Archive for: February 8th, 2018

State News
Governor Northam and Speaker Cox announce bipartisan compromise on grand larceny threshold and legislation to protect crime victims
February 8, 2018
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RICHMOND – Governor Ralph Northam, Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox, and Senator Mark Obenshain announced today a bipartisan compromise to raise the felony larceny threshold and adopt into law legislation to ensure that crime victims are paid the restitution duly owed to them.

The General Assembly will pass and the Governor will support and sign a package of five bills, including legislation introduced by Delegate Les Adams (R-Pittsylvania) and Senator David Suetterlein (R-Roanoke) to raise the felony larceny threshold to $500; two bills (HB484) introduced by Delegate Rob Bell (R-Albemarle) and Senator Obenshain (R-Rockingham) to ensure that restitution ordered by the courts is collected from defendants, and two bills (HB483) to ensure that that restitution that has been collected is finally delivered to crime victims.

“This compromise is a key breakthrough for commonsense criminal justice reform,” said Governor Northam. “Raising the felony larceny threshold will maintain Virginia’s tough position on criminal theft, while modernizing our law so that one mistake does not define a person’s entire life. I want to thank members of my team and leaders on both sides for proving yet again that Virginia is a place where we come together to get things done.”

“After several years of work to ensure crime victims are paid the restitution owed to them, I am thrilled that Governor Northam has agreed to sign this important legislation. Over the last several weeks, Chairman Rob Bell negotiated with Secretary Brian Moran at my direction to include this strong public safety measure in a compromise that increases the larceny threshold to $500,” said Speaker Cox (R-Colonial Heights). “We appreciate Governor Northam’s commitment to support and sign these important bills. I also want to thank Chairman Bell, Secretary Moran, and Senator Obenshain for their hard work on this agreement.”

HB 1550, introduced by Delegate Adams and SB 105, introduced by Senator Suetterlein will raise the felony larceny threshold to $500.

HB 484 (Bell) will require probation officers to monitor payment of restitution and will require courts to review restitution before releasing a defendant from probation supervision or court oversight. In the event the defendant has not complied with the court’s restitution order, the court may impose punishment, schedule additional reviews, and take other steps to ensure that the restitution is paid. Governor Northam will send down a bill for the Senate to consider on the issue of restitution. A bill number and patron will be announced soon.

HB 483 (Bell) and ensures that all restitution that is collected shall be delivered to the victim by requiring Clerks of Court to annually transmit any restitution where the victim cannot be found, to the Victim Compensation Fund. The bill then provides the fund with two personnel who will work to locate victims and help them obtain their money.

A Crime Commission study found that there was over $230 million in restitution owed to victims across the Commonwealth, but was unpaid and overdue. More recently, WRIC8 reporter Kerri O’Brien found and research confirmed that $8 million in restitution was collected from defendants, but never delivered to the crime victims.

“We were shocked when we learned how much outstanding restitution was owed to crime victims,” said House Courts of Justice Committee Chairman Rob Bell (R-Albemarle). “This is money that crime victims need to pay their bills and rebuild their lives. They have to come to court, testify under oath, and many have to describe the most frightening moment of their life to strangers, only to be cross examined and scrutinized in the media. The least we can do is ensure that they receive the restitution that the justice system promises to them.”

“At $200, Virginia’s current felony larceny threshold is the most severe in the nation,” said Delegate Joe Lindsey (D-Norfolk). “By raising it, we are sending a clear message that theft is a serious crime, but stealing one phone or pair of boots should not ruin a person’s life.”

“I am pleased with this package, as it incorporates two critical policy goals,” said Senator Mark D. Obenshain (R-Rockingham), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Courts of Justice. “The victims of crime don’t have a large lobbying firm advocating on their behalf. By ensuring they will receive the restitution they deserve, including the millions collected that have gone unclaimed, we’re standing up for their interests. With the felony for threshold having been last modified in 1980, raising it nearly 40 years later is the right thing to do.”

“When this session began, Governor Northam asked the General Assembly to step away from partisan battles and work together to solve real problems,” said Senator Janet Howell (D-Fairfax). “This bipartisan compromise is a huge step in that important direction. Senate Democrats look forward to continuing our work on criminal justice reform and many other issues that will make life better for Virginians.”

