Category Archives: Nelson County

Lessons from Snoopy

By. Neil Williamson, President

This holiday season, perhaps more than most, I am reminded how lucky we are to live in this particular place at this particular time.  Thanks to the generous support of the community the Free Enterprise Forum is celebrating twelve years of making a difference in Central Virginia.

Regular readers of this space are well aware of the many meetings the Free Enterprise Forum covers, often as one of the only members of the public in the room.

This year there were several meetings that were standing room only as Albemarle County considered an expansion of their development area for a brewery prospect.  In this meeting, there were many speakers including Former Albemarle Supervisor Sally Thomas who suggested the Planning Commission was being “bullied” into accepting this economic development prospect.  Our friend, Jeff Werner from Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC), also spoke questioning the due diligence of the County.

Route 29 Solutions logoThis year we also saw the start of Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) construction of the subtlety named “Route 29 Solutions” projects including the one of the newer words in the local lexicon “Rio GSI” for the grade separated intersection being constructed at Rio Road and U.S. 29.  The issues surrounding these projects have provided significant activity over the last forty months.

Last night (12/21) the Charlottesville City Council opted to table the Down Zoning of West Main Street – We have argued in opposition to this affront to property rights while our friends at the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) have, somewhat counter intuitively, jumped on the reduced density in the neighborhood. Another friend John Cruickshank of the Piedmont Chapter of the Sierra Club provided comments in favor of lowering the heights thus reducing the environmental impacts.

Yes, there are important issues and emotions that can divide the community.  With limited exception,  the Central Virginia community has a great deal of respect for those who disagree with them.  This is not true across the Commonwealth.

While the Free Enterprise Forum has, and will continue to, question the logic, strategies and tactics of those opposed to regulatory reform and economic development, we do not question their motivations.  We believe they are working toward their vision of a better community.  We welcome their involvement and, lest anyone think I have been hitting the egg nog, we will still often adamantly disagree.

However this holiday, thinking of the spirited alphabet soup of Free Enterprise Forum opponents (ASAP, PEC, SELC, VDOT,  Etc.)  I am reminded of the 1967 hit from The Royal GuardsmanSnoopy Christmas – Snoopy vs. the Red Baron”.  The Free Enterprise Forum wishes all of Central Virginia, especially those who disagree with us, a blessed holiday season.


The news had come out in the First World War
The bloody Red Baron was flying once more
The Allied command ignored all of its men
And called on Snoopy to do it again.

Twas the night before Christmas, 40 below
When Snoopy went up in search of his foe
He spied the Red Baron, fiercely they fought
With ice on his wings Snoopy knew he was caught.

Christmas bells those Christmas bells
Ring out from the land
Asking peace of all the world
And good will to man

The Baron had Snoopy dead in his sights
He reached for the trigger to pull it up tight
Why he didn’t shoot, well, we’ll never know
Or was it the bells from the village below.

Christmas bells those Christmas bells
Ringing through the land
Bringing peace to all the world
And good will to man

The Baron made Snoopy fly to the Rhine
And forced him to land behind the enemy lines
Snoopy was certain that this was the end
When the Baron cried out, “Merry Christmas, my friend”

The Baron then offered a holiday toast
And Snoopy, our hero, saluted his host
And then with a roar they were both on their way
Each knowing they’d meet on some other day.

Christmas bells those Christmas bells
Ringing through the land
Bringing peace to all the world
And good will to man

Christmas bells those Christmas bells
Ringing through the land
Bringing peace to all the world
And good will to man

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:  Charles Shultz,  Charlottesville Tomorrow


Will The US29 Solutions Panel Find Any?

By. Neil Williamson, President

us 29 logoAs the US29 Solutions Advisory Panel prepares for their final meeting on Thursday, May 8th, we have little doubt regarding the actual outcome of the meeting but we are not convinced the impressive group assembled will be allowed to find any real solutions.

The Free Enterprise Forum continues to believe the work of this panel will be revised, spun and recommended to the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) however “facilitator” Phillip Shucet [and Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne] wants.

us29 woodbrook rd 0830 7.27.11There will be no vote, no test for consensus, Shucet will genteelly say here is what I and the technical team have been working on to  present to the Secretary and CTB, “What do You-all think about that?”.

