Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Turning the Page: Chesterfield 2011

In the last few years, citizens of Chesterfield County have faced the sad fact that local government is broken. It does not take a financial expert to know that the messages such as "shortfall" on the one hand and then a few months later "surplus" confuse and baffle citizens, but in reality what it does is create a complete lack of confidence in local government itself.

This year has illustrated the great divide in priorities between the Board of Supervisors and the School Board. Many people would argue that these two bodies have completely different agendas, but frankly that is the very attitude the creates the divisiveness we have experienced throughout this year. The visions and goals of both these bodies have a very common thread that binds them and it is NOT money; its our future.

We have a Board of Supervisors that is more concerned with short-term political gains and scoring political points by undermining the Chesterfield County School Board than they are at setting a course centered in common interest toward solutions that will benefit the entire County heading into the future.

Fortunately, one of the greatest things about democracy is every four years we as citizens have the opportunity to determine whether the compass of our local Board is heading in the right direction or whether we need to chart a new path by turning the page.

It is fairly early as far as local politics goes to learn about those citizens willing and determined to run for office. In 2011, all five of the Board of Supervisors seats will be up for re-election. The current Board was thrust into office in the change election dramatics of 2006. It was this election that not only placed the United States Congress into the hands of the Democrats in Washington, but also on the local level represented a sweeping change in the make-up of the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors.

Looking to 2011, I had an opportunity to sit down and speak with one of the citizens that has declared himself as a candidate for Supervisor from the Matoaca District, T.C. Robinson. Mr. Robinson seeks to win the Republican nomination and challenge (I) Supervisor Marlene Durfee in November, 2011.

The following is a summation of my conversation with the candidate:
What would you see as the most important issues facing the County today in general?
Putting Children First, Fiscal Responsibility, and Economic Development (Robinson)

Lets go through those three if we can okay?
Putting Children First?
For too long, there has been a high level of anxiety in our school system causing a loss of focus on our most important asset - our students. Now is the time to come together to regain our focus on our children and our future.(Robinson)
How would you describe the current relationship between the BOS and School Board ?
Fractured. (Robinson)
How can we get beyond this condition?

Well, I will encourage unity and open, productive communication among all members of the community – students, teachers, administration, the School Board and concerned citizens.
Education should be something we all rally around and we have great resources at our disposal.
Class sizes have a direct impact on the level of education our students receive. (Robinson)
That said, what is your position on trailers scattered throughout the County?

Simply put, class sizes must be kept manageable so that teachers have the opportunity to work with each child. Teacher frustrations over not being able to give their best every single student often results in departures from CCPS or even from the profession. Teachers are not particularly fond of teaching in trailers nor are students with being educated in them. Look outside this morning and look at all this snow. Do you think it is fair to have those students venturing out into the cold to sit in trailers? All of us are guilty for it because we have allowed the Boards in the past to create ill-conceived planning thus adding students to our class rolls with virtually no consultation with the School Board and creating over capacity. How can sit back and say its okay we have schools 10-20% over intended capacity when they were constructed?

All of us have a stake in the health of our education system. Local governments, the business community, and non-profit organizations can all work together with our school districts to support stronger, safer schools that give all our kids a chance to succeed.
Together, we can make our County a true partner in our children’s future. (Robinson)

What is your take on Fiscal matters?
Fiscal Accountability is crucial. The current Board spent much of the Spring casting blame on the Schools for its budget. Supervisors Durfee and Gecker both made statements that created mistrust between the bodies by implying that the Schools were not being forthright regarding financial matters when in fact in accordance with State law the School Board had supplied all the requirements. Regardless, Chesterfield will soon be the third largest locality in the State, behind only Prince William and Fairfax. Population growth usually means bigger budgets. It also means an increased opportunity for the mismanagement of revenues. As our budget grew nearly 40% between FY2005 and FY2010, the chances that money would be misspent grew exponentially. I would move to create a more powerful Citizen’s Budget Audit Committee, so that we can make sure that every dollar is spent wisely.

