2014-01-01 / Front Page

Budget crunch, special elections loom in 2014

For county, rough road lies ahead
By Michael Buettner

Tom Doland (right) welcomes Jim Schroeder to the School Board in late November. Schroeder was selected by the board to temporarily fill the Midlothian District seat vacated by Patty Carpenter, who resigned in October for health reasons. A special election to fill the seat through the end of 2015 will be held March 18. 
Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer Tom Doland (right) welcomes Jim Schroeder to the School Board in late November. Schroeder was selected by the board to temporarily fill the Midlothian District seat vacated by Patty Carpenter, who resigned in October for health reasons. A special election to fill the seat through the end of 2015 will be held March 18. Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer As baseball great Yogi Berra once remarked, predictions are tough, especially about the future. But it doesn’t require a crystal ball to see what some of the big stories of the year ahead will be.

Most obviously, a looming budget crunch for the county government is a good bet to generate headlines in the months to come.

County officials aren’t expecting the economy to provide a big boost to revenue this year. With inflation steadily increasing the cost of providing services and state and federal mandates adding new spending burdens, a stark choice may be ahead for the Board of Supervisors: Raise the property tax rate or start cutting back on services.

On the schools side, preliminary information indicates that expected revenue from the state and the county government should cover all but about $145,500 of the school system’s expected $557 million in spending on essential programs and items.

However, the lack of increased revenue could delay an ambitious revitalization program for county schools and the neighborhoods where they’re located. Revitalization efforts at Matoaca Elementary, Enon Elementary and Manchester Middle are scheduled to start in July and cost a total of $97.5 million in capital funding.

Voters in November approved a $304 million bond referendum for those projects and eight more over the next seven years but rejected a 2 percent meals tax that would have helped pay the debt service on the bonds. That has left officials with a choice of finding additional money or delaying the project timeline.

On the county government side, a number of added costs loom ahead, including millions of dollars to meet new federal requirements for storm water management, millions more to bring the pension plan for county and school employees up to fully funded status, and potentially millions more to meet requirements for employee health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

With those added demands for spending, more revenue will be needed just to keep county services at their current levels.

The Board of Supervisors has asked County Administrator Jay Stegmaier to begin advertising a public hearing on the property tax rate earlier this year than in years past – in early February instead of late February – to allow more time for discussion and citizen feedback.

When the board gives notice of its public hearing on the tax rate, the rate included in the notice is the highest it can consider. The current rate is 95 cents per $100 of assessed value.

That means the board may have to decide by early February whether it will advertise a rate higher than 95 cents to allow for a public discussion about whether residents would prefer a higher tax rate or a cut in services.

Special elections

Voters countywide will be electing a new sheriff this year, and in the Midlothian District they’ll be picking a new School Board member.

Sheriff Dennis Proffitt announced in December that he is retiring effective Feb. 1. Until a special election is held, the position will be held by an officer Proffitt recruited from the county police department, former Maj. Karl Leonard.

No candidates have formally announced yet that they are seeking the job, and it’s uncertain when the county will hold a special election, as required by law, to fill the vacancy. Proffitt recently told the Observer that it makes sense to have the election on March 18 because the county is already holding another special election on that day to fill the Midlothian District seat on the School Board.

That seat opened up in October, when Patty Carpenter stepped down because of health concerns. The four remaining board members selected Carpenter’s predecessor, retired dentist Jim Schroeder, to fill in until a special election is held. Schroeder, who served the Midlothian District for 13 years on the School Board, has pledged not to run in the special election.

Two candidates have announced their interest in the seat so far: longtime county resident and government critic Bob Olsen and Gary Powers Jr., a businessman, museum organizer and substitute teacher who is the son of Francis Gary Powers, the spy plane pilot who was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960, triggering a major international incident.

According to Chesterfield registrar Larry Haake, all candidates must declare their intention to run for the Midlothian District seat by Jan. 21. All candidates must submit at least 125 valid signatures to Haake’s office to be included on the ballot for the special election.

Project pipeline

Away from the county government, a number of projects are in the pipeline in the year ahead:

• Medline Industries, an Illinois-based distributor of medical supplies, announced in late November that it would build a 400,000-square-foot distribution center at Meadowville Technology Park. The new center is expected to be fully operational in the third quarter of this year.

The company currently operates a smaller warehouse on Ruffin Mill Road that employs about 25 people. Medline manufactures and distributes health care supplies such as gloves, gowns, wheelchairs and surgical kits to hospitals, nursing homes, surgery centers and physician offices.

• Kotarides Developers is building a 368-unit apartment community to be called Belmont at Towne Center on a 25-acre site off Mall Drive just north of Costco near Chesterfield Towne Center. The estimated $4.7 million project will include a 7,300-square-foot clubhouse, an on-site car wash and a swimming pool.

• Virginia Beach-based apartment developer Boyd Corp. has said it expects the first units at its 600-apartment complex at the Stonebridge mixed-use project at the former Cloverleaf Mall site to be ready for tenants around the middle of this year. The $60 million apartment project is seen as key to supporting the retail outlets on the site, including the first part of the project to open, an $18 million, 123,000-square-foot Kroger Marketplace store that opened its doors in December 2012.

• Construction of the second nine holes at Westham Golf Club will begin in the spring. The full 18-hole course is scheduled to be open to the public in spring 2015. New York-based iStar Financial acquired Magnolia Green and its Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course for $52 million at a May 2009 foreclosure auction. Completion of the back nine is seen as a key to keeping Magnolia Green attractive to homebuyers.

• Virginia State University is in the midst of one of the biggest projects in its ambitious expansion program and will start work this year on an off-campus project that is expected to give a big boost to economic development in the village of Ettrick.

The historically black university broke ground last month for a much-anticipated multiuse center, an 8,000-seat arena that would be the largest event venue in the region south of Richmond. The facility, also referred to as a convocation center, is expected to be completed in mid-2015.

While the center is under construction, the county plans to launch a project to widen East River Road from two lanes to four to help handle the traffic the new facility is expected to generate.

Meanwhile, VSU Trojan Development, a company owned by the university’s real estate foundation, has gotten a preliminary OK from the Planning Commission to build a four-story building almost a full block long on the east side of Chesterfield Avenue in Ettrick.

The mixed-use project would feature 24,170 square feet of retail space on the ground floor and 62 one- and two-bedroom apartments on the three upper floors. Those apartments would help relieve a shortage of housing within Ettrick for university faculty and graduate students.

The project is expected to create 125 jobs during construction and 129 permanent jobs after completion.

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