County water Authority directors debate Chamber membership

By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Friday, June 11, 2010

The $34.7 million budget that the

Albemarle County Service Authority

(ACSA) Board of Directors will vote on next Thursday includes $1,100 to pay for the authority to join two local business organizations.

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New executive director

Gary O’Connell

suggested the county water authority join the

Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce

and the

Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development

in order to gain insight on future development by informally meeting with members of the business community.

“It’s the accessibility, it’s the networking, it’s the information,” O’Connell said. As an example, O’Connell said he recently attended a Chamber-sponsored event for the opening of a business in

Old Trail Village

in Crozet.

“I ran into a developer there, and I got an insight into what he was thinking about development,” said O’Connell. “It’s not to try to get into influencing any development. It is understanding what’s going to happen.”

Gary O’Connell explains his logic to Liz Palmer

ACSA Board member

Liz Palmer

, who was recently re-appointed by Supervisor

Duane Snow

, called the Chamber of Commerce a “valuable organization.” However, Palmer said during a  budget public hearing yesterday that she was concerned about joining what she perceived as two advocacy organizations.

“I think it’s very, very important that… we look at the positions that those advocacy groups take and make sure that there’s no conflict between our goals and theirs,” Palmer said.

Specifically, Palmer pointed out the Chamber has advocated for the construction of the western bypass of U.S. 29, a project that if built would contradict the ACSA’s vision statement to  “conserve today, sustain tomorrow, and protect water and environmental resources forever.”

“In the last few years we’ve got some really good evidence to show that as little as 10% of impervious surfaces in the watershed can significantly affect water quality,” Palmer said. “The western bypass [would be] a considerable amount of impervious surface in the middle of our watershed.”

ACSA Board member Jim Colbaugh said he supported O’Connell’s justification for seeking Chamber membership.

“We need to know about what’s being planned for future development in this community,” Colbaugh said. “I think this is a valuable networking tool and a way to understand who is doing what in the community.”

Board member

David Thomas

, a recent graduate of the Chamber-sponsored

Leadership Charlottesville

program, said he thought it was important for the ACSA to have formal and informal relationships with people in the community. Thomas also pointed out that groups such as the

United Way

and the

Albemarle County Public Schools

are also members of the Chamber.

In order to move the budget process along, ACSA Vice Chair

John Martin

suggested adopting a budget with money earmarked for the memberships, but to delay a final decision on whether to actually join until a future meeting.

O’Connell said he would talk with Chamber officials to see if they might allow the ACSA to participate in events without actually becoming members.   During the public hearing opportunity, no members of the public provided feedback on the budget, which is scheduled for adoption at the ACSA meeting next Thursday.