The Goochland Revolution

by James A. Bacon

The “Goochland Revolution” might be the most under-appreciated political upheaval in recent Virginia history. In the early years of the Obama administration the Tea Party movement energized small-government conservatives against the big-government policies of President Obama. The populist surge petered out in Virginia, as it did elsewhere, and it had little lasting institutional impact — except in one place, Goochland County, an exurban locality of 23,000 inhabitants west of Richmond.

Flocking to the polls in record numbers in 2011, the Goochland revolutionaries voted to throw the bums out. And when I say “throw the bums out,” I mean they swept the Board of Supervisors clean of every member but one (who was allied politically with the insurgents) and tossed out every member of the School Board.

After taking over, the board demanded the resignation of the entire Planning Commission, and replaced the directors of public utilities, community development, human resources, and  economic development. The school board hired a new school superintendent. And for good measure the county treasurer was convicted of embezzlement and sent to jail. But the changes didn’t end with personnel. The new crew implemented far-reaching changes in fiscal policy.

Since 2011 Goochland has vaulted from from a locality on the brink of defaulting on a huge water-utility bond issue to one of three rural Virginia counties with a AAA bond rating. The Goochland Revolution proves what financially savvy conservatives are capable of — even if they don’t always deliver — when they come to power.

The story that follows comes from Ken Peterson, a lead architect of the Goochland Revolution. I emphasize his role because he wrote a book, “In Search of Good Government: From the Grand Experiment to the Goochland Revolution,” and he granted me a lengthy interview. Peterson downplays his role, which is insists was a team effort, but there is no question that he, as a former Wall Street deal maker, injected the financial expertise that made the turnaround possible.

The story begins Sept. 11, 2001. Peterson was working in Manhattan nearby when two passenger jets crashed into the World Trade Center. He and his wife decided it was time to leave. They embarked upon a tour of the 50 states to find the “best place on earth” to move to. They discovered Goochland County, a bucolic rural setting set in rolling hills not far from the amenities of a large metropolitan area, within easy driving distance of the mountains, the beach, and Washington, D.C. Buying frontage on the James River, they proceeded to build their dream house.

One thing the Petersons had failed to research was the quality of local government. As they found out shortly after sinking a large sum of money into their new homestead, Goochland County was a fiscal time bomb with a very short fuse. “I had no idea the county was on the verge of bankruptcy,” Peterson recalls.

In 2002 Goochland County had approved a massive multimillion bond issue (giant by Goochland standards) to finance construction of the Tuckahoe Creek Service District, a water-sewer district handling spillover growth from Henrico County: primarily the West Creek commercial park, but also Broad Street, River Road and the county courthouse area. Before the 2008 real estate crash, the county had forecast growth of 11% annually and gambled that growth would help pay the bills. The crash happened, and the growth did not materialize.

The bond deal had made some provisions for a reversal of fortune. The county could defer payment, but the unpaid interest would be tacked on to the back end. Eventually, though, payments would come due, and the deal had pledged various county assets and revenue streams as collateral: the utility district’s assets and cash flow, the county’s share of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s support for public schools, a cash collateral account, and a surety bond.

Bond owners had one more backstop. The county originally agreed to pay an ad valorem real estate tax of $0.31 per hundred dollars of assessed value to support the bond payments. If all other assets and revenue streams failed to cover cover the bond payments, the add-on tax would increase to $0.85 — this in a county where the base real estate tax was $0.53.

Bottom line: the bond holders had the county by the short and curlies.

Concerned citizens approached Peterson to take a look at the bond deal. The county had accumulated 10 years interest and unpaid principal. The water-sewer system was running at about 10% capacity. After he had trudged through the 500-page document he told them, “You’re worse off than you thought.” He told his wife, “We need to put up a for-sale sign or we need to stay and fight.” During his Wall Street days, he had spent four years working on bankruptcies and workouts, and he thought he could bring his skills to bear. He chose to stay. “If you see someone drowning,” he says, “you jump in.”

