2040 plan needs more thought, discussion from residents

Published 12:46 pm Saturday, March 14, 2015

by Herb DeGroft

As an interested party, concerned about what is best for our Isle of Wight County as a whole, let’s consider the good, bad and ugly of the county administrator’s proposed 2040 plan. First, the county administration opposes any large forum, a Town Hall meeting.

Why not do a Town Hall at the Smithfield Center in early April hosted by the Board of Supervisors? Engagement of individual board members by citizens is imperative in face-to-face conversations, regardless. Here are my findings drawn from various sources, as well as my own knowledge gained from 13 years on the Isle of Wight County School Board as the Hardy District representative:

1. County Administration presents data/figures (Hampton Roads Planing District Commission source) that support their premise to mitigate the $200M-$240 million water reservation fees being paid over the next 25 years by us. Initially, we are using 300,000 gallons of the 5 million per day reserved, and that is being paid for by consumers. Yes, the “water deal” is complicated with strings attached. However, regardless of what lawyers say, the present board of supervisors has a responsibility to constituents to try to enter into a negotiations process with the Water Authority to try to bring about some relief from the onerous annual payments under the present agreement entered into by a “previous board of supervisors.” That is the bottomline…. TRY.

2. HRPDC has data the county administrator uses as 27,000-plus new people into Isle of Wight by 2040 with two-thirds to to be “attracted” to an expanded Newport (Carrollton) Developmental Service District. However, the Weldon Cooper Center shows 8,700 plus or minus in this time frame. Why are all of the parameters of possibilities not shown rather than only the higher numbers? I submit the real number is somewhere in between. Projecting out 25 years is very difficult, the farther one gets from the present, per the Weldon Cooper demographer. Also, failure to use the center’s data violates intent of the letter of the State Code, I think.

3. The school population will likewise increase, cited by county administration as 5,100 plus by 2040, on top of current 5,463 (Dec. ‘14). If recent history is any indicator, wherein 489 students have been added since 2000, an average of 35 per year, then one would interpolate about 875 more by 2040. Again, why are the parameters of possibilities not shown rather than only the higher numbers? Again, I submit the number is somewhere in between. I would opt to be closer to the lower number as the WC demographer agreed, mainly due to the lower birthrate per family continuing to drop for the last several census reports.

4. Consider these problems if the CA is right:

A. Developers in the Carrollton area have to deal with an area more prone to tidal flooding and a higher water table. Example: Eagle Harbor Shopping Center was constructed on the Springfield Farm, noted by a long-time farmer of that area as one of the wettest in northeast Isle of Wight county.

B.The rest of the area is not significantly any different. This restricts building lot numbers for a builder to put houses on to make a profit. Is that builder going to give precious acres to Isle of Wight for two elementary, one middle and one high school sites that as a “minimum” would be required if the CA’s numbers for 2040 are to be believed?

5. With these numbers nearly doubling present student numbers more schools would be needed unless “minimum” built were maximum-sized schools.

6. Acres needed for schools would be about 100, more or less. Where would they be located in Carrollton, if the principle of having schools in generally close proximity to where majority of students live was adhered to?

7. What would the cost of land be if not donated by a builder. If it is even capable of being located in the proposed expanded service district, and at an affordable price?

8. School construction bonds to meet land acquisition needs and build the schools to satisfy the CA’s numbers (5,100 plus) will easily fall between $200 to $300 million, in today’s dollars.

9. 2010 Census showed, as I recall, a .58 children per household nation-wide. It is reasonable that if nearly 49 percent of 25-34 year olds today are not married, it will significantly affect this 5,100 plus number. Job security, as having a good job lends to having children at a higher rate per family. Even though Isle of Wight unemployment is not as high as state’s, our lack of numbers and sizable new businesses to provide for estimated expanded population does not promote a move to the county. On top of this the national lab participation rate, of which we are a microcosm, is at the lowest since the ‘60s-70s, with the “real” unemployment rate at about 11.7 percent nation-wide. These are all the more reason to think the number of children per household will continue to shrink over the next 25 years. The 2020 and 2030 Census will provide current data at those points in time.

Bottom line, on new school costs versus water costs, getting 27,000 plus new residents to buy water to meet bills is “totally mitigated” by the bond costs for new schools, period, unless my ability to subtract correctly is lost to me. Other infrastructure costs are added on top of the above, putting Isle of Wight even deeper in a “revenue available hole.”

Give up before we just tack on 22 cents more per $100s of real estate tax. Never!? The supervisors need to get to the negotiation table, period. Try something like this with the Water Authority (leave the lawyers out of it, too):

1. Pay for 1 million gallons/day “water reservation” until 500,000 per day is used, then:

2. Pay for 1.5 million gallons/day until 1 million per day is used, then:

3. Pay for 2 million gallons/day until 1.5 million per day is used, then:

4. Pay for 2.5 million gallons/day until 2 million per day is used, then ……..continue this schedule of increases until the total 5 million gallons/day is realized. If anyone has a more practical idea, please get it on the table.

So, good to have a plan, a plan deserving of deep consideration and citizen input, subject to modification; not cast in concrete as the county administrator appears to project mind-set. And no rushing in where angels fear to tread by supervisors, too. Study, analyze, think. Are there alternatives?

Meantime, our present board owes it to us citizens to make a motion and vote in open session at the March 19 meeting to meet as a body with the Water Authority to try to negotiate a new payment schedule as a change to the present agreement. Anything less is to fail as elected representatives of we, the people, to look to the common good of all.

Herb DeGroft is a former Isle of Wight County School Board member who lives in Smithfield.