The Goochland County Board of Supervisors, who assumed office on January 1, 2024, held its first goal setting and strategic planning retreat on January 20, 2024. Held at the Marriott Residence Inn in eastern Goochland, the Board, consisting of three new members, gathered to start the process of creating a new strategic plan for the County. The current/existing plan was adopted by the Board of Supervisors in September 2014 and ran through 2018.
Led by SIR facilitators Rachel Yost and Grant Neely, the retreat started with an overview of issues and trends impacting local governments nationwide followed by staff presentations including the challenges and opportunities faced by the County in the coming years, as well as what keeps County leadership “up at night”.
Jamie Sherry, Director of Community Development, shared an overview of her department’s core functions and trends as well as how proposed legislation could impact the County. She also spoke on the challenges faced by her department, including the growing workload, staffing challenges, and lack of office space. As well as the continuing trend of record setting permit requests and the need for more comprehensive ordinances and planning policies to ensure quality growth.
Sara Worley, Director of Economic Development, shared her department’s vision to attract, cultivate and retain diverse businesses in Goochland by promoting economic growth while preserving Goochland’s agricultural heritage. She explained there are challenges experienced when recruiting and attracting businesses. There is a lack of clarity in doing business with the County, which is counter to the “Goochland is for Business” motto. Examples provided were existing ordinances, slow response times by staff, and high costs of doing business. Worley stated, “High quality development wants to be part of the community, they want to be involved. When they feel they aren’t wanted, they don’t want to be here either.” Other challenges faced by Economic Development include high land prices, limited inventory of industrial land, and business-ready sites.
Worley explained that Goochland is not part of regional economic development and tourism organizations, such as the Greater Richmond Partnership and Richmond Regional Tourism Corporation. Joining one, or both organizations would increase the marketability of Goochland and Goochland businesses to businesses, events, and visitors looking to come to the region.
Eddie Ferguson, Fire-Rescue Chief, expressed that the vision for the Fire-Rescue department is to provide services as a combination department, inclusive of career staff and volunteers working together on the same team. While call volume stayed level to those in 2022, he explained that there were not as many weather events in 2023 requiring service, such as the tornadoes and snow events of 2022. There was an increase of 209 ambulance transports, which can take hours to complete when considering the wait for a bed to become available at the hospital, leaving staff unavailable to take the next call.
The busiest station in the county is Centerville Station 3, located where the growth in the county is occurring. Ferguson pointed out that when Avery Point, a continuing care community, is completed, he predicts an average of 500 calls there per year, adding to the strain felt by staff. As the call volume in the east end increases, resources from the western end of the County have to be shifted to cover. “I worry about us being one emergency away of not having enough staff in the right places to handle a call.”, stated Ferguson.
Deputy Chief Mike Watkins explained that, not only does Fire-Rescue respond to calls in the community, but they are also experiencing more walk-ins. At the current staffing levels, if the crew is out on a call, there is no one at the station should a walk-in occur.
To help meet these staffing levels, Deputy Chief Tony Gordon explained the community outreach efforts, all of which include volunteer recruitment. In 2023, Fire-Rescue hired a part time Recruitment and Retention Coordinator and was able to recruit an additional 35 volunteers.
He also addressed the ongoing Fire-Rescue station renovations, made possible community donations and a loan from the County to the Volunteer Fire-Rescue Association. It is important to note, that all of the Fire-Rescue stations, with the exception of Hadensville Station 6 and Sandy Hook Station 8 are owned by the Volunteer Fire-Rescue Association. “The seed I want to plant is that the Volunteer Association has been great stewards of the Community’s assets for seven decades, however the County is changing and so is the Association. So, at some point in time, not next year, and probably not the year after that, the County is going to have to look at assuming these assets. There needs to be a plan for that.” Ferguson did announce an architect and engineering firm had been hired for the West Creek Station, which will be Station 7. He explained that while some improvements have been made to the existing Fire Training Center, it will not serve the County in the long-term, and expressed that a Public Safety Training Center, shared with the Sheriff’s Office, is a future need.
Residential and commercial growth, and the aging population were challenges mentioned by all three departments and continue to have varying impacts on services county-wide.
To kick-off the afternoon session, the SIR facilitators guided the Board members through various statewide and national trends and challenged them to think about what they could mean for Goochland.
The first trend being the growing population. Neely explained, that by his math, Goochland is expected to continue to grow by 1.31% for the next ten years. With that in mind, the Board members were asked how they could be more intentional to shape the future of the County growth. Vaughters stated that he felt, “We need to be mindful of historic actions, or lack of actions, and the repercussions, as we make growth decisions.”
Echoing the earlier presentations, Neely explained that people are living longer, while fewer babies are being born. Prompting the next question, what does this mean for delivering services in Goochland? “More Public Safety demand, Fire-Rescue”, stated Winfree.
