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Land use suddenly became a hot topic in Fluvanna County last month, when Supervisor Tony O’Brien started pushing his fellow Board members to examine the program more closely.
Land use is a program adopted by the Board of Supervisors and administered by Commissioner of the Revenue Mel Sheridan. It encourages open space, agriculture and forestry by giving significant tax breaks to landowners who use their properties in those ways.
But the tax breaks from land use cost the county $2.7 million in 2015. O’Brien wants to take a closer look at land use, especially by gathering more data, to see if tweaks or an overhaul of the program are in order.
The key distinction between O’Brien and the other supervisors is that he is the only one without any property in land use. Whether his status as land use outsider helps or hinders his quest to probe into the program depends on who’s doing the talking.
Trish Eager
Supervisor Trish Eager far and away surpasses her colleagues on the Board in Fluvanna County land holdings with 829 acres. Though some of her parcels are residential and therefore don’t qualify for the program, other holdings are tucked away in land use. Land use saved Eager a whopping $28,515 in 2015 taxes.
But Eager noted that when she pulled six acres out of land use to sell them last winter, she paid $10,000 in rollback taxes to the county. When a parcel no longer qualifies for land use, the owner must pay the preceding five years’ worth of rollback taxes, or the difference between what she actually paid in taxes and what she would have paid if the land were not in land use.
“The reason we have land use is so that we can hold onto large parcels of land and not develop them,” said Eager. “Without that I’m afraid our county would look very different. Without this type of program, I wouldn’t be able to have the farm that I have. I think there are some misconceptions about land use. With rollback taxes – it’s not like the county doesn’t reclaim some of the money. And we pay taxes on any of our improvements [such as houses] just like anybody else does.”
Don Weaver
A distant second, Supervisor Don Weaver owns 80 acres in Fluvanna. Land use saved him $1,995 in 2015 taxes.
“Land use keeps Fluvanna rural,” Weaver said. “I don’t really understand why people have a problem with that. They moved here and I think they enjoy the farmland.”
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Fluvanna High School was named a silver medal winner in the U.S. News and World Reports 2016 ranking of the Best High Schools In America. Principal James Barlow is celebrating the win – but he is not satisfied.
“I would love to get the gold - that’s the bottom line,” said Barlow with a smile. “I want Fluvanna High School to be in the top ten schools in the state.”
“Getting a gold medal would be really difficult,” said Fluvanna Schools’ Director of Curriculum and Instruction Brenda Gilliam, “but we are still working for it. Only 500 schools in the country earn gold medals,” she said.
The ranking is made using a complicated calculation that includes graduation rates, SOL scores, the size of the achievement gap for economically disadvantaged students, and scores on AP tests. Fluvanna High School was ranked number 50 in the Commonwealth. More than half of the schools in the top 50 are located in Northern Virginia; almost all of the rest are in the Richmond and Tidewater areas. No other school in this area won a gold or silver rank.
“I’m just really proud of them,” said Gilliam. “The high school gets awards because it is the culminating thing, but this is really an award for everybody, all the way through. Once you strengthen the curriculum at the lower grades you see the results at the high school. I am just really proud of all of our students and staff.”
Gilliam said they focus on offering AP (Advanced Placement) classes. “There are AP classes in things like world geography, and statistics,” Gilliam said. “These are not easy courses.” She added that the school system has been working to make the AP classes more broadly accessible and credits that work with helping secure the silver medal.
“Taking AP classes and success in AP is not decided when they walk through the doors of the high school,” said Gilliam. “It really starts in kindergarten. That is why we are continuously looking at the curriculum in the lower grades and increasing the rigor of those courses and encouraging the students to take these more challenging classes. It takes a lot of preparation.”
Barlow credits his administrative staff, school staff, and the students themselves with the school’s success. “This is our third silver medal,” he said. “I think this one means more to me, because one year we did not get any medal. This is getting back into the ballgame.”
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Photo by Tricia JohnsonPromise of quicker alert to parents
A drug search of the Fluvanna County High School Friday (April 15) netted one misdemeanor drug charge on a juvenile, according to a press release from the Fluvanna County Sheriff’s Office.
Drug sniffing dog units from Albemarle, Charlottesville, and Buckingham helped with the search, which was conducted at the request of the public school system, according to the release.
The high school was locked down for the search starting at around 9:10 a.m., said Superintendent Gena Keller. Around 9:45 a.m. the school system notified parents of the situation via voice message and email. The lockdown ended around 10 a.m., Keller said.
During that half-hour gap, some parents got word that their children were locked down in the high school but didn’t know why. The news spread via social media and word of mouth. Since a lockdown can indicate the presence of an intruder, some parents expressed concern for their children’s wellbeing.
“One thing I know we would do differently next time is we would disseminate the alert to our parents within a five to 10 minute time frame versus 30 minutes,” said Keller about the delay. “The reality is the world we live in is pretty scary. We waited in order not to compromise the search. However, we definitely realize that there’s a need to disseminate that information a bit more quickly.”
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A discussion at the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors meeting Wednesday night (April 20) turned awkward as Supervisor Mozell Booker proposed changes to how the Board handles electing its chairperson.
Rather than electing the chair, which Booker said leads to what she considers harmful lobbying and soliciting of votes, Booker proposed a rotation schedule. That way all supervisors interested in serving as chair receive a chance.
After the meeting, Booker said that her proposal stemmed partially from her discontent with the way in which Chairman Mike Sheridan was elected on Jan. 6.
Last Nov. 4, Sheridan announced he would recuse himself from the controversial votes on the James River water project since part of the pipeline was slated to run through his land. Then health concerns drove him to take a leave of absence from the Board starting Dec. 2.
Sheridan attended the Board’s Jan. 6 organizational meeting at which he was elected chair, but left early due to health concerns. The water project votes were put to rest at the Board’s next meeting on Jan. 20, and Sheridan returned from his leave of absence for the following meeting on Feb. 3.
“When Mike came in and hadn’t been to a meeting in two months and then shows up at the first meeting [of the year] – I was surprised when he walked in,” said Booker. “And then he didn’t come back for the next meeting, which was a very important meeting. I chaired the meeting. And that was very strange.
“I have nothing against Mike being chair,” continued Booker. “But the night he came in for the chair position he said, ‘I would really like to try the chair. Would you support me?’ It was out of the blue.”
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Jessie Cole and her possum friend Esperanza of the Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary.  Photo by Page H. GiffordThe Lake Monticello Wildlife Committee welcomed back Jessie Cole and her possum friend Esperanza of the Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary on April 19 for a discussion on what to do if you find a baby bird or other animal who may need help.
Located in Shipman, in Nelson County, the sanctuary has been rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing orphaned and injured wildlife back into the wild since 2004. Founder Nathou Attinger, deeply dedicated to helping wildlife, began rescuing and rehabilitating with a crow named Merlin. This is how most wildlife rehab stories begin. Merlin remained with Attinger for three years until she died of a spider bite but Attinger’s philosophy and what she learned from a crow with an injured wing was “do whatever you can to maximize the comfort and level of care of the animal you are trying to help.”
Cole is a biologist who understands the needs of the animals they are helping. “Last year we cared for 665 animals at the sanctuary,” said Cole. The year before, it was 750 animals. She tells the story of a crew clearing timber that discovered baby Grackles (birds) in the trees and went around and collected all the babies they could find and brought them to the sanctuary. “We had to feed them every 20-30 minutes around the clock,” she said.
She discussed some of the animals that had been rehabbed and released back into the wild, including a baby coyote. Cole added that is now illegal to rehab coyotes.
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