Share and Share alike…

I had the good fortune to attend this weeks budget work session.  Not much seems to have changed since the last budget meeting at which the Council voted to advertise a "not to exceed" tax rate of about $1.39.  The current rate is $1.36.  The higher advertised rate would allow the city to do some community investments and other stuff – those details are over in the budget dox on the city site and this post is not about that.

The conflict that started this hullabaloo was what to do about the "Jail Levy" that appeared in this years budget.  The City Manager, at the last meeting distributed a "Sharing Scenarios" document.  If you click on that graphic, you will see that things have suddenly become far more complicated.  There is something called the "Community Investment Rate" that appears to be a new levy and, as such, is not shared with the schools.  The Jail Levy is also in some of those scenarios – that is not shared with the schools.  In addition there are options in most of the scenarios about sharing only 2.5 cents or 3 cents.  It's quite the creation.

Look, I know that there are a lot of politics mixed up in here but this really is simple:  honor the revenue sharing agreement and deal with the fallout in the budget.  The schools are the city's partner, not our vendor (not to mention elected in their own rite).  Forget about honoring the agreement – and then insisting on givebacks or anything else.  Honor the agreement.  Yes, the city will have to come up with some cuts and those won't be fun but at $100k-ish it shouldn't require closing the Museum or most of the other usual suspects.  Hold a couple of positions open and budget the vacancy savings.  Delay filling some new postilions.  We did it when we passed the CIP, certainly it can happen again.  

Yes the schools will get more money but that's the agreement we have.  If you add the 3 cents into the rate the overall increase is about 7%.  That's a lot but the things we're buying with that money are all things that our citizens have said they support.  We heard a lot in the last election from Every. Last. Candidate. about how important Economic development, fixing roads and infrastructure in general are to our city.  Those things aren't free and we need to have them in order to compete with the surrounding jurisdictions.

I'd note that PWC has passed a budget that includes money OVER AND ABOVE the revenue sharing agreement to help reduce class sizes.

If the Council and School Board can't seem to make these agreements work then they should agree to set a meeting outside the budget process and figure out what does work.  I can see an argument both ways but no decisions can be made without facts.  Put together a committee to study the agreement.  Put those with the most financial acumen on that committee and get the budget folks to start generating some spending projections.  Put some average increase in the budget, include some raises, a little bit of new construction, make some conservative tax assumptions and then inject those capital projects into the projections and see what shakes out.  Maybe a workable structure comes from the effort, maybe it doesn't, but It's the only way to get it done.  Trying to figure this out in the middle of the budget process just isn't going to work.  Too many moving pieces and actual facts and professional projections are needed.  Not "feelings" or straight up dogma.  Facts.

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Firehouse Primary

DavidB wrote on an earlier post:  "So….What does the "Firehouse Primary" this Saturday at Metz mean for City residents?  Anything?  What little I can find in the news doesn't talk about the City at all, mostly just how it may or may not impact PWC.  I'd like to care about what's going in with local Republicans, but there's precious little word out there for the public to see."

David, this is what this is all about: There was to be a primary for all of the republican candidates for office this time around.  PWC has several supervisors who face a challenge from their own party as does the Clerk of the Court and votethe Sheriff.  The Chair of the PWC GOP neglected to file the proper paperwork for a "normal" primary (no, I don't know why or if there is some devious plot but others seem to think this is the case) so we'll have a "Firehouse Primary" at Metz from 10:00-3:00 this Saturday.  I've volunteered to work from 1:00-3:00 so if you vote during that time you'll have the dubious honor of seeing me.  :)

The residents of the City of Manassas who fancy themselves republicans will be able to vote for the Clerk of the Court and Sheriff.  County residents will be able to vote for their supervisor as well as Clerk and Sheriff.  Pretty sure that anyone that wants to vote will need to sign a pledge stating you're a republican (or something close to that).

For my part, I've endorsed Austin Haynes for Clerk and Glen Hill for Sheriff.  Both good dudes.

Hope that helps

Posted in Politics | 2 Comments

Erin goes to college

Well, not yet.  We have, at long last, a choice of Colleges!  Erin has decided to go to Hollins University.  Yes, indeed, after months and months of applications and forms and transcripts and college fairs and college tours we have a choice.  This has been a real experience for Sarah and I as parents.  Beyond being invested as just "parents" we have been saving money since Erin was in diapers to get this done so it's been a long time coming.  It hasn't been without some tears, angst and hard discussions but we're here.erinhollins

This decision making process is among the more difficult things I've had to do as a parent or in any other part of my life.  I tend to be one of those people who make a decision and then go about making it happen.  You're either part of the solution or part of the problem – out of the way.  However, this decision is fundamentally one I can't make.  Yes, I can influence it – and I should, I'm Erin's father but my fingerprints can't be all over this thing.  Oh sure, I suppose I could've looked at the options and said "you're going here" but my gut (and my Consigliere) told me otherwise.  In addition, when I thought back to college, many of the kids who felt they had no hand in the decision resented the outcome – even when it was positive.  No, this is a decision the kid must be empowered to make.  I can help get her in the vicinity of a decision but she must own the final result.

