A quiet coming week in county government; Recaps from BOS, Ag/Forestal Committee meetings; CTB approves design funding for Shannon Hill Regional Business Park
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A quiet coming week in county government
Public meetings take a pause in Louisa County in the week ahead. According to the locality’s website, no official public gatherings are scheduled from Monday, June 28 through Saturday, July 3. So take a breath and gear up for a busy following week in which the Board of Supervisors, Planning Commission, School Board, and Electoral Board all have meetings on the docket.
Additional information about Louisa County’s upcoming public meetings is available here.
Interested in taking your talents to one of the county’s numerous boards and commissions? Find out more here, including which boards have vacancies and how to apply.
In busy but brief meeting, board moves to request AG’s opinion on changes to overtime law, plans public hearing on tax exemption for logging equipment
After removing several significant items from the agenda, the Louisa County Board of Supervisors wrapped up the public portion of Monday night’s meeting in less than an hour, holding one public hearing and taking a couple other actions of note. (meeting info/video)
News to know:
What didn’t happen: Monday’s meeting was nearly as noteworthy for what didn’t happen as what did. At the request of the applicant, the board axed from the agenda a public hearing on a controversial solar facility in central Louisa County. Late last week, Energix Aditya LLC asked the county to defer the hearing on its request for a Conditional Use Permit to construct a 60-acre, 11MW solar array on a 95-acre parcel (tmp 42 86A) near the intersection of Davis Highway (Route 22) and School Bus Road (Route 767).
The applicant asked the county to delay the hearing until later this summer as it awaits additional traffic analysis, according to a source in county government. Traffic emerged as a key area of concern when the Planning Commission considered the project in May.
The board also removed a resolution to approve Louisa County Public Schools’ request for a nearly $600,000 supplemental appropriation to staff the LCPS Virtual Academy for the coming school year. The division plans to employ six elementary school teachers who are specifically dedicated to virtual learning and provide stipends to middle and high school teachers tasked with both in-person and virtual duties.
About 6.6 percent of LCPS students have opted for the virtual academy for the 2021-2022 academic year, according to Superintendent Doug Straley. Learn more about LCPS’ virtual and in-person learning options in Engage Louisa’s June 20 edition. Stay tuned for updates on funding sources for the virtual academy.
In addition, the board skipped a planned discussion about funding for Jaunt, the regional transportation service jointly owned by Louisa County and several other localities. The public service corporation is under state investigation after an audit flagged former CEO Brad Sheffield’s extravagant spending on travel and meals. At the request of Jaunt’s Board of Directors, Sheffield resigned last December. Jaunt receives most of its funding from public sources with Louisa County appropriating $294,000 to the organization for FY22. Check out Charlottesville Tomorrow’s coverage of the audit and state investigation.
In lieu of a formal discussion about Jaunt’s funding, Cuckoo District Supervisor and Jaunt board member Willie Gentry said that the state investigation continues. The company’s state and federal funding is frozen but Gentry indicated that isn’t expected to impact Jaunt’s daily operations. Gentry also noted that the organization has hired a firm to search for a new CEO.
Board says overtime law negatively impacts fire/EMS, seeks AG’s opinion: In response to amendments to the Virginia Overtime Wage Act, set to take effect July 1, Louisa County suspended a longtime practice that allows the county’s paid fire/EMS staff to also volunteer in the locality.
Jackson District Supervisor Toni Williams said that HB2063, which passed the General Assembly last spring, could potentially put “the county in the position of liability for up to three years of back overtime pay.”
According to a summary provided by the Legislative Information Service, the new law,
“requires an employer to compensate certain employees at a rate not less than one and one-half times the employee's regular rate of pay, defined in the bill, for any hours worked in excess of 40 hours in any one workweek. The bill includes provisions for calculating overtime premiums due to fire protection and law-enforcement employees by certain public sector employers. The penalties provided by the bill for an employer's failure to pay such overtime wages, including civil and criminal penalties, are the same as currently provided for failing to pay wages generally. The statute of limitations for bringing a claim for a violation of the bill is three years.”
