Tag Archives: board of supervisors

Fluvanna Increases Taxes, Reduces Capital Spending and Pulls From Fund Balance to Make FY19 Budget

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

Last month, the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors passed a FY19 budget that included a real estate tax rate of $0.939, an increase of three cents.

Part of the reason for that increase was health insurance was slated to increase $435,000. After some renegotiation, staff got a final figure of an increase of $228,000. However, the budget was already built with the larger figure.

Supervisors have decided to keep the budget as is and at the completion of the year will return that money to the fund balance, the county’s savings.

The budget included $127,000 operational cut, including $14,000 from nonprofits. Supervisors were presented with options to restore some of the cuts or at least make the nonprofits whole. Instead, the majority of the board decided to proceed with the cuts and if the departments needed to, the department head can come to the board to ask for additional money.

“Your (department) budgets are tight already. It is detrimental,” said Steve Nichols, county administrator. He noted the budgets were already very lean.

Nonprofits won’t get that opportunity because the county will send in pledges and some of those nonprofits will be part of the $14,000 cut. These cuts are reducing the amount the county will pledge to the individual nonprofits.

At the May 16 meeting, the supervisors will finalize which nonprofits will be cut.

The FY19 budget does include pulling $403,000 from the fund balance to balance the budget. The supervisors also took another $1.3 million for the capital improvement plan.

Nichols2014

Steve Nichols

“Frankly, if we can save some money, it would be great to put it back into the fund balance,” said Nichols.

The projected FY20 budget needs about $2.3 million, or 7.7 real estate tax cents, to balance.

The tax rate will get some relief next year because the county is doing a reassessment and property values are increasing. Whenever that happens, the tax rate adjusts inversely. But still, the need for additional tax revenue will be there for next year.

The budget has two factors that are not decreasing: employees (salary and benefits) and debt service. Debt service will stay level but employee salary and benefits will continue to rise.

While the county is aggressively trying to attract new businesses to help alleviate the tax burden on rooftops, any business coming will not have immediate impact.

The next meeting is May 16 at 7 p.m. with a proceeding 6 p.m. session.

The Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® and by the support of readers like you.

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The Need for an Albemarle Rain Tax Vote

An open letter to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors

By. Neil Williamson, President, Free Enterprise Forum

Dear Supervisors,

PrintAfter significant public discussion, tomorrow the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will be discussing the future of the proposed Stormwater Utility Fee (AKA Rain Tax).

Your staff has done an exemplary job bringing this option this far. This was time well spent and needed for the community to understand the stormwater needs and costs. The Free Enterprise Forum applauds staff’s accessibility and clarity in their public interactions and documentation.

With all due respect, the Free Enterprise Forum calls on the supervisors to do two simple things as a part of that discussion:

  1. Make a recorded vote up or down
  2. Vote NO on the Rain Tax.

As you know, The Free Enterprise Forum has been opposed to the Rain Tax concept  since it was first discussed.  We are asking you to put your vote on the record to counter the vote of September 2016 when your body endorsed a one vote majority committee position to move forward with the Rain Tax.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because you have heard the hundreds of citizens who have attended town halls, telephoned or e-mailed their very real concerns with the inequity in the proposal.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because the community has expressed support for the important stormwater projects but not for this top-heavy funding mechanism.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because as proposed $1.2 million dollars annually would go toward “enforcement/regulation and administration”.  These funds could be better spent on significant community needs, including stormwater infrastructure improvements.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because GIS mapping is structurally flawed as it is based on the hand drawn tax maps rather than recorded plats. The results include buildings being placed on the wrong parcels. One local surveyor estimated 25% of all GIS mapping has some errors (many undercounting buildings).

Vote No on the Rain Tax because projects developed in the last decade include significant stormwater mitigation, resulting in better stormwater quality (and velocity) than the predevelopment condition. These mitigation practices are expensive, to then asses a fee to these property owners would be effective double taxation.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because 95% of Albemarle is rural and many of these tax payers will see no “utility” from the proposed Rain Tax

Vote No on the Rain Tax because of the “over 20 localities” who have enacted such a measure only 3 are counties, none of which has the same demographic or geographic considerations as Albemarle.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because stormwater is a community good not a utility. It rains on everyone and the environmental stewardship is everyone’s responsibility. Just as you would not consider a user fee for Public Safety or Schools, the community is better funding stormwater through the general fund.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because you can. Albemarle County is not mandated to enact a Stormwater Utility Fee. While staff has suggested regulators may prefer a fee funding formula, that is NOT a mandate.