We started this process better than a year ago with a trip to VCU.  A pretty well executed information session but all I remember is the rain…:)

After about 6 months worth of applying, filling out forms and 2 different college nights several things started to come into focus.  Private and out of state colleges might not be as expensive as we first thought.  Also, Erin had started volunteering at the hospital and seemed interested in a career in the medical field.  She had applied to about half a dozen different colleges and been accepted to all but UVA.  Not sure what happened there but she seemed ok with that.  In addition, the places she applied were pretty diverse:  Virginia Tech, VCU, Longwood, Randolph-Macon, Hollins, Mary Baldwin, William and Mary and UVA.  Erin liked Longwood but didn't seem jazzed by it.  The top three were Va Tech, VCU and Hollins.  She was intrigued by Virginia Tech but wasn't sure what to make of Hollins.  So you had a giant state school in the middle of nowhere, a tiny private school in the middle of nowhere and an urban university in the middle of Richmond.  I'll be honest, I wasn't sure how this was going to play out.  None of these schools are really like the others…. 

However, after several college weekends, VCU slid to third choice while Virginia Tech and Hollins slid up to first and second.  Hollins had a strong engagement program and were prepared to deliver a great scholarship.  Virginia Tech pretty much just offered admission.  So, this past weekend, Hollins and Tech were both having "admitted students" events.  Hollins on Saturday and Tech on Sunday.  This was like a title fight!  I was really hoping we would end the weekend with a decision and off we went.

The Hollins event was pretty predictable.  Those guys have this engagement stuff down to a science.  It's what they specialize in.  Everyone was appropriately impressed and the vast bulk of the questions were answered.  Erin seemed genuinely interested and I could tell that she had definitely warmed to the idea of attending a smaller college.  The bio program seems well established and solid.  We bagged out of there after a campus tour.

The next morning broke bright and shiny.  I was excited for the finale but I also half expected the Va Tech event to be a complete mail-in affair.  Tech doesn't seem to have to do much to get great students.  However, they did put their best foot forward.  The event was a galactic level deal what with there being more members in the freshmen class at Tech than the sum total of all students at Hollins!  Everyone crowded into Burress hall and there was an hour and a half long agenda with the President of the college and about 6 others speaking.  Very well done.  If you would have asked my prediction for the outcome – right then and there – I think I would have said Tech.  The hall was big and the speakers were great.  It was hard not to get excited about it.

At the concusion of the opening event they dismissed everyone based on the college you wanted to attend so we went to the Science building.

The Science building was just like everything at Tech – fabulous.  There's no shortage of money at that place and Tech does a good job with it.  We eneded up in a stadium-seating classroom with about 300 others.  The professor who spoke was (of course) great.  Very engaging.  However, this event too was about an hour and a half.  45 minutes into it I indicated to Erin that I needed to go to the bathroom, she stood up and we headed out.  

I saw Erin as I came out of the bathroom and said "let's head back in" and she said "I want to talk".  Uh-Oh.  "What's up?"  

"Are all my classes going to be like that?  With 300 people?"  

"No.  But many of your 101 – 102 classes will be large.  As you get farther along in your degree work the classes will get smaller."  

"I was sitting in that room listening to that guy talk and I just lost interest in whatever he was saying.  I didn't feel like it mattered that I was there."  

Well, that got my attention right away.  Red Flags all over the place.  This young woman is a dilligent student and dedicated to her education.  

"Well honey, if that's the way you feel, that's pretty much it.  Are you sure?"

"I'm not feelin' it".

"Well, then that's that."

And that was that.  45 minutes into a presentation on the science program at an enormous university we made a decision to go elsewhere.  Sitting, like 2 little kids, in the hallway near the auditorium.  Outside the sun was shining and the birds were still singing.  The world hadn't ended.  We were both happpier than we were 5 minutes before and we've stayed that way.

That decision happened so fast that Sarah missed it!  She thought that we were still in the bathroom!  She came out of the auditorium a few minutes later and we strolled out the door….

 

Posted in Andy's Stuff | 5 Comments

It’s alive….

Like an old horror show, the zoning re-write issue seems to just not go away.  Just to recap: about a year ago, the Council initiatied an overhaul of our zoning ordinance.  It was last updated some 30 years ago and all of our staff experts (as well as our development community) agreed that it was a hinderance to both good planning and economic development.  So, the Council kicked of a re-write of the whole mess.  

The start of that activity was the subject of much debate as there is a faction who was primarily concerned with the possible location of another abortion clinic in Manassas.  They wanted a re-write of that select part of the code advanced above all else to include the requirement for a special use permit (SUP) for the location of various and sundry health clinics, to include abortion facilities.  The Council, in its wisdom, directed the staff to expidite the whole mess and get it turned around ASAP.  

Nobody on the Council wants another abortion clinic in Manassas.  I don't want another clinic in Manassas either.