The first step was overthrowing the old regime. Peterson ran for county supervisor. That turned out to be the easy part. Unrest was so rampant that Goochland revolutionaries (including one incumbent) won all five supervisor seats. Peterson himself garnered 68% to 69% of the votes, as he recalls.

Peterson became the point man in the ensuing bond negotiations with the Virginia Resources Authority (VRA). The VRA was a critical intermediary in the deal. Like many smaller localities in Virginia, Goochland had no bond rating. The VRA was set up to pool resources and expertise, and to gain more favorable financing terms. Technically, VRA had been the intermediary, issuing bonds on behalf of Goochland. In other words, the VRA owed the bond holders and Goochland owed the VRA. There ensued some bare-knuckle brinksmanship in which Peterson extracted important concessions from the VRA and bond holders alike as he figured out how to restructure the debt.

A 2012 bond restructuring brought Goochland some time to get its fiscal house in order without boosting the ad valorem tax. Last year, the county restructured its water-sewer debt yet again again in a $61.3 million deal. Growth and development had resumed, property tax revenues hade surged, and thorough-going fiscal reforms had earned the county a AAA rating. The new bond structure saved Goochland $12.2 million in bond payments through 2042, a net present value of $8.5 million.

Goochland residents learned a very important less: Be verrrry careful issuing bonds. Be wary of the kind of complex, creative financing that the 2002 bond deal engaged in. Understand the risks you’re taking. Goochland was lucky indeed that Peterson had moved to the county. Few rural Virginia jurisdictions have elected officials who can understand complex bond deals much less know how to work them out.

Fixing the bond debacle was just the first step in the Goochland Revolution, though. The Board of Supervisors has instituted fiscal discipline into every nook and cranny of county government, implementing a new model for planning capital improvements, for zoning, and for economic development. In an upcoming post, I will detail the reforms that have kept taxes low and won a AAA bond rating while improving the quality of government services.

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66 responses to “The Goochland Revolution”

  1. DJRippert Avatar

    “Before the 2008 real estate crash, the county had forecast growth of 11% annually and gambled that growth would help pay the bills. The crash happened, and the growth did not materialize.”

    11% ANNUALLY?

    183% growth per decade? (I think I did the math right)

    Has any county in Virginia ever grown that fast?

    1. It was a small county with a very big and highly competitive commercial real estate development on the edge of Henrico County. Not impossible, but not something you bet the farm on. They were rolling the dice…. and came up snake eyes.

    2. Eric the half a troll Avatar
      Eric the half a troll

      Loudoun did for quite some time.

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        I thought so too but Loudoun never got to 100% in a decade according to Wikipedia. Fairfax came close in the ‘50s and ‘60s.,_Virginia

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    Water & sewer (and roads) often powers land development. Water and Sewer is SUPPOSED to be a separate fund from the county AND self-supporting.

    Not unusual for developers to end up on Boards of Supervisors where they can then stand up water/sewer and advocate for more roads and make pots of money on land development. A tried and true thing in many Virginia counties.

    Anyhow, the “revolution” is often easy. It’s the follow on that is tougher.
    What was their bond rating before they took over?

    I don’t think the Tea Party ever went away myself. I think they have pretty much moved the GOP to the right in most places including Va and many are Trump supporters.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      The seat of white supremacy.

      1. Merchantseamen Avatar

        Oh plueeazzzze.

    2. LesGabriel Avatar

      I agree that the Tea party has not gone away. Although large protests and demonstrations are rare, they meet in groups large and small (the quarterly Summits in Richmond draw a hundred or more.) And no, they do not discuss white supremacy. More emphasis on small, effective government advocated by Mr Peterson.

    3. Susan Lascolette Avatar
      Susan Lascolette

      Goochland County was not rated prior to the revolution. Today, the county has two bond ratings – both are the rating agency’s “best quality” ratings: Standard & Poor’s – AAA and Moody’s – Aaa.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Bond Ratings are at least partially predicated on the revenue capacity of the county and it’s enterprise funds, it’s ability to actually pay debt.

        older map:

  3. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Hmmm. Have they checked their water for lead?

