On Friday, the Virginia Senate unanimously passed a bill that would re-establish an inventory of all real property in the commonwealth. Gov. McDonnell has already ordered the Department of General Services (DGS) to begin a comprehensive inventory of all Old Dominion real property. However, this bill goes an important step further in requiring the inventory be annually updated. Highlights of the bill (that still has to be considered in the Virginia General Assembly):
- Provides for the Department of General Services to inventory all real property owned by the Commonwealth by December 31, 2012,
- Requires the inventory be updated at least annually after 2012.
- Requires DGS to submit an annual report to the Governor and the General Assembly by December 31 each year containing the full inventory of real property owned by the Commonwealth and recommendations regarding property that may be disposed of as surplus property.
- Requires DGS list all surplus properties on the Department's website.
- 50 percent of any surplus property sales will go into the State Park Acquisition and Development Fund
- 50 percent of any surplus property sales will be put in the general fund of the state Treasury.
I testified before a Virginia Senate Finance Committee meeting last week when the bill was under discussion, supporting the idea of a real property inventory as an important tool for policymakers, whether or not passed in this bill. As I wrote in a paper with John Palatiello on this subject last year, any initiative to develop an adequate portfolio management system for publicly owned real estate should be given serious consideration. And the fact that the commonwealth of Virginia is sorely lacking in knowing what it owns, particularly relative to other states, is all the more reason that the inventory be established sooner rather than later.
A comprehensive list of land and assets, up-to-date with their current use, would allow Virginia to assess whether public property is being used and maintained in the most efficient manner possible. Whether finding ways to consolidate workspaces, putting land to better use, or uncovering excessive and unnecessary maintenance costs, real property inventories are an important tool for state policymakers to make good management decisions with that is currently not available in the Commonwealth. A well managed, regularly updated inventory can also help save the state money by identifying properties that can be sold, collecting up front cash and expanding the tax base by letting the private sector develop and use the land and assets that the Commonwealth no longer needs.
What is next? If the bill passes the General Assembly then it will be up to the Department of General Services to develop the inventory. In the previously mentioned paper, "Knowing What State and Local Governments Own," we offer twelve recommendations for policymakers looking to be better stewards with public resources. Virginia has already heeded the first recommendation (Take the initiative to build an inventory) and hopefully will follow through on full passage. The bill also follows recommendation number 4 (Centralize the management of real property data) and number 8 (Make the inventory continual and dynamic). The next several steps will need to be pursued by DGS:
- Conduct an inventory of inventories—specifically, determining what is known and what data and information needs to be gathered
- Use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology to map and catalogue real property data—this has been largely done by the legislation identifying DGS as the manager
- Standardize reporting methods for all agencies and divisions—confusion about what is owned often comes from being unable to align data reported in different mediums and measures
- Put the inventory online for public access—this would go beyond the requirement in the bill to put surplus property online and have DGS list all public real property
- Manage the inventory beyond mapping—just having the inventory won't help unless DGS is seeking to find ways of improving maintenance costs and identifying surplus property
- Divest land and assets sooner than later—the state should not save surplus land sales for a rainy day
- Utilize the wide range of private sector expertise
- Build the inventory to fit prescribed policy goals
- Look beyond financial benefits