The panelists, each in turn, will say nice things about the process and followed by a critique of several individual elements in the plan.

Different panelists will have different concerns and all will be dutifully recorded.  The facilitator will nod and make everyone feel as though their individual comments have been exceedingly helpful and, after checking his watch, thank the panel for all their hard work and dedication to the process and to the Commonwealth.

This is not an indictment on the members of the panel who, especially in the latest meeting, have been rather clear in their concerns.  Interestingly, both internal to the meeting and in the media Shucet has suggested he has heard the panel’s concerns but they (and by extension the community) need to keep an open mind.

page 6 (2)Rather than argue the merits of the proposed expressway with 22’ “Depressed Express Lanes” that will not have community (or MPO) support or the “do-ables” that will not have support from down state, I believe the Panel members should push for and alternative plan that is proactive rather than reactive.

Perhaps we can find one positive outcome from this public process charade.

Or as President Ronald Reagan was fond of saying “There has to be a pony in here someplace”.

One of the desired outcomes from the panel is a community supported solution that helps solve the mobility and congestion in the region.

What about a new road?  Not a bypass; Not a parallel road; a brand spanking, smell the asphalt, new road.

For the sake of argument we will call it Virginia Route 229.

Such a  four lane road could start at, or near, the Rapidan River (Madison/Greene County line) and continue to a point at least 10 miles south of the designated Development Area in Albemarle County.  Access to this road would be limited but not eliminated.  There is no alignment presupposed but certainly one should be studied.  It would be a shame to see this panel disband without even considering putting some money aside to look at a real solution to the bottleneck that is Charlottesville.

The model for such a road already exists outside of Richmond — Route 288.  Located one exit before Short Pump, drivers seeking to head south on I-95 have the option to take 288 South to Petersburg rather than dealing with I-295 or I-64.

To be clear this type of concept would be forward thinking.  Any real action on this project would be under, to use Secretary Layne’s verbiage “some future Governor”.

The only question is if the constraints placed on the Route 29 Solutions Advisory Panel will allow it to think that a new road long in the future might actually increase capacity and be part of the answer.

Alternatively, the panel could be forced to think only in political 3.5 year increments of progress and ignore real solutions.

Stay Tuned.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President


20070731williamson 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

Why 2013 is a “GOTV” or “Turnout” Election


BY. Neil Williamson, President

One day left.

Citizens and candidates alike look forward to the end of the election season. As one local incumbent described the process to me recently, “There’s two ways to run, unopposed or scared”.

Regionally, we have one of the most robust ballots in recent history.  While we do not have opponents to our sitting state legislators (which is regrettable), the vast majority of the local elections are contested.  Simply put contested elections make candidates explain and defend their positions thus making the public better informed and generates better policy after the election. 

By virtue of reading this post, you tend to be one of the more engaged community members.  By now, you likely know who is running for local office in your locality.  Hopefully, you know where they stand on issues that are important to you and you have selected the candidate that best represents your views. 

Here in Virginia we like elections so much we hold them every year.  This year is an “off-year” election meaning there are no Federal offices on the ballot but there is a gubernatorial race. By means of contrast the 2012 presidential election year saw 71.78% statewide voter turnout compared with the last “off” year the 2009 Gubernatorial election turnout of 40.4%.

Based on early absentee voting and historical averages, the Free Enterprise Forum anticipates the 2013 statewide election turnout to hover near 40%.  Locally, we may see higher than state average but we do not believe it will exceed 50%.


Based on this projection, roughly half of registered voters likely will not vote this cycle.  Therefore, regardless of the locality, this year’s campaign will come down to which campaign motivates their voters to show up at the polls.

Ballot BoxGet Out The Vote, known as “GOTV”, campaigns have been underway by the major parties, and special interest groups, for a number of weeks.  Likely voters are being contacted via mail, phone, and in person by party operatives and candidates.  Historically, this type of “ground game” can make the difference.  We have seen the amount of shoe leather candidates put into the campaign can have a higher return than signs and advertising in many of the local races.

