Fact Checking “Much of county spending misdirected”

After reading “Much of county spending misdirected” in Wednesday (May 3 issue of the Gazette) I questioned the accuracy of the assertion made by the author. The editorial page like the Last Word is the writer’s opinions not necessarily based on fact. Here is what I discovered while fact checking “Much of county spending misdirected”

1.”Recent projections included in WJCC’s strategic plan show student populations declining in 2027 and beyond so the drumbeat for more and expanded schools should be short-lived.”

Fact: “Following is the most likely ten-year projected enrollment. According to this projection, enrollment would increase 1,160 students in grades K–12 from the current 2016-17 enrollment of 11,431 to the 2026-27 projected enrollment of 12,591, an increase of approximately 10% percent.” Page 20 Future Think Enrollment Projections Update November 10, 2016. https://wjccschools.org/departments/finance/enrollment-reports/

2 “JCC is also no longer a high-growth community, according to the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, falling out of Virginia’s top 10 fastest growing localities”

Fact: Yes But…Though the county fell out of the top ten but not by much. Of the 133 counties/cities in the Commonwealth JCC was # 13 highest in population growth listed by the Weldon Cooper Center Estimates July 1 (2016 estimates released Jan 30, 2017). This was a 9.9% increase for JCC over the 2010 census. Counties in the 7th through 14th rankings had growth rates from 9.7% to 11.5%. Weldon Cooper’s long-range forecast of population growth is based on a methodology that looks at by right development of homes. Within the county’s, Public Service Area it has 15,000 by right parcels which are why Weldon has estimated JCC’s 2030 population at 109,000, a 30,000 plus increase from today’s county population of 71,000. Increases to services e.g. Williamsburg-James City County Schools, storm water, roads and emergency services, aging county infrastructure are being driven by current and future population growth. (http://demographics.coopercenter.org/virginia-population-estimates/).

3. “JCC continues to spend ridiculous sums on storm water, averaging $2.6 million per year on projects, plus another $1.1 million on staff and operations. JCC has already met the 2018 standards and is well on its way toward meeting 2024 goals, “

Fact: As a result of the county’s Chesapeake Bay TMDL Action Plan MS4 First Permit Cycle enacted June 2015, James City far exceeds its 5% reduction goal for pollutants (nitrogen and phosphorus) and sediment by 2018 (first cycle) and is well within reach of the current reduction requirements in 2023 and 2028 (the remaining 35% and 60%).  The county did this by consistently funding where possible storm water projects, stricter development standards and county sponsored programs (rain gardens and turf love). The recently approved Storm Water CIP FY18-22 program at $2.6 million per year enables the county to meet the remaining 90% of its MS4 TMDL requirement by 2028.

4. “The Trump administration has already begun to rein in an out-of-control EPA by repealing the Headwaters of the U.S. Act, which placed roadside ditches under federal purview. Richmond has, likewise, taken responsible action to address arbitrary nutrient loading limits (HB 1597).”

Fact:  There is no Headwaters of the U.S. Act. The president’s executive order directed the EPA and the Army’s Corp of Engineers to review the Clean Water Rule. The rule is part of the Clean Water Act of 1972 which seeks ‘‘to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.’’ 33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq. The Clean Water Rule “Focuses on streams, not ditches. The rule limits protection to ditches that are constructed out of streams or function like streams and can carry pollution downstream. So, ditches that are not constructed in streams and that flow only when it rains are not covered.https://www.epa.gov/cleanwaterrule/what-clean-water-rule-does

Fact: HB1597 does not “address arbitrary nutrient loading limits” instead it is an amendment to § 15.2-2114, Regulation of storm water Code of Virginias and applies to a “Storm water management utility, local; waiver of charges when storm water retained on site. Requires any locality establishing a storm water management utility to provide a full or partial waiver of charges for a person whose approved storm water management plan indicates that the storm water produced by his property is retained and treated on site.”

