By Pauline Hovey, Greene County Field Officer
Greene County Board of Supervisors muddled over funding for future secondary road projects and the school athletics and performing arts facilities project at their March 22 meeting. Although funding for the former is determined by the Commonwealth of Virginia and is out of supervisors’ hands, the latter involved their authorization for the Greene County School Board to apply for a $5.3 million vs. $4.7 million loan from the Virginia Public School Authority (VPSA).
Supervisors had previously authorized the School Board to apply for a baseline $4.7 million low-interest VPSA loan, with the understanding the Supervisors would revisit the issue in March once they had more accurate information on the county’s financial standing. The additional $600,000 the School Board is requesting involves another five items that the project’s steering committee deemed necessary to complete, and spending this money now would save the county money in the long run, because the county would eventually be forced to complete these upgrades and renovations over time.
Greene County Schools Superintendent Dr. David Jeck (photo) responded to supervisor concerns, assuring them that no new personnel would need to be hired to maintain the new facilities and that the School Board was committed to not exceed the amount of debt service being retired and to finance the project at the smallest terms possible. Before voting on the amount, Supervisor Mike Skeens (Monroe district) clarified, “So, no new money is involved? Is that correct?”
Jeck reiterated that this is simply a matter of using retiring debt service to fund the project. At a public hearing earlier this year, twenty one residents who spoke unanimously urged supervisors to support full funding of the project. Despite these facts and the knowledge that delaying completion of these five additional items would involve greater expense down the road when costs would entail returning necessary equipment to the facility and paying higher amounts for materials and labor, two supervisors, Buggs Peyton (Stanardsville) and Steve Catalano (at-large), voted against the increase. The resolution passed with Skeens, Carl Schmitt (at-large), and Jim Frydl (Ruckersville district) voting for the $5.3 million loan amount.
In relation to county roads, Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) Karen Kilby and three other VDOT representatives presented the six-year secondary road plan, noting that based on its population, “Greene County gets a smaller piece of the pie.”
Greene County has about 201 miles of secondary roads in the state system and 147 miles of those roads are paved, but secondary road construction funds are distributed to the counties proportionally, mostly according to population. With that in mind, the slow-moving, minimally funded projects are not apt to be completed any time soon.
VDOT reported that the improvements to Bacon Hollow Road have been completed, making Mutton Hollow Road the number one priority. Mutton Hollow’s current bridges are deteriorating, and the area has been experiencing significant flooding problems, so that every time it rains, the road gets flooded and area residents, as well as school buses, have a difficult time getting through. “It’s a general traffic concern, especially with the school buses, and we’re nervous about it,” Catalano said.
VDOT presented a preliminary design for the Mutton Hollow Road bridge, will seek bids in December, and expects construction will be ongoing by next spring. Other priorities in the six-year plan include Matthew Mill Road, Beazley Road, Simms Rd., Rosebrook Road, and a second bridge on Mutton Hollow Road.
In other matters from the board, Supervisor Frydl expressed his concern that the board had requested reports from the commissioner of revenue and the county treasurer, and although they had received a “professional” report from the treasurer, he was “disappointed that we didn’t receive any information from the commissioner.”
According to Frydl, the Supervisors are now requesting monthly reports from both offices, “to enable us to identify what’s going on in the county and determine important trends.”
Chairman Catalano noted the Board will follow up on the status of the commissioner’s report. It’s expected the status will be addressed at the next board meeting. Both the treasurer and commissioner of revenue are state constitutional officers elected by the citizens, and they are responsible for providing county officials with accurate and useful information that benefits the taxpayers.
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 Teresa Gulyas, Greene County Field Officer
Crowds overflowed the public meeting room and spilled into the hallway for the Greene County Board of Supervisors meeting on June 22. More than fifty county residents were present to show support for the school’s desire to use bonds to upgrade facilities for athletics and the performing arts; over twenty-five had signed up to speak directly to the Board. Groups of families and students stood outside waiting to hear the outcome of the meeting.
The Board’s agenda indicated that there was to be “a presentation regarding proposed school’s facility project”. As this was not a resolution, there was no public hearing per se. This caused some confusion among community members about the process the Board followed.
Greene County Schools Superintendent David Jeck gave the presentation and described the current conditions of the facilities as “embarrassing”.
