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This week's topic: Where is tax payer money going?

If you weren’t sure there was an election in the fall, you haven’t been paying attention to all the news coming out of Chesterfield County government.

The County communications team is working overtime to tout all the millions in dollars in projects the Supervisors are spending in their districts (curious that so few projects are in Dale District, probably not a coincidence). Anyway, there are a few key points to remember as you read about all the gifts you are being showered with:

  1. The government is not and should not be a for-profit business. They take your money and spend it on public services such as police, fire, schools and roads. To the degree they provide utilities, you pay for that too. Their singular focus should be on value—the best service at the least cost.

  2. Unlike federal government, County government can’t print money. They have to pay their bills, and if they borrow, they pay banks for use of the money. Bonds are not free, and the interest costs is bank-profit paid by taxpayers.

  3. If the County is is not keeping up with needs in the community, they either have other priorities or their projects are not paying for themselves as promised.

Much of the news is about the great job the Chesterfield Economic Development Authority is doing “creating new revenue streams and diversifying the tax base.” Remember the County only collects revenue for services provided, so at best, the new revenue streams cover the additional burden of the projects on County services, or in fact, the cost to taxpayers went up. If the cost increased, there are only three options: raise taxes, borrow money, or prioritize projects based on what can be afforded. We are seeing it played out realtime in Chesterfield County as millions are spent on economic development projects while school and road projects languish, not to mention the ever increasing burden on police and fire.

My father was raised on a family farm that has survived for over a hundred years, so I think he had a good common-sense handle on business, and I appreciate the lessons he taught me: Don’t spend more than you make, save for a rainy day, be frugal, don’t get into debt, and most importantly, stay away from“ deals that seem too good to be true” because they aren’t true. So that brings me to my point: If all these CEDA projects are so good, why are schools and transportation suffering? Where is the money going?

Meanwhile, the CEDA continues to meet in secret, spend millions in capital and annual operating cost each year, and commits the County to billions in future investment all with little to no oversight. All the projects are justified as “can’t afford to lose” or “too good to pass up” with vague and grandiose promises of county revenue. None of the project claims are ever substantiated or reconciled with the original project cost estimates and justifications. In the interest of transparency and fiscal responsibility, the Board of Supervisors should require an annual independent audit of each and every CEDA project and a final reconciliation audit at project close-out. Every responsible business does this to ensure costs are in-line with original estimates, conflicts of interest and lax procurement practices are identified, and original assumptions of revenue and other benefits are realized. The Board of Supervisors owes the taxpayers they represent this level of scrutiny. Chesterfield County can no longer afford to be throwing away money with so many other pressing concerns. Schools are desperately overcrowded. Brand new schools are installing overflow trailers in their first year of operation. Roads are over capacity and the backlog of transportation projects is unsustainable. Every major artery in Chesterfield is gridlocked, existing roads are in disrepair, and new roads are being built every day. Inflation is eating away at any wage gains teachers and public safety employees have achieved. A half a billion dollars of debt only helps catch up yet alone get ahead. Chesterfield County cannot afford to waste money, and it is the Board of Supervisors fiduciary responsibility to be certain money is being spent wisely on only the highest priorities: public safety, schools, transportation, etc.

Next week let’s take a more detailed look at some of these CEDA projects. In the meantime, have a great week.

God bless America, the Commonwealth of Virginia, Chesterfield County and the good people of Matoaca!


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