    1. Susan Lascolette Avatar
      Susan Lascolette

      Municipalities stopped installing lead pipes in the the 1950’s. No lead pipes in the Goochland Tuckahoe Creek Service District.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        They could add it.

      2. John Harvie Avatar
        John Harvie

        Sorry you are the target of the snide, off topic comments from one of the posters here. Best to just ignore them and the source.

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          I think even a Tea Partier could figure that out… unless she’s just a tourist.

  4. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    “There ensued some bare-knuckle brinksmanship in which Peterson extracted important concessions from the VRA and bond holders alike as he figured out how to restructure the debt.”

    The details of this deal might warrant some scrutiny. Somebody lost money somewhere and I wonder who ended up footing that bill…??

  5. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    The Service District was established to accommodate and encourage growth in that corridor, much to the consternation of many residents who valued the rural, traditional atmosphere of the county. The large West Creek office park had been established and Capital One had announced it was going to build its headquarters there, followed by announcements from other corporations, such as CarMax and Markel.

    Then the 2008 recession hit.

    I do not doubt Mr. Peterson’s financial expertise. However, Goochland was probably saved more by significant changes in the overall financial system–really low interest rates. It is not unusual for governments to restructure (read, refinance) their bonds when interest rates go down. It no doubt helped the county to have someone with Peterson’s background on the Board of Supervisors, but there are financial advisors in Virginia who handle such restructurings on a regular basis, as well as the advisors retained by VRA as pointed out by in the story.

    1. Capital One and CarMax did establish themselves in Goochland, the 2008 recession notwithstanding.

      1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        That’s true, but the additional development that was anticipated has been slowed considerably.

        1. Very considerably. There’s a lot happening there now, though.

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      Service Districts are, in theory, the way to develop land, often for Commercial and often with the local government’s concurrence and help because increased taxes from commercial development is thought to help keep taxes down for citizens, provide jobs and small business opportunities, etc.

      The infrastructure, water, sewer, roads, etc have to be put in first , and paid for first, by someone and bond holders often demand and get the county to back the bonds if the development fails.

      The whole service district concept is predicated on the idea that once the infrastructure is there, that investors, businesses, and related will show up quickly, and start paying taxes , some of which will be used to pay back the bonds.

      Even after recessions like 2008, figuring out the “market” is not so much about govt incompetence as it is the competence and luck of the developers in gauging how much demand.

      Most elected BOS are not experts in finance, or infrastructure, bonds, development, transportation, etc… they rely on consultants and staff.

      So we can look at BOS as “govt” but in reality they’re aso mostly ordinary citizens… but they do control how the county operates and some are good and some are not…

      For myself, I prefer businessmen on the BOS vice political partisans.. left or right .

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    Yes. Indeed. Goochland type articles were the norm and the culture war rants rare. True Conservatism was it’s brand.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      More Virginia Shoe Polish from the left. What is Virginia Shoe Polish you ask? It’s the habit of progressives to use amateurish artifice to cover up reality. In the case of these comments the Virginia Shoe Polish are the terms “culture wars” and “get off my lawn rants”.

      Let me help with a summary of Jim’s fine article.

      Once upon a time the good people of Goochland County made the mistake of electing a pack of big government devotees to their Board of Supervisors. It’s unclear from the article how this happened. I’d guess that the citizens of Goochland were too busy working, commuting and raising their families to pay attention. These big government devotees might have been typical liberals, plantation elite crony capitalists or something else. Again, the article doesn’t say.

      This Board of Supervisors applied it own brand of Virginia Shoe Polish by claiming that Goochland would grow at 11% PER YAR for a sustained period of time. It should be noted that from 2010 to 2019 Goochland has grown by 9.4%. That’s a long, long way from 11% per year.

      The 11% annual growth shoe polish was used to justify big spending by government. What’s new? That why liberals and crony capitalists so love Virginia Shoe Polish. Just ask Terry McAuliffe about the exploding demand for street legal golf carts.

      At this point the old BoS might as well have put on straw hats and found some friends in klan outfits for a photo session. The Virginia Shoe Polish was fully applied.

