Trickle-up, trickle-down

“OK,” I said. “I can remember and you don’t have to make a list – milk, tomato sauce, green pepper, some of that green stuff and eggs, right?”

“Yeah, some of that green stuff,” Linda said. “How are you going to find the green stuff if you don’t know what it’s called? And, you forgot two more things that we need.”

“Give me the list.”

Off to the store I go with my list in hand. I plan on buzzing down the aisles and grabbing everything in record time. Right off the bat I got an out-of-alignment basket that was always turning left. I almost took out a wine display and a two-year-old little girl before I learned how to drive it. I got everything on the list and I was making up for lost time until the green stuff. Where do they put the green stuff anyway?

Before I left the house, I learned that it was called pesto so I felt pretty confident. I asked a guy in one of those blue smocks where I could find it. He directed me to some far off aisle like 82 and I was on my way. As I was wandering around I couldn’t find an aisle with that high of a number and knew something was wrong. Oh, he meant you can find it in the International or on aisle eight, too.

In front of the pesto looking for the best for the least, I realized the one on my list was outrageously priced and if Linda saw I spent that much on an eight-ounce jar of pesto I would be in trouble.

So I grabbed a young guy in a blue jacket and asked him why the pesto was so expensive. “I don’t know, that’s what it says on the shelf tag, that’s how much it costs,” he said. “I’ve only been here for a week though. What is that stuff anyway?”

“Can you ask your manager?”

“He’s not here, he’s in the back.”

“Is there someone else we can ask? My wife asked for this one.”

He asked another blue-smocked worker straightening cans at the end of the aisle. She didn’t know and said that the floor staff had no control over prices. I asked who did, grabbed the pesto, and headed to the front of the store. I asked a cashier if she could help me and she pointed to the customer service desk and said that lady can. Her name is Candy.

I asked Candy about the price and she leaned into a microphone yelling, “Mr. Callahan pick up on line two please, Mr. Callahan.” She said, we don’t deal with prices. Line two beeped and she asked Mr. Callahan, the manager, my question. I could hear him through the earpiece. “We don’t deal with that. That would be management in Roanoke.

Just give it to him at the price he wants to pay for it.”

Businesses don’t manage from the bottom up. The clerks in their blue smocks couldn’t change the price, nor could the lady at customer service and in fact the store manager gave me a good price because I asked for special treatment, but he didn’t change the price companywide.

This story could be a metaphor for what is happening today in the county government’s struggle with proffers. In the good times, developers groused about paying cash proffers (promise of money to the county at the closing of a home sale), which would force them to raise the price of their product. The $18,966 per unit cash proffer didn’t matter much when builders were building homes which cost over $300,000. But now that the housing market has slowed, builders need to build smaller homes, and some have gotten into a safer business of building apartments. A cash proffer on an apartment unit is the same as a $400,000 home.

The only way to deal with such an issue is to change how it works. But as opposing politicians say, “how you going to pay for it?” Proffers pay for infrastructure, schools, libraries, fire station and roads. Builders and developers say do away with the proffers all together. But how would the county balance the books. No cash proffers, no improvement to core elements of Chesterfield’s infrastructure.

The price change on pesto would be changed at the top just as the way proffers should be changed. But instead, if you follow development cases in the county, developers are hard at trying or forcing the change from the bottom up – their strategy is anybody’s guess.

Now, I don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, and maybe, the process has already begun.

What needs to happen, in my opinion, is Chesterfield’s Board of Supervisors (BOS) needs to go to work. But please don’t hire consultants or stretch the road to the policy out for three years, and by no means allow the current policy to be chipped away one case at a time.

The BOS should work with budget and management to come up with a simple solution; possibly a progressive cash proffer, which would allow low priced homes to pay less and the high priced homes to pay higher cash proffers. For other residential building types, a more complicated policy would have to be put in place.

But this policy needs to start at the top, not be dictated from the bottom up. This is one place where trickle-down economics just might work.

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