The board passed a resolution directing the county attorney to seek an opinion from Attorney General Mark Herring regarding provisions in the bill related to fire and EMS staff, how those provisions impact Louisa, and if the county could obtain a waiver from the provisions. The resolution also says the county will lobby the General Assembly to repeal the portions of the amendments that apply to fire and EMS.
Mountain Road District Supervisor Tommy Barlow expressed frustration that many of Louisa’s paid firefighters rose through the county’s volunteer ranks and are now being told they can no longer volunteer at stations in their community.
“I thinks it’s ludicrous and we, at least need to point out to the General Assembly and our representatives, that this part of the bill needs to be overturned,” Barlow said.
The legislation, carried by Democrat Mike Mullin, passed the General Assembly on a party line vote. Louisa’s representatives, Del. John McGuire and Sens. Bryce Reeves and Mark Peake, opposed the bill.
Board moves to hold public hearing on tax exemption for logging equipment: In April, Ron Jenkins, Executive Director of the Virginia Loggers Association, and local logger Rob Woolfolk requested that the county exempt specialized logging equipment from personal property taxes. The county already provides such an exemption for farm equipment. The General Assembly passed legislation last year allowing localities to extend the exemption to single-use logging machinery.
At Monday’s meeting, the board moved to hold a public hearing on the proposed exemption, which would include equipment specific to logging like cutters and chippers. Trucks and trailers would not be included. At publication time, no public hearing date had been set.
If the county adopts the exemption, it will likely only impact a handful of Louisa taxpayers, according to Woolfolk’s estimate. No fiscal impact figures were publicly presented at Monday’s meeting.
In their presentations to the board in April, Woolfolk and Jenkins said that the Covid-19 pandemic was difficult on local loggers. “Everything slowed down,” Jenkins said.
Both noted that the high cost of lumber hasn’t trickled down to those felling the trees, an economic reality likely shaped by a number of factors including consolidation in the timber industry, slowdown at mills during the pandemic, and mill quotas.
Mineral District Supervisor Duane Adams wasted no time in backing the exemption Monday night.
“Anything that we can do, from my point of view, to preserve the agricultural base of the county, and I think sustainable forestry falls right into that, I am in favor of,” he said, noting agriculture and forestry’s significant economic impact in the community.
Reining in roaming dogs in Reedy Creek: The board held a public hearing and unanimously approved a beefed up “dogs at large” ordinance for Sections II and III of the Reedy Creek subdivision. The move brings the entire subdivision under the more stringent version of the county’s dogs at large policy, which prohibits dogs from roaming off leash, beyond the property of their owner and out of the owner’s control, any time of year. The policy applies to a handful of subdivisions and other specific areas. Most of the county falls under an ordinance that only prohibits roaming dogs in April, May, and June. Micheal Breen, an officer in the Reedy Creek Property Owners Association, spoke in favor of adding Reedy Creek II and III to the more stringent ordinance.
Water Authority hikes connection fees: Louisa County Water Authority General Manager Pam Baughman provided supervisors with her organization’s quarterly report, noting that the authority’s board voted to hike connection fees for new residential and commercial customers at its June meeting. According to The Central Virginian, the fees to connect a typical single family home to both water and sewer will each rise about $1,500, effective July 1. The authority enacted a rate increase on January 1.
Ag/Forestal Committee considers powerful land preservation tool
When the Board of Supervisors revamped the county’s Ag/Forestal Committee in 2019, they tasked it with identifying, researching, and promoting programs to preserve Louisa’s rural character.
At its June meeting, the committee learned about a powerful tool that could dramatically impact the locality’s land preservation efforts and considered how they could advocate for it in Louisa County. (video)
Ray Pickering, head of Fauquier County's Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program, provided a detailed presentation on the nuts and bolts of the land preservation initiative in the northern Virginia county. Fauquier is home to one of the state’s most successful PDR programs, which are designed to compensate landowners who voluntarily place an agricultural conservation easement on their property in perpetuity. Since it was adopted in 2002, Fauquier’s program has preserved over 13,000 acres of working farmland.
Generally, PDR programs allow landowners to sell development rights on qualifying property to a government entity while maintaining ownership and continuing to use the land. Pickering explained that Fauquier’s program offers landowners a flat fee, currently set at $25,000, per residential development right on qualifying land. Development rights are calculated via the county’s zoning code.