Every vote matters as evidenced by several recent close elections.  In the 2009 Samuel Miller District Race in Albemarle County, Duane Snow won a three way Board of Supervisors contest by 264 votes. The same year, Shaun Kenney won his Fluvanna Supervisor race by 33 votes. In 2011, Supervisor Davis Lamb won his Ruckersville seat by just 15 votes (with 41 votes going to a candidate who had dropped out of the race). 

Typically turnout elections favor those candidates with well defined and energized constituencies.  While there are a multiplicity of local constituencies with varying levels of organization, the question of election day is which of these constituencies are both motivated and energized.  Put succinctly, what half will show up?Badge

The Free Enterprise Forum is a non partisan public policy organization, as such we embrace elections as the political marketplace for ideas.  We sincerely thank the candidates who are making the sacrifice to run for public office.  We strongly encourage everyone to make your voice heard by voting. 

The candidates have done their job by running now it is up to you – Polls will be open Tuesday from 6 am to 7 pm.—VOTE

If you do not know where you vote, click here for your polling place.

Respectfully Submitted,


Neil Williamson, President


20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded non partisan public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.  For more information visit the website

2013 Local Government Spending Index Released

Study Finds Disparity in Local Government Spending


Charlottesville, VA – As political candidates are vying for election and local governments are starting their FY2015 budget process, a new study shows that the rate of increases in local government spending vary dramatically.    The third iteration of the “Choices and Decisions” report, conducted by the Free Enterprise Forum, developed a locality-specific local cost of government spending index (LGSI).  The report, which studied fiscal years 1990-2012, identified the City of Charlottesville as the locality with the greatest increase in LGSI.

Neil Williamson

Neil Williamson

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

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

 2013 FINAL Combined Chart

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 129% during the study period while population and school enrollment increased by 49% and 30.75% respectively.

City of Charlottesville – During the study period (1990-2012), Charlottesville experienced an average annual rate of population increase of just 11.36%, the smallest of the municipalities being studied. In addition, Charlottesville experienced a cumulative decline in School enrollment (- 4.38%), by far the largest decline in the study group in school enrollment (Nelson -1.29%).

In contrast, inflation-adjusted operating expenditures increased at 79.37% during the study period.  The LGSI in Charlottesville was 176.31 in 2009, but had declined the following two years.  In FY2012, Charlottesville’s LGSI had increased by 5 points to 156.41 still markedly below its 2009 apex.

In FY2012 per capita spending is as follows (in 2012$):

In FY2012 per capita spending was as follows (in 2012$):

Albemarle – $2,837.55

Charlottesvlle – $4,689.66

Fluvanna – $2,129.75

Greene – $2,487.05

Louisa – $2,442.55

Nelson – $2,33.35

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, Charlottesville had the greatest increase spending per capita at 61.07%, Albemarle increased 54.24%, the balance of the localities increased less than 50%.  Nelson County (29.8%) had the lowest increase.

It was also anticipated that school enrollment growth would track population growth. While it does [with 2 exceptions] in every instance the percentage growth in school enrollment was smaller than the growth in population.  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

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“Common Wealth Report” Released


Study Finds Disparity in State Tax Revenue and Disbursements

Charlottesville, VA – Virginia state tax revenue generated by economic activity and the disbursement of such revenue vary dramatically according to a study released today. The Common Wealth Report, underwritten by The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce and compiled by the Free Enterprise Forum, studied state tax revenue generated in each locality for FY2011 and direct State funding for the same period.


At the start of the study, it was theorized that a significant portion of State Tax revenue would return to the locality where it was generated. There seems to be an inverse correlation between economic prosperity and direct state funding. While not universal, those localities with the greatest contribution of State taxes tended to be “donor” localities with less tax revenue returning to the locality when compared with taxes sent to Richmond.

Of the localities studied, the Common Wealth Report identified the City of Petersburg as the largest recipient of State funds as compared to taxes generated. Charlottesville was second with the Commonwealth returning $1.66 in State spending to the locality for every dollar sent to the state.

Fairfax County accounts for 23.5% of all income tax collected in Virginia. Fairfax County is the largest donor locality included in this study. For every tax dollar sent to the Commonwealth, Fairfax receives $0.36 back. Albemarle County is the fourth largest donor locality studied.

