Monday, October 24, 2011

Why do people have a lower opinion of politicians than of insurance companies?

Mark Lindquist is a hero. He was injured on the job -- in Joplin, Missouri during the tornado on May 22, 2011. His injuries and his characterization as a hero came from his performing job related duties during that tornado.

According to Accident Fund Insurance Company of America, Lindquist isn't entitled to Workman's comp, "based on the fact that there was no greater risk than the general public at the time you were involved in the Joplin tornado."

So, that outfit would deny compensation to delivery truck driver, "based on the fact that there was no greater risk than the general public at the time you were involved in that traffic accident?" It makes you wonder about the validity of this "insurance" company's denial of 7 other claims from injuries received during the tornado.

See the details here.

Commonwealth Transportation Board Approves Amended Subdivision Street Acceptance Regulations

In general, the Virginia Department of Transportation maintains streets and roads in most counties including Chesterfield. However, VDOT only does so for streets and roads accepted into the state system. The new regulations specify the criteria for acceptance of subdivision streets into the Virginia system so that the state will maintain them.

The main change in the Subdivision Street Acceptance Regulations  is increased connectivity requirements for subdivisions. This is important because it will result in more connections between new and existing subdivisions. In turn, this is important because residents of existing subdivisions generally do NOT want prospective new residents to be able to drive through their streets to get to major arterials. They (the existing residents) fear an increase in traffic with an accompanying decrease in safety and general quality of life.

Another important change is a requirement for sidewalks in new subdivisions with an average lot size of 1/4 acre or less and along both sides of new streets that average over 8,000 motor vehicle trips per day. New streets that average between 2,000 and 8,000 trips per day would have to have a sidewalk on at least one side.

The new regulations go into effect on January 1, 2012. They are described here with links to both the new and current regulations.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ok, I know technology is not on my list of topics for this blog but ...

Google has announced Android 4.0, code name, "Ice Cream Sandwich. Both CNET and Huffington Post have articles. It looks totally cool to me.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

IRS commissioner challenges budget cuts

Reuters reports here that Douglas Shulman, Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, wrote a letter to Congress (specifically the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee) on October 17, stating that proposed cuts in the IRS budget would result in tax revenues declining by four times the amount of the proposed cut.
Service to honest taxpayers would decline as well.

Dale Candidates Forum

Last night the Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce and the Chesterfield Business Council jointly sponsored a forum for Board of Supervisors and School Board candidates in the Dale Magisterial District of Chesterfield County.

With only a little bit of tongue in cheek I suggest that Cliff Bickford (R) could shorten his entire presentation to one slogan, "Vote for Me and I'll Be Just Like Jim Holland."


However, there were significant differences between Bickford and Holland (D, incumbent). First and foremost is the importance of education. Both candidates favor increased efforts towards economic development but the totality of their remarks showed one important difference on what is needed to achieve success.

Bickford, unfortunately, doesn't seem to grasp the importance of quality education to attracting investment by large national and international firms. He opposes pay raises for teachers. He opposes increasing the budget for the school system. He opposes finding a replacement for the federal stimulus money that will no longer be available which will result in a "catastrophic" (School Board member David Wyman's word later in the evening) reduction in the school budget.

Jim Holland, on the other hand, sees clearly that large firms are not going to invest in an area unless they are confident the school system will produce a quality work force. Another reason investing firms insist on quality local education is that current employees will resist transferring their families to an area with poor schools. Quality new hires will also be more difficult to attract if the school system is less than it should be.

Comprehensive Plan

Another difference between the two candidates was their response to the question of which version of the comprehensive plan (the Steering Committee's original or the Planning Commission's markup) would each vote for if the decision had to be made today. By his response, Jim Holland rejected the two false premises of the question, that decision had to be made now and that there are only two choices. Jim said he would consider the changes recommended by the Planning Commission after gathering information from county staff, his Planning Commissioner and, most importantly, from the citizens of his district and the county.

As always, Holland made clear the importance of gathering facts and carefully analyzing alternatives before making a decision.

Cliff Bickford bought into the false premises, first describing his problem with the two versions.

The Planning Commission recommendations will likely include combining the revitalization section with the economic development section. The logic is that the two activities overlap considerably and the county's economic development office is responsible for both. Despite the fact that there is no substantive change or elimination of revitalization goals and objectives, Bickford doesn't like this cosmetic change in the way the plan is formatted.

Bickford's problem with the Steering Committee draft is that it calls for very low density in the Countryside area, one residential unit per 25 acres. (The Planning Committee markup changes this to one unit per 5 acres.) This is a substantive issue; the final decision will require tradeoffs among the many interested parties. However, Bickford said he would vote for the Steering Committee version of the Plan because of the irrelevant, cosmetic change suggested by the Planning Commission.

In summary, Bickford would accept a density in the Countryside he finds to be a serious shortcoming to avoid a word-smithing change he doesn't like.

Addendum: October 19th, 2011, 11:30 PM

Another takeaway from Monday night's forum is that Bickford does not understand that cash proffers do not apply to commercial development. Cash proffers are paid by residential developers as they file for building permits.  Cash proffers on residential development do not inhibit commercial development in Chesterfield County.