      Enter a guy from outside Virginia. He looks at the Virginia Shoe Polish and calls BS.

      He organizes the county’s residents to toss the Board of Supervisors and apparently the School Board too – just for good measure.

      Then he fixes the problem that was created through the use of Virginia Shoe Polish.

      Did I mention that the people who fixed the problem were organized around the Tea Party?

      Good thing we’re not looking at any “culture war” issues here. Or, I guess that’s what you are saying. However, it’s always hard to tell exactly who is behind the Virginia Shoe Polish. Especially when the use pseudonyms instead of their real names when posting comments.

  7. Not mentioned in the article: The ad valorem tax is only applied to parcels which are in the Tuckahoe Creek Service District (TCSD), which is at the eastern end of the county near the Henrico-Goochland border.

    Landowners in the western/rural parts of the county are not footing the bill for water and sewer infrastructure on the east end.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      Good point.

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      If it is a true service district and the bonds are solely paid for by those taxes – and no subsidies from the county.

      We’ve had service districts that did not develop as fast as planned , not enough tax-paying developments in the district and insufficient revenues to pay for them so the county was on the hook – because many of these service districts are set up , agreed to by bond holders, only if the county promises it’s full faith and credit.

      In Spotsy, the developer came to the county and asked to be relieved of it’s commitment to upgrade an access road that cost 6 million because not enough of the parcels sold and the county agreed and put that project on it’s own list of transportation projects to fund.

      In Fredericksburg, development did not occur in the service district / added tax, existing buyers of parcels stopped paying the tax and the original developer cam back and asked for a rezone from commercial to apartments – and got it. Net result for the city – apartments instead of commercial – apartments that seldom generate more taxes that they consume in services – in this case the compromise was upscale apartments that break even or a little better but no where near what commercial would generate.

      It’s not necessarily incompetence per se – all development is at risk and a certain amount of infrastructure “bootstrapping” common – i.e. you have to put in the water/sewer/roads BEFORE the development can occur and you recover those costs from the new tenants – if the new tenants show up at the rate the bond payments are due!

      Been several articles in BR about various communities trying to get involved in infrastructure and amenities that might attract development, sometimes with tobacco money or money for Rt 58 or coal severance taxes, etc.

      Development is by it’s nature especially out away from urban centers an inherently risky venture – where the entrepreneurs try to get help/support from the community that would benefit from their project.

      I believe also, if I recall, there were articles in BR about Goochland in prior years – they have had a history of issues like that and I believe one or more of their elected officials got convicted of breaking laws and no… it’s not a “liberal” thing.. development is inherently risky business that sometimes attracts less than honorable folks.

      1. The TCSD is a “true [water & sewer] Service District” as you put it, and owners of property which is outside the District are not footing the bill for water and sewer infrastructure within it.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          If it’s just water/sewer then that cost is allocated per hookup.

          If it is more than water/sewer, and includes roads and major utility drainage structures, – then that’s more often done with the additional tax –

          at least in our area that I’m familiar with.

          I don’t know of any service districts in wholly single family residential in our area.

          1. In this case the bond was specifically issued to build water & sewer infrastructure within the TCSD. The capital costs of that project are not allocated per hookup.

            As has been previously mentioned, there is an ad valorem tax imposed on real estate within the district. The monies collected via that tax are used to pay bond-related debt. Water and sewer connection fees cover the capital costs of other water and sewer infrastructure not directly related to the bond funds.

            FYI, the TCSD is not set up to be wholly single family residential. In fact, there is significant commercial, industrial and multi-family development occurring in the district right now. This is a partial list of what has recently been/is going on in the Goochland’s TCSD right now:

            A new hotel
            A new hospital/rehab facility
            A small shopping center
            3 apartment complexes
            2 retirement communities, one of which is to have full assisted living and nursing home facilities and a total of 14 buildings.
            2 large residential subdivisions (500+ homes each) , one of which includes a about 30% townhouses.
            +/-6 smaller residential developments (30-100 lots each)
            An Advance Auto store
            A car wash
            A Chick-fil-a
            An upscale child care facility
            2 Office Parks
            Multiple small to medium sized business enterprises are constructing facilities within two existing industrial/commerce parks.

