Archive for: March 7th, 2018

Local Government
County ponders $1.2-million revenue shortfall in face of no tax hike mandate
March 7, 2018

Tough crowd, tough job – above from left, Supervisors Fox, Carter and Murray listen intently as staff describes the dynamics of a projected $1.2-million revenue shortfall. Below, the county administrator and attorney may be thinking we didn’t do it … Photos/Roger Bianchini

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County staff and elected officials are trying to balance the coming Fiscal Year budget in the face of a projected $1,178,347 revenue shortfall. At a March 6 work session, the board of supervisors fourth in this year’s budget process, that shortfall was attributed to several primary factors, including: the loss of over $570,000 in Dominion Power tax revenue; the necessity to add funding for two firefighter positions the State had been covering during construction of the Morgan’s Ford Bridge ($112,371); a 12.1% hike in health insurance costs ($277,433); increases in waste hauling and disposal fees ($170,000); funding a Career Development Program for the sheriff’s office ($143,146); as well as a number of smaller operational and personnel items.

County Administrator Doug Stanley explained the loss of the Dominion Power Real Estate Tax revenue as due to a State Corporation Commission ruling that pollution mitigation equipment was tax exempt. Stanley later elaborated to Royal Examiner that the SCC ruling resulted in $87.75 million in plant value being deemed tax exempt. That ruling resulted in the loss of $570,399 in real estate tax revenue at the County’s rate of 65-cents per $100 of assessed value.

The supervisors have indicated that departments should come in with relatively flat budgets in the face of a collective elected body desire NOT to raise taxes this year. Early projections indicate an FY2019 County budget of $50,990,110 without public schools factored in. That compares to $50,533,943 in the current FY2018 budget year. And while that plus $456,167 isn’t bad in the face of the above-cited “out of our hands” added expenditures or lost revenues totaling almost $1.2 million, as an astronaut whose name escapes me at the moment once observed of the earth – “That ain’t flat.

And in the face of that fact, Board Chairman Tony Carter challenged his board – “Mr. Fox and Mr. Sayre” in particular – to sharpen their pencils in order to find places where the proposed FY2019 budget can be cut in order to create a balanced budget without a tax hike. Last April’s FY2018 budget vote turned into a sometimes testy debate over revenues, taxes and county priorities as a 3-2 majority, Fox and Sayre dissenting, approved the county budget including a 3-cent real estate tax hike. That tax increase was necessary to provide the revenue to fund operations at the new Warren County Middle School – a cost long known to be on the horizon as the school was under construction.

So, with memories of that battle close to the surface it will be interesting to see how things progress this year. County Administrator Stanley said by the next budget work session scheduled for March 20, staff hoped to have – “the magic” South River Supervisor Linda Glavis injected.

If not magic, certainly more numbers – because I know you all out there certainly enjoy reading about the myriad numbers that make up the annual municipal budget process as much as your humble reporter loves writing about them.

So to that end, I will just add that in the wake of a joint February 20 budget work session with the school board and administration, the total projected public school budget is $55,056,048, of which a $23,481,164 appropriation from the County would be required. The requested FY2019 local appropriation is exactly $60,000 above last year’s county contribution of $23,421,164 to its public schools. An estimated $31,574,884 in revenue will come to the public schools from elsewhere.

The current projected total FY2019 Warren County Budget is $106,046,158, $419,924 above last year’s $105,626,234 FY 2018 budget. And looming in the background is the County General Fund Balance estimated to be at $13,068,741, down almost $2.7 million from its June 30, 2017 balance of $15,767,047. And while general fund money can be used to balance budgets, it is recommended that the County maintain a fund balance at 15% of its annual budget in order to maintain a favorable bond rating to get preferred, lower interest rates on any future bond issues. As pointed out in the staff budget summary the projected $13-million fund balance is just 12.37% of the FY 2018 $105.6-million budget.

So with an approximate $1.2-million deficit to the currently projected $73,292,927 county revenue stream still to be resolved, that’s it till next time in our exciting high-wire municipal budget balancing act series. Stay tuned as it builds toward an exciting mid-April conclusion – it couldn’t be as exciting as last year, could it?!!?

Read story Divided board approves Warren County budget by 3-2 vote.