The Common Wealth Report does NOT include transportation tax revenue nor transportation spending in its calculations. In addition, due to reporting variations income tax data from FY2009 was used to complete the tax generation data.

Free Enterprise Forum President Neil Williamson said “Our goal in developing the Common Wealth Report is to provide citizens an objective locality-specific metric to be used to compare state tax generation and state spending between municipalities. Perhaps informed with an objective metric such as the Common Wealth Report, additional study can be done to determine what it is citizens are getting for their money and whether they are getting their money’s worth.”

According to Timothy Hulbert, President of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber chose to underwrite this report to “provide guidance for local officials and citizens alike about the importance of economic vitality statewide.

“This report reminds all of us that we are citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia. We in Charlottesville are directly impacted by economic forces in the rest of the state,” Hulbert said.

The Free Enterprise Forum is a privately funded, public policy organization.

Population Growth Report or Manifesto?

By. Neil Williamson, President

This morning’s Daily Progress included an article outlining a report written by Craig Evans considering the fiscal costs and benefits of growth.  This report is underwritten by a local population control advocacy group, Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population (ASAP).  The Free Enterprise Forum was contacted by the paper and asked to provide comment.  Brian Wheeler quotes us accurately in the well written article.  Below is the entirety of our statement on the issue of this troubled “report”.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the Evans report while seemingly accurate in its limited financial analysis fails to recognize the indirect, but calculable, economic benefits of population expansion. The Free Enterprise Forum is concerned the “Counting the Costs and Benefits of Growth Analysis” report by Craig Evans is flawed in design and unfairly prejudiced in its analysis and conclusions.

Much of the Evans report reads significantly more like a political manifesto rather than an academic thesis. Using such terms as “Race to the Bottom” and describing developers as “Speculative Enterprises” do not add to the academic credibility of the report and fails to recognize developers as the very businesses who take the financial risk to bring the community’s comprehensive plan to life.

Taken at face value, the Evans report indicates that the County and City lose roughly $.25 for every dollar collected in residential tax revenue. In FY2011, the City posted a $3.8 Million dollar surplus. How is that possible?

According to NBC29, “The [FY2011] surplus came from a couple of different places. First, the city saved money during the last fiscal year when expenses came in $2.9 million under budget. On top of that, the city collected $900,000 more revenue than expected in 2012 – largely from a spike in sales, meals and lodging taxes”. Only by recognizing the indirect benefit of and important symbiotic relationship between population and revenue producing commercial activities can you reconcile this anomaly.

The Evans report fails to calculate the considerable value of population to economic vitality. It is established that “Retail follows Rooftops” and revenue follows retail. One need only look to Greene County’s recent increase in retail square footage that followed the residential expansion. In addition the retail sales tax local option has increased exponentially in Greene County since the establishment of the retail centers.

In its most telling omission, the Evans Report fails to recognize that every locality in the state must produce a balanced budget. Property Taxes are set by elected officials after consideration of ALL revenue sources. While the property taxes generated by individual homeowners may not cover Evans cost calculations, these same citizens generate the economic activity [sales tax, commercial tax, machine/tool taxes] that allows the locality to keep property taxes lower because of commercial activity.

One thrust of the Evans report is that growth comes with costs. Taken in isolation this is a true statement but when one considers the economic opportunities and advancements such growth also provides.

The Evans report cites Loudoun County as an example of rampant growth and it is true their government spending has accelerated significantly to meet the needs of their community. At one point Loudoun was building a high school a year to keep up with growth in student population. Late last year, Loudoun County was named by the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey as the county with the highest median income per household in the nation. With a median income of more than $119,000, Loudoun households generate almost twice the income than Albemarle households. Yes, there is a cost to growth but the benefits far outweigh the costs.

Paraphrasing Aaron Levenstein, “Statistics are like bikinis. While what they reveal is suggestive, what they conceal is vital”.

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.  For more information visit the website

What’s Three Thousand Hours Worth to You?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Neil at Albemarle Board of SupervisorsIn our almost ten years of operation of the Free Enterprise Forum, it is conservatively estimated we have attended almost 3,000 hours of local government meetings.  Some of these meetings have been well attended with wide media coverage and others city council forum 2009where we have been the only person in the audience.

