Archive for: December 1st, 2017

Local News
A path forward to fix Chesapeake Bay watershed pollution issues
December 1, 2017
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Environmental Integrity Project Executive Director Eric Schaeffer, a former Director of Civil Enforcement at the Environmental Protection Agency – Photo/EIP

Environmental Integrity Project Executive Director Eric Schaeffer, a former Director of Civil Enforcement at the Environmental Protection Agency – Photo/EIPThe authors of a detailed report on wastewater pollution issues in states whose waterways are part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed made suggestions on paths forward in dealing with those issues.

The report “Sewage and Wastewater Pollution in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed” released at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday morning, November 29, by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) summarized issues ranging from

  • outright permit dumping violations made with minimal consequence;
  • a pollution credit trading system available in some states, including Virginia, it says has been carelessly overseen and often abused;
  • too slow progress on mandated upgrades to wastewater treatment plants in the bay watershed.

The EIP recommendations on how the bay states could better manage this wastewater pollution include:

  1. Pollution trading systems, like those of Virginia and Pennsylvania, should be avoided in Maryland and other states not already employing them because they can lead to reduced accountability and increased local pollution “hot spots.” (as EIP reported, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s administration is expected to release new draft regulations to allow pollution trading on December 8.)
  2. The bay region states should more consistently fine wastewater treatment plants and other polluters that violate their permit limits.
  3. States that do allow facilities to engage in pollution trading should require the plants to accurately and promptly report to public databases their credits purchases and their impact on various rivers and streams.
  4. EPA should press bay region states, especially Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware, to upgrade more of their large municipal wastewater treatment plants with state-of-the art technology, following the lead of Maryland, the District of Columbia and Virginia.

The EIP report observes that bay region states have not invested equally in modernizing their municipal sewage plants.

Above, at top center from the air in April; below, from the ground in September – mandated upgrades underway at Front Royal’s Wastewater Treatment Plant (also visible in upper right of aerial is FR’s solar power field) – Aerial Photo/Courtesy Town of FR

Photo/Roger Bianchini

The report states that Maryland has paid about $1.25 billion to upgrade 79 percent of its large municipal sewage plants to enhanced levels since lawmakers passed a “flush tax” law in 2004.  Virginia has invested about $800 million to improve 44 percent (40 of 90) of its large municipal sewage plants to similar standards.  An estimated $40-million in federal and state-mandated upgrades to the Front Royal Treatment Plant are approaching completion within the coming year.

The District of Columbia region’s one sewage plant – Blue Plains, the bay’s largest – has been upgraded to an enhanced level.  In West Virginia about half (6 out of 13) of the wastewater plants have been modernized to this standard.

Other states are lagging further behind.

In Pennsylvania the report notes that “most plants have been upgraded to a lower level, with only 4 percent (7 of 189) of the large-to medium-sized municipal sewage treatment plants in the bay watershed of Pennsylvania having enhanced pollution control systems.”

New York and Delaware are pitching “O-fers” according to EIP – none of New York’s 26 plants have been upgraded and in Delaware it is zero of three.

As stated in our initial November 29 story on the EIP report, see related story through use of the pollution credit trading system the Front Royal WWTP was allowed to dump over twice its permitted amount of phosphorous (9,146 pounds) into the Shenandoah River in 2016.  Strasburg’s WWTP was also noted as utilizing the system to dump over three times its permitted level of phosphorous (2,942 pounds) into the North Fork of the Shenandoah last year.  The report observes that the North Fork of the Shenandoah already was dealing with what were described as “excessive levels of phosphorous” – a symptom of the trading system’s failures, according to EIP.

Information on the status and impact of upgrades underway at Front Royal’s WWTP on the Town’s past and future use of the pollution credit trading system will be added in an upcoming story.

The Environmental Integrity Project is a 15-year-old nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, based in Washington D.C.  It is dedicated to enforcing environmental laws and holding polluters and governments accountable to protect public health.

Legislative Update
Virginia House Republicans Call on U.S. Senate to Act on CHIP
December 1, 2017
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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, an op-ed authored by Representatives Bob Goodlatte, Rob Wittman, Scott Taylor, Tom Garrett, Dave Brat, Morgan Griffith, and Barbara Comstock appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch urging Virginia’s senators to act on reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

December 1, 2017

More than 8 million low-income children in the United States depend on the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for health coverage. That includes 66,000 children and 1,100 pregnant women here in Virginia. Under Virginia’s CHIP program, thousands of children have received immunizations, annual checkups, and preventive screenings that detect illnesses like cancer and heart defects before they become fatal.

