April 2008 Board of Supervisors Update By Your Salem Dist. Representative
I am writing updates every couple of months so that citizens of the Salem District in Culpeper County understand my outlook on some issues facing county government. The audience I am soliciting for communication is voters in Reva, Boston, Salem, Griffinsburg, Norman, White Shop and Waylands Mill. The update is mine as a district representative on the Board. Updates on behalf of the entire Board are written by the Board Chairman and published in the Culpeper Minutes.
As of late April 2008, three major issues have been the focus of a considerable amount of deliberations by our Board of Supervisors: budget and taxes, water and sewer, and town/county consolidation.
Budget and Taxes
The Culpeper County Board of Supervisors recently completed budget hearings and passed tax rates for 2008. Real estate taxes increased 9%, from $0.56 to $0.61. Personal property taxes for all categories remained the same. The vote to pass the real estate tax increase was 5-2, with Bill Chase and me dissenting.
My dissent was based upon the belief that Culpeper citizens cannot afford ever-increasing real estate and personal property taxes in 2008. Our local economy is worse than it has been in many voters’ lifetimes, foreclosures are at record levels, and budgets are strained by rampant inflation in gas and food. Government is also feeling the impact of inflation, and fundamental change would be necessary for government to function with less funding. Local government’s biggest expenditure is education, and within education, the largest expenditures are for secondary education. Operating one high school for the 2008-2009 year would have saved Culpeper taxpayers significant money, and the quality of education could have been better than it is for the Class of 2008. I made my case to other members of the Board of Supervisors and the School Board, but I could not convince other members (with a possible exception or two) of my position.
Therefore, the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors attempted to provide enough funding to run local government and open two new schools with as little incremental burden as possible on the local taxpayer. I believe the Board met its objective.
I believe that the overall Board of Supervisors acted responsibly, and each member of the Board voted for what he/she believed to be in the best interests of the community. Approximately five years ago, Culpeper County began the process leading to our second high school, Eastern View High School. Culpeper residents in aggregate supported the building of the school through a bond referendum. The Culpeper Board of Supervisors consistently appropriated funds for the new high school and a subsequent new elementary school over the past few years.
The schools are slated to open in 2008, and it is necessary to increase school funding by $1.8 million in order to open the schools without sacrificing crucial elements of a secondary education. I firmly believe that a $1.8 million increase in funding is the bare minimum in terms of funding for a 10 school system next year.
Water and Sewer
Culpeper County is currently considering a PPEA proposal from Culpeper Utility Partners. The proposal is to build a 2.5 million gpd sewer plant on Mountain Run and a corresponding water service based upon the utilization of groundwater. Details of the proposal can be found at this link. Total cost of the project has been stated at $108 million, financing will be municipal rate debt issued by Culpeper Utility Partners, LLC. The debt will be backed by tap sales, and the proposal provides for Culpeper County to “guarantee” a certain number of tap sales in the first five years. Upon completion of construction of the project, the plant would be turned over to Culpeper County and contributed to the joint water and sewer authority.
Several questions have been raised regarding this proposal:
•Is the capacity needed in the county? •Aren’t the town and county planning on serving overlapping areas? •Culpeper Utility Partners is controlled by the same individuals that control Angler Development, and is this the group the county should be working with? •What is the urgency to build the plant in the current development slowdown? •Will construction of the plant force future rezonings in Culpeper County? •What alternatives exist to the PPEA? •What are the contemplated tap fees and service rates, and are they realistic projections?
Members of the Board of Supervisors are considering the above questions and others. It is currently anticipated that a draft of a Comprehensive Services Agreement will be discussed at the Board of Supervisors meeting on June 3, 2008. By this point, financing for Culpeper Utility Partners should be in place. Since the project would be the largest capital project ever undertaken by Culpeper County, I hope that the discussion can be held in open session. There are obvious benefits in having open hearings, and I cannot understand what damage would face the project by open discussion.
Thereafter, the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors plans to hold public hearings on the proposed sewer plant and the PPEA. My understanding is that hearings are being contemplated for late June 2008.
The group behind One Government in Culpeper collected signatures of both town and county residents for consolidation of the town into the county. Joe Daniel, leader of the group, decide to submit solely the town petitions to the local circuit court. Therefore, according to state law, the Town has one year to develop a plan to consolidate itself into the county. The clock on the one year began ticking on January 17, 2008.
As of late April, all that has been accomplished is the hiring of an attorney to provide a summary of a fairly succinct law. No actual development of a plan has begun by the town council. I write this as an update, not as a criticism. Town council members have been open about their lack of desire to consolidate. Further, town council elections are being held in a couple of weeks (May 6, 2008). Eleven candidates are running for four seats, but not one of the candidates is in favor of consolidation.
If the consolidation movement had any momentum, surely some candidate would support it. After all, the total signatures collected far exceed the votes necessary to earn a seat on the Council. When a highly contested election occurs, and an issue has no support among any candidate in the contest, I think the issue is in trouble.
In June, the Town of Culpeper will have a new Town Council, with at least one new member and possibly 2-3 new members. Further the town has an interim Manager and a newly hired Clerk. A new manager may be hired in the next few months.
The Culpeper County Board of Supervisors has passed a resolution offering to participate and assist the town in furthering along the consolidation process. We have been told that we will be asked for a list of our assets and liabilities. The request is reasonable, sense state law mandates an accurate accounting of assets and liabilities of both governments before combination. I believe we have already delivered the data requested to the Interim Town Manager.
Personally, I do not see how a council that has no desire to disband will write a quality plan for its own demise. I do not believe the council has a sincere principled desire to write the best plan possible to eliminate the town. All that exists is the mandate based upon a state law provision. When mandates dictate action without the support of those carrying out the action, the result is rarely productive and beneficial.
I hope the Town is a good of a steward of taxpayer dollars as the can be, while the carry out the legal requirements of the consolidation process. At this point, I am betting on five representative town citizens being tasked with writing a consolidation plan to be put before voters. The composition of the five citizens, their abilities, and whether they support consolidation will all play a large role in what town and county citizens see on a ballot one day, likely in 2010.
I hope the update is useful to residents of the Salem District in terms of understanding how I am viewing issues facing us as your representative on the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors. I appreciate those of you that contribute your insights and opinions on the issues facing Culpeper County. If any readers would like to talk local government, my county e-mail is email@example.com, and my home phone is (540) 547-2742.
Culpeper County Board of Supervisors
April 27, 2008