Monthly Archive for May, 2008

Water, Sewer Fees Skyrocket

The Albemarle County Service Authority is jacking up rates for sewer and water connections, Jeremy Borden wrote in yesterday’s Daily Progress, in an effort to pay for the enormous costs associated with upgrading the system to deal with growth. The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority has taken the price of connecting to the water network up 62%, to $2,095, and the price of connecting to the sewer network up 82%, to $2,425. The total cost in Albemarle was $11,790 to hook a house up to the network, and now that’s $14,079. Homeowners’ alternative, installing a septic tank and drilling a well, isn’t a whole lot cheaper, and may well be substantially more expensive. And, of course, the alternative to the rate increase is to simply raise everybody’s property taxes, but that would hardly be fair.

First 64 Shooter Sentenced

The younger of the two Interstate 64 shooters has been sentenced to “an indeterminate amount of time at a state juvenile facility,” Tasha Kates writes in today’s Daily Progress. The 16-year-old Brandon Dawson could be in prison until he’s 21, but it’s up to the Department of Juvenile Justice when he gets out, and something closer to a year or a year and a half is more likely. Dawson pleaded guilty to five counts of shooting at unoccupied vehicles. The other shooter, Slade Woodson, has not yet been tried.

Media General to Lay Off 11% of Staff

Bad news from Media General: they’re laying off 11% of their employees. In advance of this, the Media General-owned Richmond Times Dispatch announced that they’re increasing their subscription rates, publishing 16-20 fewer pages each week, and shrinking their distribution region. The logic is that, somehow, the way to improve your business is to make your product worse, charge more, and sell it to less people.

As always with media outlets, cost-cutting doesn’t mean firing the folks on the business side — since they’re the ones who bring in the money — it means the elimination of reporters, photographers, and their support staff. Which means their newspapers — like the Daily Progress — will get worse. Stockholders are demanding profit margins on the order of 15-30%, which is 3-6 times better than most of the S&P 500 is doing.

The relentless focus on big profit margins is demonstrably terrible for publications and their readers. With Seth Rosen and Jeremy Borden leaving the Progress soon, and Bob Gibson having recently left, the paper shouldn’t have to fire people — they’ll probably just fail to fill some or all of those positions. And that will leave us with more wire stories and less coverage of the things that matter in our community.

It’s a good thing we’ve got C-Ville Weekly, The Hook, the Charlottesville Podcasting Network and Charlottesville Tomorrow. If Media General thinks that their real competition is coming from the web, they should figure out that the competition isn’t the web itself — it’s more relevant, more in-depth information that happens to come in the form of websites. Making their coverage suck by shafting their reporters isn’t going to make them more competitive. It’s going to sink them.

Dealing with the Burgeoning Jail Population

The Charlottesville-Albemarle Regional Jail is just about full, Tasha Kates writes in the Progress, and they’re trying to figure out what to do about it. As in the rest of the country, incarceration rates have been climbing for over three decades, despite flat or falling crime rates. (The U.S. has a greater percentage of citizens in prison than any other country in the world.) The jail can fit 580 people, and averages 540 people each day. Now the Thomas Jefferson Area Community Criminal Justice Board is trying to figure out how to empty some beds. The clearest path seems to be to stop jailing the mentally insane and those merely addicted to drugs or alcohol. Other proposed solutions are to let defendants put their bond on a credit card and accelerating the process that moves convicted criminals out of the jail and into prison. Everybody seems to agree that expanding the jail is the solution of last resort.

“Replacement Husband” Arrested for Murder

Morris MugshotJeremy Borden wrote in today’s Daily Progress about the arrest of Alvin Lee “Butch” Morris for the 1988 murder of Roger L. Shifflett. It sounded like a pretty straightforward story: Shifflett was found shot dead in his Southwind Gas and Grocery Store one morning, his till cleared of $135, and now the 67-year-old Morris has been charged with it. The only question was how Morris was caught. But now comes the bizarre twist, explained by Lisa Provence in The Hook: the accused murderer is married to the victim’s widow, having helped to raise three of the victim’s children.

Morris left his wife just weeks after the murder. In a small-town twist, former county sheriff Terry Hawkins’ sister was Morris’ first wife, and Hawkins says that Morris was a suspect from the very start. The Hook has labeled this the “replacement husband” case and, for lack of a better phrase, I’m sticking with it.