By. Brent Wilson, Greene County Field Officer
Virginia law dictates that localities’ Board of Supervisors (or City/Town Council) have taxing authority and provide a financial allocation to the school division, but they do not have line item control of the school budget, that power is delineated to the School Board. In every locality, this creates dynamic tension between those who have the responsibility for generating revenue through taxation and those whose responsibility is educating the children.
Last week, what started with a request from Greene County School Board Chair Michelle Flynn to the Supervisors requesting the same funding in FY2014 as FY2013 quickly turned into a request for a presentation at a mid-January public meeting a list of potential cuts for public feedback to prioritize approximately $1.2 million of spending reductions.
Flynn started the meeting with two key questions. First, can the Board of Supervisors provide the same funding level as this year and the schools will cover any reductions in state and federal funding with cost reductions? Chairman Buggs Peyton (Standardsville) comment was that the county is facing a 6% decline in personal property tax due to reassessment of property values. Flynn’s second request was, would the BOS cover the 1% increase in VRS cost
This lead into a discussion of the Early Retirement Incentive Program (ERIP) which currently has 19 participants. Peyton agreed with using teachers but not unskilled positions such as secretaries and custodians. He also indicated that bus drivers that require special training should be included. Flynn contended that custodians are hard to find and should be included in ERIP.
Peyton shifted the conversation to the $16 million reserve fund that has since been committed to various projects and that the county is looking at a tax increase since the assessment is down. Supervisor Jim Frydl (Midway) estimated that due to the reduced assessments, a shortfall of approximately $1 million would occur if the personal property tax rate stayed the same.
Peyton stated that he is serving his 11th year on the BOS and his priorities for the county, that some may find hard to believe, are education, fire and police.
School Board Member Roddie Kibler (Monroe) asked how do both boards act proactively to address the $1.4 million funding needed?
Greene County Schools Superintendent David Jeck said that one issue he does not want to impact is increasing the student vs. teacher ratio. With so many mandated programs, there is very little that can be cut – athletics, transportation (which is not a school requirement) and the vocational education program are all possible reductions. Jeck suggested surveying parents to ask what they would recommend cutting to come up with the reduced spending. Flynn agreed that historically until there is discussion of cutting programs, there is very little public input.
After the first School Board Public Input Session, Jeck told NBC29:
“If there are certain things that they want to see kept in the budget and if there are certain things that they want to see protected going into next year, then it’s really important that they come out and share that with the school board. The school board needs to hear that, and our school board is very responsive to folks who come out and speak.”
Frydl suggested a joint meeting between the Board of Supervisors and the School Board in January, 2013 to discuss options to cut education funding. School Board Member Troy Harlow (At-Large) assured that if the schools don’t receive the same funding then cuts will have to be made.
Frydl suggested that there is a small window between when the state budget is set in December to when the county budget has to be set in the spring. One of Frydl’s final comments was that either funds will be cut or taxes will have to be raised.
Despite Frydl’s suggestion that the State budget being “set” in December, nothing is done until at least early and often late Spring. As an example, in May of this year the Greene BOS was adjusting their budget based on the State’s final numbers. The Free Enterprise Forum Blog reported:
In last night’s (5/2) hastily arranged budget work session, the Greene County Board of Supervisors tentatively agreed to increase funding for the schools by $1.1 million dollars in Fiscal Year 2013. This was approximately 1 million dollars less than was requested by the School Board.
This let to a most contentious public meeting six days later where we asked if the meeting was a Public Meeting or Pep Rally?
School funding makes up the lion’s share of every locality’s budget. As we are seeing in all of the localities we cover (especially Fluvanna), greater communication between the school boards and the Board of Supervisors is a positive but will not eliminate the dynamic tension that is designed by state code.
The Free Enterprise Forum does not have specific opinions about any tax rate or spending plan; instead the Free Enterprise Forum encourages the citizens of Greene County to become educated about the options and express their preference at the public hearing in January, 2013.
There are no easy answers, but it is far better for citizens to become educated and involved during the process rather than enraged at the outcome.
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
By Pauline Hovey
With little discussion and fewer than a dozen residents offering public comments at the budget hearing, Greene County supervisors are poised to move forward with the FY 2011/2012 budget.
The main item of concern for most in attendance, including School Board members, all of whom but one were present at Tuesday night’s public hearing, was whether supervisors could be convinced to allocate additional county money to the $11,730,653 they had proposed.