5. “The General Assembly passed legislation this year forbidding such abuses by municipalities operating storm water utilities (HB 1774).”

Fact: HB 1597 addressed municipalities operating storm water utilities not HB 1774 (see above). HB 1774 establishes a “Storm water management; work group to examine ways to improve Storm water and erosion control; work group; storm water laws. Directs the Commonwealth Center for Recurrent Flooding Resiliency (the Center) to convene a workgroup to consider alternative methods of storm water management in rural Tidewater localities.”

6. “JCC is operating a de facto utility yet claims to be exempt.”

Fact: JCC does not operate a Storm Water utility as Adam Kinsman, County Attorney, clarified to the Board of Supervisors on 11 April after Mr. Henderson’s comment during the public comment section that JCC is operating a storm water utility citing HB1597.

7. “The responsible solution is to partner with Newport News Waterworks, which already serves a third of the county, including Anheuser-Busch, and get out of the water business entirely.”

Fact: JCSA’s rate for Water 5000’gallons a month (average household usage) is $14.76. The Newport News rate for the same household usage rate is $36.14 a month. Adopting this “responsible solution” would mean a 41% increase to the two-thirds of the county in addition to the $16 million to $18 million in infrastructure improvements.

It is easy and simple to mislead citizens by throwing out “facts” and mislabeling actions and offering a generalized attack. What is difficult is to address perceived problems with rational and thought provoking alternatives.

The JCC budget process was a thorough and while it may not have made everyone happy, it provided an open forum, clear answers to problems and an agenda to keep the county moving forward. Sometimes it is valuable for various “mandates” to be met, not because of a state or federal rule, but because they simply make good sense and are affordable.

Spring has sprung in Tidewater

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It’s Spring. The redbuds have peaked along with the daffodils, the cherry trees are in full bloom and the dogwoods are next. There is that opaque new spring green color throughout the tree tops of the poplars and birch like a transparent fine gauze where you can still see clearly the complex structure of their extended frames reaching towards the sky. And then there is that definite sign of spring – that pale yellow film of pollen that covers everything

Holly our 7-year-old Westy has a habit when she goes out to look up into the sky and into the tree canopy to see what is going on. It always triggers a thought in my mind as to what she is either looking for or at and why. She is small but at 22lbs I don’t think she is in any danger from some predator from the sky. Maybe it’s to get a sniff of what is in the air – an incoming weather front (unlikely) or just to verify that all is well in the neighborhood (maybe). There are the other possibilities. Having chased her share of squirrels up the many trees of her yard she is just checking to see if any intruders are in her domain (likely).

I found myself on the front porch at sunset looking up into a golden hue splashed across the top canopy with that new spring green up against a blue sky with the lower half of the trees in a contrasting shadow. A movement caught my eye as it scampered from the very top weaving its way from one limb to another, then to a connecting tree limb, then a leap of faith to a further branch, then scampering along it to the main trunk, then a downward spiral along the upper tree trunk, into the shadows and nestled in safety into a leafy nest. I often see the neighborhood squirrels under the feeder or two of them playing tag scampering through the backyard and up and around the trees, or chased up a tree by Holly or dashing and pausing and then a quick change of direction to safety as I drive out of the neighborhood (this car breaks for squirrels) but I rarely ever see one surreptitiously finding their way to their nest as I did that evening.