Our alphabet soup of regular attended local government meetings bos20060825bincludes, but is not neil at MPOlimited to: ACARB, ACPC, ACBOS, CBAR, CCC, CPC, FCBOS, FCPC, GCBOS, GCPC,  LCBOS, LCPC, MPO, PACC, RSWA, RWSA, TJPDC.  Extra points to anyone who can correctly name all the acronyms. 

Why do we go to so many meetings? – so you don’t have to.

Time is money and you don’t have time to get up to speed on all the issues of each locality and attend their respective meetings — but you need to know what happened and how it impacts you and your enterprise.  As the James Taylor song says “That’s Why I’m Here”.

Neil Williamson before the Albemarle County Planning CommissionIt is important to recognize that we not only attend we participate.  Our regular attendance at these meetings provides elected officials and staff an understanding of our commitment to these issues.  Our pro business policy perspective has directly impacted the regulatory environment in every locality we serve.

This year, I was floored to be named “Citizen Planner Of the Year” By the City of Charlottesville Planning Commission.  We are making a difference!

So I have to ask – How much is Three Thousand Hours worth to you?

The Free Enterprise Forum is a 501(c) 6 organization that relies on contributions from organizations, businesses and individuals to maintain operations. 

As we approach the end of the year, we have not yet met our 2012 fundraising target.

Put ever so bluntly, will you put your money where my mouth is?

Please click here for our secure server donation page!

Only with your support will the Free Enterprise Forum continue to be a strong voice in our community.

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- Charlottesville Tomorrow

“New Normal” Demands a New Affordable Housing Diagnosis

This editorial first appeared in The Daily Progress on Sunday, August 26, 2012


By Neil Williamson, President, Free Enterprise Forum

Over the years, Central Virginia localities have attempted to address the need for affordable shelter in a variety of ways.  Every locality is mandated by the Code of Virginia to have an “Affordable Housing” chapter in their comprehensive plan. The Albemarle County Planning Commission is discussing their plan on Tuesday, August 28th.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the state mandate for an affordable housing chapter in comprehensive plans is both out-of-date and has created a myopic view of housing.  We encourage the Commonwealth and localities to use a wider lens and seek to understand how local actions, proffer requirements and regulations impact housing affordability across all price points.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes affordable housing must include the region’s significant affordable rental opportunities in addition to affordable for purchase housing.  Housing policy needs to be timely and comprehensive in addressing the needs of residents at all ages, income levels, and lifestyles.

While each locality is different in its approach, the Free Enterprise Forum believes there has been a misplaced emphasis on the supply side of affordable housing; we contend in most localities there could be an ample supply of affordable housing choices if financing and regulatory hurdles could be removed.

Further, as many of these policies were first written at the top of the housing bubble, it would be wise to revisit the concepts and the assumptions with the “new normal” in mind. 

If there is any lesson learned from the latest housing crash, it is that not everyone needs to, or should be, a homeowner.  Homeownership is of great value to a community but it is not for everyone.  National housing experts seem to agree 60-65% homeownership is sustainable.    Most of our localities already exceed this measure. 

What is each locality’s homeownership goal? 

Should a locality have a goal?

homeownership chart

Source US Census 2010

It is important to note that the City of Charlottesville’s percentage of homeownership is significantly lower than the neighboring localities. 

Is this a bad thing?

Much of the City’s housing is rental student housing.  The University of Virginia generally houses just 30% of its full-time students on grounds.  The balance fills rental opportunities in both the City of Charlottesville and to a lesser extent the urban ring of Albemarle County. In addition, the compact design and availability of public transit increase viability of city rentals.

For the purposes of this discussion, affordable is defined as dwelling units with a monthly cost equal or less than 30% of the household income at 80% of area median income.  If we use an annual median income of $50,000, 80% of that income is $40,000 which suggests a budget of $1,200 a month for shelter (30%*40,000).  Albemarle County currently defines affordable as “Maximum sales price of $211,250.  Rents would be determined based on bedroom size and tenant-paid utilities; ex. 2br $1,029 maximum with owner paying all utilities”

Failure of Financing – The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) provides financing for the vast majority of “affordable” buyers.  The FHA is reluctant to finance condominium purchases, wary of the restrictions placed on property owners holding such property.  This regulatory roulette keeps many families off what could be their first step on the homeownership ladder.