Finally, Vote NO on the Rain Tax because it is the right thing to do.  Let’s use this positive community energy surrounding this issue to improve stormwater via the general fund.

As always, thank you for your service to our community.

Respectfully,

Neil Williamson, President

 

Greene Examines Needed Emergency Communications Upgrade Options

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

clip_image002The Greene County Board of Supervisors asked engineering consultants from  engineering consultants Black and Veatch attend their March 27th meeting to present three alternatives to improve the communication systems between Sheriff, Fire and Rescue throughout Greene County.

Don Bowman, Consulting Manager of Black and Veatch, provided the Supervisors an update on the coverage that currently exists with the system which are extremely concerning. The Sheriff can communicate about 80% outside of a building and that drops to 15-60% inside depending on the type of building they are in. Fire and Rescue range from 35-55% depending on where in the county they are located (outside of a building) and it drops down to 5-25% (inside a building). In addition, the equipment is over a decade old.

Based on the consultant assessment, Greene County needs to upgrade their system; Black and Veatch presented three options to accomplish that goal. The options varied on whether Greene County would go alone in developing a system, the second option was to partner with Madison County and the third option was to join forces with Madison, Louisa and Fluvanna Counties and utilizing Fluvanna’s existing system.

All three options show significant improvement vs. the current situation – the in building connectivity ranges from 50-90%. But the costs go down from the first option of creating a standalone system in Greene County to the two options to partner with other counties. The cost impact of the three alternatives is telling:

Greene County alone $6,167,000

Greene and Madison $5,616,000

Greene, Madison, Louisa and Fluvanna $5,291,000

(these are estimated onetime costs for Greene County with estimated annual operating costs of $220K)

Chairperson Michelle Flynn (Ruckersville) added that not only is the cost less to partner with other counties but it logically makes sense to be able to communicate with nearby counties as has been demonstrated in the past. Supervisor Bill Martin (Stanardsville) asked if there was any improvement in coverage with option 2 or option 3.   Bowman indicated that option 2 would provide some overlap benefit to both Greene and Madison Counties.

Supervisor David Cox (Monroe) expressed concerns with the life of the solutions.  Bowman had representatives from Motorola present at the meeting and they assured that the system would be functional until 2040. Martin asked where Madison County is in their communication assessment/acquisition process and was assured that Madison is very interested in partnering with Greene County.

The Board of Supervisors is to be commended for pursuing this upgrade for the safety of the citizens of Greene County. The ability to have the Sheriff, Fire and Safety effectively communicate can mean the difference of life and death. These are the type of issues that need to be recognized and prioritized in the Capital Improvement Plan for the future of Greene County.

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 http://www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Fluvanna Budget Discussion Includes New Business

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

It takes three to tango during budget season and the Fluvanna County  Board of Supervisors is working its way to a final budget number.  During the latest work session the supervisors left with four nods on stopping at a real estate tax rate of $0.929 per $100 assessed. The current rate is $0.907.

The supervisors got a boost by additional tax values and increasing fees for items like trailers.

But to get to $0.929 and fund the schools its full request of $600,000, the supervisors will pull money from the county’s savings, the fund balance. It is a practice that is highly discouraged because the fund balance is typically used for one time expenses. But school staff is confident the school system will return a few hundred thousand to the fund balance when the current fiscal year is complete.

At the end of the March 28 work session, only Don Weaver (Cunningham District) didn’t give a nod to the budget but he said he would think about it.

Supervisors will have a public hearing on the budget on April 4 at 7 p.m.

Also on March 28 the supervisors held two public hearings on industrial sites in the Zion Crossroads area.

The first hearing was for the old Cosner Brothers location. M&M Salvage owns the property and trying to rezone the front part to I-1 and the back portion to I-2.