Do-It-Yourself Geo Apps MOOC

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I took the ESRI Do-It-Yourself Geo Apps course because I wanted to see if I could build a GIS app for either an IOS or Android. The app would be downloadable from the Apple’s App Store or Googles Play Store.
The idea that I had in mind was to tie the my James City County’s stormwater program projects with  a measurable outcome besides the reduction of pollutants. I do believe  that it is about water quality. To that end, I wanted to try and develop a water quality monitoring data entry app for an iPhone or Android.  There are really two halves to the app. There is the data gathering input app and  the display of the data on a GIS map.
I have a sample of what this could look like for you to see.
Here is the data Entry Form , which you can fill out yourself from this web page. The date is automatic, and you do have to fill out the complete form. Some fields require a number and will not let you enter letters. At the end, you confirm the GIS location of the data. You can also attach pictures or additional documents. I used the “Modified Method (Rocky Bottom) Data Entry Form as a sample to develop the form.
The data format shown on the data entry form would be a downloadable application.  For example, an Apple App downloadable from the Apple App store and then the App used as a data entry form on your iPhone or iPad. The data, when submitted from the iPhone or iPad, will then automatically populate an ARC Online GIS Map. You do not have to have  an internet connection to use the form but you will have to have one to submit the form.
Here is the-the display on a GIS Map in a slide presentation mode. There are two slides and on the second slide, it displays the data. If you scroll to the bottom, you will see two attachments a photo and a document which you can open by clicking on them. There is also a summary display GIS map here that adds the total input of each of the 40 plus fields eg total number of Mayflies etc.
If you do fill out the Data entry forum and submit it, it will automatically populate my working dummy GIS Map
I have not figured out yet how to download the data into a CSV or Excel spreadsheet.

Tidewater Virginia

In Tidewater Virginia, February is the time, not January when the temperatures dip into the twenties with wind chills in the teens. It is only for a few days but it makes you wonder what it was like in James City Shire in 1634 let alone in James Town with the northeast winds driving from the James River.

If we get any snow it’s about this time and it varies from a dusting to six inches or more. As the month goes on heading into March I start to get the concern about the possibility of an ice storm. Williamsburg is on a “fall line” between snow or ice while if you go twenty minutes down the Peninsula it’s rain while heading towards Richmond it’s snow. The problem with ice storms like hurricanes that come through here is that you tend to lose power for a few days – ugly.

This morning as I rolled over at 4 AM and look towards the bedroom window. It seemed lighter out the window and it did not make sense since it is a new moon. Well at 6 AM I rousted the dogs out of bed to go outside and was greeted with a heavy dusting of white powder snow that now explained it. I took out the snow shovel and broom and cleared off the walkway and cars of snow.

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WiFi is still very much a pup, getting right in front of the snow shovel and biting and grabbing at the broom. I think he thinks he is helping. To try to burn off some of that puppy energy, we have enrolled WiFi in a half day play- care program. He was interviewed by the staff to see how he behaved with the other dogs and passed and had his first play date last Friday. We picked him up at noon and on his report card “Plays nice with other dogs” was checked. We were happy to see that he was worn out and he spent the rest of the day napping leaving Holly in peace to nap herself. We are going try two days a week for his play date starting this week and I will keep you posted on his progress.

I am in the second week of my ESRI “Do-It-Yourself- Geo Apps” online course. I have taken a couple of their courses over the last two years to better see how I might apply GIS technology to stormwater issues in the county. Here is one of my homework assignments and I am working on an iPhone app that is an input form to catalog water quality conditions in James City County and it will identify locations needing to be added attention. When I finish it I will send it along for you to see. The course is centered on the idea of government transparency by using GIS and making the data available for viewing or crowdsourcing data e.g locations of potholes or graffiti that require repair based on citizen input.

 

 

2035 Strategic plan – Education

I am following the 2035 Strategic Plan very closely and in reading Clarion’s Foundation Report Phase 1 Setting Direction I think the Four Main Themes are about right.
•Regional and Local Economic Development
•Fiscal Health, Efficiency, and Sustainability
•Infrastructure, Facilities, and Services
•Community Character
 
There is one additional theme Education -Public K-12 and Higher education / workforce development that was also raised as a critical strategic planning topic to be included in the Strategic Plan. The question of whether or not the Strategic Plan will include goals and actions for policy areas which the County has a limited role will be explored at the February 9 Board of Supervisors work session.
 
I can not think of a better more neutral place than the 2035 Strategic Plan to have an inclusive conversation about the county’s future goals and actions for policy. Not including Education Public K-12 and Higher education / workforce development diminishes the likely hood of county citizens  developing a consensus on  “What” our priorities are and “When” we can afford to bring them to fruition over the next 20 years.
 