            Now, that is probably “small time” by NOVA standards, but to Goochland County it represents significant growth.

            [12:35pm – Edited to remove a remark that may have been interpreted as condescending]

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            so.. for residential, do they have to pay for water/sewer hookups ?

            In my area, such residential has to pay for hookups and it’s those hookup fees that pay for the water/sewer infrastructure.

            And residential roads are usually incorporated into the price per unit – there is no extra real estate tax for the subdivision roads. They are most often these days built to VDOT standards and accepted into the state system as soon as possible. The homeowners pays the same taxes as other in the county do for their homes.

            In our service districts, the additional taxes are over and above the water/sewer hookup fees. They pay for transportation and storm water and related.

            not true for the one you’re describing?

          3. so.. for residential, do they have to pay for water/sewer hookups ?

            Yes. Everybody who connects to the systems pays connection charges. As mentioned above, the connection charges cover the capital costs of other water and sewer infrastructure (and capacity) not directly related to the bond-funded infrastructure.

            Look at it this way: Most well run water & sewer utilities maintain two separate “pots of money”: Their capital funds and their operating funds.

            Capital Funds – These funds are used to pay the construction costs and debt service associated with building treatment plants (or purchasing capacity from elsewhere) and infrastructure for water pumping, storage & distribution; and sewer collection & conveyance. These costs are recovered via capital charges assessed to each new connection to the system. These go by many names: “Tap Fee”, “Connection Fee” , “Availability Fee”, but they describe essentially the same thing.

            Operating Funds – These are used to pay the fixed and variable costs of operating and maintaining the water and sewer systems. These costs are recovered via user fees – the ubiquitous “water bill”.

            Goochland County utilities effectively have a third “pot of money”: Bond funds. These covered the construction costs and cover the debt service associated with a specific portion of the county’s water and sewer infrastructure – a “special project”, if you will. These costs are covered via the ad valorem tax on parcels within the TCSD.

          4. LarrytheG Avatar

            but those folks also have to pay for service district taxes also? Is that for their roads?

          5. No, Larry. As I have said several times already, the TCSD in Goochland is strictly for water and sewer infrastructure. Every parcel in the TCSD is assessed the ad valorem tax.

          6. LarrytheG Avatar

            Okay. Thanks

            Doesn’t seem to work like ours does.

            In our county – the water/sewer hookup fees cover the capital costs

            and the monthly fee covers the operating.

            The hook-up fees cover the pipes, water tanks, pumps as well as the fresh water treatment plant and the wastewater treatment plant.

            It’s all bundled in the hook-up fee which is substantial – thousands of dollars and usually embedded in the cost of a new house.

            For existing houses that want to connect, they will pro-rate the cost and incorporate it into your monthly fee (I think).

            The service districts we have – are primarily for the road and drainage infrastructure to serve the commercial development – major upgrades to Route 1 and Route 3 – multiple millions of dollars..

            the added taxes go away once the bond is paid for.

            Thanks for sharing how Goochland works.

    3. DJRippert Avatar

      What percentage (approximately) of Goochland’s 24,000 residents live in the TCSD? Any guess?

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        From what I’ve seen in our area….

        Our service Districts are often closely drawn to only enclose the anticipated commercial development area but can also include things like apartments but in our area, not things like residential subdivisions.

        And service districts that are in our area usually are about a lot more than just water/sewer – transportation, storm/utility drainage, commercial grade electricity, phone, internet, etc…

        1. This one is only about public water and sewer service, and the County’s Comp Plan calls for all manner of development within it.

      2. About 45%, but that is probably changing (increasing) on a daily basis. There is a lot of residential development right now in the TCSD.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          single family detached or apartments?

          1. Existing homes, almost exclusively low to medium density SFD. A fair amount of multi-family housing is being constructed right now, so that too is likely to change in the near future.

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            but the single family detached are service districts?
            Not saying it can’t be but was under the impression that not normally done.