I also believe we need serious reform in the way our property tax rate is advertised and eventually assessed. We cannot simply keep lowering the rate for the sake of saying we lowered it. I would favor an amendment to the county code that prevents the Board of Supervisors from setting the property tax rate at more than 3 cents below or above the rate deemed revenue neutral. Along with that I would propose that the Board of Supervisors be required to move 10% of any future revenue surplus into our Rainy Day Fund, with the goal of seeing the fund reach $100 million by 2020.
I would also submit that this Board has not lived up to the expectations of citizens to address County roadways and infrastructure. We cannot simply just keep blaming the State and our local Assembly leaders. This Board demonstrates very little accountability. They had an opportunity to create set-asides to address this issue and have failed to act.(Robinson)

You spoke of economic development?
Yes. Economic Development is vital to our future but it must be a shared responsibility with the fiscal responsibility we were just speaking to. In these times of economic adversity when people are losing their jobs and homes, the government should work to help the private sector generate new jobs in Chesterfield and help our existing local businesses succeed.
While most new jobs should and must be created in the private sector, the government can play an important role in establishing a favorable climate for job creation. It is essential that Chesterfield County be a place which appeals to hardworking, imaginative and inventive workers. That said, it also important that we adjust the mix regarding our revenue generation. Currently, we see about 80% of the revenues on the back of our citizens and only 20% on the business community. Many have questioned why it appears as though Henrico as done a better job addressing these balances. A recent 2008 Business Survey in Chesterfield demonstrates the willingness of business to work in a manner that is cooperative and appropriate to grow our economy. In fact, Supervisor Durfee and Gecker pledged to reduce said burden on citizens and shift more towards business while candidates, but once seated have done nothing to address this disparity. In fact, it appears as though they have gone the other direction. (Robinson)
What would you say to those that favor commercial buildout along the 360 West corridor?
It is imperative that we work to attract more office and retail development, which will bring jobs but we cannot simply just rely on the retail model. These are not the high paying jobs that will ignite our economy. They may be suitable for financial purposes but looking out twenty years does it really do any good to bring them and then continue to zone additional lots that create commercial sprawl. (Robinson)
Can you elaborate a bit on that?
Certainly. Look at Midlothian Tnpk east of Chesterfield Town Center toward Cloverleaf and the City. If you drive through Mr. Gecker's District you will see literally dozens of For Lease signs and vacant retail units all along Rt. 60. What have we done to address this? Have the Business Zones worked to address this? We have to ask ourselves how we can attract business investment along with County invetment to revitalize these areas and not simply just keep building further west in Matoaca. (Robinson)
Would this benefit from a revenue perspective?
Certainly. Not only would it mean more higher paying jobs for Chesterfield residents, it would mean more revenue for the county as a whole as those types of developments cost less to provide services for than say those projects like Roseland cost to build out. In fact, look at what happened in Magnolia Green. Many citizens are unaware of the Lower Magnolia Green Commercial Development Authority tax lien on residents in that area that are in addition to the typical property taxes that they pay which will last for up to 30 years. I have been told that these taxes are roughly about $500 a year for every household but am not sure what the commercial rate will be because of the issues that Magnolia has faced with its developers and the fact that there has been little action on the 200 acres of commercial property along Hull Street. Currently, the residents are stuck with more of the burden as the 3,550 homes are built out until the economic recovery permits the commercial elements to catch up. This pattern seems to have repeated itself throughout the last twenty years in Chesterfield. (Robinson)

More background information on T.C. Robinson can be found at www.tc4matoaca.com for those that wish to seek out further information. Citizens can also find him involved with the CCRC in Chesterfield.

I fully intend to reach out to the other candidates throughout 2011 that seek either the Board of Supervisors or the School Board. 2011 is shaping up to be a very interesting year for Chesterfield concerning path the County will take in the coming years.