“Having worked on this issue for the last three sessions, I am thrilled that Virginia is taking this step forward and happy that my bill will be included in this reform,” noted Senator David R. Suetterlein (R-Roanoke). “Taxpayers are not well-served when a young person who steals $200 sneakers becomes permanently labeled as a convicted felon. When Governor Northam reaffirmed his commitment to raising the threshold, I enthusiastically applauded. I’m clapping today, too, because these changes make Virginia better.”

“I am honored that the Governor asked me to work with members of both parties to negotiate a compromise that will accomplish a goal that many of us have been working on for decades” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran. “This legislation properly balances the need to keep Virginians safe with our responsibility to ensure that punishments match the crime.”

Local News
EDA Director Jennifer McDonald parlays casino winnings into real estate investments
February 8, 2018
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Jennifer McDonald displays envelopes of tax receipts from Charles Town’s Hollywood Casino winnings. Photo/Roger Bianchini

FRONT ROYAL – “Do you want my Charles Town winning story or is that too light – should I give it to a competitor?”  Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Director Jennifer McDonald asked in a late January text.

“Give nothing to ‘no one’ other than your old pals at Royal Examiner,” came this reporter’s stern reply.  How light of a story, was the follow up question as the competitive juices settled a bit.

“Somebody saw me win big at Charles Town on Sunday (Jan. 14) and is now telling everyone,” McDonald replied, expressing a desire to see the story told accurately.  “What, you don’t trust social media and word of mouth to accomplish that?” I wondered.  “What did you do, hit a Trifecta on the ponies,” I asked.  No, rather it was an $18,000 slots jackpot at Charles Town’s Hollywood Casino.

“WOW, how many days and dollars were you up there pulling those one-armed bandits before THAT happened,” I asked by phone a short time later.  The answer, delivered the following day at her office with some support documentation, was not what was expected.

With questions having arisen in the past year about real estate investments she made in recent years under the banner of her personal real estate company “Da Boyz” (named for her favorite NFL team, which she said I could note WITHOUT my descriptive team adjective), McDonald thought this series of events offered an opportunity to clear the air, not only about her Sunday, January 14 winning trip to Charles Town and Hollywood Casino, but what she explained were about three or four years worth of comparable visits.

Do what – comparable how?!?

McDonald explained that she used to spend a little money playing the penny slots, taking home an occasional payout of $300 or so now and then – enough to keep you interested.  She credits her sister with development of a strategy that when a penny slot win would come in, to take $100 or $200 of that up to the next level slot, the dollar machines.

“I did that and started to win $1200 to $1500 and then she said, ‘Take $100 or $200 of that to the next level; and on her advice I kept doing that and it just has worked for me,” McDonald said.  We asked if the “system” worked for her sister as well as it has for her – “No,” McDonald replied with a sympathetic laugh.

She said winning hits on a dollar machine can come in around $1,200 to $2,500, and the $5 machine payoffs can come in anywhere between $3,000 to $15,000 – and of course there is the potential for one of the specialty jackpots hovering around $18,000 to $75,000.

Okay I reasoned, that is the theory that keeps people returning to casinos the world over – that BIG payday just over the horizon – but you know what they say about “a sucker born every minute” and “the house always wins in the end”.

McDonald explained that she will utilize “free slot play” or house money that regular customers may receive as an incentive, and “no more than $200 of my own money, and if I don’t hit anything with my free-slot play or my $200, I leave.  About the last four years I have been extremely lucky with this system I have right now,” McDonald said.

How lucky, we asked.

McDonald slipped a sheet of paper across her desk with a series of typed dates and numbers.  Scanning the sheet, I realized that the 22 lines taking up about half a page reflected only four days, November 22 and 26, and December 3 and 10; the payout amounts ranged from $1,500 to one of those apparent jackpots of $36,000.  The most hits in one day were 12 on December 10 – the first five on that date ranged from $1,270 to $3,000, followed by $8,000 and that $36,000 jackpot, followed by five more payouts between $2,000 and $6,000, totaling around $71,000.  Some late calculating indicated the total on the page for the four days shown was just over $102,000.

There was also a total at the bottom – “These numbers obviously don’t total THAT number,” I observed.  “Look under that page,” she suggested.  Six more full pages of dates and payouts were listed.

“THOSE add up to THAT number,” I guessed of the final page total of over $800,000, a number she explained reflected her winnings from her visits to Hollywood Casino in 2017.  And if not as good, her totals from the previous two years were also significant, both totaling over $500,000, she said.