Unfortunately, as the days on the calendar continue to tick by, these children come closer to losing the coverage they need to keep them healthy. Why? Because the United States Senate has yet to act on legislation to reauthorize CHIP, which lapsed at the end of September. While Virginia luckily has sufficient funding to ensure coverage during this period, Governor McAuliffe has indicated that this holiday season the state will begin to notify families that children will no longer have CHIP health coverage after January 31, 2018.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee worked diligently and in good faith to produce legislation that would fund CHIP in a fiscally responsible way. The CHAMPIONING HEALTHY KIDS Act, which would reauthorize CHIP through fiscal year 2022, was brought to the House floor and passed by a vote of 242-174. We cast our votes in favor of this legislation to make certain that the 40,830 Virginians using this coverage in the congressional districts we represent are not left in the lurch.

It’s hard to fathom why the Senate would stall this legislation or why anyone would choose to play politics with a program that has traditionally received bipartisan support. Thousands of Virginia children are in jeopardy of losing their health care coverage if the U.S. Senate doesn’t act. We’ve done our part in the House. Now, we need Virginia’s senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, to step up to the plate and urge quick action. We also hope McAuliffe will join us in the effort to advocate for the Senate to bring the CHAMPIONING HEALTHY KIDS Act up for a vote.

On behalf of the Virginia families we represent in Congress, we ask that the Senate act now to reauthorize CHIP. Virginians deserve certainty that this program will continue.

The writers represent the following Virginia congressional districts in the U.S. House: Rob Wittman — 1st District; Scott Taylor — 2nd District; Tom Garrett — 5th District; Bob Goodlatte — 6th District; Dave Brat — 7th District; Morgan Griffith — 9th District; Barbara Comstock — 10th District.

 

Local News
Rotary Club of Warren County to help Santa answer letters
December 1, 2017
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FRONT ROYAL – In light of Santa Claus’ busy schedule as he readies for this sleigh-trip-around-the-world on Christmas Eve, the Rotary Club of Warren County is helping Santa answer all those children’s Christmas letters!

Rotary member, Felicia Hart, who is the Community Development and Tourism Director for the Town of Front Royal, said it is a new activity for the civic organization. In an email, she said, “This is the first time we’ve done this and we are at almost 150 letters already. It’s a lot of fun!”

Personalized letters will be mailed to the recipient before Christmas, provided that the form is submitted by the deadline of Dec. 15.  It can be hand-delivered or mailed to: Santa’s Mailbox located at Town Hall, 102 East Main Street, Front Royal, VA 22630.

Click here for the form, which can be personalized for any child.

Business
Pros & Cons Of Outsourcing Your Small Business Payroll Processing
December 1, 2017
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Paying employees involves far more than just cutting a check on payday. Managing your small business’s payroll encompasses a variety of responsibilities that need to be met accurately and on time.

As an employer, you must: 
• Withhold employee taxes.
• Pay withholdings to government agencies.
• File quarterly reports.
• Issue W-2 forms at the end of the tax year.
• Issue summary filings to the state.
• Manage your employees’ health plan and retirement contributions.
• Handle state disability, unemployment and family leave assessments.
• Inform the government when you hire new employees and when employees leave your company.

If that sounds overwhelming, you might be wondering if you’d be better off delegating the work to a payroll company. Outsourcing your small business payroll has its advantages and some disadvantages.

Pros Of Outsourcing Payroll:
• It could save you time. You won’t be bogged down with calculating payroll deductions, remitting checks, etc.
• It could give you greater peace of mind. With a service provider specializing in handling your payroll, you might sleep better at night knowing payroll taxes will be calculated accurately and paid on time. A reputable payroll company will have a staff knowledgeable and up-to-date on all payroll tax deduction rules.
• It could save you money and make you more productive. Although you’re paying someone else to manage your payroll, you free up your in-house resources (including yourself) to take care of other important aspects of your business. Rather than spend time trying to figure out payroll and fix errors, you can instead focus on generating sales and innovating new products and services.