A recent property search of the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) Multiple Listing Service (MLS) resulted in 582 properties being listed at $175,000 or less.  When condominiums were eliminated from the search, the number of properties available dropped by more than 18% to 473.  If FHA financing regulations were reduced, the number of truly affordable units for purchase would increase without building one “new” unit.

Down Payment Catch 22 – Down payment assistance money is being left on the table.   Financing issues are by far the most difficult to conquer.  Despite interest rates being at a historic low point, the number of folks who can qualify for a mortgage in the current market is relatively small.

With this difficulty of folks being able to qualify for mortgage financing because of  tightening of credit terms, the unintended result is the inability of down payment assistance funds to be distributed to those in need.  In order to qualify for the assistance, applicants must not exceed certain income limits and such a limited income (and a low credit score) will not qualify for the needed underlying mortgage financing.

Cost of “Public Services” Harms Affordability – Most planners agree locating affordable shelter near services makes for more efficient delivery of such services.  To build in such “development areas” requires the unit to hook up to public water and sewer.  The cost of these hook ups is $10,000 each in Greene County (slightly lower in the other localities). 

When presented with this question last year, Albemarle County Service Authority (ACSA) Executive Director Gary O’Connell said that the ACSA is about building and maintaining infrastructure as well as providing water and sewer service efficiently to its customers; affordable housing is not an ACSA issue.

Cost of Community Design Harms Affordability – Many of the localities have pursued a complete street philosophy regarding new neighborhood construction.  A complete street may include curb, gutter, bike lane, on street parking, street trees and a sidewalk.  Each of these mandated amenities comes at a cost, making the delivery of affordable housing even more challenging.

Overlapping/Conflicting Agency Responsibilities Harms Affordability – Super agencies such as Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), US Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), and Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) often have overlapping jurisdiction with localities and each other, the additional time it takes to sort out this alphabet soup of regulators adds time and cost to every project.

Rental Stock Blinders – While the state code is very clear that rental housing is a part of the housing equation and several localities include the use of “affordable housing” proffers on rental assistance, rarely is such housing considered when calculating the availability of affordable housing.  

A recent review of the Blue Ridge Apartment Council website showed 158 properties currently available for rental under $850 a month.  While no such rental database exists for the outlying counties, it is reasonable to assume a significant portion of the affordable housing in those communities is being provided by private landlords both with and without the use of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) vouchers.  Comprehensive plans must recognize the significant role affordable rental stock has on the market.  In addition, localities should embrace the property owner community and build bridges to better serve these important taxpayers and service providers.

As localities prepare their five-year revisions of their comprehensive plans, the Free Enterprise Forum has several questions related to their housing policies:

  • What is the locality’s goal percentage of owner occupied housing and why?
  • What is a sustainable rate of homeownership?
  • Is rental stock considered a part of the locality’s affordable housing inventory?
  • How is the locality helping property owners achieve affordability?
  • What is the level of community investment dedicated to affordable housing?
  • Is the locality providing financial literacy training?
  • If new affordable housing stock is created how will is stay affordable?
  • Should dwelling units be distributed equally throughout the community or should they be focused close to services (transit, employment opportunities etc.)?
  • Some of the affordable housing stock is of low quality.  This makes it less desirable for purchase and more expensive to maintain.  Can/should affordable housing policies include incentives to upgrade, or replace, substandard housing stock?
  • Can, and should, localities forgive or reduce required fees on new affordable housing creation?

Just as the housing market is dynamic, the discussion of affordability must be an ongoing conversation.  The Free Enterprise Forum welcomes an open, comprehensive discussion regarding how to best support our community’s housing goals.