He requested “support from the Board of Supervisors for consideration of the project”. The proposal included significant upgrades and improvements to the physical plant of the schools athletic and performing arts facilities.
Priorities – Overview
Baseball/Softball: Light, irrigate fields, press box with restrooms and concessions (facilities with plumbing), other improvements, dugouts, stands
Track: Repair/Replace/expand to include Virginia High School league required 8 lanes, relocate fence
Stadium Area: improve/expand seating, centralize/expanded concessions & restroom facility, renovate press box building
Other: Expand/Improve Parking, replace WMHS Gym floor, Replace Performing Arts Center curtains/Stage & Seating improvements, tennis courts (to be located at the Park)
School Finance Director Kim Powell and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Representative Jim Allen added information related to the process of the funding application and reiterated that this project would have no impact on the school budget as it would utilize retiring debt line items to fund the repayment of the new debt issuance.
The urgency of the request was due to the potential expiration of “stimulus” funds that are currently available to buy the low borrowing rate (about 4%). Allen indicated that the County must be in the “borrowing book” by August 28 to qualify for this “historically” low rate.
At this point, what was being asked of the Board was not completely clear, but Jeck seemed to be seeking conceptual support for the school’s plan and support for the USDA to proceed with the application process; official funding requests would come only after the application process and would require additional community input, Board meetings, resolutions, and public hearings.
After the presentation, Board Chairman Catalano asked for feedback from the Board members. Supervisor Mike Skeens (Monroe) was not at the meeting as he was out of town on a previously scheduled trip family vacation. Carl Schmitt (At Large) and Jim Frydl (Ruckersville) spoke in favor of encouraging the school and USDA representatives to go forward with the paperwork necessary to apply for funding.
Vice Chair Buggs Peyton (Stanardsville), who served as a Board representative on the architect selection committee along with Frydl, said he would like to see more details and thinks that all Board members should be present before he would be willing to encourage application for the funding. Board Chair Steve Catalano (At Large) stated that the county had frozen all capital projects and expressed concerns about shifting local priorities, particularly in relation to funding of mandated constitutional officers and said he was unwilling to support the schools continued consideration of applying for the bond.
Frustration and anger was palpable in the room when the Board took a five minute break that the audience perceived as the end of the meeting where they had not yet been heard. When the Board returned to the room, Catalano called those who had signed up to speak.
All speakers expressed concern that two members of the Board were unwilling to support even completing paperwork to apply for the bond.
Speakers included students, parents, teachers, and community leaders:
- Marianne Shepard, president of the Greene County Chamber of Commerce and Vice Chair of the Board of the Greene County Economic Development Authority, stated that facility improvements were imperative to attract high end businesses to the county.
- Steven Brucker, also affiliated with EDA, stated that businesses expect schools to be a priority with a community
- Ernie Inzana described Greene County’s facilities as the least impressive of all those in the VHSL and wondered how other schools/counties have figured out how to get the facilities that have been needed for so long in Greene County. He commented that “you stop spending to stay out of trouble but when you stop reinvesting, that’s the start of death”
- Sam Jeffers reminded Board members that they haven’t seen a process like this before because there hasn’t been economic stimulus money available before and that we cannot depend on its future availability. He expressed concerns about the impact on teacher recruitment and retention and left the Board with the thought that “athletics (adversity) doesn’t build character; it reveals it”
- Darla Rose asked the Board to consider the intangible losses that would result if this project is not done and encouraged the board to avoid being “penny wise and pound foolish”
- Pauline Hovey expressed appreciation for past fiscal conservatism but encouraged the Board to support this school project
- Mark Sanford stated that the current facilities have been unsafe since 2000 and that the facilities were, by far, the worst he’s ever coached on
- Andrea Wilkinson, Ruckersville Citizens Committee, stated that she had no children in the schools but emphasized that the Board had heard from the Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Authority, and the Stanardsville Area Revitalization group about the importance of these facilities being addressed
- Robbie Morris advocated that the Board be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money by spending responsibly now to avoid future inflated prices as the economy recovers.
- Numerous parents, teachers, and coaches including Jim Shifflett, Kim Powell, Nancy Rodland, Katie Burnell, Jeff Nave, Lea Hertz, Jacob Hertz, and Cynthia Shifflett expressed concerns regarding the safety and potential for injury and subsequent lawsuits with current facilities, the length of time the facilities have been in disrepair, and the frustration that Greene County is unable to be as competitive with inferior facilities.
