving and I get that it is a little unusual place.

To prevent having rural enterprises adjacent to the development areas Supervisor Rick Randolph suggested:

Perhaps none of the edges of the winery parcel can be outside of the rural area.

Albemarle County Attorney Greg Kamptner informed Randolph such a provision would be in violation of state law.

All of this discussion took place despite the explicit direction of Albemarle’s Comprehensive plan that calls for clear edges between development and rural areas.  Interestingly the very neighborhood McKeel discussed was called out in the plan

8.26 Albemarle Comprehensive Plan Clear Boundaries with the Rural Area

Strategy 2r: Promote use of Development Area land up to the boundary with the Rural Area. Do not require transitional areas between the Rural Area and Development Areas. Part of Albemarle’s beauty and attractiveness for residents and visitors is their ability to clearly see and appreciate the features of both the Rural Area and Development Areas. Discerning the boundary between the designated Rural Area and the Development Areas is important because it affects where and how new development should take place.. . .

Visual clues are also helpful in identifying the Development Areas-Rural Area interface. Land use on Rural Area Edgeboth sides of the boundary should be so distinct that residents and visitors know they are in the Development Areas or the Rural Area. Theses visual differences help to define expectations and appreciation for the different areas. Figure 20 clearly shows that the left side of Rio Road is in the Rural Area and the right side is in the Development Areas. . .

Transitions of large-lot subdivisions at the boundary are discouraged, as they are neither rural nor urban.They are too small for agricultural uses and muddy the edge. Emphasis added – nw

One easy solution would be to expand the development areas to encompass what McKeel calls the urban ring.  Dependent on the size of the expansion it could create, for a time, a buffer area of non conforming uses.

The larger core question revolves around the duality of two comprehensive plan land types, Development and Rural. A plurality of planners today see the world in a less binary reality.  The most popular planning philosophy of the day deals with the concept of “Transects” which is taken from the environmental sciences.

The Center for Applied Transect Studies (CATS) Explains transects this way:

To systemize the analysis and coding of traditional patterns, a prototypical American rural-to-urban transect has been divided into six Transect Zones, or T-zones, for application on zoning maps. Standards were written for the first transect-based codes, eventually to become the SmartCode, which was released in 2003 by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company.

transect

 

A similar picture appears in Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan.  Interesting question – where would you say the development area starts in the image above?  T-3?  T-4?

Based on recent actions, it is difficult to say where the Supervisors believe the Development areas begin and the rural areas end.

  • The question is how does this now shaky planning philosophy pillar impact the community vetted master plans and how does the rural area gain a voice in the discussion since by design they are outside of the master plan areas?
  • Should Albemarle consider abandoning its density dogma across the entire development area and seek to create a new comprehensive plan category?
  • A further question would be if Albemarle should consider proactively rezoning all the development areas land to make the community supported densities occur rather than the adversarial nature of the current rezoning process.

Once again we have more questions than answers, let March Madness begin.

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: Denver Post, Albemarle County, Center for Applied Transect Studies

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

Albemarle Passes The Bucks ($1.4 Million) To Unelected CACs

By Neil Williamson, President

piggy-bankIn Wednesday’s (2/1) meeting, without so much as a formal public hearing, Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors plans to send a $1.4 million dollar piggy bank to the unelected Citizen Advisory Councils so that the elected officials don’t have to make the hard budget choices.

Nothing they are doing is illegal, it’s just not right.  Please let me explain.

Albemarle’s annual Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) Budget is laborious and involves significant number of staff hours to determine the staff priority for Capital projects such as vehicles, buildings and renovations.

Over the last 13 years the Free Enterprise Forum has been impressed with the level of detail and careful consideration the CIP committee (including citizen representation and 2 elected BOS members) have put into these discussions.  There have been times when one geographic portion of the development areas had CIP projects that garnered higher scores by the committee and these were funded rather than less urgent projects.

The new “Neighborhood Funding Initiative” would siphon off $1.4 million of the annual CIP budget and allocate it geographically and by population.  The staff has proposed a formula to accomplish this task:

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Staff has simply developed this Board driven concept.  In fact, the staff report hints at a better manner to utilize citizen involvement along with the elected officials within the current CIP process.

staff has conducted best practices research which is summarized as Attachment A that revealed that the majority of these types of community focused improvement funding programs fall into three basic categories:  neighborhood matching grants; formal citizen involvement in capital planning; and citizen-driven Capital Improvement Programs. After hearing the Board’s discussion, staff thinks that the third category may most clearly align with the Board’s preferences, so the program has been designed along those lines.  If the Board would like this program to be more closely incorporated in the already existing CIP review, evaluation and ranking process that would be another viable approach.