The property currently has a zoning violation issued against it for non-conforming use. The property is being used by contractors for the Colonial Gas Pipeline, per the owner. County staff has ruled it is being used as a contractor’s yard, which is a by-right use for an industrially zone property but the property is currently zoned A-1.

“I think you are able to consider this [a violation],” said Fred Payne, county attorney, to the supervisors.

Next to the property is a small cluster subdivision, Fox Glen. Residents continually complain to staff of work consistent with a contractor’s yard.

“People are entitled to the quiet enjoyment of their property and it is being interrupted,” said Charles Hess, who lives in the subdivision.

Residents have complained of the loud noises and lights used to work early in the morning and evenings. One complaint listed a 1 a.m. start time.

“This I-1 and I-2 use next to the residential is less than ideal,” said Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District).

Supervisors denied the rezoning 5-0. The owner filed an appeal of the non-conforming use to the Board of Zoning Appeals. BZA will hear the case on May 15.

LKQ is coming to town thanks to approval of its special use permit, 5-0. The supervisors added provisions to increase buffer areas near residents and restrictions on hours of operation.

The property was previously rezoned, at the direction of the Board of Supervisors, in December. The property is located behind the Cosner Brothers property and was once the back half of Cosner. It is 90 acres.

Residents of Fox Glen aren’t exactly touching it but the subdivision is about 200-300 feet from the property line. LKQ offered to increase its buffer from 50 feet from property line to 75 feet. The company will build an eight-foot fence and plant trees.

LKQ is a salvage yard company that recycles parts mostly from totaled cars. The company buys cars wholesale then goes through the cars to sell parts to repair cars.

The company will fill the property with stripped cars and once it needs more space, it crushes cars. Supervisors put restrictions on hours the company can work in yard to pull parts. Restrictions were also placed on crushing cars to six days a week. Work inside the building have no restrictions.

“This is a very clean facility,” said resident William Hensley, who toured a similar LKQ facility.

LKQ is expected to pay $200,000 to $300,000 in taxes. A penny of real estate taxes is less than $300,000.

“I would love to keep Fluvanna green,” said resident Tom Payne. “But we are going to have to keep Fluvanna with another green (money).”

Some neighbors still were not pleased of the salvage yard coming to town.

“Would you like your daughter or son or grandkids to live there?” said Jeff Wagner.

Katie Ward, said she purchased the neighboring property months after Fluvanna started negotiations with LKQ, “We were robbed to have our voices heard.”

Ward distributed flyers before the meeting of a FOIA request she had that showed the county in discussions with LKQ as far back as February 2017.

The Fluvanna Board of Supervisors will meet on April 4 for a regular session at 4 p.m. followed by a 7 p.m. public hearing session on the budget.

The Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® and by the support of readers like you.

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum

Photo Credits: Fluvanna County

Albemarle Mission Creeping Planning Commission

FORUM WATCH EDITORIALcreeping

By. Neil Williamson, President

After a January 2018 determination found that 1/3 of Albemarle’s Entrance Corridors are illegal, the Board of Supervisors has yet to act on a resolution of intent to fix this issue.

In this vacuum, Albemarle County’s Planning Commission decided they don’t need no stinking Architectural Review Board – they can mission creep far beyond their state mandated advisory role and institute architectural demands on projects regardless of their location.

Please let me explain.

First it is important to note, the Free Enterprise Forum does not take positions on specific projects.  The examples below are used to show a broken process, we do not have an opinion regarding the applications’ individual merit.

Example #1

During the Architectural Review Board review of a project (SP-2017-00016) in the Scottsville District on Avon Street Extended, it was determined that Avon Street Extended is not an arterial roadway (a requirement for an Entrance Corridor designation).  The applicant went through the initial review without this knowledge and after the determination was made, the planning commission was briefed.  Based on the applicant’s testimony at the Planning Commission, it was clear they were never told that they were not under the ARB regulations.  Only late in the public hearing did the Deputy County Attorney mention that the applicant would not need to go back to the ARB for a final review.