Local Government
County explores employee benefits, wages as budget process continues
March 7, 2018

County Human Resources Director Jodi Saffelle, left, has a rapt audience as she traces health insurance variables, including a 12.1% rate hike. Photo/Roger Bianchini

FRONT ROYAL – The Warren County Board of Supervisors discussed the never-ending battle to keep the county government’s workforce competitively compensated during a Tuesday, March 6 work session. The specter of a new compensation study to build upon the last one conducted by consultant Springsted in 2008 was the final topic of a three-pronged work session following a brief meeting.

Other than approval of a routine-business consent agenda, the meeting was highlighted by county fire and rescue’s annual report; a report on the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Parks Trails events and projects; a VDOT update; and a county administrator update on the status of county power outages from last weekend’s gale-force storm. On that last topic, County Administrator Doug Stanley said three locations in the county remain without power and that a total of 3,000 electrical meters in Warren County were down at some point during the storm. Stanley credited the work of the Rappahannock Electric Cooperative for restoring power in many outlying areas of the county.

But back on the work session front of employee pay and benefits, Human Resources Director Jodi Saffelle reviewed three health insurance options before presenting the prospect of the county government issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a new compensation study.

Health Care options

Saffelle presented three options for the next budget year in The Local Choice (TLC) Health Benefits Program the county switched to in July of 2016 for FY 2017. That decision came after several so-called “bad years” when a larger number of high-dollar claims were made, leading to a substantive financial loss for the county in the self-funded insurance plan the county had successfully carried for decades.

Two of the three options revolve around how much of an employee contribution hike the county will pick up. The county was hit with a 12.1-percent hike by carrier TLC, though Saffelle noted that was down from an original estimate of a16 to 18-percent hike. The third option involves changes to the current plan structure.

Under Option 1 the County would cover not only its portion of the rate increase, but half of the employees’ 12.1-percent hike. Option 2 would see the full 12.1-percent employee contribution increase passed on to the employees. Unlike the first two, Option 3 involves changes to the existing plan. To summarize, the Key Advantage 250 (buy up) Plan would be eliminated; the Key Advantage 500 (base) Plan would become the “buy up” plan; and the new Key Advantage 1000 would become the new “base plan”.

While the third option appeared to have slightly better rates for both the employer and employee, it ups the amounts of the available deductibles, removing the 250 and adding 1000, with the 500 becoming the lowest available deductible.

Differences in monthly contributions between the plans ranged from a low of four dollars for employee only basic coverage to as high as $45 for full family comprehensive coverage. The monthly contribution difference for employees between the first two options ranged from a plus $4 for employee-only basic to plus $42 for full family comprehensive coverage were the County to choose to pass the full employee rate hike to the employee.

Human Resources Director Saffelle noted there was no recommendation included in her presentation, calling the decision from the board’s perspective “a crapshoot”. Discussion indicated a desire to help the employees if revenues in the coming fiscal year allow so.

Compensation Study

Of the compensation study RFP, Human Resources Director Saffelle proposed the idea of a joint study including the county public school system. Stanley observed what has been oft-stated in the past, Warren County will NEVER be able to compete salary-wise with Fauquier or Loudoun Counties to the east, but DOES need to be competitive regionally in the northern Shenandoah Valley. The county administrator noted the greatest challenge on that front is “the 600-pound gorilla” in the northern valley, Frederick County, because Frederick does find itself competing for employees with those richer counties to the east.

The goal is to get an updated read on, not only the great northern Frederick “gorilla”, but Shenandoah, Page and Rappahannock Counties to the west and south that are on a more level budget and revenue playing field with Warren County.

Staff indicated it was hoped the RFP could be sent out by March, with responses in by June. However, Stanley observed that the entire process was not targeting changes in the coming budget year, but several years down the road.

Legislative Update
Goodlatte applauds DOJ’s lawsuit against California’s sanctuary laws
March 7, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, on March 7th issued the statement below on the Department of Justice’s lawsuit against California’s sanctuary laws:

“Attorney General Sessions has made the right decision to sue California for its sanctuary laws. Sanctuary laws are designed to hamper federal immigration enforcement and impede the longstanding cooperation that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has enjoyed with state and local law enforcement.  Not only are California’s laws unconstitutional since they violate the federal government’s explicit constitutional authority to write and enforce immigration laws, the laws also needlessly endanger public safety by allowing criminal aliens to roam free in our communities and make it more dangerous for law enforcement officers to apprehend criminal aliens.