Patsy Morris, former Greene County supervisor, was the lone member of the audience who clapped when the project did not get support from the Board of Supervisors.
Board members have reiterated throughout the year that they plan to make their decisions driven by data. The Free Enterprise Forum has several questions regarding data points that might be helpful in guiding the Board in their decision:
- Would using objective and measurable criteria in presenting the state of facilities be effective in helping the Board of Supervisors prioritize specific infrastructure repair/replacement?
- Considering the uncertainty of economic conditions, would the Board of Supervisors be more comfortable with a smaller project scope?
- Would unraveling the project to discreet elements, each with an estimated cost provide the Board the ability to support a portion of the proposal?
- Are there statistics on injuries, loss of revenue, parent/student/community or visitor complaints?
- What would be the divergence in the project’s financing cost if the USDA loan was not available and another financing vehicle was used?
The Board of Supervisors will continue the discussion regarding support for the bond application at the next meeting on July 13 [with all supervisors present]. Although there will be no “public hearing” until there is a resolution, the public at last night’s meeting spoke loudly and clearly when given the opportunity to speak at the end of the meeting during matters from the public.
The following links provide additional information developed by the Greene County Schools related to the school project discussed at last night’s meeting:
By Teresa Gulyas, Greene County Field Officer
The Greene County School Board was pleasantly surprised at the May 11 meeting of the Greene County Board of Supervisors. An additional $42, 427 in funds were awarded to the schools after the state reductions in constitutional officers resulted in money from fringe benefits associated with those positions becoming available. Supervisors also unanimously authorized the issuance of general obligation school bonds in an amount up to $2,668,467 to finance certain capital projects. School Board members and school employees thanked the Board for their continued support and promised to be first in line in July for any additional or supplemental funding that may become available from the state or county.
Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the renewal of the Agricultural and Forestral District Program, decreasing the time period from 10 years to 5 years. Sixty-eight percent of the property owners remained in the program; of the thirty-two percent who left the program, many moved to conservation easements.
The following ordinance amendments were unanimously approved:
- The Animal Control Ordinance was changed to reflect the current state code and to mirror language in the state code changing “warden” to “animal control officer”.
- Changes in the Drought Management Ordinance reflected adoption of the language used by Department of Environmental Quality when describing different stages of voluntary and mandatory water restrictions.
In matters from the public, Roy Dye of the Stanardsville Area Revitalization (*STAR*) group updated the Board on recent progress.
- Initial VDOT study is complete
- Draper-Aden will provide two design options consistent with the historic charm of the Town
- Federal grants of $674,000 will provide two new crosswalks and enhance the streetscape from Celt Road to Rectory Lane, thereby improving safety and attracting tourists
Dye expressed continued concerns with the “antiquated water line going down Main Street” and expressed the groups desire that the sidewalks and water line work be completed simultaneously to minimize disruption of businesses on Main Street.
The meeting concluded with Board Chairman Steve Catalano thanking everyone for their hard work on the budget. Over the next couple months, the Board of Supervisors will be reviewing their bylaws and their personnel plan as well as the Comprehensive Plan.
By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer
The Fluvanna Board of Supervisors gave the go ahead to refinance about $4.5 million in school bonds at an otherwise uneventful Board meeting on September 2nd. Two of the supervisors suggested continuing the consideration into a second meeting in order to obtain better analysis of the cost/benefits of the proposal.
According to the county’s bond advisor, the county would save a net $1 million over the life of the loan, however, because of Davis-Bacon requirements, the initial outlay for school construction would be at least $750,000. Supervisor Charles Allbaugh questioned the accuracy of that projection, and supervisor Gene Ott wondered about the future cash value of the initial outlay.
The rest of the Board favored going forward, however, and the county staff anticipates completing the process by mid-September.
In other matters, supervisors:
- Appointed Mr. John Alexander to an at large position on the Economic Development Commission;
- Authorized a request for proposal to procure a municipal software system; and,
- Awarded a $1 million contract for a phase two pipeline extension for the Palmyra sewer system.