Instead, the mission creeping Planning Commission seeking to achieve ARB-type control created a new class of conditions to codify the architecture as a part of a special use permit for a body shop.

b. Additional fenestration or architectural features shall be added along the “02 Left Elevation (South)” façade to provide a pedestrian orientation to the satisfaction of the Director of Planning or his/her designee. Priority should be given to providing additional fenestration or a combination of wall plantings, architectural features and fenestration along this particular elevation. [emphasis in original – nw]

Conditions in a Special Use Permit generally mitigate negative impacts on adjoining property owners, taking this to mean architectural elements is a LARGE LEAP beyond normal review.

Example #2

The following week, the Planning Commission considered a Special Use Permit application  for a new church on Rio Road East (SP201700010).  Rio Road East has never been established as an entrance corridor; it is mentioned as a corridor for possible entrance corridor consideration in the Comprehensive Plan (Page 5.20).

Strategy 8f: Consider additional EC designations as appropriate, or as road classifications change, for roads such as the John Warner Parkway, Route 614 (Sugar Hollow Road), Route 692/712 (Plank Road), and Route 810 (Brown’s Gap Turnpike).

It is important to note there has been no resolution of intent or any other forward motion on making the John Warner Parkway an Entrance Corridor beyond the notation above in the 2015 guiding planning document.

That mere mention is enough for this activist Planning Commission to mission creep into mandating architectural features as a function of the Special Use Permit process.  In this case now they have precedent, based on the SUP they railroaded the week before (Example #1).  Honestly, the applicant never knew what hit him.

The Free Enterprise Forum is very concerned that the mission creeping Planning Commission is unchecked in its power grab beyond state code.  As an advisory body, nothing becomes final until accepted by the Board of Supervisors.

When the Board of Supervisors considers these applications later this year, will any Supervisor (or County Counsel) raise the red flag regarding these architectural demands absent a significant community benefit OR a strong legal nexus?

I know which way I am betting.

Stay Tuned,

 

Neil Williamson, President

Photo Credit: Bartblog.bartcop.com

Albemarle Rain Tax Answers (Part V)– The Christopher Columbus Map Award

By. Neil Williamson, President

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

Today’s question: What is a GIS and how does the County collect the GIS data used to calculate utility fees?

Albemarle’s answer:

GIS stands for Geographic Information System. It is computer software designed to capture, store, analyze, and present spatial or geographic data. The County has used a GIS for decades to improve operations such as capital planning, emergency response, and development tracking.

Various data has been developed since the late 1990s for a variety of purposes. New data is obtained as land is subdivided and improvements are constructed. For instance, County staff will map the corners of new buildings – during the permitting process – using a highly accurate (sub-meter) GPS device. Older data was originally mapped by County staff and consultants from Mylar tax maps and aerial photography. The County does not rely on automated or computerized processes to map impervious areas. Once buildings, parking lots, and other features are mapped, they are generally not re-mapped unless a permitting process proposing new development is initiated on the property. However, County staff will occasionally compare mapped features to new aerial photography to identify missed features.

The Free Enterprise Forum is the first to acknowledge the power of GIS.  We utilized GIS technologies to calculate our Hindsight Report as well as our Workplace 29 ReportThose reports used GIS to aggregate data rather than provide specific parcel information.  When you drill down on Albemarle County’s GIS to the parcel level you find all kinds of issues – especially if you try to use it to calculate impervious surface.

Incorrect boundary lines If you pull the GIS imagery for Tax Map 14-18 in Southern Albemarle, as an owner you would think that looks like the proper lot lines but when you overlay a physical survey completed for the property you find the GIS map is wrong in material ways.  See the combined image below:

RR Exhibit B

As a reminder, Albemarle’s proposed rain tax calculation will include all rooftops and any impervious surfaces (including gravel) within a 100’ radius of the building.

According to the GIS (blue line), Tax Map 14-18 has a large building on the east side of the parcel.  The physical survey (black line)recognizes not only iron buried but a fence along the property line that places the building (and the related impervious surface) on the neighbor’s property.

On the left side of the map the circle around the northwest out building is not fully captured due to the misplaced property line.The GIS lines are misaligned resulting in a miscalculation of the Rain Tax.

