Tony O’Brien


To the Board & County Administration

I wanted to follow up on my comments from last week regarding the Aqua Virginia proposal, and the public hearing scheduled for August 7th.

It is welcome news to hear that there is near unanimous consensus on the need to move forward with economic development. The current imbalance in our tax base between residential and commercial revenues is, in my opinion, unhealthy and ultimately unsustaianable as it will lead to a spiraling cycle of increasing property taxes. This will be caused by growing residential demand and the subsequent need to further bolster and enhance our core services, including schools, public health, rescue and police services . While this problem has long been recognized by County leaders, the consensus for action has not been forthcoming.

Perhaps the urgency in prior years was not so great and divisions between the board members, surrounding counties and competing needs resulted in understandable procrastination.

The economic downturn, the inadequate assessment policies, the housing melt down, the political climate of the 2012 election, and the bitter ideoligical public debates have all contributed to a negative environment that has harmed our County’s regional reputation, weakened our core service and exacerbated the decline in our property values , created political gridlock, and exposed the weakness of the County’s tax base.

Meanwhile, the clock has been ticking and the potential future real and opportunity costs are very likely to increase. In similar fashions that the delays in building the high school, or the failure to adequately service the water system at the lake resulted in much higher costs than anticipated, it is easy to forecast a model that will result in the same results the longer we delay on water and economic development

To mention just a few factors that will likely increase the cost in upcoming years and potentially create a negative fiscal spiral for the County:

• Higher acquisition costs in a stronger market

• Rising interest rates

• Opportunities lost to competing counties

• Residential development pressures on land in Zions. Once the land becomes residential the potential use for commercial development is lost for decades

• Environmental and regulatory uncertainties or challenges

• Continued increase of costs borne by the locality due to sequestration and tightening federal and state budgets

• The potential loss of the water permit in the James

• Greater challenges in creating consensus due to higher property tax costs

• The risk of further declining property values due to high property taxes with sub performing schools, and other core services

• Government inaction

To this end I strongly urge the County’s leadership to make every effort prior and where applicable during the public hearing to inform the public, not only about the Aqua offer but to also provide ”what if scenarios” and input those variables into a variety of ROI scenarios that provide a comprehensive view of the various different water options that we are exploring.

While any plan is likely to have its proponents and detractors, as well as, associated legal, feasibility and technical concerns, without presenting side by side comparisons and options the public’s understanding is greatly limited, and it would be a great shame if the public hearing turns into a public gripe session resulting in an even more divided County.

The public’s thirst for information is great, and the County has both a responsibility and opportunity to inform its citizenry and promote the long term economic viability of the county. We must come together in the very near future with a water plan that clearly shows the County has a long term vision and has a mission to attract and grow business. Please do your very best to make this hearing a first step in this process.


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