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,

Reading the Local Tax Revenue Cereal Box

By Neil Williamson, President

Feet-on-treadmills-e1325683225938Many people make New Year’s resolutions to live healthier.  Some of these folks fill the local gyms for the first couple weeks of the year.  You know the type, hyper-energized to make a difference by adding exercise to their routine as they strategically park their car closest to the health club entrance.

However, those individuals who are most successful with their healthy resolutions recognize not only exercise (output) is important but what, andcerealboxesnutrition how much, you eat has a direct, dramatic impact on wellness levels.

How does this possibly relate to local government? 

Please let me explain.

The local government budget season is now upon us.  The annual, and often substantiated, cries of unfunded state mandates echo from Palmyra to Lovingston.  While “equalized” tax rates and assessment accuracy continue to be annual topics of controversy, The Free Enterprise Forum is examining the local tax revenue cereal box to see if there is anything we can learn from the revenue types and trends.

In the City of Charlottesville, for instance, almost 12% of all FY2013 General Fund revenue comes from the City/County Revenue Sharing agreement.  This is the second largest source of revenue behind only Real Estate Taxes which, at $50,074,178, make up just over 34% of General Find revenue.

house redIn the County Administrator’s proposed budget, Fluvanna County anticipates their real estate tax revenues will exceed $20.7 Million for FY2013.  This is more than double their actual collections for FY2011.  Real Estate Taxes are projected to make up more than 50% of their Local General Fund revenue.    

This compares favorably with Greene County where FY2013 Real Estate tax revenue is projected to be just over $12.5 million and represents just over 50% of total local revenueNelson County Real Estate Tax Revenue makes up 62% of its local revenue.

In Albemarle County FY12/13 Budget totals $311.7 million dollars.  According to the proposed budget the largest portion of revenue is coming from Real Estate taxes which is expected to generate $111.9 million or 50.4% of all local revenue.

Louisa County has the highest percentage of local tax revenue from property taxes with 87% of all local revenue represented by property taxes.  Interestingly in Fairfax County, 60.1% of Local General Tax Revenue comes from property taxes; to the tune of $2.1 Billion dollars. 

It is important to note that all of the above numbers include both residential and commercial real estate taxes. 

So of all of these localities, Charlottesville has the lowest percentage of General Fund Revenue from Real Estate at just over a third of local revenue. 

In addition, based on our initial analysis it seems that the recession is actually causing local governments to be increasingly dependent on local property taxes. 

Just as your doctor might suggest just exercising won’t make you fit, should we be looking at our local revenue sources?

While the budget battles wage on the Free Enterprise Forum asks rather than jockeying for what specific spending program should be increased or decreased what if localities worked to grow the revenue side of the ledger?

Just an idea.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


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.  For more information visit the website

Get’cha Head in the Game and VOTE

By. Neil Williamson, President

The 2006 Disney Movie High School Musical featured a mind numbing HS Musicalsong called Get’cha Head in the Game.  Despite the inane catchiness of the song, it has a solid message for our local 2011 elections.

In our Apathy Increases Voter Value post, The Free Enterprise Forum has already written about the importance of your vote in next Tuesday’s  November 8th election.

While 77% of the registered voters are projected to NOT cast ballots this “off-off” year election, how many of the balance will cast knowledgeable votes?

Do you know who you are voting for?

Do you know what issues the candidates agree on?

or where they differ from each other?

If not, why not?

Regular readers know the Free Enterprise Forum is appreciative of all who put themselves up for election.  It is a very time consuming and ego challenging thing to do.  Elections are about ideas, the candidates have, for the most part, put their ideas out for the voters to see.  Have you looked?

The work of an election does not fall completely on the candidates.  Do you know where you vote?  many polling places have changed due to the census data.  Take two minutes right now today and confirm your polling place with the Virginia Board of Elections by clicking here  I’ll wait.

OK, now that you know where you are going to vote, the question of who you plan to vote for is of equal importance.  In addition to the candidates’ web sites, Facebook pages and advertising there are other sources of information:

As a reader of this blog, you already know more about the issues facing local government than the average citizen.  You owe it to yourself and your community to continue your education, learn about the candidates AND syms

To paraphrase the late Sy Syms – “An educated Voter is our best citizen”.

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.  For more information visit the website

Photo Credits: Disney, New York Daily News