In a different example, also in Southern Albemarle (Exhibit A) Albemarle County’s GIS boundary lines for Tax Map 19-42A both over and undercount the impervious surface radii when compared with the maps available in the courthouse (DB 777 P.359)RR Exhibit A

The County GIS lines (blue) show a boundary that is shorter and wider than the legal data (Red lines) provide.

The resultant Rain Tax Calculation fails to capture the full radii in the southwest corner and over calculates the impervious surface on the north boundary of the property.

Based on this documentation – these two errors may almost cancel each other out – but they are incorrect.

rr gis According to the GIS for Tax map 132-14, three buildings exist on this parcel that are connected by gravel drives.  A drone review shows that there are four 4 buildings on the parcel.

The fourth building (identified as Shed #2) was constructed in 2008 but (as of December 2017) does not appear on the GIS.  As important that the building is not captured in the calculation neither is the 100’ radii.

RR Drone 2Shed #2 represents 1370 sq feet of impervious surface that would not be counted using GIS because according to GIS the shed does not exist.  In addition the gravel surrounding the shed would also not be counted utilizing current GIS data.

Some might suggest these are cherry picked examples and not representative of the County as a whole.  The Free Enterprise Forum has learned of 7 errors within a 5 square mile quadrant of Albemarle County.  We also believe that such errors while existing within the urban ring are likely not as prevalent with more recent developments that utilized global position survey techniques.

One local surveyor estimated that 25% of all parcels in the county would have some form of inaccuracy in their GIS data.  To be clear, not all of the errors are in favor of the landowner, some are to the benefit of the county – no matter – a 25% error rate for data driving the RAIN TAX is unacceptable.

This may be the most erroneous use of mapping software since since Christopher Columbus charted his first voyage to Asia.

We reiterate our call for Albemarle Supervisors to say “NO” to the RAIN TAX AKA Stormwater Utility Fee because it is based bad maps create bad results.

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.

 

 

 

Albemarle Rain Tax Answers (Part IV)–If three of your friends jumped off a bridge …

By. Neil Williamson, President

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

Today’s question: Do other localities use a stormwater utility to fund stormwater programs?

Albemarle’s FAQ’s response:

Yes. Stormwater utilities were first established in the US in the early 1970s and in Virginia in the early 1990s. There are currently nearly 1,600 stormwater utilities in the US (source: Western Kentucky University Stormwater Utility Survey, 2016). Over 20 Virginia local governments have established stormwater utilities, including Prince William County, Isle of Wight County, Chesterfield County, and the cities of Charlottesville, Richmond, and Waynesboro.

The Free Enterprise Forum would answer the question differently.  While over 20 localities have adopted a stormwater utility fee, most are cities.  We are only aware of three other counties in the Commonwealth who utilize a stormwater utility fee.  Each locality approaches the issue slightly differently.  Let’s look at the three counties and their different approaches to stormwater fee.

Isle of Wright County Virginia is located in the Hampton Roads region directly across the James River from Newport News.  As of the 2010 census, the population was 35,270. Its area: is 363 square miles. In their implementation of the stormwater utility fee they chose to  use a flat fee for all residential property and calculate the impervious surface for businesses and non residential.  From Isle of Wright website:

How Much is The Stormwater Management fee and When is it Due?   All developed residential property owners will be assessed a fee of $54 per year.  The storm water management fee will be added as a separate line item on real estate tax bills.

How will businesses and other nonresidential properties be charged? Businesses and other nonresidential properties will be charged the Stormwater Management Fee based on the ratio of impervious area on site to the impervious area of 1 ERU.  For example a nonresidential property that has 32,000 SF of impervious area would be accessed an ERU of 10 which equates to a yearly Stormwater Management Fee of $540.00.

