Greene County is a wonderful place to live, work, and raise a family. What’s not to like? We boast stable employment and a steady local economy, stronger schools than 10 years ago, we’re safe with great law-enforcement, an active church community, easy access to amenities and entertainment, woods, trout streams, scenic mountain and pasture views, and relatively low and stable tax rates. Right now, Greene County is an affordable place to live and raise a family.
Recently, a friend of mine posed the following question, “do we as citizens have any duties or obligations outside of what we are directed to do (or not do) by law?” This was a very interesting question, and I thought for several minutes to form a reply. Of course we do!
I recall this quote by our very own Mr. Jefferson in a letter to Edward Carrington January 16, 1787, "Cherish, therefore, the spirit of our people, and keep alive their attention. If once they become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, judges and governors, shall all become wolves. It seems to be the law of our general nature.” I believe he was stressing the worst outcome of a government where the people stop paying attention and cease being involved, although he very plainly made his point.
We, as members of our community, cannot go about our lives thinking only of our daily routines. Unless we become involved in the direction of the affairs that shape our community, someone whom we elected along with a small informed group of active people will shape them for us; with or without regard of what we as a broader people desire of the outcome.
This very concept runs parallel with the current state of Greene County. We are now faced with challenges that we’ve never encountered since our incorporation 178 years ago due to our tremendous growth over a very short number of years. Over the past 5 years alone, we gown more than 8 percent to a population of just under 20,000, and there seems to me no slowing down. Such growth places demand on core services county wide; schools, safety and infrastructure.
Take, for example, our water and sewer system (for those of you not on a well or septic). Currently, it’s reported that our average daily water and sewer capacity will reach its permitted level by 2020, and we’ve already exceeded its daily peak demand. Estimates place a proposed cost of expanding this service for a 30-year usage outlook at $55-65M, doubling our current debt, and adding potentially more that 22 cents to the current 77.5 cent per $100 of assessed property value. This alone would place Greene County as one of the most expensive property taxed counties of its size in the Commonwealth, and in the range of property taxes imposed by Virginia cities, which offer a vaster array of services than counties do. Is there no other alternative to the one proposed?
Then there’s the Greene County School System Facility Study
that examines options that help address the expanding school population. The study describes most of the Greene County Schools exceeding or approaching building capacity, with two schools exceeding their cafeteria capacity. Whatever direction the consultants propose in the final options, better space utilization, building expansion to existing structures, or adding new facilities, the costs will be significant and additional to the cost of water and sewer infrastructure.We have a responsibility to be involved in every aspect of our governance.
We are a people of a self-governance. Our government is the structure that we have chosen to consent to a few elected individuals within the confines of laws and ordinances, to strictly and limitedly keep our local community functioning. Folks, it will not work without our collective input and telling them what WE want in the long-run.
If you look at the new Greene County website
, there is a section towards the bottom of the home page that says, “Meet Your Government
”. The section shows the Board of Supervisors Chair and Vice-Chair, County Administrator, and our Sheriff. Sorry, not to split hairs here, but they are not our government, they are our representatives…even we as citizens are not our government. Their purpose is to represent us to the government (the structure), not represent the government (the structure) to us. We’ve grown accustom to getting these concepts mixed up.
The County of Greene can no longer afford, literally, to aspire to be managed like it has for prior decades. We’ve grown too fast in too short of a period for that, and circumstances have become too complex and sophisticated to manage the structure one month at a time. It’s time for some very classical strategic planning that focuses on how we will be positioned to successfully face the next 20 or 30 years, and that planning requires ALL of us.
Please get involved by first knowing the facts. Attend the Greene County Board of Supervisors
and School Board
meetings. Send your Board of Supervisors an email
. Your involvement will decide how decisions are made and to what degree they impact the cost of living in Greene County.
-- Bob Young
The current Greene County Board of Supervisors is committed to the construction of a new water impoundment with the associated pumping and treatment facilities required. This is a huge undertaking that is critical for continued growth in our county and will impact Greene citizens for generations. The cost of this project has been estimated to be between 55 and 65 million dollars. This is approximately double the county’s current outstanding debt.
The Board of Supervisors has wisely turned to Davenport & Co. for review and recommendations on financing alternatives for this and other infrastructure projects. In their initial report, Davenport suggests financing through pooled bond issuances administered by the Virginia Resources Authority. VRA will do an extensive credit review of county finances and will require for Greene to receive a credit rating from multiple national credit rating agencies. ( Standard & Poor, Moody’s and Fitch.)
At the 4/26 BOS meeting, the Midway supervisor commented that a bond rating was not required for financing and cited the burden of increased fiscal responsibility required to maintain a bond rating. While this is correct, is it wise to ignore the recommendations of experts that we have paid to advise the county? A county bond rating provides a valuable tool for citizens and potential businesses to monitor the county’s financial health. Our bond rating serves as the canary in a coal mine for our county finances. It would be reassuring for those of us less well versed in finance to know that our situation was being evaluated by an independent third party. Transparency at all levels is critical, “trust but verify”.