          3. Yes, there are properties with single family homes on them in the district. It may not be what is “normally done”, but it is how Goochland County set up their TCSD.

            Keep in mind, that even with the ad valorem tax, the total real estate tax in Goochland County is quite competitive with their neighbors. The total including the $0.31 ad valorem tax is $0.84 per $100. Those outside the district get a real bargain on their real estate taxes, at least compared to neighboring counties. They pay $0.53 per $100.

          4. LarrytheG Avatar

            Right. But WITHIN the county someone who is living in a subdivision that is paying MORE in taxes than another taxpayer also in a subdivision who is not is going to want to know what they are getting more for their higher taxes.

            In Sposy. Whether you’re in a subdivision or not – you pay for hookup to water/sewer and if you are actually in a subdivision – the subdivison roads are usually incorporated in the price of the lot/home then because the roads are built to state standards, VDOT takes them over – so no need for a tax district to do that – athough I can see where doing that over some number of years could amortize that cost making the initial cost of the lot/home lower.

            I’m not sure what else would need to be in a tax district for. In our county, if there are amenities, that usually gets put in an HOA.

          5. But WITHIN the county someone who is living in a subdivision that is paying MORE in taxes than another taxpayer also in a subdivision who is not is going to want to know what they are getting more for their higher taxes.

            People who are WITHIN the county, but not in the TCSD, do not pay MORE in taxes.
            And those who are in the TCSD are getting access to public water and sewer service.

            It’s very simple, Larry: the TCSD was set up ONLY to bring the basic water and sewer infrastructure needed in a particular part of Goochland where the Board wanted to promote growth. It exists for no other reason – not roads, not bridges, not trash service, not “amenities”, not schools, not hospitals, not barber shops. JUST water and sewer.

        2. DJRippert Avatar

          Thank you.

          Rough numbers –

          TCSD has about half of Goochland’s population.

          Assuming the population in Goochland outside the TCSD stays flat the TCSD growing at 11% implies Goochland growing at 5.5% annually.

          That implies 71% growth per decade for the county even if all the growth is in the TCSD. The actual growth in Goochland looks to be about 11% per decade not per year. That’s a huge miss.

          I keep coming back to that 11% per year estimate.

          Somebody was cooking the estimates for some reason.

          Follow the money.

          Who benefitted?

          And why did the old BoS go along?

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            I’m curious. Who would move to Goochland and why?

            I ask this as a resident of Spotsy and the answer to that question for Spotsy is:

            1. – folks who work in NoVa
            2. – for an affordable single family detached home in a good neighborhood

            so what attracts people to Goochland?

          2. DJRippert Avatar

            Manakin-Sabot in Goochland to Tysons in Fairfax County is 140 miles and, right now at 2:00 pm, would take 1:55 to drive.

            Hard to see Goochland as a suburb of NoVa.

            It’s an exurb of Richmond.

            The Richmond area isn’t growing all that fast.

            You ask a good question – where were the 11% per year of additional people going to come from?

            Another question is the need for the water and sewer facility even if the 11% was attained (which it was not).

            If the 11% pertains to the TCSD that would have been 1,100 people per year of about 260 homes. If it pertains to the county overall, the growth in the TCSD would have been about half that or 500 people per year or 125 homes.

          3. LarrytheG Avatar

            residential almost never “pays for itself”.

            Schools alone make it a losing proposition – tax wise. People come nowhere close to paying the taxes themselves on their homes necessary to pay for the education costs of their (one) kid.

            Two or more kids, and other taxpayers will pay for them.

          4. A fair portion (probably close to 50%) of the new residential development in Goochland is age-restricted. There are fewer worries about school seats with age-restricted residential development.

            A lot of people seem to want to retire to Goochland County.

          5. At one time, Motorola was going to move their world headquarters to Goochland. They backed out when the recession hit (at least I think that’s why they backed out).

            The plans for Motorola being in Goochland seem to have been a primary driver of the overly-ambitious growth assumptions.

          6. +/-150 new homes per year is about what Goochland is doing right now.