Prince William County, Virginia is located directly on the Potomac River South of Washington, DC.  On 1 July 2015, the population was estimated to be 451,721, making it Virginia’s second-most populous county. Their geographic footprint is 348 square miles. Prince William also bills a flat fee for residential and looks for agricultural users to develop water quality plans and resource conservation plans in order to comply with the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act.  Prince William’s website explains:

  • Residential and nonresidential owners of developed property pay based on the amount of impervious area (rooftops paved areas etc.) on their property. Impervious areas contribute to an increase in storm water runoff that adds to our drainage requirements for flood control and water protection.
  • Residents will pay their fee on the bi-annual real estate bill.  This means the total annual fee is split between the two bills.
    • $39.36 total annual fee for detached singe-family homes
    • $29.55 total annual fee for townhome, mobile home and condominium owners
  • Nonresidential property owners will pay a total annual fee of $19.12 per 1000 square feet of impervious area. Fee adjustments or credits may be available if a storm water management system is already in place. This fee is billed on the bi-annual real estate bills.
  • Owners of agricultural croplands and undeveloped properties are not charged a fee. Agricultural properties are currently required to develop water quality plans and resource conservation plans in order to comply with the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act and the Farm Bill.

Chesterfield County, Virginia is located just south of Richmond.  The county is bordered on the North by the James River and on the South by the Appomattox River. In 2016, the estimated population was 339,009 in their area of 437 Square miles.  Chesterfield also chose to implement a flat fee for residential properties.  Chesterfield outlines its fee on their website:

How much will I pay (fee rates)?
  • Residential property owners pay $25 per year (one ERU) for single family detached homes.
  • Townhome and condominium owners pay $7.50 per year (30% of one ERU).
  • Commercial properties (e.g., nonresidential and rental multifamily properties) are charged based on the total amount of impervious area on the site and the resulting ERUs, at a rate of $25 per ERU per year.
  • Commercial properties that drain to stormwater management facilities or participate in pollution reduction programs receive a partial credit in the stormwater utility fee as outlined in the credit policy.
  • Exempt properties include
    • Federal, state, local and public entities that hold a permit to discharge stormwater
    • Undeveloped properties

The truth in fee award goes to Chesterfield County who called out that they are charging property owners for a service that they do not receive (see our post about “utility”)

I live in a subdivision with stormwater BMPs and drainage infrastructure. Why do I have to pay the stormwater utility fee?

Neighborhoods with existing stormwater conveyance and retention or detention ponds still contribute runoff and pollution to the overall drainage system. The program’s costs are distributed to all county property owners because stormwater management is a countywide service.

Beyond the recognition that development today handles the vast majority of stormwater on-site – This is the crux of the Fee/Tax discussion.  If as Chesterfield states, stormwater management is a countywide service and “program costs are distributed to all county property owners” – it is independent of the property’s direct impact on stormwater – it is a tax.

PrintThe reality we see is only three counties in Virginia have enacted this “fee”.  We are not convinced these are “peer communities” based on their different geographic conditions and population densities.

I can hear my Mother’s voice as I type, I don’t care what the other counties are doing, it is not right for you.

The Rain Tax is Wrong for Albemarle.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.

Greene Board Takes Action on Blighted Properties

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer 

Like Mr. Bs Ruckersvillemany localities, there are several properties in Greene County that either have been left vacant for decades and deteriorating or have had a fire without being repaired.  Two specific properties have attracted significant attention over the last few years and last week, Greene County’s Board of Supervisors took the first step to seeking force the owners to repair the structures or declaring them as ‘blighted’.

In the Supervisors March 13th meeting, Greene County Zoning Administrator, Bart Svoboda, reviewed the status of the two subject properties. The first property is the old Mr. B’s store on the northeast corner of Route 29 and Route 33 in Ruckersville.

Virginia State Code section regarding blight requires  that a letter be mailed to the owner of the property and give them 30 days to reply on how they are going to correct the property.

B. The chief executive or designee of the locality or authority shall make a preliminary determination that a property is blighted in accordance with this chapter. It shall send notice to the owner or owners of record determined in accordance with subsection B of § 36-27, specifying the reasons why the property is blighted. The owner or owners of record shall have 30 days from the date the notice is sent in which to respond in writing with a spot blight abatement plan to address the blight within a reasonable time.

Mr. B’s property just had the letter sent out giving the owner until April 12th to reply. The second property discussed by the Supervisors is the house on Route 230 near the Stanardsville Baptist Church that was destroyed by a fire in 2016.

clip_image003This situation is slightly complicated by being within the Town of Stanardsville and the county will have to coordinate with the town council for this process.

