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Stormwater issues were front and center at a Roberts district community meeting Thursday, with the majority of citizens who spoke in support of County Administrator Bryan Hill’s proposal to spend more money on addressing issues from precipitation runoff.
The meeting came a day after Hill released his proposed budget, which seeks a tax rate increase of 8.2 cents per $100 of assessed value. That increase would raise $9,020,000 for what Hill has identified as five strategic initiatives. Stormwater is one of those initiatives, and under Hill’s plan, $1,880,000 of the money raised by the increase would go toward stormwater management.
Thursday’s meeting was the first of five — one for each district in the county — where citizens are invited to come share their thoughts about the county’s budget process. It was hosted by John McGlennon, the Roberts District’s representative on the board of supervisors. The district runs from the Newport News city line to near Jamestown Island, encompassing neighborhoods such as Grove and Kingsmill.
While several issues facing the Roberts District and James City County as a whole were discussed at the meeting, few citizens took a position on the tax increase. A couple of citizens voiced opposition to the increase, while a few others said they supported it. Most attendees focused on specific issues, including stormwater, school funding and the idea that the Grove section of the county does not receive adequate public services.
Several citizens in the audience wore green T-shirts that were handed out by the Virginia chapter for Americans for Prosperity, a self-described network of citizens working on behalf of their communities, according to the group’s website. The group had a table set up outside the meeting, where the T-shirts and literature opposing the proposed tax increase were handed out.
McGlennon addressed the tax increase at the beginning of the meeting, noting the county’s tax rate was 87.5 cents per $100 of assessed value until the recession began, at which point it was lowered to 77 cents over several years. He said property assessments have declined in recent years, which has cut into the county’s revenue and that Hill’s plan would, on average, bring citizens back to the taxes they were paying in 2009.
The Roberts District supervisor has expressed support for a tax increase this budget season. At a Feb. 21 work session, he said “there is no doubt in my mind that we have to do something” about taxes, noting the county took a “compassionate and reasonable” approach during the recession by reducing staffing levels and scaling back on services instead of raising taxes.
The citizens who spoke in support of the stormwater spending increase cited dealing with precipitation runoff and the subsequent flooding of neighborhoods as an immediate need.
“It’s a huge concern for us,” said Ruth Larson, a First Colony resident and the Berkeley District representative on the Williamsburg-James City County School Board. She said a spillway in her neighborhood is failing and that is causing problems.
A handful of other residents from around the county also spoke out in support of fully funding the stormwater proposal. Hill’s plan seeks to create 2.5 jobs in the county’s stormwater division, with the rest of the money allocated to work to fix stormwater problems the county faces due to aging infrastructure.
It would also restore the county’s neighborhood drainage program, which was suspended last June. The previous version of the program used county money to upgrade and repair stormwater infrastructure throughout the county. Hill’s proposal seeks to bring the program back, with county staff offering technical expertise to developments throughout the county.
Those developments could then be eligible for county money to conduct repairs, however the money would only be allocated in matching grants.
Schools were also a frequent topic of conversation, with a few speakers citing potential cuts to the WJCC schools healthcare plans and staffing levels as ways to save money for the county. Hill’s plan seeks an increase of $3.2 million for the schools over last year’s county contribution to pay for new school buses, refurbishments to Clara Byrd Baker Elementary School and money for future roof replacements.
The administrator’s plan falls about $610,000 short of the amount the school board has requested from the county for its operations.
McGlennon said he would make sure issues raised by those speakers about potential savings are “ventilated” with the school board and Superintendent Steve Constantino at a future meeting. He did warn the county is not able to dictate how the school board should spend the money it receives.
A couple of residents spoke out about the state of public services in Grove, citing a lack of recreational amenities and inadequate stormwater infrastructure.
“I have watched Grove die since 1995,” said Petra Nadal, a Grove resident who said the area lacks playgrounds and sidewalks. She said citizens there are “begging” for the basic services the rest of the county seems to enjoy.
McGlennon said the plan from Hill has a major stormwater project at the top of the priority list for a spot along Pocahontas Trail. He also said he is pushing to have streetlights upgraded in parts of Grove where they no longer meet standards.
The supervisors will consider the budget proposal during a series of upcoming budget work sessions. A public hearing for the proposal has been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. April 14 at the James City County Government Complex. A full schedule of the board’s budget deliberations is available here.
Four more community meetings remain for the other districts in the county:
- Berkeley District, 6:30 p.m. April 9 at the James City County Government Complex
- Stonehouse District, 6:30 p.m. April 13 at the James City County Library
- Powhatan District, 6:30 p.m. April 16 at the James City County Recreation Center
- Jamestown District, 6:30 p.m. April 23 at the James City County Recreation Center
The budget is scheduled for adoption April 28. The full budget proposal is available here. A list of questions generated during the meeting will be answered by county staff and posted on the county website in the coming days.