2010-06-30 / News

Steering committee calls for change in proffer system

By Greg Pearson
STAFF WRITER

A philosophical debate over proffers broke out during last week’s steering committee meeting on the comprehensive plan, and no one endorsed the current proffer policy. There seemed to be general consensus that the best thing about proffers is they are one of the few tools state legislators give local governments to raise revenue.

Committee members who work in the development community led much of the discussion, but other members acknowledged what they perceive as deficiencies in the county’s current policy. Renaissance Planning Group (RPG), the consultant that’s developing the county’s comprehensive plan, is proposing “a tiered approach” that includes existing infrastructure, number of bedrooms in new homes and lends itself to affordable housing. The county’s current proffer policy sets a maximum of $18,966 regardless of the kind or cost of the home – a one-bedroom rental apartment pays the same as a five-bedroom single-family house.

Member Dave Anderson, one of the developers of Roseland, asked for “a [proffer] plan that would incentivize the right kind of development.” Over the years county officials have discussed instituting differential proffers that encourage growth in areas where schools aren’t overcrowded and where there are already sufficient roads, libraries, parks and fire stations. Proffers could be hiked in areas where county services aren’t adequate to support additional growth.

Attorney Sam Kaufman called for “more flexibility” with targeted proffers. County supervisors have the flexibility of assessing lower than the maximum but seldom do unless the housing is marketed to senior citizens. In those cases, the proffer is reduced since senior housing doesn’t typically generate new students for county schools.

RPG consultant Milt Herd said proffers are “a crude approximation of an impact fee… muddy and clumsy. They are not an ideal tool…[and] a desperate choice by localities.” But he declined to endorse or reject them.

Hanover and Powhatan counties use proffers, but Henrico County and the city of Richmond don’t – primarily because they have more commercial development that generates property taxes. Virginia is the only state in the U.S. that uses proffers.

“The biggest obstacle that we have to overcome is the General Assembly [which writes the laws],” said Bob Herndon.

Many committee members said proffers are unfair, but they were not as specific as to what should be used to take their place. Matt Harris of the county’s budget office said the property tax rate would have to go up 1-2 cents to replace the revenue generated by proffers. That might be a tough sell to the current supervisors, most of whom were elected because of their “new growth should pay for itself” philosophy.

To Herd, the solution also included less reliance on user fees such as proffers and applying the infrastructure cost to a larger number of people. He cited the Cloverleaf Mall area where the county is considering increasing the tax rate on property owners surrounding it to pay for tearing down the mall and building a new road system with other infrastructure like utilities.

It was left to RPG to wordsmith the draft language for the proposed proffer policy. “Ultimately, it is the board’s plan,” said Vlad Gavrilovic, head of RPG.

Future meetings

As currently scheduled, the steering committee holds its last meeting on Sept. 14. On Sept. 22, the supervisors, school board and planning commission meet jointly to review and affirm the draft countywide plan.

There is concern among many committee members about whether the school board will sign onto the plan since it has signaled that portions of the current draft are considered to be an intrusion into school prerogatives – specifically the size of new schools and whether they are to be co-located with other county facilities.

“I hope it won’t be a political thing,” said committee member Lisa Coffey.

There will be six community meetings around the county between Sept. 23 and Oct. 14 to gather citizen input. The plan is scheduled to go to public hearing before the commission in November with the supervisors holding another hearing in December.

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