Only about a half dozen residents, some of whom were teachers, expressed concerns regarding the school budget, and another four people spoke in favor of further supporting the Jefferson Area Board on Aging (JABA), Piedmont Regional Dental Clinic, and the local Virginia Cooperative Extension office. But supervisors seemed satisfied with the financial allocations they’d made leading up to the public hearing.
Supervisor Buggs Peyton (Stanardsville) said he considers the fact that the county is allocating an additional $512,029 to the schools next year to be significant “considering the sluggish economy.” This amount includes carryover funds that had not been spent from last year’s budget, which the supervisors agreed to put back into the school budget for next year.
Supervisor Carl Schmidt (at-large) stressed that “thanks to strict budgets” that the board has adopted in the past several years, the county is “in good financial shape now, but we have put off capital improvements to make that happen, including rescue squad ambulances, fire trucks, and school buses. Now we have no choice but to deal with these things,” he said. Such pending capital improvement projects will be the supervisors’ next focus.
Schmidt also noted that supervisors previously removed a line item out of the budget to pay for school buses separately, and supervisors consider this estimated $88,000 for buses to be money they are giving the schools in addition to the total proposed school budget.
Supervisor Jim Frydl (Ruckersville) said that, based on what was appropriated last year, the board is offering a 3-percent increase in the overall amount allocated to the schools, although some, including School Board members and Superintendent David Jeck, would argue that point, noting that the administration has had to significantly cut their school budget each year in order to make due with what the county allocates.
As for the real estate tax rate, based on the county’s current financial condition, supervisors unanimously approved keeping the tax rate at .69 per $100 of assessed value. This actually represents a decrease in taxes for Greene County residents as their property values have decreased with the recent property reassessment.
The board also unanimously approved the percentage of tax relief for 2011/2012 as authorized by the Personal Property Tax Relief Act.
The public hearing was held in the county administration building rather than the high school’s Performing Arts Center because the latter is under renovation as a result of the board’s approval of a $5.3 million school facilities project loan made possible by retiring debt. Supervisors authorized the schools to apply for the loan from the Virginia Public School Association at a previous meeting.
Pauline Hovey is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization. If you find this report helpful, please consider supporting the Free Enterprise Forum. To learn more visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org
Photo Credit: Greene County
By Pauline Hovey
Despite initial hesitation from three supervisors at Tuesday night’s (1/25) public hearing, the Greene County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved moving forward on a base $4.7 million proposed school athletics and performing arts facilities project. Supervisors authorized the schools to apply for the loan from the Virginia Public School Authority (VSPA) by the March 11th deadline, with the possibility of increasing that amount to the full $5.3 million requested if the financial concerns of some supervisors are allayed.
For the nearly 11 years this reporter has lived in Greene County and attended public hearings, this marks the first time 100 percent of public comments favored a proposal. No public hesitancy or negative comments were expressed at the hearing held at the Raymond C. Dingledine III Performing Arts Center at William Monroe High School. From business leaders to coaches, from parents to seniors with no children in the school system, every one of the 25 individuals who addressed the board fully supported the project, many of them expressing concern about the safety and condition of existing facilities. Still, three of the five supervisors hesitated for financial reasons, citing uncertainty about future financing from the state and the county’s ability to address other anticipated department needs and expansions.
During the Board discussion, however, Supervisor Jim Frydl (Ruckersville) revealed the county has a 20-percent cash reserve, based on a recent auditor’s report. “For most counties, having a 10-percent reserve is good, and an accountant’s conservative recommendation is to have a 15-percent reserve,” Frydl said. “We have money above and beyond that, so we have the ability to make this decision.”
Chairman Steve Catalano (at-large) questioned Supervisor Frydl’s comments, which resulted in a request for County Administrator Barry Clark to provide further confirmation from the auditors regarding the actual amount of cash held in reserves. Although the exact amount may be questioned, what is evident is that supervisors have been making fiscally responsible decisions, and some residents expressed their appreciation for such decisions, which have put the county in a position to afford the project without raising taxes.
“The cost of the project would fit into the county’s existing budget,” Frydl noted, adding that the state projections for economic growth are positive, which equates to the potential for budget growth as well. In addition, the county is retiring a school project debt service of $374,000 in the 2011/12 school year budget, and the annual loan payments for the proposed project would be less than the debt that’s being retired.
“This is a county facility as well as a school facility, and it is the core responsibility of government to support this type of facility and the standards for safety,” Frydl stated before offering his support for the entire project, which includes upgrades to baseball/softball fields and stadium area, as well as rebuilding the high school track, which is severely cracked and hazardous.
