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2016-12-21 / Featured / Front Page

Joe Casey: County heading in right direction

BY JIM McCONNELL STAFF WRITER


County Administrator Joe Casey delivered his first State of the County address last week. Chesterfield, he said, is on solid footing heading into 2017. 
ASH DANIEL County Administrator Joe Casey delivered his first State of the County address last week. Chesterfield, he said, is on solid footing heading into 2017. ASH DANIEL Instead of a honeymoon period, Joe Casey got a baptism by fire. In his first six months as Chesterfield’s county administrator, Casey has tackled an ambitious agenda on behalf of a Board of Supervisors that clearly expected him to hit the ground running.

Whether overhauling the county’s cash proffer policy, amending its charter or purchasing a sports complex, the leader of the local government has been at times a convenient target for criticism by the citizens he was hired to serve.

Following his first State of the County address last week at John Tyler Community College’s Chester campus, Casey described his introduction to Chesterfield as “active and purposeful.” “That doesn’t mean the future is going to be any less active,” he said. “We have to keep moving forward.”

Casey, who delivered his presentation to members of the Chesterfield Business Council, noted that business owners can’t afford to grow complacent in the new year after enjoying a successful 2016.

“Local government really isn’t much different,” he added.

All economic indicators suggest the county will enter 2017 on solid footing as it works to diversify its tax base and shed its reputation as a bedroom community for Henrico County and the city of Richmond.

Local payroll employment increased by 3 percent during the second quarter of this year, the most recent period for which data is available. Office and retail vacancies fell, while sales and hotel occupancy taxes both saw gains.

The county also has approved building permits for approximately $22.5 million in new commercial projects this year – a 134 percent increase over 2015.

“It’s a really good time to be a citizen of Chesterfield County,” said Chris Winslow, who represents the Clover Hill district on the Board of Supervisors.

Casey came to Chesterfield after serving as deputy county administrator in Henrico, which has a much broader commercial sector and thus is less reliant on real estate taxes to fund local government.

One of Casey’s primary goals is to encourage enough private sector investment in Chesterfield to create jobs for the estimated 150,000 citizens who commute outside the county for work.

“We can’t keep building roads wider and wider with traffic mostly going one way in the morning and the other way in the evening,” Casey said. “That’s not good for Chesterfield and it’s not good for the region as far as quality of life.”

Among the most pressing challenges facing the local government over the next several years is an unfunded federal mandate to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

The Environmental Protection Agency established a program in 2010 that requires Virginia and five other states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to significantly reduce the level of pollutants in stormwater runoff – such as nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment – that is discharged from their tributaries into the bay.

Chesterfield’s proposed five-year capital improvement plan for fiscal year 2018 includes nearly $34 million in funding for compliance with the federal mandate.

The county’s total price tag could reach $175 million by 2025 – which Board of Supervisors Chairman Steve Elswick acknowledged would have “a huge impact” on its ability to deliver other services to citizens.

Elswick said last month that county leaders are waiting to see if the incoming administration of president-elect Donald Trump provides localities “common-sense relief” from their Chesapeake Bay obligations.

“The EPA is telling us how to coddle every drop of water and the costs to do that are off the charts,” Casey said. “The biggest challenge to us has to do with economic development and growing jobs. We almost would have to turn off the spigot to new development because of the regulations.” ¦

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