So, fast forward to today and the re-written ordinance has made its way through our technical zoning committee, the land use committee, the planning commission, several legal reviews and a marathon Council public hearing.  Last night was a work session on the public hearing.  Underpinning and dominating the entire debate is the desire by some to require a SUP to locate an abortion clinic or similar medical facility anywhere in the city.  As I've written elsewhere, I have no love of abortion but a SUP is not a panacea.  I hope that cooler heads prevail. 

However, what really disappoints me is that the entireity of the energy spent on this zoning update by the Council has revolved around abortion clinics.  I've no fight with a group trying to be heard on an issue but what about the other 99% of the code?  Understand, I'm not arguing against a debate about clinics, rather I'm positing that a wider discussion should be desired by our leadership.  This is the code that will govern how we develop and utilize the land in the city.  Yet there's been almost no discussion of the balance of the code in public.

I heard an aweful lot in the last election about how important Economic Development is….yet it seems to have no mind share amongst our leaders.  These technical details are important to the process.  The nitty gritty matters.

How does the proposal compare with the surrounding jurisdictions?  Does it provide a good foundation compared to others?  Will members of the development community be encouraged?  What kind of economic development does it encourage?  How about redevelopment?  Does it encourage that?  Can it?  We have identified housing as a challenge to our community.  Does this help that?  Those seem like a lot of important questions that nobody has asked during the presentations and public hearings.

This code is going to guide the development of our community for the next 20-30 years and this is the debate we're having?

 

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Vacation Disaster

Our vacations tend to be poorly organized and infrequent.  We try to go away for spring break but some years are better than others.  The prototypical summer vacation down at Nags Head is our normal goal but these have become casualties of summer training for field hockey.  Instead we usually settle for several quick 3 day trips to Skyline drive.  The spring break vacations tend to happen more frequently but we don't plan all that far ahead and, by the time spring break rolls around, we're content to just find a great place to stay and land face-first in the sand.

This year was no exception.  We put off and put off planning our vacation but finally Sarah pulled the trigger and called American Express travel.  We've used them in the past and had pretty good results.  The great thing about AmEx travel is that if you book with them they can get you out of some pretty hairy situations.  This year we booked a week long stay in the Bahamas at an all-inclusive resort.  It was pretty well reviewed with the only rough reviews posted around the time the college kids go on spring break.  Not to worry though, by the time Manassas goes on Spring break, the college kids are normally gone.  Everything was looking up.  We were pretty well fried and needed a break so, just like years past, we were looking to land face first in the sand.

The only sticky point was that in order to get decent flights at a reasonable cost we had to fly out of Richmond.  Not a huge deal as if you go south on 95 on a weekday, traffic is not so bad.  So, 8:00 on Friday morning, we hopped into the car and ran south for a couple of hours.  Packing the night before was a pretty abreviated affair.  We were out until about 9:30 at the republican meeting but, hey, we're talking about packing for the beach here.  For boys it's simple math: 7 nights = 7 underwears, a couple shorts and 7 shirts.  Maybe a pair of jeans and a collared shirt and it ain't the end of the world if you end up on vaca with no drawers!!  So, we're making good time…traffic is light and we get to the airport with time to spare.  We're flying American which ain't my fave but whatevs.  We got up to the self-checkin kiosk and Sarah pulls out all of our passports (with some flair as she had remembered eveything) and….the scanner says "Passport is expired".  Wait, what?  Re-scan.  "Passport is expired".  She pulls it out and sure enough. our daughters passport is expired…..Sarah looks at me, expecting me to fly off the handle…I just shrug and wander off to sit for awhile.  Yeah, I ain't happy but this isn't anyone's fault.  It just happened.

Frantic calls to American, AmEx and TSA.  Answer is always the same – that girl ain't flying on an expired passport for love nor money.  Crap!!  Next call is to AmEx.  "Dudes, we can't leave the country if we're taking our daughter….what are our options?  Me?  I'm thinking Miami.  If I can't get to the Bahamas then Miami beach is a close second.  Yes, it's a much more urban beach but South Beach?  killer.  Yeah no, the only flight to Miami will cost us a couple thousand.  Ain't happening.  OK, what about Lauderdale?  Heck yeah, we can hop a 2:22 pm to Lauderdale!  Now we need a place to stay….hmmm…well, AmEx refunded all of our hotel money so we have some bucks to spend but our place in the Bahamas was all inclusive.  Since our flight has been moved from 12:15 to 2:22 we've got some time.  My favorite travel site is trip advisor so we start perusing hotels.  There's quite a range.  The Ritz is a grand a night and the "Palm Inn" is less than a hundred.  Gotta be something in between….we stumble upon a single room on sale at the Atlantic resort that's priced to move!  We'll take it.

So, after an hour of fast moves, we got the entire vacation re-arranged in about an hour on the aptop in the airport.  Yes it was stressful but we're still married!  Also, technology is great man.  In an hour we turned the entire thing from being an expensive fiasco to a nice stay in Fort Lauderdale!  Laters!

Posted in Andy's Stuff, Information Only | 1 Comment