This project has been discussed, debated, and revised with many opportunities for public input since it was first proposed last summer. In fact, Chairman Catalano, known for his conservative views, said he was pleased with “the transparency of the project,” even though “my #1 concern is savings in debt service.” Catalano expressed concern with the Virginia General Assembly possibly cutting state funding to the schools, producing a “state shortfall” in next year’s budget. “I agree the facilities enhance the package of Greene County, and I agree something needs to be done,” he said before opening the floor for board discussion.
“Financing is as good as we’ll ever get. The timing is good. Our budget has been honed for this,” Supervisor Carl Schmitt (at-large) offered. “We have the opportunity to do this now before we get other, more pressing school needs coming down on us. In terms of revenue, I’m seeing positive results. Our reserves are up. And we have a good chance of this not being as difficult a revenue year as in the past. In my view, this is a well-defined project, we can afford it, and I urge the supervisors to vote for it.”
“My #1 concern is safety,” Supervisor Mike Skeens (Monroe) said, indicating he supported the base bid but was concerned about the county’s financial standing in lieu of the inability of the former treasurer to reconcile reports monthly. He proposed waiting to receive an updated treasurer’s report before determining whether to support the entire project at $5.3 million.
Citing a sluggish economy and concerns about meeting current financial obligations and the expected continued increase in student enrollment, Supervisor Buggs Peyton (Stanardsville district) noted he was against the project, given “the size and scope of the total proposal.” He suggested “the project should be revisited” and not be considered “an all or nothing proposal.”
Schmitt stated that what’s being proposed for upgrades and improvements to the facilities is “at the bottom of the heap,” meaning the school administration is “asking for basic facilities that bring us up to at least an acceptable level.” He added that the project involves facilities “not just for the schools, but for the community,” noting that the Performing Arts Center is “in constant use” by the community, and numerous citizens attend sporting events. “The facilities and programs our schools support are important to the fabric of our community,” he said.
Concerned the county would miss the loan application deadline, Schmitt offered a motion to authorize the schools apply for the VPSA loan for the base bid and the supervisors revisit their financial situation at their March 21 meeting, at which time the Virginia legislature will have met, the treasurer’s revenues will have been reconciled, and their financial situation should be more certain going forward.
The project’s six-member steering committee, which included and encouraged public input in all meetings during the planning process, established priorities by breaking up the project into “must do,” “should do,” and “would do” items. On the “must do” list are items that unquestionably need upgrading, rebuilding, or replacing. The steering committee was appointed by the Board of Supervisors specifically for the project. Serving on the steering committee were School Board members Darcy Higgins and Michelle Flynn (board chair); Superintendent of Schools David Jeck; Bob Burkholder, a member of the Ruritans and longtime resident; Katie Brunelle, athletics director; and Supervisor Frydl.
Pauline Hovey is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization. If you find this report helpful, please consider supporting the Free Enterprise Forum. To learn more visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org
By. Neil Williamson, President
Last night (8/17), the public had the opportunity to voice their opinions regarding a Greene County steering committee’s priorities for the proposed improvements to the Greene County Schools athletic and performing arts facilities. Roughly forty citizens attended the meeting as did all of the School Board members and two members of the Board of Supervisors.
There seems to be community agreement that the facilities are in need of repair and replacement. The question is which facilities are included in this project and at what cost. To that end, a steering committee was formed to determine the community priorities.
The steering committee includes citizen representative Bob Burkholder, School Board Chair Michelle Flynn, Supervisor Jim Frydl (Ruckersville), School Board Member Darcy Higgins, Schools Activities Director Katie Brunelle and School Superintendent Dave Jeck.
The process, which usually would take nine months, has been compressed to three in order to meet a December 31 deadline for low interest Build America bonds (which are funded by the federal stimulus package).
New capital projects, such as school and hospital construction, transportation infrastructure, and water and sewer upgrades, are being funded by either Build America Bonds or the 2010 School Bond Allocation program, Recovery-funded financing tools that allow state and local governments to borrow money at lower costs.
Architect Bill Bradley of SHW Group walked through the prioritization set by the committee and was seeking public input regarding their opinions of the committee’s work.