            During FY2021 the county building inspections department issued almost 4,000 building permits of various kinds, after issuing 3,000 in FY20 and 2,700 in FY19.

            Those numbers include all permits issued: for structures, foundations, decks, plumbing, etc, So obviously, each new house/building requires multiple permits, and of course some of them were issued for additions/renovations to existing buildings, but 4,000 permits in one year in a county the size of Goochland is nothing to sneeze at.

          7. Folks who work in Richmond but don’t want to live in Richmond or Henrico.
            Folks who want lower taxes.
            Folks who want/need affordable housing( in the west end of the county at any rate, and possibly becoming less so because so many people want to live there).
            Folks who like low crime rates.
            Folks who want excellent schools for their children.
            Folks who like living near/on the James River.

            There are all kinds of reasons. I would like to move there, but I’m not sure how much longer I’m going to be in Virginia so I’m staying where I am for now.

          8. Make no mistake, the 11% per year estimate was wrong. That is the primary reason the debt needed to be restructured. The county is not operating on that old assumption any more.

  8. Steve Gillispie Avatar
    Steve Gillispie

    An alternative headline for this article might have been “Goochland – The County That Woke Up”, to borrow from a recent posting.

    Interesting how this little county’s former plight is paralleled throughout America now cracking under the previously unimaginable incompetence, stupidity and just plain wrong policies of Liberal Democrat politicians and leaders up to the daily demonstration of moral and intellectual vacuity of the current white house occupant and his appointees.

    Will America wake up?

  9. Sandie Warwick, who has covered Goochland governance for years in her blog “Goochland on My Mind,” writes the following:

    Thanks for talking to Ken Peterson and writing about how Goochland was pulled back from the brink of bankruptcy. No one outside the county seems to be interested. The RTD never bothered to report the significant news that we had not one but two, and hopefully soon to be a hat trick, of AAA bond ratings.
    I hope you do not have the original run of Ken’s book that says the changes were made with “ballets instead of bullets.” (For those here at the time, this conjures up the image of a very large and somewhat hairy gentleman who was an ardent supporter of regime change wearing a tutu.)

    A couple of clarifications:
    The ad valorem tax is levied on all property owners in the TCSD.

    When the county was enticing landowners to join the District in 2002, the tax was promised to be .15 per $100 of assessed valuation, but was 50 cents when imposed. There was no referendum for the TCSD bonds, not sure about the mechanics, had something to do with VRA. We do have referenda for a new elementary school, Circuit Courthouse (our current one has been in use since 1826), a fire-rescue station, and other big ticket items on this November’s ballot.

    Construction of the TCSD trunk lines, all of which happened before Ken got here, was a mess. Sewer lines run from Goochland through a CCV golf course and connect with the Richmond City sewer lines in a “vault” on Maple Avenue, roughly behind St. Catherine’s school. The company Goochland County hired to install the trunk lines was on the verge of going out of business. Cost overruns, liquidated damages, law suits, etc. used up the borrowed funds, before trunk lines could be built to the Hanover line. They have since been extended by offering incentives to private sector developers to extend the lines.

    Fiscal policies put in place since Ken took office include creation of a “rainy day” fund and establishing specific thresholds for indebtedness. He is a fiscal hawk and always cautions fellow board members about black swan events, like the earthquake and Covid.

    The 2010 CAFR for Goochland had 40 material misstatements, and found that there was no one on the county staff with the skill set necessary to close its books. Now we have a crack financial services department and everyone in the Treasurer’s office is certified. Awards for excellence in financial reporting happen every year.

    A few minor details. Ken has never had an opponent in a general election, though did prevail in a nasty primary–on the day of the earthquake.

    The 2011 revolution may have been spurred with extreme dissatisfaction with the school board that supported a superintendent who demanded that the supervisors raise taxes in order to give the schools at least a million additional dollars in funding to keep the school division from “circling the drain”. That superintendent refused to provide any details about school operation to the supervisors. At one budget session, she metaphorically waved her EdD at the board and told them they were intellectually incapable of understanding the school budget. Since then, the school board has lived within its means, and drastically improved the quality of local schools. By some measures,, Goochland Schools are number one in the region.