In considering modification of the cash proffer system, the Board of Supervisors will have answer the question of whether reducing a cost of residential development is the right strategy when the goal is to increase the commercial percentage in the real estate tax base.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Food within walking distance

Jim Holland and I, along with other businesses in Amberdale, will soon have a couple of more choices for food , hopefully by the time busy season gets here. Both a deli/sandwich shop and a sit down restaurant will be available soon. The vacancy rate in the Amberdale commercial area is approaching zero, I'm happy to say.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Busy Season, Part II

Those individuals who obtained a six month extension of time to file their 2010 income tax return and have not yet filed have until October 17th to get that return in the mail. There is no additional extension available. Either file by next Monday or file late.

The late filing penalty, if any, on returns that are filed late would be computed from April 15th. (The extension is invalid if you don't file by the extended due date.) The penalty maxes out at 25% (5% per month) on the tax due. If the full amount due was paid on April 15th (as it should have been) the penalty would be zero because 25% of zero is zero.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Commercial office space

The Richmond metro market for commercial office space is improving more rapidly than the residential market according to this article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Of course, the vacancy rate for offices is still about double the "frictional rate" of 5%.

For about two years I've been predicting that economic growth will become robust in another year or so. I don't do that anymore. Now I say economic growth will be significant after the mortgage driven housing glut has worked through the market. I make no predictions about when the housing glut may be dealt with.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Has anyone seen my signature?

Has anyone seen the signature of a typical medical doctor? What are these people thinking?

Here are the first two paragraphs from an article in Wednesday's Virginian-Pilot:

"By next year's election, poor penmanship might be reason enough to disqualify a voter's mailed absentee ballot in Virginia.

The Republican-controlled State Board of Elections withdrew one set of rules governing absentee ballots - they gave election officials more leeway to count the ballots of voters who made mistakes filling them out - and substituted them with less-flexible guidelines."

And this paragraph further down the article,

"Removed from the current state absentee ballot regulation is language in the previous version that made it clear that illegible voter or witness signatures on a ballot wouldn't invalidate it, and a catch-all paragraph that specified ballots wouldn't be tossed if a voter's identity could be otherwise confirmed by election officials."

Overall, the proposed regulations will increase the liklihood that qualified voters will have their absentee ballots rejected despite the claim of a policy advisor to the State Board of Elections (Justin Riemer) who is quoted as saying, ""The goal here is to get things right on a tough issue... to err on the side of the voter."

Yeah, right.

Read it all at this link.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Chesterfield County Comprehensive Plan

Many people in Chesterfield County ( but not everyone) are aware of the ongoing review of the Chesterfield County comprehensive plan. The process started over two years ago and is moving towards completion.

In misplaced anticipation of significant citizen interest and input, the Planning Commission held a two session public hearing on the proposed plan on Tuesday, October 3rd, one starting at 1:00 PM and one starting at 6:00 PM. We came prepared to stay late and to extend the public hearing to this (Thursday) evening if necessary. Eighteen (18) people, three in the afternoon and fifteen in the evening, chose to address the commission on this important issue. That is sad.

The greatest interest and controversy is what to do with western and southwestern Chesterfield County. The initial draft, presented by the steering committee and outside consultants on January 6th, 2011 calls for much of that region to be "Countyside" preserving its rural nature and limiting residential development to one unit per 25 acres. That draft also did NOT include the "East-West expressway" in its transportation plan. That road would run from the Skin Quarter area on Hull Street Road, approximately paralleling the Appomattox River, to I-95 near Petersburg.

The proposed changes, supported at this time by a majority of the Commissioners, would increase density to 1 residential unit per 5 acres and add the East-West expressway to the transportation plan. The greatest support for these changes comes from large landholders who want the opportunity to profit handsomely when development expands into their region of the county. Obviously, a comprehensive plan that calls for preservation of the rural character of that region is not to their liking. On the other hand, many families already living in that part of the county are more than happy with the notion that their rural, uncrowded way of life would be preserved.

Both the January and September versions of the proposed plan (along with a "mark up" that shows the actual changes next to the original wording) are available at this link.

Although the Planning Commission's public hearing has been held, it is not too late to have input. Contact information for members of the Commission is here and for members of the Board of Supervisors here. The Board of Supervisors will make their final decision on the plan early in 2012.

Write, email or phone your commissioner and your supervisor if you have strongly held opinions on any part of the comprehensive plan proposals.

Dale District supervisor corrects the record

Jim Holland, Chesterfield County Supervisor for the Dale Magisterial District (and my business partner and friend), has a letter to the editor in yesterday's Chesterfield Observer. In it, he corrects some misperceptions that might have come out of an earlier Observer article. Jim also makes good points about his record as a member of the Board of Supervisors.

CEOs Seeking Respect Must First Restore Lost Trust: Ezra Klein

Ezra Klein isn't much impressed by corporate execs whining that they are getting much respect in a column at Bloomberg. Here is the link.

While some criticisms of some specific individuals may be over the top, Klein makes a good point. Most of the criticism of business leaders has been brought upon those leaders by their own actions. Klein also properly acknowledges that it is more difficult to do busines in the U.S. than it should be.

Self pitying self righteousness, however, almost never works and, in fact, gets in the way of dealing with real problems facing American businesses.

Justice Department Prevails in Three Tax Shelter Cases on Same Day

One the top tax blogs (when he doesn't wander off into immaterial stuff like discussions of law school rankings) is Paul Caron's TaxProf Blog.

One of his posts yesterday refers to this DOJ Press Release. District courts for Southern Iowa and Minnesota along the the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals (based in New Orleans) all came down on the side of the IRS in what the Service calls abusive tax shelters.


Welcome to Central Virginia and Beyond.

My focus will be on income taxes, business, and general public policy. No doubt my political views will become obvious as time goes by.