The overarching goal of the project is to address unmet needs in the competition/performance venues and bring those facilities into compliance with current building code and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The committee broke projects down into three groups:
- Must Do: Items that are required for safety, building code or ADA
- Should Do: Unmet needs in competition/performance
- Would Do: lower priority unmet needs
The following projects were described as fundamental:
- Access to the Site
- Upgrade Site amenities (toilets/concessions)
- Securing the site
- Improve track surface (6 lanes)
- Improvements to the main competition field
- Retrofitting grandstands
- New Gymnasium floor
- Create new baseball and softball facilities with lighting
- Upgrade Performing Arts Center
One conceptual master plan was unveiled for public comment that unified the entrance to the athletic facilities and increased the number of restrooms and concessions.
The steering committee mentioned a number of items that had been moved into the “Would Do” category – lower priority unmet needs these included tennis courts, swimming bubble, and nature trail/cross country course.
The steering committee is scheduled to meet again and finalize their recommendations, those findings and more refined designs will be presented to the public on September 9th.
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 and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org
A Forum Watch Editorial
By. Neil Williamson
There is a subtle shift in transportation planning philosophy. The ultimate conversion to this philosophy may reduce or eliminate the freedom of mobility Americans have grown to cherish since the invention of the automobile.
Americans by both their nature and nurture love mobility. According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA):
Mobility is at the heart of America’s culture. Americans love the freedom of easily moving where they want, when they want. Mobility is at the heart of our economy, getting goods to market and getting people to work
For generations, transportation planners understood this fact and built transportation networks designed to segregate various uses (retail, industrial, residential). Today’s planners see such old thinking as a mistake. This generation of local planners has been swept up in the call for New Urbanism, a policy that places a greater importance on the project planner’s decisions rather than creating an environment for citizen mobility.
When discussing “smart transportation” in the New Urbanist founding principles enumerate –
- A network of high-quality trains connecting cities, towns, and neighborhoods together
- Pedestrian-friendly design that encourages a greater use of bicycles, rollerblades, scooters, and walking as daily transportation
It is rather amazing the concept of automobile traffic is merely an after thought in the New Urbanist philosophy suggesting a greater use of “scooters” for daily transportation.
Given all of the above, I suppose I should not have been surprised when a planner from The Renaissance Group said in a public meeting earlier this year that planning today is about designing multi-modal accessibility to the things government believes you want not providing you independent mobility (to make your own choices).
Please go back and reread the underlined section of this indirect quote. This is a very foreboding concept. Reading only slightly between the lines, the automobile (and the freedom of movement it provides) is the enemy to this line of thinking. To be clear, the Free Enterprise Forum believes there is a market for new urbanist development. We also believe that market is a small segment. Citizens should be given the choice of being placed in such a development.
It is easy to see why local government may wish to force such a form of development. Highly concentrated residential areas tend to cost less to deliver local governmental services. The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission website contends (note the similarity to the new urbanist theory above):
Where we choose to live and work matters. . . . How our places are connected matters. – Changing where and how we grow – by building around historic town centers in walkable, village-scaled development patterns – could save $500 million in transportation system investments over the 50 years.
But is this really what citizens want?
Citizens may clamor for lower taxes but are they willing to sacrifice personal mobility to balance the books of the locality?
Will citizens engage in this laborious time intensive planning process?
The Free Enterprise Forum believes people want a choice; but based on the drafts of Places29, Greene County Multimodal study and other regional planning exercises we remain unconvinced citizens will be provided such an option.
Tonight (October 24) during halftime of the Albemarle County High School football game, the Free Enterprise Forum will be presenting first prize for our second annual Economic Freedom Essay Contest.
Albemarle County High School Senior John Russell won the contest. His essay appears below.
By. John Russell
Economic freedom will never have a static definition throughout history. It is government and society that defines this freedom, and thus, it is ever changing, for government and society is ever changing. Economic freedom must also be analyzed from the perspective of the individual, of which there are many types. Race, creed, gender and religion are all defining factors in the hierarchy of society and play a crucial role in an individual’s framework in society and government. A progression of economic opportunity can be found in this country.
It tends that the nature of an economy and democratic society is derived from the majority voting class, and until the 1810’s and 20’s, the only registered voting class in America consisted of white, male landowners. So, until nearly the mid-19th century, financial opportunity or independence was nearly inaccessible for single women, blacks and immigrants. By the 1830’s due to an expanding electorate and the growth of cities, America’s economy in the north turned to an industrial one. Immigrants, free blacks, and for the first time, women, were all common in the workforce. Gradually, as voting rights expanded to include all men, black men, and finally women, the American economy began to consist of unskilled or semiskilled workers outside the home. The means by which to earn a living became available to nearly everyone in the north (at least theoretically). Not until the end of the Civil War and era of reconstruction did economic opportunity find as broad a platform in the American South as it had in the North. As Booker T. Washington stated, in order for a prosperous economy to develop in the South, blacks, must have economic opportunity to avoid the creation of an immobile, lower class draining on the economy as a whole.