“I have taken the money that I’ve won and I have paid for the educations of my stepdaughter, two of my nieces and my stepson.  I bought myself a truck; and the remaining I decided last year that I was going to start investing the money, rather than just letting it sit.  So, I started to acquire investment properties … and I’ve been able to make significant deposits on them,” she said of her real estate investments under Da Boyz banner – at least somebody using that nickname is good at something, I suggested, drawing a scowl.

As she has explained before to Royal Examiner, in her position as the EDA executive director, McDonald is forbidden from investing in commercial real estate.  However, with her background in real estate, she may invest in residential property.

My goal for this year is to win enough money to invest in some additional properties,” she added.  In addition to that January 14, jackpot hit for $18,000, she produced photos on her phone of hits of $6,000 and $24,000 on January 2, pointing out there were others she had not photographed.

Happy New Year, indeed!!!

Okay, while not a gambler by nature even your humble reporter can see that something beyond luck is at play here – I pressed her for a hint at the “system” she must not be sharing – “There’s got to be more to it; can you whisper it in my ear? Just between us. – You can trust me, I’m a reporter,” I reminded her.

But other than a favorite “quick hit” dollar machine, McDonald said there wasn’t a system other, apparently, than Lady Luck.  Speaking of luck, she said she did hit one $75,000 jackpot on that favorite “Quick Hit” dollar machine – I guess it is her favorite!!!

JACKPOT!! – McDonald said her favorite ‘Quick Hit’ dollar slot once paid off to the tune of a $75,000.

Looking at these winning-date visits averaging three to maybe six a month at Charles Town, we suggested some teetotalers might suggest she has a silly, little gambling problem.  Of course, I think a wise man once said “it is only a problem if you are losing,” not if you’re threatening to break the casino bank.  McDonald estimated that she may leave empty handed about a third of her visits, usually being able to net at least several hundred dollars in winnings.  She said her visits are dictated by work and personal schedules.  As for leisure time, when you’re hot, why not? – And if you’re not, go home early.

With such a disciplined approach, we asked how much she had to spend to reach the level of winnings she was describing for the past several years.  She produced another tax reference with a worried look – no wonder, it read $666.

“Well, THAT explains a LOT!!!” I offered.

“You have assistance from the dark side – at least you’re not averaging $666 in annual expenditures, are you,” I asked edging my chair closer to the door.  She explained that amount was an adjustment to her taxes to cover her own money spent above what the casino had deducted when it took taxes out upon payment of winnings.

After a little research she estimated averaging about $1,000 of her own money per year to achieve her winnings.  Recalling her system of moving up the slot ladder with lower-tier winnings, we asked if she thought she might actually be spending more house money than her own to realize her winnings.

“I most definitely have. They sometimes have drawings over there and I have won additional free slot play through those – anywhere from $250 to $1000 free slot play in addition to my weekly free slot play.  I love winning on their money,” she concluded with a smile.

Other than developing a “system” where she may be utilizing more house money than what she brought with her, what draws her to Charles Town’s Hollywood Casino, we asked.

“I have tried other casinos and I have not found a place that has a staff that is as polite, and helpful as Charles Town.  I feel safe when I go over there; they know you by first name – I just love going there because of the atmosphere,” she said.

HEY, what’s not to love about an atmosphere of personal dominance, where in the end only the house is supposed to dominate?  Our guess is she may love going there more than they love seeing her coming these days – or not.

Chances are the unlucky on any given night at Hollywood Casino outnumber the lucky – and hearing this story, that number is likely to go up – THAT ought to be worth a few more “free slot” plays, think …

 

 

What Matters Warren
Learn a few healthy tree tips fro​m Timber Works Tree Care
February 8, 2018
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Now is the time to prune! During the winter months, trees are dormant and insect activity is low. Take care to remove dead wood and trim back branches on those well-loved trees in your yard. Watch this video to learn a few good “tree tips” from Jack Donahue as you look over a tree in Beth’s yard.

Call Timber Works for a free consultation and estimate or visit their website for tips about cutting firewood, removing trees or to learn what trees grow best and fastest in Virginia.

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Health
Superbugs have a natural enemy
February 8, 2018
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The looming scourge of the superbug — bacteria that antibiotics can’t kill — threatens to bring back the era of death by infection.

But there is hope on the horizon.

Superbugs will be responsible for over 10 million deaths per year globally by the year 2050, according to the BBC. Even as recently as 2014, around 700,000 deaths can be blamed on infections that couldn’t be cured with modern antibiotics. The World Health Organization classifies these bugs as an imminent threat to human health.