We need only look to our neighbors in Fluvanna County to see how large construction projects can devastate a county’s finances. We must get this right, from financing to construction procurement to final system operation. Every citizen needs to be engaged and informed as this progresses. If you haven’t been involved locally, this would be a great time to start. What we can’t do is force our representatives to make decisions without our input and then complain about the final outcome.
Come to the next Board of Supervisors Meeting on Tuesday May 10th, learn more and make your voice heard.
-- Keith Bourne
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On Friday, April 8, 2015, the Washington Post published that Governor McAuliffe was pulling his support for "Go Virginia", due to concerns that the program came in conflict with Virginia’s Constitution. In these days of executive overreach from Washington, D.C., it is encouraging to read that Virginia’s Democrat Governor is still concerned about the Constitutionality of legislation that passes his desk, as he should be always. We shall see how the truth of this matter plays out in the weeks to come. “Go Virginia” is a state-level-initiative intended to stimulate targeted economic development across the Commonwealth, the kind of which we’ve not seen since before 2008, and the kind we’ve been told that “shovel-ready” would fix as noted by the several failed Federal stimulus programs. Perhaps we are still waiting for that “stimulus” to kick in, but so far, …not much luck. The “Go Virginia” program has a price tag of $35M that doles out funds to 10 regional councils comprised of up to 11 to 21 members. The councils would be created by a board of appointed “business leaders”, lawmakers, and members of the Governor’s cabinets. The councils would then receive $500 thousand dollars each for their region’s needs and could receive more funding based on their populations. This sounds a lot like the Politburo construct that died out in the 1990’s in Soviet Russia, but seems to have been revived here in Richmond. Placing the Constitutionality of this whole scheme aside, on its surface, “Go Virginia” may seem like a good plan to someone who may not consider if this program is even a core function of government, which it is not, or actually meddles with the free-market, which it certainly does. Only five members of the Virginia Senate voted against this legislation, the "Virginia Growth and Opportunity Board and Fund"; they were four Republicans and one Democrat
. This issue is timed well with a conversation that I had recently with my 13-year-old son who told me about what he learned in his 7th grade civics class at William Monroe Middle School. “So, tell me about what you learned today”, I asked him. “We learned about different types of economies around the world”, he replied. He explained concepts such as demand, command, and mixed types of economic systems very well. He continued, “North Korea is a command economy since they are Communist and control everything for their people, and we (the US) are mixed”. I was hoping he’d explain how he learned about Adam Smith’s concept of the invisible hand that guides demand economies through unintended social benefits from our freedom and choices as human beings. But, nonetheless, I was proud of him for sharing what he learned and the context with which he explained it. I still firmly believe in that statement in Republican Creed that says, "the free enterprise system is the most productive supplier of human needs and economic justice". I must admit, I became concerned that he described our United States of America as a “mixed economy”, one that is, according to Wikipedia, "variously defined as an economic system consisting of a mixture of either markets and economic planning, public ownership and private ownership, or free markets and economic interventionism". But, my son is absolutely right. We’ve shifted away from being a demand style economy where freedom of choices and the risk of capital, without a government enticement to succeed or fail, form the economic fabric of our community’s economy. Call me old school, but this government-economic-planning thing really bothers me. When did we start conceding that it’s the role of government to plan our economic affairs and who gets to decide what’s best for me, my progeny, or for you? At what point do we slide further down the scale to a regional, state, or federal command and control of our economy? Have we now accepted that the state decides who wins and loses? They’re not playing with Parker Brothers Monopoly money, this is real money, OUR money; the state does not own anything, we do! Relating all of this locally is not at all difficult. Cities and Counties across the Commonwealth have placed their economic development future in the hands of “Go Virginia”, including our very own Greene County, as reported to us in the March, 2017 County Administrators Report. Our County’s economic development wagon was hitched to “Go Virginia”. What gives any level of government the right to use money, collected from us, to take to the casino and bet on who will be the next regional winner in the game of “Go Virginia”? The answer is, we did. We gave consent, slowly over time, to the idea that these kinds of plug-n-play programs will stimulate economic growth. We did, without any consideration to locality competition or to those businesses willing to risk their capital on locations with the lowest and stable cost of living, the best labor force, sound infrastructure, a community commitment, and a long-term strategic plan designed to be the red carpet for the next business or industry to move into town. Economic stimulus programs designed by masterminds who decide how to allocate resources have all failed over time and are still smoldering on history’s ash heap. And, what have we learned, besides that they don’t work, is that nobody knows our circumstances well enough, nor can they champion our attributes and strengths better than we can at the local level. Hopefully we’ve not lost touch with the fact that the answer to correcting government-caused problems in our economy is not another government program, even with the best intentions at its core. Oh, and I’d like to sincerely thank my son’s 7th grade Civics teacher on a job well done!
-- Bob Young
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On July 10th, 2012, the Greene County Board of Supervisors adopted the current Fund Balance Policy
A financial reserve policy is recommended by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board
, and is intended to ensure that the county has sufficient resources for future operating needs. The policy should be designed to protect from temporary revenue shortfalls and unforeseen emergencies. Such a policy is good planning. After all, it was just a few short years ago when the county had to take out a loan to make payroll because there were insufficient funds in the bank.
