Looking ahead to 2013 in Gloucester

Quinton Sheppard and Kim Robins - Posted on Jan 16, 2013 - 02:45 PM

As with any locality in the still-struggling economy, Gloucester County faces significant challenges in 2013, many of which are financial and tied in closely with state and federal financial decisions, according to County Administrator Brenda Garton.

"The board of supervisors and staff are working to encourage legislators to consider broad-picture improvements for its citizens, a significant issue being improving and maintaining the transportation infrastructure so that the state, as well as Gloucester County, can remain attractive to new business and expansion of current businesses," Garton said.

She said county administration will be making recommendations regarding significant initiatives in 2013, including the results of the county’s pay study, the recommendations of the Business Development Focus Group, which was formed in 2012, and the recommendations of the Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) Advisory Committee.

"We will continue to move forward with the reassessment, including the newly-hired real estate assessor, new methodology and the use of new software and technological advances," Garton said.

With major capital projects on the horizon such as the new Page Middle School and renovations to the former T.C. Walker Elementary School, Garton said county administration will focus this year on working with the board of supervisors, school board and superintendent of schools Ben Kiser to enhance the cooperation on these major projects. A major challenge that will also require cooperation among the boards includes reductions in state funding, she added.

Garton said the county will also continue to manage and seek funding for FEMA elevation and acquisition projects in 2013, at the level directed by the board of supervisors and within the staffing constraints.

Finance

Gloucester’s director of financial services Nickie Champion said the biggest challenge in the finance area for Gloucester County will be the development of the FY 2014 budget, which will address operating and capital needs of the county and its school division in the near future.

"Major drivers will be the Page Middle School project as well as changes to the Thomas Calhoun Walker Education Center for school administration and community use," Champion said.

The impacts of the federal government’s dealing with the country’s financial concerns may not be immediately known to local governments, she added, but will be considered throughout the county’s budgeting process.

"While local and state economies are seeing slight improvements and we remain hopeful, the true outlook is muddled and uncertain," Champion said.

Planning

The biggest challenge for Gloucester’s planning department is to complete the comprehensive plan update, according to planning director Anne Ducey-Ortiz. Staff turnovers experienced in the planning department, along with the additional zoning administrator’s responsibilities being assumed by planning, have impacted the progress on the comp plan update, she added.

Planning staff is anticipating several code amendments over the next few years resulting from the update to the comp plan and is also anticipating amendments and modifications be made resulting from the Business Development Focus Group’s recommendations.

Ducey-Ortiz said a public meeting is scheduled for Jan. 30 to solicit public input on recommendations from the Business Development Focus Group, which consists of developers, realtors, surveyors, engineers, business owners, and county staff.

Several of the group’s recommendations, she said, involve major changes to the current zoning ordinance and potentially other regulations related to development including the site plan ordinance.

"A significant project on the horizon is revisiting the upriver crossing concept," Ducey-Ortiz said. "Staff will be supporting the efforts of a team of local engineers who offered to conduct a feasibility study for an upriver crossing of the York River."

She said an accomplishment in 2012, which will impact the county in 2013, is the completion of the Court House Village Sub-Area Plan. This plan went to public hearing at the January meeting of the Gloucester Planning Commission. "This plan is an example of a public-private partnership between the Gloucester Main Street Preservation Trust and Gloucester County," Ducey-Ortiz said.

Staff from the MSPT and the planning department worked with a group of consultants and a citizen-based steering committee to develop a plan for the Court House and surrounding area, she added. The plan included significant public outreach and input and the resulting product is one which the county is very pleased with, Ducey-Ortiz said. Once adopted, the plan will need to be implemented through code amendments to allow the type of development envisioned for the future.

Codes Compliance

A challenge to be addressed by Garton is how best to handle the staffing gap/workloads related to the codes compliance director vacancy, with the resulting workload currently distributed to other staff members.

"Staff continues to strive to provide the same level of services and improve on communication and efficiency of the department and divisions," Garton said. Several staff members in both zoning and planning have taken on additional responsibilities related to the board of zoning appeals and review of commercial zoning permits.

"While the increased workload has been challenging for all, a good outcome is that it has increased awareness of processes between departments and divisions, which has led to modifications to be more efficient and consistent," Garton said.

Gloucester’s building official and codes compliance officer recently became certified Conservators of the Peace, which allows them to issue summonses for certain code violations. "This will save time in getting the magistrate to issue summonses," Garton said.

Codes compliance is also working with the county attorney’s office to establish a process to recoup the county’s expenditures on cleaning up violations such as tall grass and bulky wastes, Garton said.

The environmental programs division of codes compliance will again sponsor the Clean the Bay Day on June 1 to promote the countywide cleanup of local creeks and marinas.

Social Services

Social Services director Beth Barry said her department will offer citizens the opportunity to apply online for benefit programs such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program), Medicaid, Energy Assistance, Day Care Subsidy, TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) and other multiple ways to improve ease of application and eligibility processes.