According to a Time Magazine special report, one treatment currently being researched attacks these superbugs from a completely different angle. This method requires using bacteriophages, or phages, to destroy the bacteria.
Phages are nature’s bacteria fighter, and there are estimated to be around 10 million trillion different phages throughout the world. Phages work by injecting their DNA into a bacterial cell, where it replicates until the bacteria bursts open and dies. Phages are unique in that each strain seems only to attack a particular type of bacteria. This means that treatment with phages will leave the beneficial bacteria intact within the body and just single out the dangerous kind.

Using phages to attack bacteria is not a new idea. They have been used to treat infections throughout the world for nearly a century, but it has had a reputation as an unsafe and clunky treatment. New advances in medical knowledge and technology, however, have shown that this therapy can be a useful cure for cases in which antibiotics have failed, and it remains a promising solution to the impending superbug threat because there is a nearly limitless supply of different phages to use against the bacteria.

Health
Cold or flu, take these basic steps
February 8, 2018
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To stop the spread of cold or flu in the household, take these precautions:

– Isolate toothbrushes from others. Replace the brush when the person is well.

– Thoroughly clean humidifiers. You don’t want them throwing around viruses.

– Sleep separately and launder bedding frequently. Even if it is just the pillow cases, hot water washing prevents the spread of germs.

– Clean television remotes. While the sick person binges on television all day for a few days, they are also leaving germs on the remotes.

– Empty trash cans. A lot of sniffling and nose blowing goes on with flu and colds. Make sure tissues have their own trash can and the cans are emptied twice a day.

Local News
Mayor urges serious movement on Royal Phoenix pumping station
February 8, 2018
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‘Déjà vu all over again’ – Town staff, council and the mayor discuss Royal Phoenix infrastructure costs at a Nov. 20, 2017 work session. Photo/Roger Bianchini

“We need to get off the pot and move forward with this,” Mayor Hollis Tharpe told the Front Royal Town Council at a February 5 work session. The object of the mayor’s attempt to propel timely movement from his colleagues was the wastewater pumping station that will serve, not only the first commercial client at the former Avtex Superfund site, but essentially the first half of commercial redevelopment in the site’s 147-acre Royal Phoenix Business Park.

Late in 2017, council began dragging its feet on the estimated $300,000 to $400,000 cost of a project the previous town manager and council appeared committed to. Work session discussion last fall even resurrected the idea the Town might be better served if the site’s first commercial client, tech and government contractor ITFederal, build its own pumping station to serve its needs.

That idea faded only when EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald reminded council that $150,000 ITFederal committed to construction of Phase One of the West Main Street access/connector road through the site came after the apparent Town commitment to construct a wastewater pumping station to serve multiple customers on the north half of the Royal Phoenix site.

With phase one of its access road plan now in place, Town Manager Joe Waltz told a January 18 liaison committee meeting that the Town was poised to move forward on the pumping station project. EDA staff had cited delays to the start of ITFederal construction last year as the Town’s plan for phase one of the West Main Extended access road was awaited, followed by hesitation on a decision about the pumping station.

However with the road plan in and plans for the pumping station being developed, progress at the ITFederal site has re-emerged with footers being laid as February began.

Above, looking toward ITFederal’s pad 1 site on Nov. 16, 2017 (site is behind and to the left and right of the small tree at right of entry road); below, a closer view two-and-a-half months later, Feb. 1 – Photos/Roger Bianchini

Queried about the status of the pumping station following the February 5 council work session update, Waltz elaborated on existing cost estimates. The base cost for the pumping station is $161,000. However, factoring in other infrastructure variables, including stormwater facilities and drains; water and force mains, the cost climbs into the originally-estimated $300,000 to $400,000 range, now cited at some loose change ($2.50 to be precise) under $336,000. The Town will recoup much in costs from hook up and tap fees.

Waltz said an earlier estimate the Town-constructed pumping station would serve about seven commercial pads and 4,200 people at Royal Phoenix remains accurate. He also said that while the eventual connection of the new FRPD headquarters to the pumping station is a goal, an alternate plan to initially hook the police facility into existing wastewater infrastructure in the area was now on the table.

Initial infrastructure costs

Town staff is estimating initial Royal Phoenix infrastructure costs in the $1.2 million range. Previous work session and meeting discussions have indicated the Town has about $450,000 set aside, primarily for the West Main Street extended project. Those annual set-aside tax revenues (about a third of a penny of real estate tax) were an initiative pushed by former Vice-Mayor Shae Parker about four to five years ago.