Society, plays an important role in the economic freedom of individuals. In the 18th and early 19th centuries it was socially unacceptable. Women’s initial role in American society was a purely domestic one and until the introduction of the Lowell Mills system, the idea of a workforce including women was absent. Immigrants such as the Chinese and Irish were known to be unwilling to acculturate, and despite their obvious contributions to economy, were thus seen as parasitic to the public. Perhaps the most notable of society’s influence on economic opportunity is the role played against Blacks and Native Americans. Native Americans were not even considered citizens and were continually shunned and relocated until the early part of the 20th century where strides toward reconciliation and acceptance were made. Slavery allowed for no economic opportunity for blacks and until the latter part of the 20th century (as for most other groups) their economic rights were repressed.
Many argue that economic opportunity for all has yet to be achieved in this country. However, from a quantitative view, national legislation provides the best possible framework for opportunity and equality to occur. It is society and intangible power of the wealthy that determine the rest.
This evening, Albemarle County’s Planning Commission will launch a review of the Economic Development Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan. Starting with workforce development, the commission will review the strategies listed in the current plan and consider the creation of new strategies.
The review of the Economic Development policy must be focused on how this chapter is interrelated with the other aspects of the Comprehensive Plan and what type of “Enterprise Environment” results from fully enacting the provisions in the plan.
“It is not by planting trees or subsidizing tree planting in a desert created by politicians that the government can promote … industry, but by refraining from measures that create a desert environment.” – The Economist (March 3, 1990)
Based on our read of the statistics prepared for tonight’s meeting, the Planning Commission may be starting at the wrong end of the Economic Development Elephant.
Workforce Development is a very different problem in Albemarle County than in most areas of the country. With historically low unemployment and an educated workforce almost 48,000 strong, the workforce issue is much more about “underemployment” rather than unemployment.
Comparatively Virginia and Albemarle County have about the same percentage of high school graduate population (86% to 87% respectively) but when when looks to the population with a bachelor’ degree or more the state is far behind Albemarle County (54% to 30% respectively).
As a potential impact of the higher education level, Albemarle County has 3% points lower rate of people living below the poverty line (2000 statistics) compared with the balance of the state. Conversely, the working poor must compete in a job market filled with well educated applicants.
While career ladder jobs exist in health, government and education sectors, the balance of the industries do not have a large number of middle level positions. This scarcity of positions often leads to the flight of the middle managers or under employment. A third option is the “forced entrepreneur” theory, it may be argued that the dearth of mid level jobs could be driving much of the entrepreneurial spirit in this population cohort.
It is important to remember that the end goal in this process is an improved “Enterprise Environment” not just jobs. As the Mercatus Center at George Mason University found in its June 2006 Policy Comment:
“Economic performance does not hinge on job growth per se, but on labor productivity and entrepreneurship, which ultimately translate into higher employment.”
Workforce development priorities must be balanced with other economic development need including regulatory review and revision to improve the business environment and therefore grow the economic prospects for the entire community.
A few years back, I was pained to have a discussion with a number of very bright students who did not know the first thing about free markets or how the free enterprise system provided very structure required for the great American experiment of democracy to succeed. I am not looking for students to have a working knowledge of supply side economic theory but I do believe the understanding of free markets and how they interact with political systems is helpful in preparing our youth for the global economy.
The Free Enterprise Forum intentionally does not comment or cover school boards and education issues. We do however promote the concept of economic education in our schools. I am always amazed at the multitude of intersections between politics, economics and our lives. Each quarter, when the Charlottesville Association of REALTORS©cites the supply of homes and number of sales on thier blog, many of our students are not equipped to analyze the impact this report will have on the market and the ripple impacts on other important economic sectors (banking, durable goods, home improvement, etc.).
I was lamenting this lack of understanding with members of the business community when, in a brilliant but brief moment of free market clarity, the Free Enterprise Forum Economic Opportunity Essay Contest was born. Rather than petitioning the schools to include economic education in their classrooms, let’s provide a learner incentive [read cash money] to go above and beyond the normal level of school work.
All entries must be post marked by May 1st 2008.
The Free Enterprise Forum believes a better economic understanding builds better citizens. Please encourage any middle or high school students you know to participate. The deadline is fast approaching.