The Free Enterprise Forum has long been a critic of the unelected CACs.

In 2009 we wrote:

The Free Enterprise Forum believes citizen groups (including us) should have the ability to be active participants in the workings of local government.  That being said, we are increasingly concerned that the leadership function of some Boards and Commissions may be inappropriately delegating to community organizations.

With the proposed policy change, beyond effective regulatory veto power over development projects that would advance the community vetted comprehensive plan, Albemarle now seems poised to give these unelected “mission creeping” Citizen Advisory Councils the county purse strings as well.

As the Supervisors continue to delegate, I wonder what will be left for them to do … besides run for reelection.

As we said in 2009:

In the end, elected leaders must lead, not delegate, if citizens don’t like the direction they should replace the leaders.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Stay tuned.

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

Greene Supervisors and School Board Kick Off Budget Season

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Prior to the second January Board of Supervisors meeting, the Greene County Board of Supervisors and the School Board held a workshop to begin the budget process. Leah Paladino, School Board Chair, led the discussion and reviewed the schools needs and priorities.

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Leah Paladino

Specifically the next school budget is looking several major issues – 1) a Virginia Retirement System (VRS) increase, 2) health insurance increase and 3) a one-time bonus – depending on Richmond’s decision. The impact of the increased local cost of the VRS is being estimated at $326,000 or a 10% increase.

Superintendent Andrea Whitmarsh’s understanding is that this increase statewide would fully fund the VRS system per what state auditors estimate is required. Health insurance is estimated to increase by 15% or $357,000 and the impact of the potential one-time bonus  is estimated at $291,000.

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At the same time, this reporter has been in communication with Delegate Rob Bell asking him about fully funding the VRS fund. His reply on January 18th was “I continue to supports efforts to achieve full funding with legislation……one of the challenges is that the budget can supercede other bills, which makes it harder to create long-term policy”. I replied asking would he sponsor a bill to prohibit “borrowing” VRS funds for anything other than retirement and when will the VRS fund be fully funded per the states independent auditors. I am still awaiting a response to that email.

clip_image005Supervisor Jim Frydl (Midway), the School Board liaison, commented that the increased VRS cost and the bonus are examples of state mandated costs being passed to the counties while the state maintains they are balancing the state The three items total nearly $1 million before addressing any operational needs – such as new text books, additional teachers and aides, updated computer equipment, etc.

As the school board pointed out, the school staffing in 2009 was 511 and over the next five years the staffing was reduced by 41 to 470 or an 8% reduction while over the same period the number of students rose from 2,852 to 3,099 or 9%. The combination of more students with fewer staff caused the ratio of students vs. staff to increase by 18% from 2009 to 2014.

Whitmarsh’s comment on the dramatic change was that reductions in staffing have been made by 2014 and since then the staff have been in sync with the increase in student population.

County Administrator John Barkley asked Whitmarsh if salaries in Greene were competitive?

Superintendent Whitmarsh indicated that there is an ongoing issue in regards to losing teachers with several years experience to Charlottesville and Albemarle County due to both wages and benefits lagging.clip_image007

Kristie Spenser, Director of Business and Facilities, addressed the health insurance increase and attributed it to four major claims which is causing the loss ratio in Greene to be higher than normal as opposed to last year when claims were below the norm.

Supervisor Bill Martin (Stanardsville) asked Whitmarsh how the morale of the staff in the schools is. Whitmarsh felt that in general it is improving, you always have some happy and some unhappy, but raises have been given recently and Paladino felt that teachers have been empowered, encouraged to innovate and moral is increasing.

Whitmarsh thanked the Board of Supervisors for the meeting and it will help them at their budget work session the next night – Wednesday, January 25th. She asked that if the Supervisors needed any further information to just ask and they will be glad to provide any data needed to help them understand the school’s needs. Likewise Martin offered to meet with the School Board if they felt it would help the budget process.

At the regular meeting of the Board of Supervisors, Michelle Flynn was elected to the Chair for 2017 and Dale Herring was elected to the Vice Chair position.

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