 My sensing is the 2017-18 Biennial Budget deliberation over the next few months will focus on issues like the need for a 4th Middle school and the increasing  annual core operating expense increases, averaging 4% per year over the next five years. At the same time, we will see additional VRS contributions above projected levels, virtually flat state revenues, and county revenue projections of only 2.5% in its five-year projections compounding the issue. Whatever the decisions are, they will be short term in nature
 
The WJCC’s fiscal crisis is now and soon to become the county’s crisis. Including Education -Public K-12 and Higher education / workforce development as the fifth main theme  allows for a comprehensive identification of specific steps needed to implement the future vision in the County’s 2035 Strategic Plan of which Education is key to our future. It offers the possibility of a long term plan.

Essay – Community Character, what is it?

The Strategic Planning Advisory Group (SPAG) met recently to review the first draft of an Economic Opportunities Analysis that will be presented to the Board of Supervisors on 9 February. The committee consists of 17 county citizens with a diverse set of backgrounds, chartered to advise the County’s Strategic Plan initiative, a year-long effort to prepare a strategic action plan that will guide county operations and investments for the next 20 years.

Part of their session involved a preliminary discussion of the Strategic Plan’s Mission, Vision, Goals, and Actions. The basis of the discussion was a review of county documents like the 2035 Comprehensive Plan along with recent sensing sessions with community stakeholders, county staff, and the SPAG. Not surprisingly one of the key themes to float to the top was preserving “Community Character”. Part of the discussion at this session was the squishiness of trying to define what we mean by “community character” let alone defining what it is we want to preserve. A fair point but as most of you know the issue of preserving our community character is what we say is why we live in James City County based on consecutive surveys as part of the county’s comprehensive plans.

If we do want to “preserve the community character” it is only fair that we tell these Strategic Planning Committees what we mean by it. As diverse as we are as a community I am sure that there are multiple views on what we mean by “community character” but at the same time, I think there is a set of common themes that up to this point have not been articulated.

To start that conversation let me share my notion of “community” as broader than just James City County. As I travel about locally on any day I don’t differentiate between York County, the City of Williamsburg or James City County which I can cross into and out of and back again. My community is the Historical Triangle and the history of the region from Jamestown to Yorktown and everything in between is part of its character. Traveling across the peninsula on the Colonial Parkway gives you a feel for another dimension of that character with its open green space devoid of any commercial signage or clutter to distract you from the idea that you are traveling back to a simpler rural community of the past. Traveling through the city of Williamsburg past the college through “confusion corner” and out along Jamestown Road to the Jamestown Ferry and Jamestown Beach it’s not a far reach to see what you mean by “community character” and why you think it’s worthwhile to preserve. This is just one of many ideas of what community character can mean and what we may want to preserve.

There is a flip side based on today and not in the past that talks to what our future community character will be. Have you driven to Pet Smart or filled up on a tank of gas at Martins and then driven back onto Monticello drive to see a homeless veteran asking for help at the stop light? Or a school bus at a local motel in the morning picking up children whose family are homeless and that are striving every day to get an education. The county’s commitment to such issues are reflected in the little less than $300K that go to community service agencies like Avalon or Meals on Wheels or $325 to Education and Environmental agencies like Thomas Nelson Community College or its $1.8M contributions to health service organizations like Parents as Teachers Program, the Old Towne Medical Center and the Colonial Behavioral Health.

This community cares about all of us and gives generously with its time and resources to those who need our help – that is it’s about our character as a community in that we care about people first not things and it is also part of a legacy that stretches back to the founding of the county as JamesCity Sire in 1634.

I am sure that all of you have your ideas on what you mean by community character, why you live her and what you want to preserve. If you feel like sharing send it into the Last Word and let us tell the folks on the Strategic Planning Committees what we think is worthwhile preserving.