Fauquier’s program is open to parcels (or combined parcels) over 50 acres, used for “bona fide agricultural operations,” zoned rural, and not already permanently protected via a conservation easement or other means.
The county established a scoring system to rank applicants and, depending on funding, accepts one to two properties a year. The scoring system considers factors like parcel size, development potential, proximity to other protected lands, soil quality, agricultural viability, and cultural value, among others.
The county funds the program via local, state, and federal dollars. Pickering estimated that about two-thirds of the money comes from local sources. When the program began, Pickering said, it relied heavily on rollback taxes, which landowners pay when they move property out the county’s agricultural land use assessment program with plans to develop it.
“You can make the case that, if ag land is being developed, why shouldn’t that money go to protect other land,” Pickering said.
As the program grew, the county established a locality-wide “Conservation Easement Service District,” which tacks on a .006 cent levy to real estate tax bills. The county also taps state and federal programs administered by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the USDA, and the US Navy, which is concerned with protecting land around military installations. Nonprofits and individual donors also contribute.
The county staffs the program and established an advisory committee to draw up criteria, review applications, and assist in outreach. Pickering stressed the importance of specifically dedicated staff to PDR. He also noted that the county is charged with enforcing the terms of the conservation easements. As part of that process, Fauquier sends an annual survey to participants and conducts yearly site visits.
Pickering touted Fauquier’s program as key in maintaining and expanding the county’s agricultural economy, which encompasses a diverse array of farming operations including equine, beef and dairy. The county is home to 1154 farms with a $215 million economic impact annually, according to figures from the Weldon Cooper Center.
Pickering pointed to a southern Fauquier dairy farm that sold its development rights on 800 acres then used the proceeds to help start Moo Thru, a popular ice cream shop with a flagship location along Route 29. Moo Thru also has an outpost on Lake Anna.
Since the program was adopted nearly 20 years ago, the county has purchased 685 development rights at a cost of about $17.5 million. The programs has placed conservation easements on 81 farms.
According to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, 21 localities have established PDR programs. Pickering said there are only 8 or 9 active programs in the state and noted that VDACS offers planning grants to help localities get PDR initiatives off the ground.
He and committee chair Jim Riddell both said that localities take different approaches to their programs. PDR isn’t a one-size-fits-all initiative. Pickering said that Fauquier’s program focuses mainly on farmland preservation but sustainably-managed forestland could also be included.
After a brief question and answer period with Pickering, the committee discussed how to move forward. The Board of Supervisors ultimately controls whether the county establishes a PDR program. With that in mind, the committee formed a subcommittee, which currently includes Riddell and Selene Deike but may add an additional member, to further explore the issue and talk with board members.
“(Louisa) goes after state and federal grants for economic development all the time. I’d like to see us go for funding that protects farm and forestland,” Riddell said.
Waiving fees for AFDs: The committee is busy utilizing another land conservation tool already in its toolbox, albeit one that doesn’t protect land in perpetuity.
Over the last several months, Louisa added nearly 10,000 acres to Agricultural and Forestal Districts (AFD), in which landowners voluntarily prohibit development on farm and forestland for 10 years. The committee plays a statutory role in facilitating the AFD process.
In 2019, at the committee’s urging, the Board of Supervisors waived the $100 application fee to place land in an AFD for two years.
With that period drawing to a close, the committee requested that the board renew the waiver. Mineral District Supervisor Duane Adams told committee members, in his view, that’s an “easy ask.” The entire board must vote on renewal.
Commonwealth Transportation Board approves design funding for Shannon Hill biz park
At its June meeting, the Commonwealth Transportation Board unanimously approved Louisa County’s request for roughly $643,000 in design funding for transportation infrastructure in and around the Shannon Hill Regional Business Park, a proposed 700-acre site just north of Interstate 64 off Shannon Hill Road. Of that funding, $143,000 requires a local match. (video)
VDOT’s Russell Dudley explained at the CTB’s May meeting that the county plans to use the funds, made available through the Commonwealth’s Economic Development Access program, for the design of 8000 feet of improvements along Shannon Hill Road beginning at the west bound ramp off I-64 and extending to the northern border of the business park. Those improvements include 12-foot wide travel lanes with a 5-foot paved shoulder and sections of full-depth pavement. The design of a 3500-foot access road into the facility with four 12-foot wide lanes and a 16-foot median is also included in the project, which is expected to cost just over $787,000.