    In 2011, candidates for supervisor and school board campaigned together. After they were elected they collaborated closely and continue to do so. This is a very rare phenomenon.
    The treasurer was sentenced before the board took office in 2012.
    When the ad valorem tax was first imposed, I believe the base tax rate was about .90. The 53 cent rate has been in force since 2007 after increases in assesed valuation exceeded the one percent threshold that requires either adoption of a rate that generates the same revenue as the old tax rate, or an increase. The board decided to stick with 53 cents.

    Ken has used his expertise to help his fellow supervisors understand the implications, and unintended consequences of a wide range of fiscal policies. He is an advocate of “smoothing” being careful in good times to tide you over in a downturn.

    Goochland is very blessed to have Ken’s input.

    1. Steve Gillispie Avatar
      Steve Gillispie

      Terrific addition. These two “articles’ are a terrific high for BR. Thank you.

    2. DJRippert Avatar

      How did anybody buy the 11% per year population growth estimate? That seems extraordinarily high. A second year student at UVa taking finance would have known to run a sensitivity analysis on that number.

      This sounds like rent seeking. Somebody wanted the water and sewer facility in order to make their land more valuable. No?

      1. My top suspect would be the investment banking firm that packaged the bonds. The investment banker could care less if Goochland pays back the bonds as long as it collects its origination fees.

    3. DJRippert Avatar

      Sandie – off topic but one of my goals is to eat at all of the top BBQ restaurants in Virginia. I’ve been watching The Feed Store in Maidens. I know it’s new but the owners have a lot of experience. Should I make it a point to get there?

      1. Delcade Avatar

        It is excellent!

    4. LarrytheG Avatar

      Good to know the rest of the story! thanks!

      Spotsylvania went through a similar process and a competent budget staff is KEY to everything else because
      without complete and precise information about finances, you’re flying blind.

      I’m not convinced that fiscal conservatism is a partisan concept. There are prudent and careful folks out there who do vote Dem.

      In fact, if you look at Virginia’s AAA counties and cities… it’s a mixture politically.

  10. Delcade Avatar

    Our Goochland county 13,941 square foot state of the art animal shelter that opened in June of 2020 incorporates a municipal animal shelter, an adoption center, and an in house spay/neuter clinic. How it all came together would be a fabulous follow-up story!

  11. Carson Martin Avatar
    Carson Martin

    Why does it need to be a revolution when it is really just simple representative democracy? Also: every move is infinitely more likely to be a “great” move when you started in the red and simply stopping old policies significantly improves the situation (deconstructive rather than constructive reform). Not saying that is what happened here, but it does seem to have affected the level of fanfare rolled out by big Jimbo. Corruption (embezzlement, misappropriation, malfeasance, cronyism etc..) is a non-partisan issue folks. No shade on the Gooch.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      re: ” (embezzlement, misappropriation, malfeasance, cronyism etc..) is a non-partisan issue folks”

      Well, not in BR where conservative myths and fairy tales are conservative catnip! 😉

    2. What happened in Goochland was a political “revolution” in that it put fiscal conservatives in charge of the county for the first time in recent memory; a fiscal “revolution” in that the new Board of Supervisors set up structures and processes that allowed the county to move from a fiscal disaster to a AAA rating; and a zoning/growth/development “revolution” in that it has put into place mechanisms to ensure that residential and business growth pays for itself. Goochland is doing things that no other exurban or rural county in Virginia is doing.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        I don’t see any major fiscal or other infrastructure or services failings in Goochland PRIOR to the Service District Fiasco which looks to me that they thought Motorola and others were coming and needed water/sewer and the committed to building it then they didn’t come.

        For the rest of the county prior, I do not see any major disasters… just a small county with small finances.

        Can you or anyone document what the prior failures were?

        And I point out right now, that it appears the county taxpayers are funding the shortfall on the bond debt each year… look at their budget online. That will continue until/unless more growth that uses that water/sewer capacity occurs and helps pay for it.

        but what are the prior fiscal/infrastructure/service failures in that county?

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