Cons Of Outsourcing Payroll:
• You may pay for more than what you really need. Some payroll services bundle offerings together in all-inclusive packages. Be wary of these as they might include services you don’t need and will never use.
• Errors might happen if your business has unique circumstances. If your business deals with situations the payroll service provider isn’t familiar handling (e.g., union employees, tips made by restaurant or salon employees, etc.), the company may make unintentional errors. You need to be sure you choose a service with staff that understands your industry/type of business and your company’s specific needs.
• You relinquish some control but are still ultimately responsible. This can be a bit unnerving; even if a mistake wasn’t your fault, you may be subject to fines for inaccuracies or late payroll tax payments.

Tips For Choosing A Reputable Payroll Service Provider
• Ask around. Talk with other small business owners to find out whom they use and what their experience with those providers has been like. SCORE mentors can also help you evaluate and connect with reputable payroll service providers.
• Talk with your accountant. This can give you insight into the right questions to ask and what expertise to look for.
• Ask for detailed pricing. When getting a quote, ask for an itemized breakdown of fees. That way, you’ll see if their services cover what you need and you can make sure you won’t be paying for anything you won’t need.

Questions To Ask Prospective Providers
• When and how often will I receive reports from you?
• Will your system integrate with my accounting software?
• What is the turnaround time to process payroll after you have my information?
• If a mistake is made, how quickly will you correct it?
• Do you charge additional fees for adding employees or changing employee payroll information?
• If we have to file taxes in multiple states, do you charge an additional fee?
• Will you assign my company a dedicated representative?
• What are your customer service and technical support hours?
• Is your system capable of handling employees’ health and retirement plan contributions?

A Choice Worth Careful Thought
When deciding whether to keep payroll responsibilities in-house or outsource them, you will need to carefully weigh the pros and cons. Consider the level of comfort and expertise your staff has (or lacks) in dealing with payroll tasks and weigh that against the ongoing costs associated with contracting a payroll service provider. Don’t make this important decision in haste, as it will affect your bottom line and how you spend your time.

Since 1964, SCORE “Mentors to America’s Small Business” has helped more than 10 million aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners through mentoring and business workshops. More than 11,000 volunteer business mentors in over 320 chapters serve their communities through entrepreneur education dedicated to the formation, growth and success of small businesses. For more information about starting or operating a small business, call 1-800-634-0245 for the SCORE chapter nearest you. Visit SCORE at www.score.org.

Home
Selling in December can be merry after all
December 1, 2017
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When the weather outside is frightful, selling your house is not so delightful.
That’s what folks say, anyway. But is it always true?

Real estate agents say not necessarily. As with most things in life, it all depends.

Weather is, in fact, a factor and when frightful weather means a lot of snow, showings could slow down. But, on the other hand, a warm winter can be a boon for sellers as home buyers get an early start on the season.

The strength of the local real estate market also comes into play. A strong market can be good even in December. There are always buyers who, for many personal and business reasons, must find a home during the holidays. Those kinds of buyers are motivated.

Here are some considerations for selling during the fall/winter holidays:

– You don’t have to keep your house dark during the season of lights. Decorate, but do so modestly. A Christmas tree can make a home look warm during the cold winter season. Display just a few gifts under the tree. Too many begin to resemble clutter and buyers need to be able to look past decorations.

– Avoid flashing lights inside and out. Stick to simple, classic decorations.

– Limit decorations to the main living area. Although some families go all out decorating every room, as a seller you want to keep decorations of all kinds to a minimum.

– Most agents say that sellers should avoid religious displays, but in some areas of the country this would be acceptable, especially if done modestly. The key is not to overwhelm the house. Make it easy for the buyer to see the rooms.

– Make the most of the season by enhancing curb appeal. Although the trees might not have leaves, the garden won’t have weeds either. Some decorations are seen as welcoming, no matter what the season: A wreath on the door or outdoor lights that emphasize the walkway or special parts of the property.

– If your property looks especially glorious in Spring and Summer, consider leaving out a photo album.

– Play muted classical music to add to the overall ambience, according to HGTV.

– Use light holiday fragrance. Avoid heavy floral scents that make some people cough or sneeze. Don’t overdo it. One scented candle is probably enough.

– Light the fire. Winter is also a great time to show off your fireplace. So spread the warmth!