Svoboda stated that he has secured telephone numbers for both owners and they are communicating with the county. If the owner doesn’t respond after 30 days then the property can be declared blighted.

C. If the owner or owners of record fail to respond within the 30-day period with a written spot blight abatement plan that is acceptable to the chief executive of the agency, authority or locality, the agency, authority or locality may request the locality to declare the property as blighted, which declaration shall be by ordinance adopted by the governing body.

Svoboda stated that the goal of the county is to get the all “possibly blighted” properties into compliance with these two as the first properties to be addressed.

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 http://www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credit: Google Maps (accessed 3/22/2018) and Greene County Record

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

By. Neil Williamson, President

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

Today’s question: What is a stormwater utility?

Albemarle’s FAQ’s response:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.

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

Albemarle Answers Rain Tax Questions (Part II)

By. Neil Williamson, President

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

Today’s question ‘Why has a stormwater utility been recommended as the funding mechanism?’

Albemarle’s FAQ’s response:

A stormwater utility has the following advantages:

· Fairness – A utility fee based on a property’s impervious area more closely relates to the demand a property places on the stormwater system and on water resource protection efforts than its real estate property value. For that reason, a utility is considered a fairer way to allocate total program costs to individual properties.

· Stability – A utility will result in a dependable and steady revenue stream that grows with the community; this stability will allow for long-term program development and planning for capital investments.

· Regulatory preference – A dedicated funding source is preferred by federal and state regulators and would create advantages for the County when being audited or applying for grants.

· Wider funding base – Government- and tax-exempt- properties – charged under a utility but not charged taxes – contribute to the stormwater and pollution burden.

So we have four advantages to unpack: Fairness, Stability, Regulatory Preference and a wider funding base.

Fairness is a bit difficult to measure but let’s fist look at the current funding mchanism.  Today, all county taxpayers contribute $.007 of the property tax rate is dedicated to stormwater.

This cost allocation system is the same for schools, public safety, and most other government functions.  Suggesting a user fee is a very different concept.  Imagine if this was how we funded schools, the couple across the street do not have any children, why should they pay for schools?

Is the current funding mechanism ‘fair’?

Albemarle’s FAQs suggest that the proposed rain tax impervious surface calculation more closely relates to the demands placed on the system is a challenge as well.  Nothing in the calculation considers property context.

Consider the Google maps captures below:

White hall google map sugar hollow rdRolkin Road Google maps

The capture on the left is in the White Hall District in Sugar Hollow surrounded by forested lands, the photo on the right is Rolkin Road on Pantops, ignoring the variation in the amount of impervious surface in each photo, does using the same billing unit for these two instances the same make logical sense?   Which photo has more impact on Albemarle County’s stormwater infrastructure?  The home in the rural countryside or the urban ring townhouse?

Albemarle County FAQs indicate the proposed rain tax will result in a steady revenue stream that grows with the community.  The only thing stopping this from happening under the existing funding system is political will of 4 supervisors (the number needed for action).  Such political will has existed in recent years, evidenced by the $.007 dedicated to storm water in the current budget.

Albemarle FAQs suggest the proposed rain tax was selected because of a “Regulatory Preference” and that the proposed rain tax will ‘create advantages when audited or applying for grants’.  The Free Enterprise Forum wishes to be perfectly clear – the proposed rain tax is NOT mandated by any governmental agency.  Among regulators some preference may exist but the regulation relates to the projects not how the projects are funded. Albemarle can say “no” to the proposed rain tax and have a very successful stormwater program.

The last bullet ‘wider funding base’ is perhaps the most jarring. Government and tax exempt properties may be charged under the proposed rain tax but not charged taxes.  This means Albemarle County will have to pay the proposed rain tax on all of their properties (including schools), these funds will come out of the general fund creating a need for more tax dollars to pay for those costs.

In addition, rural churches, often with impervious gravel parking lots will need to spend hundreds of dollars annually either through higher contributions or by cutting ministries in the community.

PrintThe proposed rain tax is not a fair allocation of costs as it does not consider parcel context in its calculations.  Stormwater management is not a utility it is a public service.  The costs should be shared via the general fund not the proposed rain tax.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Photo Credits: Google (accessed 3/19/18)