Chairman Marvin Moss requested that the supervisors concur with a letter he drafted to the Department of Conservation and Recreation regarding their proposed stormwater runoff regulations. The letter focuses exclusively on the burdens that the regulations would create for local government, and does not address the effects they would have on the county’s private sector constituency.
The supervisors concurred with the letter, despite the fact that the deadline for such comments was August 31st.
By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer
Over the past weekend, Fluvanna supervisors set a special meeting for Monday evening (7:00 pm Fluvanna County Courthouse) to discuss the proposed high school bond issue. Two members are needed to force a special meeting and sources indicate that the two more conservative members: Gene Ott (Rivanna) and Don Weaver (Cunningham) pressed the issue.
Both Ott and Weaver want to have another look at the bond proposal made by Davenport and Company, the county’s bond advisers. Ott has in the past cited a potential conflict of interest since the bond adviser is paid when the county uses it to place the bonds.
The text of the required announcement states: “Based on the current economic situation affecting the bond market and interest rates, this meeting is called to determine if the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors needs more information for (sic) an independent financial expert on the bond market status and to seek answers as to the most desirable time to enter the market place for the High School bond interest rates and to consider delaying the offering, sale and issuance of such bonds pending receipt of such advice.”
According to one well placed official, the supervisors are unlikely to take any action that would delay going to the market which now is scheduled for December 1st.
Supervisors Meeting of November 19, 2008
Mr. Bill Hughes, a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 8169 (Scottsville), with several members in attendance, briefed the Board on major renovations and upgrade to the Post facility. The United Way designated the renewal as a “Day of Caring” project.
Accomplished entirely through volunteer labor and donations, Fluvanna county staff and numerous local businesses donated time and material. Mr. Hughes noted that for the first time the facility now had hot water, and estimated that the donated time and materials amounted to at least $75,000.
The Post presented Certificates of Appreciation to the county staff that participated in the project.
School Bond Update
County Administrator G. Cabell Lawton IV informed the supervisors that he anticipates going to the bond market on December 1st to secure the funds necessary for the new high school. Mr. Lawton also expects to close on the funds by the end of the year.
About a dozen citizens spoke again regarding the bond issue and only two supported going forward at the present time. Other comments ranged from suggesting just a short-term deferral until the markets stabilize to outright cancellation of the bond solicitation. Over the past two Board meetings, there has been considerable public comment urging the Board to reconsider its decision to go forward with the bond issue, especially given the current uncertain economic climate and the impact it is having on personal finances.
Prior to the discussion, the county administrator told the supervisors that he has instructed staff to develop contingency plans for budget reductions at both the five and ten percent levels. The county’s next real estate tax deadline is December 5th and the Administration will have a better idea of the county’s finances by then, according to Lawton.
As of the meeting, county officials still were confident that the bonds could be sold at an interest ate at or lower than the Board set limit of six percent.
Other Board Actions
In other actions, the Board:
· Was updated on potential improvements to the Human Services building at Carysbrook. A complete renovation and new construction could cost as much as $4 million, or it could be phased in and cost as little as $1.3 million initially for the old high school building renovations;
· Approved the creation of a Central Virginia Regional Jail Authority, which would have the ability to secure funds through its own borrowing (the Authority’s creation must be approved by all member governments);
· Approved a county investment policy that will provide guidance to the Treasurer regarding the investment of the county’s general funds, capital project funds, and bond repayment account;
· Appointed supervisors Don Weaver (Cunningham) and Marvin Moss (Columbia) to a new Energy Performance Contracting Committee, which will provide guidance regarding performance based contracts for the county’s energy related projects; and,
· Set two work sessions to review the Comprehensive Plan — Saturday, February 7th, 2009 (9:00 am to 4:00 pm) and Wednesday, February 18th, 2009 (4:00 pm to 6:00 pm).
The Board’s next regular meeting will be held on December 3rd, at 2:00 pm in the County Courthouse.
By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Representative
Any thoughts that a light agenda meant an early evening quickly disappeared at the Board of Supervisors meeting on November 5th.
Things got off to an interesting start when a clearly agitated Chairman Marvin Moss (Columbia) interrupted county administrator G. Cabell Lawton’s routine briefing on a potential bond issuance to berate a letter-writing citizen who happened to be in the audience.