There was an original $2.5-million to $3-million estimate for the entire West Main Extended access road project, with the first phase now forecast at $1.3 million. However, projected VDOT matching funds, as well as ITFederal’s $150,000 commitment reduce the Town’s initial on-site road infrastructure share into the ballpark of its set aside funds – plus that $336,000 pumping station investment.

An even closer view of the ITFed pad 1 on Feb. 1; according to EDA staff, the first ITFederal construction will be a 10,000-s.f. office building. Photos/Roger Bianchini

Local News
Volosin brings his 6th District nomination campaign to county Democrats
February 8, 2018
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From left, event co-host Jorge Amselle, 6th District candidate Peter Volosin, Christine Illich and Rick Tagg – Photo/Roger Bianchini

FRONT ROYAL – On Thursday evening, February 1, Warren County Democrats gathered at the Middle of Main Building in Historic Downtown Front Royal to hear from what we believe to be the longest-announced candidate for Bob Goodlatte’s Sixth District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. In fact, unlike others in his own party or eight Republicans gathered for a forum at the Warren County Government Center two days later, Democrat Peter Volosin expressed his intention of challenging incumbent Robert Goodlatte prior to the November 2016 state house election and subsequent Goodlatte announcement days later that he would not seek re-election in 2018.

Following his appearance before a room full of about 35 to 40 local Democrats – with a nod from organizers to Beth Waller for the loan of the space – we asked Volosin if his hopes were buoyed in the Sixth by the November 2017 state House election. That election saw a 16-seat House Republican majority fall to one, 51-49, with only a blind name draw on a court-ruled tied election fall the 4th District Republican incumbent’s way preventing a 50-50 power sharing situation.

“That was a great election for Democrats, I won’t lie,” Volosin replied. However, showing a sense of political realism, the Democratic hopeful refused to read too much into the 2017 state result as a measuring stick for 2018, particularly in a District Republicans have held since 1993. “The reason I got into this race is I’m worried about our economic future in this area. And it doesn’t matter what happened in November – 2018 is a whole other year with another set of candidates.

“We’re very excited about the open seat, as a Democrat that makes it more viable. But beyond that it’s the same thing here – my vision is for us to move our area into a 21st century economy – investing in our people, our environment and our infrastructure. We really need to be able to connect into the 21st century; and that also includes improving our agriculture as well: How can we move up the value chain? How can we make small farmers more viable again?

“Another part of our campaign will be about affordable health care. We need to be making sure that we join the rest of the industrialized nations of the world and have affordable, quality health care for all our citizens.

“And the third major message of our campaign is bi-partisanship, to be honest. I think people are kind of tired of having one bunch of people get in and we go far right or far left, and it depends on whoever is in power. Our country works best when we compromise and when we work together,” Volosin reasoned.

“If I get into Congress, the important part is creating solutions to our problems. I think we have a lot of issues that have been sitting on the backburner because we don’t come up with an actual solution for them – immigration is a very present one right now, where we have this big mass of different immigration laws that have been added on, and added on, and it’s this monstrosity. We need to come up with an actual solution so that we can be focused on what will be coming down the pike in the future.

“And so we’re just really focused on sharing our message of what we can do in this district to move ourselves forward and make sure that people can get jobs that allow them to buy a home; to put their kids through college; to put food on the table. There are a lot of people in our district for whom it is not a good time right now. And Wall Street may be doing great* but that doesn’t mean everybody in the Sixth District is doing great.”

Peter Volosin fields questions from county Democrats about his priorities for the Sixth Congressional District.. / Courtesy Photo

The February 1st meet the candidate event was hosted by Jorge Amselle and Peter John. According to Warren County Democratic Committee Chairman Steve Foreman, county Democrats hope to partner with other local Democratic committees to host their own Sixth District Candidates’ Forum in the near future. At least one other Democrat, Sergio Coppola, has expressed an intention to seek the party’s Sixth District nomination. Coppola was slated to appear before the county Democrats for a Q&A at their monthly meeting on Saturday, February 10.

* FOOTNOTE:  Wall Street was “doing great” at the time, a day prior to the 666-point, Nunez memo-day drop, followed by Monday’s 1,175-point downer; but the market roller coaster was headed back up by mid-week; stay tuned …