County prepares to use eminent domain for water line

Resolution allows for “quick take” of land

By Heather Michon, Correspondent

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution allowing the condemnation and acquisition of easement properties along the path of the Zion Crossroads water and sewer project under the rule of eminent domain, a legal principle allowing the government to convert private property to public use without owner approval.

During a public hearing Tuesday (Nov. 20), County Administrator Steve Nichols said offer letters had been sent out to the owners of 87 parcels and responses were beginning to trickle in.

However, a few owners will likely refuse to take the offers, he said. The resolution empowers the county to start what’s known as “quick take” proceedings to condemn and take possession of a property.

Under the laws guiding eminent domain, the owners would still receive fair compensation for their property.

Nichols stressed that the parcels in question were small easements, usually just large enough to access and place the new lines. Offers ranged from $100 for a simple 0.0224-acre parcel (about 975 square feet), to $102,281 for a more complex 1.087-acre parcel.

So far, three respondents have rejected the offer letters outright “and those will almost certainly have to be condemned,” said Nichols, although he noted there’s always a chance they can negotiate.

No residents spoke during the comments period of the hearing and the resolution passed 5-0.

Later in the session, supervisors also unanimously approved the acceptance of deeds and deeds of easement for those landowners who agreed to the sale.

Money debate
Supervisors spent much of the meeting debating requests from various departments to carry over money from the current year into 2019 to continue ongoing projects.

Nichols explained that under the county’s existing policy, carryover was allowed if the department had budget authority in fiscal year 2018 (FY18) and if the project hadn’t been started or completed due to unforeseen circumstances. For example, Lake Monticello Fire and Rescue requested a $175,000 carryover because a new truck approved and ordered in FY18 couldn’t be delivered until FY19.

Unspent money returns to the county’s fund balance and has to be requested again in the next fiscal year.

Of $273,680 in requests, Nichols identified $81,680 that failed to meet the criteria. Those projects “can only move forward if you approve them,” he said.

Supervisor Patricia Eager (Palmyra) said she felt that “we should just approve the yeses and have the nos come back. It’s just cleaner.”

Supervisor Tony O’Brien (Rivanna) demurred, saying if a department was being reasonable and efficient and the amount of money in question was relatively small, it was more efficient to approve the carryover now. “We’re going to say yes eventually,” he said.

“It’s okay to say no occasionally,” Supervisor Mike Sheridan (Columbia) said. “And I know I’m not going to make any friends saying that.”

“Are we here to make friends or do our jobs?” Supervisor Don Weaver (Cunningham) asked.

Each department had the opportunity to make its case before the board. By far the most contentious request was a $30,000 carryover requested by the Fluvanna County Sheriff’s Office for the completion of the department’s sally port and evidence locker.

Capt. Von Hill explained that the department’s new Conex box, a large steel container designed to hold evidence, had not been completed and was already leaking and unsuitable for use. The carryover would allow them to bring the Conex box into compliance and continue to harden the building’s sally port.

In police parlance, a sally port is a secure, controlled entryway. Hill said the lack of a secure entryway puts officers at grave risk from attack as they enter or exit the building.

Nichols interjected, saying that while the Conex box project had been funded, the sally port was a new project that would have to be requested in the next budget.

Hill and Sheriff Eric Hess argued they hadn’t been able to make the request for the sally port previously as the project falls under the $50,000 threshold for capital improvement funds and that they still needed the money to repair the leaking Conex box, which sits near the unsecured entrance area.

“We’re only coming to you to ask for things that we need,” said Hill. “There’s no fluff in this.”

Nichols countered that the leak could be fixed by the public works department and the sally port could be evaluated to see how much a full rebuild would actually cost.

In the end, the board decided not to approve the $30,000 and a couple of smaller requests. The majority of requests were approved.

Most departments will end FY18 within 90 to 100 percent of their budget, leaving about $1.08 million in reserve, according to the finance department.

Building assessments
A request for a supplemental appropriation to fund a feasibility study of county buildings sparked a strong response from several board members.

The county had previously set aside $21,860 for an outside consulting firm to come in and look at the physical conditions of county buildings and make recommendations for long-term maintenance, safety and accessibility compliance, renovation options, and other factors. Nichols said it had been about 20 years since the last such assessment.

Purchasing agent Cyndi Toler requested an additional $10,690 from the contingency fund and approval for a contract with Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates to begin the study.

But Eager, Weaver, and Sheridan were initially reluctant at the idea of conducting the study, concerned that it might end up forcing the county to take on expensive new building or reconstruction projects if the study turned up major issues.

Toler focused on the positive functions of the study. “It will give you a road map for budgeting for the next several years,” she said.
“It can help you know what you need to do two years from now, five years from now, 10 years from now,” Nichols said.

“I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to know,” Supervisor Mozell Booker (Fork Union) said. “I want to know what’s going on with my house and what I need to do.”

“We keep spending more money, Mozell!” Weaver replied. “I think it’s a good idea, but I think the timing is bad.”
After a lengthy discussion, the motion passed 4-1, with Weaver voting no.

Agreement with Louisa
Supervisors also approved an intergovernmental agreement to unite with Louisa County as the Piedmont Public Safety Communication System.

Under the agreement, Louisa will pay half the cost of installing a new “system core” in Fluvanna that will allow public safety departments in both counties use the same radio communications system. Louisa will also pay half the annual maintenance costs for the system.

“It’ll make it a lot easier for us to work together with Louisa,” Sheridan said. The counties currently lack a common communications system, making it a challenge when public safety departments have to work on the same fire or emergency.
Nichols said the agreement is “certainly a win-win, and a great collaboration,” and it has the potential to expand. Two other counties are looking into possibly joining the system in the coming years.

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