Reading from a letter written by Mr. Leroy McCampbell that appeared in the November 3rd issue of the Daily Progress, Mr. Moss blasted the statement that said: “Fluvanna taxpayers have been led to believe that the agenda for the Nov. 5 Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors meeting will include a proposal to seek buyers for the new bonds at interest rates of 8.5 percent to 9 percent.”
“This is irresponsible and misleading, and I want everyone here and in the county to know it”, Moss said. He also stated that there was never any idea to raise the allowable borrowing rate to those levels.
Then during the public comment period fourteen citizens addressed the need for supervisors to take into account the current economic circumstances when considering the upcoming bond issue for the new high school. All urged restraint, reconsideration, or delay until economic circumstances improved. Several cited existing county obligations such as social services that will require greater county funding as the state cuts funding to localities.
While some criticized the school system and the need for a new high school directly, most speakers emphasized the affordability and the necessary tax increases that would be needed to pay for the bond.
In the second public comment period, Mr. Lee True, head of the Fluvanna Taxpayers Association, repeatedly sought assurances from the supervisors that they would not authorize paying an interest rate above six percent. While no supervisor responded directly, the impression was left that the Board would retain that rate.
Supervisors seemed surprised by the spate of comments directed at them. While consideration of a possible interest rate increase initially was planned as part of a presentation by the county bond advisors, the briefing never made it to the agenda. Prior to the meeting some supervisors wondered why so many citizens showed up. They soon learned.
There were several reports to the Board including one by Sheriff Ryant Washington and one by Dr. Jackie Meyers, head of the county’s Comprehensive Services Act (CSA) program.
The sheriff highlighted his department’s activities for 2007 and noted that overall crime in the county had declined by four percent over 2006. This continues a trend that shows an overall decrease of 16 percent over the past three years.
Destruction and vandalism of property declined by over twenty percent in the county last year, while assaults decreased by 16 percent. Burglaries, larcenies, and breaking and enterings did rise by about eighteen percent however.
Dr. Meyers highlighted how the CSA program spent its allocated $2 million. Roughly four fifths of the expenditures were for foster care programs, while the remaining was spent on special education – beyond what the county schools provide.
Meyers also confirmed what one citizen alluded to in the public comment portion of the meeting: the upcoming state assistance cutbacks. The county share of residential and foster care costs (excluding family foster care) will increase from the current 38 percent to 44 percent in January, 2009 and then to 48 percent next July.
The Board’s next meeting is scheduled for November 19th, at 7:00 pm in the County Courthouse.
By William J. Des Rochers
Fluvanna Field Officer
Fluvanna officials got a double dose of economic reality late last week and one was not particularly good for the county’s image or economic development prospects.
Verizon Suspends Operations
Verizon Wireless informed officials on September 26th that it was putting all cell tower projects on hold in the county, including a potentially cooperative effort with the county at Bremo Bluff.
Verizon Project Manager Mark Winsted informed the county that it is “reevaluating its network plans in the county [so it] will be on standby” according to an email sent to county officials. Deputy county administrator Shelley Wright alerted supervisors and other officials of the decision on Friday afternoon. “I will be talking with another carrier today or Monday and will see if there may be interest in some of these sites.” She wrote in an email.
“This makes the Communications Master Plan even more important as we will need to look at the impact of locally funded infrastructure projects and preferred site options to market to other third-party carriers.” She advised.
The county had hoped to have a cooperative venture with Verizon to place a tower on county owned land in the Bremo Bluff area, to serve not only cell phone users but also the emergency communication needs of the county. Now it likely will cost the county significantly more unless a new partner can be found.
One senior government official said that this would be “a setback to the momentum the county seemed to have developed to promote economic development. The county’s actions [by supervisors and planning commissioners] threw a monkey wrench into Verizon’s network development and now the county has to face the consequences”.
No School Bonds
County administrator G. Cabell Lawton IV also informed supervisors that the potentially $75.5 million school bond issue had to be withdrawn after it failed to attract buyers in the current uncertain market.
According to sources, the county’s bond advisor, Davenport, notified officials that because of the financial market crisis and Congressional inaction, firms would not be able to bid because there are no buyers for municipal bonds. “Basically, there’s no liquidity”, on said.
Officials hope to go back to the market again within the next forty-five days to get the funding needed for the high school.