Dudley said that Louisa County is currently in talks with “an undisclosed business” with an interest in becoming the park’s first tenant.
In October, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) named the Shannon Hill Regional Business Park as a Major Employment and Investment project (MEI). That designation is reserved for developments in which private industry is expected to make an investment exceeding $250 million and create at least 400 full-time jobs. Dudley explained that the MEI designation also opens up an opportunity for the county to apply for construction funding.
By 2025, the park is expected to generate 2300 additional trips per day along Shannon Hill Road with 300 of those being truck traffic, Dudley said. At full build-out in 2035, he projected those numbers would rise to 9,000 and 900 respectively. A second entrance off Shannon Hill Road is proposed for full build-out.
Louisa County Economic Development Director Andy Wade last publicly briefed the Board of Supervisors on the project in March when he requested and the board approved a $2.5 million appropriation to plan and design utility infrastructure for the site.
GO Virginia funds flow into Louisa: In related news, Governor Northam announced on Wednesday $11.1 million in Growth and Opportunity for Virginia (GO Virginia) grants to support 20 projects focused on expanding workforce development and increasing the Commonwealth’s business-ready sites. The Shannon Hill Regional Business Park will benefit from some of that funding.
According to a press release, which doesn't single out the Shannon Hill site by name but mentions a project that matches its description, the Central Virginia Partnership for Economic Development will receive $786,333 to complete water and sewer engineering studies for a 700-acre site and a 266-acre site in Louisa and Culpeper counties.
The release notes that the funds will help elevate the 700-acre development to Tier 4 on the Virginia Economic Development Partnership’s Site Characterization Scale. Tier 4 status requires that all infrastructure is in place or will be deliverable within 12 months, among other criteria, per VEDP's website.
VEDP uses the scale to identify, assess, and improve the readiness of Virginia’s industrial sites. Tier 5 sites are at the top of the scale. Those include locations where all permits and infrastructure are in place.
Other news of note:
Spanberger secures funding for pair of Louisa road projects in House transportation bill: Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger announced Monday that she secured over $7.1 million in funding for two Louisa road projects in the INVEST in America Act, proposed federal surface transportation reauthorization legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill includes over $5 million for safety improvements at the intersection of Routes 250 and 15 at Zion Crossroads and just over $2 million for safety improvements at the intersection of Route 22 and Route 780 (Industrial Drive) at the Louisa Industrial Airpark. The bill cleared the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and will likely reach the floor in late June or early July. Assuming it passes the Democratic-controlled House, the bill faces a questionable future in the evenly-divided Senate where lawmakers reached a separate bipartisan infrastructure deal, which includes transportation funding, late last week.
Amazon “last mile” facility coming to Ferncliff Business Park: On Thursday, Louisa County announced a new tenant is headed to the Ferncliff Business Park. E-commerce behemoth Amazon plans to use an existing building in the park to operate a “last mile delivery services” facility. The facility will serve as a final link in moving Amazon orders from its distribution hubs to the customer’s door. The county’s announcement was short on details, however, providing no timeline for Amazon’s arrival in the park, no estimates on how many jobs the facility will create, and no information on what, if any, incentives the county offered the company.
Soil and Water Conservation District provides funding for septic system maintenance in Goldmine Creek Watershed: In an effort to improve water quality, the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District is currently providing funds to assist with the repair and replacement of failing septic systems as well as routine septic system pump outs for residents in the Goldmine Creek Watershed. The funds are also available to help cover the cost of public sewer connection fees.
Those who live in the watershed, which includes parts of northwestern and central Louisa, are eligible for 50 percent reimbursement of their expenses regardless of income. Some residents are eligible for up to 80 percent reimbursement. Participants must apply for the funding prior to having work done on their septic system.
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