Simply explained, the current Fund Balance Policy
uses 15% of the total operating budget from all funding sources, plus one month’s average cash flow required, and establishes a total level of reserve-NEED for the coming year. Recent calculations place the reserve-NEED between $12-$13M; ~3 months’ worth with which to operate the county.
Backing up the reserve-NEED becomes most critical to ensure that we have enough funding to keep the county operating without interruption. Contrary to what many in the county believe, there is no pot of cash set aside that backs up the reserve-NEED. Surprised?
The “reserve balance”, which is intended to back up the reserve-NEED, is calculated by subtracting the value of all county liabilities, from all county Assets and is much like determining the net worth of the County at the end of the fiscal year (June 30th). The assets included in this calculation combine the level of cash accounts, buildings, vehicles, and other tangibles. This calculation is very important, because we only operate the county on CASH!
The risk of using the current reserve balance calculation is that it falsely inflates the resources available to back up the reserve-NEED. There is no better example of this than during the 2012 budget discussions when the public was told that there was $17-$19M (depending on who you ask) in the “rainy-day fund”. Understandably, this caused much turmoil concerning school funding and created the impression that there was more cash available than there really was in the bank. The truth is, there never was $17-$19M in a “rainy-day fund”, available for use towards county operations.
The following graph represents the disparity between the reserve-NEED (per the policy), versus the cash resources required to back up the NEED, since 2010.
Incidentally, 2013 is when the county’s structural deficit began and has continued since, but that’s another story.
Discussions about the current reserve policy by the members of the Board of Supervisors
have begun. One Supervisor has suggested changing the reserve-NEED calculation to only include the local funding portion of the budget, leaving out major expenses funded by the state, federal, and grant sources. This change would undermine the entire purpose of having a reserve policy, which is to fund county operations in the event of temporary revenue shortfalls and unforeseen emergencies! Do we not believe that funding shortfalls could include sources from the state, federal, or grant, as well as the local portion of our county budget?
Any changes to the Reserve Balance Policy proposed by the BOS must neither lower the standard of required-NEED to fund our entire budget nor rest the value of the reserve fund on unrealistic measures to make us all feel better about our circumstances. The average cash on hand, according to the Greene County Treasurers Office, for FY15, was ~$10M, which does not account for outstanding payments that have not cleared the county checking account.
For now, the only real question to ask the BOS is, "Does the County have enough CASH reserves
available to operate, without interruption, for 3 months?" Currently, the answer is, "NO."
Cash is king in the real world, and Greene County should base its short-term reserves on it. Other well-run counties across the Commonwealth do!
-- Bob Young
“Equalized Revenue Authority
” is a PRIORITY of the current members of the Greene County Board of Supervisors and lobbyists that the County pays to go to Richmond to advocate for legislative changes. Their goal is to “urge the governor and legislature to equalize the revenue-raising authority of counties with that of cities”, according to the Thomas Jefferson Area Planning Commission’s legislative plan. See http://www.tjpdc.org/media/LegProg16.pdf
But what does this mean? “Equalized Revenue Authority” means giving Counties the same ability to impose taxes that Cities have across the Commonwealth. During the January 26th, 2016 Board of Supervisor’s meeting, County Administrator John Barkley enthusiastically announced that he is excited about the prospect to install taxes that would not affect our citizens and preserve low taxes on our community. What??? Not affect our citizens?? How?
Supporters of the ability to impose such new taxes point to Richmond’s “unfunded mandates” on localities, which compete for dollars generated by existing taxes, such as real property, sales, and equipment taxes. While Richmond does impose unfunded mandates, we need to lobby our elected state representatives to cease imposing such mandates, not accept them as being inevitable, roll over and surrender. Imposing new taxes is an action that accepts the failure to manage within our means and not grow our local economy.
Under this new authority, new taxes could be imposed on the following short list:
- Personal Income
- Storm water (RAIN WATER!!)
- Admissions, Lodging, and Meals
- Business, Personal Property
- Public Service Corporations
- Bank Franchises
- Daily Rental
- Utility Taxes
All of these new taxes certainly have the potential to impact ALL of us in Greene County. These taxes will take away personal spending ability and further stifle the badly needed economic growth in our local economy by stifling business investment. Remember, the businesses do not pay taxes, they are passed to the customers and end-users of the services and products.
Given the nature of human behavior, especially bureaucrat behavior, the range of tax possibilities can become endless. Once given this additional power, it will become abusive.
Never in the history of society has government been able to tax its population into prosperity. Greene needs to grow its local economy by remaining an affordable place for which business can invest, not price our selves out of being able to compete. This is economics 101!
Wake up Greene County and make your voice known by opposing this ability to impose new taxes. Speak at the next BOS meeting and voice your opinion. Urge your friends and neighbors to also.
-- Bob YoungContact your elected Greene County officials NOW and let them know how you feel!
Send a letter to:
Board of Supervisors or
County Executive at
County of Greene
PO Box 358
Stanardsville, VA 22973
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