Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Board of Supervisors: What Direction Shall Chesterfield Move

As we move forward post-election, Chesterfield County appears poised to either return to the old path driven down by Republicans up until the change election of 2007 or one guided by needs and fiscal responsibility. Virtually all the candidates this year for the Board of Supervisors ducked the really tough questions regarding the future of Chesterfield. Instead, the usual consultant-backed strategy of making the election more about the opponents faults than one's own vision for the County ruled the day. Its a shame really that citizens of Chesterfield really have no real clear indication of the direction the new board will take; all those "Pledges" aside.Issues such as poor infrastructure, economic development, the Comprehensive Planning and of course the guerrilla in the room, School Funding took a back seat to the kinds of attack pieces like where fundraisers were hosted or where money was coming from. The elements of a fundamental vision for the future of Chesterfield was never really expressed by any candidate seeking a seat on the Board of Supervisors.

We have to ask ourselves exactly why these campaigns in 2011 were so void of solutions or fresh ideas? The answer may be in what lies ahead for Chesterfield. The agenda that has basically been placed in a holding pattern in 2011 because of the election- the Comprehensive Plan- will no longer be able to be be shelved as it faces its deadline from the State. Unfortunately, we have our State leaders to blame for passing requirements that localities have such plans that basically mandate New Urbanism. What on earth were the Republicans in Richmond thinking?

Chesterfield managed to send back both Senator Steve Martin(R-011 unopposed) and Senator John Watkins(R-010) back to Richmond. No word on whether or not Mr. Watkin's proposal regarding the cash proffer system will re-surface or not in the coming term to address the needs of adequately securing funding resulting from new development to assist in offsetting build-out expenses by localities. No doubt the Real Estate Associations will push back an any proposal they perceive as being an added layer of expense in terms of new home construction under the guise those fees will be passed on to buyers. Again, during the campaign season of 2011 no mention by any candidate regarding the broken Cash Proffer System or even a whisper about real estate tax revenue given the fact that property values appear flat moving into 2012. No mention regarding potential increases in sales and meals taxes given real estate taxes account for over half of the local revenues generated for the budget.

One question I sought to get answers from candidates regarded the unfunded pensions. The State saw fit to dip into the VRS fund, which has now dropped below 60% of its funding status. Given the number of teachers approaching retirement, this issue cannot simply remain to go ignored and like so many issues our local leaders will have to figure out means of addressing issues rather than simply blaming Richmond and the State.

Recently, County Administrator of Chesterfield James Stegmaier stated that "the biggest vulnerability we have is the apparent failure of the Commonwealth to find solutions to its fiscal difficulties, and the tendency of the Commonwealth to shift their budget problems to the local level". Mr. Stegmaier's statement illustrates a rather "entitlement" mentality regarding State revenues and how localities must secure those revenues or at the very least deserve them in order to solve its own budgetary issues. How can local leaders rationalize the dependence upon the State and most recently Federal Stimulus dollars to address its needs but act as if they believe in limited government and don't support bailouts from the national government and yet gladly take the money every time.

A week hardly goes by that Senator Steve Martin does not blast President Obama and the Progressive regime in Washington for its stimulus programs on his facebook page and yet remains silent about his own districts use of those funds through our local government. Isn't this the height of hypocrisy? Why has candidate Steve Elswich (R-Mataoca) and now a newly elected Supervisor avoided addressing such issues? In the coming months we may learn whether the County's newest Supervisor is the "outsider" he claims or merely just another establishment-type as his opposition penned him during the campaign.

The alignment of the Board appears to have shifted back to the Republicans. Supervisors Warren, Jaeckle and Elswich representing the Republicans with James Holland and Daniel Gecker residing in the minority. The Republicans have enlisted the support of Gecker the last two years or so, but the honeymoon could now be over now that Elswich has been elected and the Republicans have a block of three votes to carry any issue. The Republicans did not actively seek out a challenger in Midlothian for Gecker in 2011 and determined to concentrate its efforts in Matoaca and Dale. It paid off in Matoaca with Elswich's victory, but the Republicans were unable to unseat James Holland (D).

I am hardly optimistic that the new Board will chart a new path given the circumstances facing them. In years past, the Board has done about everything it could to avoid addressing most of the issues facing the County and rather has sought to inflame the debate with unproductive rhetoric aimed directly at the School Board. It is obvious to any objective party that a shortfall with regard to the CCPS is once again on the horizon and once again there is little a whisper from our leaders concerning and proactive steps to be taken or any proposed solutions to head off what will certainly be a contentious 2012.