Areas typically known for social connections, such as churches, are showing a decline in attendance. Neely explained how the lack of opportunities for engagement can impact a community and asked what that could mean for Goochland. “It doesn’t sound like Goochland.”, said Christy, “Goochland has a very engaged citizenry. While the Country may go that way, Goochland is not going to want to go with it.”
“You can live here and get your community elsewhere. How do we bridge that gap?”, asked Vaughters. Many on the eastern end of the County continue to travel east, rarely making it towards the center of the County. While there are events such as the Tree Lighting and Goochland Day, as Lyle pointed out, they may not meet the community needs of everyone. Tom Cocke, Director of Parks and Recreation, spoke on how his department works to provide a sense of community and opportunities for socialization. While providing those opportunities doesn’t require policy, it does require resources and funding.
The economy is growing, stated Neely, showing a chart of the industries in Goochland. He explained that the leading industry in Goochland is financial services, which he compared to the military presence in Hampton Roads. Worley stated 73% of Goochland’s GDP is directly tied to Capital One. After reviewing the chart, Neely posed the question, how does Goochland ensure strategic growth? Lyle responded that being, “proactive not reactive” is important. Spoonhower stated that the Board needed to make strategic growth a priority to ensure it happens.
Neely guided the Board members through the ‘wealth gap’ and how 40% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. As an example, he explained how Goochland’s entry-level salaries do not allow for people to afford to live in Goochland. Spoonhower explained that keeping the tax rate low would help protect the most vulnerable, “keeping our hand out of their pocket,” provides opportunities for our residents to continue to support our local non-profits.
Collaboration is an important part of ensuring a strong economy. Neely shared examples of how some regions work together to attract and retain businesses. He mentioned the groups Worley pointed out in her presentation earlier in the day, the Greater Richmond Partnership and Richmond Regional Tourism Corporation, and how they could be a benefit to Goochland. Board members do participate in some regional groups, including the Richmond Regional Transportation Planning Organization (RRTPO) and PlanRVA. Spoonhower explained that Goochland is starting to think outside of our borders, compared to previous Boards, “If we build relationships within our region, we can succeed, or fail, together.”
Following the strategic questions, Yost led the Board in developing a SWOT for the County. While the Board identified many items per category, below is a brief list.
- Engaged citizenry
- Strong public safety
- Low tax rates
- Credit rating
- Strong dedicated staff
- Recent staff turnover
- Low staffing levels mean lack of cross-training and leads to staff burnout
- Lack of data, and metrics to get that data
- Inconsistent messaging and communication
- Disconnect between leadership
- Economic development
- First in class service
- Identifying and understanding Goochland’s comps
- Deepening regional connections
- Keeping up with regional salaries
- Pressure from neighboring counties
The Board then discussed how to leverage items identified in the SWOT activity. Ways to do this included continuing the great work already being done, empowering staff by providing needed tools, and celebrating accomplishments.
Top priorities from the meeting were to continue to support Public Safety and desired economic development, defining the 85/15 split for development, ensuring financial ability to meeting future objectives, and improving community engagement.
When discussing Public Safety, the Board said they would want to know the community’s expectation as well as understanding the ‘desired’ versus ‘required’ level of staffing, and the impacts.
The Board stated that they needed to ensure the proper tools and marketing to ensure quality economic development and the need to develop a plan to have tier 4 available land.
One thing that has been discussed multiple times over the past few years is the commitment to 85/15 split for development. To Ensure that this is met, the Board discussed revisiting the Comprehensive Plan and updating where needed. Spoonhower explained how there are many projects that have been approved years ago, giving the example of the 60 homes being built across the street from him that were approved in 2007. He urged the Board to continue to keep these types of projects in mind when approving future projects. Even though they were approved, the developers do not have to develop them immediately, it could be years before the project is completed.
Ensuring that the operating budget is balanced every year is an important task that the Board will be undertaking shortly. As stated earlier in the meeting, keeping the tax rate low has been the goal for many past Boards. How will the Board keep the rate low and ensure that the County’s growing needs are met? County Administrator Vic Carpenter explained that the Board will be presented with forecasted data, showing spending growth versus revenue growth to help them make decisions. Carpenter also discussed the importance of messaging when it comes to how the budget is allocated. Educating the public by doing a better job explaining where tax dollars are going, how many pennies go to each function or project, and showing the impact of their tax dollars in their community.
Goochland forecasts its facility needs through it’s 25 Year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), fed by the 25 Year Public Facility Master Plan. While the funds needed are forecasted out 25 years in advance, only one year at a time is actually funded. The general sense from the Board is that the CIP actually underestimates the true need for the County.
The retreat served as a starting point for the Board to begin thinking about and discussing topics and priorities that they would like to implement during their term as Supervisors. The discussions provided a great window into what could be seen over the next four years.
To view the meeting in its entirety, visit https://goochlandva.new.swagit.com/videos/295357