Archive for April, 2010

The Rivanna – our river

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

Come on in. The water’s fine.

How fortunate we are to have the Rivanna within our borders. A powerful natural resource, it provides water for countless farmers, drinking water for Charlottesville and Albemarle, and an incredible untapped resource for recreation and economic benefits of outdoor tourism.

Leo and I were fortunate to paddle on Saturday, April 10, 13 miles from the south fork reservoir dam to Milton. This was the first leg of the third annual Rivanna sojourn, organized by the Rivanna Conservation Society and sponsored by Blue Ridge Mountain Sports, Charlottesville, Albemarle and Fluvanna Counties.

As a beginning paddler, learning to read the currents and rapids and watch for rocks was a challenge. But the view of city and of our rural areas from the water was a remarkable perspective. We were escorted by a heron from the North Fork junction almost to Key West. We heard red tail and broad wing hawks cry overhead, saw kingfishers fishing and turtles basking in the sun.

Along the way paddlers shared history, of the Monacans who lived along the river, of the mills whose races are still visible, of the locks and side loops which bypassed each of the rapids, of the electric trolley power plant now abandoned at the foot of Monticello mountain. We passed Secretary’s Ford, which was the connection from Monticello to Shadwell and the farm and river entrance to Monticello.

As a native of Albemarle, I should have known this before.

As governments, the city and county should focus more attention on the river and work on ways for individuals and groups to get access to the river. If the value of the river is mentioned in our comprehensive plans, that would be a good first step.

Why drive to West Virginia when you can ride great rapids and spend a day paddling right here at home?

The third leg of the Rivanna Sojourn, from Palmyra to Bremo and the James, will be on April 17th. Contact RCS at rivannariver.org for information.

on adoption of the budget – April 7

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

While I have mixed emotions on the budget we are adopting today, I am grateful to the citizens and to the staff who have put their brains to work to help plan our financial future for the next year.

On the plus side- Albemarle County and the White Hall district in particular showed the rest of the country that people who disagree on matters of perspective and principle can discuss issues with courtesy and look for common ground and solutions.

The White Hall district residents have shown me again how wide is the diversity of opinion. In addition to the two public hearings, my three town halls around the district in March were well attended with almost 200 people. Each had a distinct voice, with one more in favor of the equalized rate to support more basic services and prevent cuts, with one more in favor of the current tax rate and further cuts. The last was a toss-up. Many folks have suggestions of improvements to be made. Many have been making those suggestions for many years, and with the economy, feel they are now being heard more clearly.

Since January I have been asking everyone who contacted me about taxes if they could live with the same bill. The huge majority said they could. The majority of people who contacted me via phone, email, and the meetings were in favor of greater expenditures to fund the programs they prioritize. Because of that, I am representing the district by voting for the equalized rate.

I do also understand the hardship people feel and the uncertainty in the economy for next year.

On the negative side-

We have not yet had that debate about core services. We backed into the issue several times as we struggled about different cuts to restore to the budget. In the future we need to provide better guidance to staff, not just a cap. We cannot fund our needs if we don’t first list our needs.

We have broken our own budget policies by putting off building until another more expensive time and by directing our school board to use one time monies for operating expenses and program maintenance. We need to remember that in the future. We have little contingency and no new capital investment.

Citizens have clearly said they want to pay for the direct contact employees, the teachers, firefighters, police officers, social services workers. They are less passionate about those of us in supervisory roles.

How can we improve this process? Starting right away, I propose we steal an idea from Nelson County supervisors. They meet two by two with school board members on a monthly basis and through these meetings gain a more complete understanding of the role of and the problems of each board. This has improved their budget planning, and I think we should try it.

I also challenge the school board members themselves to more actively engage with citizens. I hope to see them involved in fact checking, rumor control, making the case to their communities in the same way we do with ours. Neighborhood organizations will welcome school board reps to their meetings just as they welcome us. The broader understanding to be achieved will benefit us all during the challenges of budgets and planning for future operations. We must lose the “us and them” attitudes and mistrust which have divided us. Our citizens demand it.

on housing new engine 41

Monday, April 5th, 2010

On a lovely Saturday morning, April 3, the Earlysville community gathered to celebrate the long history of the Earlysville Fire Company, its leadership past and present, and to put into service a new fire engine, replacement engine 41, named in honor of neighbor, former chief and president, John Sweeney.

Fire houses are the town halls and community centers of rural areas. The Earlysville Volunteer Fire Company was founded in the 1960s by members of the Ruritan Club. Members built the first station on land donated by Jim and Bunny Murray beside the Murray Electric Box Co, where many of the volunteers worked and were released to fight fires, jumping onto the engine across the street.

Charlottesville Fire Company donated the first engine. For the housing ceremony forty years later, the City antique Seagrave engine was on hand. Paid and volunteer members from surrounding agencies and from as far as Bedford were in attendance.

For more information on the history and to learn about today’s Earlysville Volunteer Fire Company, go to www.earlysvillefire.org.

In Albemarle County we are fortunate to have the assistance of over 650 volunteers and 50 paid staff in fire and rescue emergency services.  From teenagers to retirees, there is work to be done at the fire and rescue stations. To volunteer, contact your local firehouse.