“The Department of Justice’s lawsuit is a critical step toward combating dangerous sanctuary laws, and I have long been a proponent of the Department using its authority to sue sanctuary jurisdictions. We must also strengthen federal law to further prevent state and local governments from enacting such reckless policies. The Securing America’s Future Act, which I introduced with Representatives McCaul, Labrador, and McSally, contains new tools to discourage the adoption of sanctuary policies. I continue to work with Members of Congress to see this important bill come up for a vote in the House of Representatives.”

Legislative Update
Goodlatte launches 2018 Congressional Art Competition
March 7, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) announced March 7th that the 2018 Congressional Art Competition for high school students throughout the Sixth Congressional District of Virginia is now underway:

“Over the years, I have continuously been impressed by the remarkable talents of high school students in our district. Whether it’s a drawing, painting, or photography, the Congressional Art Competition offers a unique opportunity for students to have their artwork on display in the U.S. Capitol for one year. As my time in Congress nears its end, I look forward to a final year of impressive entries from young artists of the Sixth District. I encourage all interested students to submit their artwork, and ask others to help pass information about this opportunity along.”

Background: The Congressional Art Competition is open to all high school students who reside in the Sixth Congressional District. The winner of the Sixth District’s competition will be on display for one year in the U.S. Capitol. The deadline for submissions is 5 p.m. on Wednesday, April 25, 2018.

The format for the Sixth District’s Congressional Art Competition is as follows:

  • Students or instructors may take a high-quality digital photograph(s) of the artwork and send it via e-mail to Caroline Farr at
  • Students or instructors may deliver their artwork in-person to one of Congressman Goodlatte’s Sixth District offices located in Roanoke, Lynchburg, Staunton, and Harrisonburg.
  • Students or instructors may also arrange for a member of Congressman Goodlatte’s district staff to pick up the artwork at a designated location.

To review the official rules and guidelines for the 2018 Congressional Art Competition and access the student release form, please visit Goodlatte.House.Gov. Submissions that do not adhere to the Competition guidelines will not be considered.

March is Workplace Eye Health and Safety Month
March 7, 2018

Let’s take a moment to review eye protection. The estimates vary, but most authorities say there are at least 1,000 eye injuries in American workplaces each day and that number could be low by half.

Workplace eye injuries cost more than $300 million a year in lost productivity, treatment, and compensation, according to OSHA. These injuries range from simple eye strain to trauma, which may lead to permanent damage, vision loss, and blindness.

The most serious injuries occur in construction, manufacturing, and mining, which account for about 40 percent of eye injuries in the workplace.

Craft workers are most at risk for eye injuries. More than a third of injured workers are assemblers, sanders, grinding machine operators and laborers. Almost half are in manufacturing and slightly more than 20 percent in construction.
Flying particles, falling objects, or sparks caused 70 percent of the accidents. Most flying objects were smaller than a pin head and were said to be traveling faster than a hand-thrown object when the accident occurred. Contact with chemicals caused one-fifth of the eye injuries.

Others were caused by objects swinging from an attached position that were pulled into the eye while a worker was using them. Many workers should have been wearing glasses with side eye shields.

A culture of safety that protects workers’ eyes with the right type of protection is the only way to prevent eye injury.

Local News
Byrd Newspapers to sell Winchester Star and other entities to Odgen Newspapers
March 7, 2018

WINCHESTER — The Ogden Newspapers, Inc., newspaper group  announced Tuesday that it would become the new owner of the Byrd Newspapers.   The announcement was made by Ogden Chief Executive Officer Robert M. Nutting.

The sale includes the Byrd family’s two daily newspapers; The Winchester Star and website, the Daily News-Record of Harrisonburg, VA and its associated website, Other publications included in the sale: the Page News & Courier, The Warren Sentinel, The Shenandoah Valley-Herald, The Valley Banner and Skyline publications. 

The Byrd family has been in the publishing business in the Shenandoah Valley since 1897, with five generations of the family  involved in managing the newspapers.


The transaction should be completed by March 31.

Ogden, headquartered in Wheeling, W.Va., also publishes newspapers in 15 other states. 

The company also owns numerous weekly newspapers across the country and a list of magazines based in Topeka, Kansas, including Utne Reader and Mother Earth News. The Nutting family also owns Seven Springs Mountain Resort and Hidden Valley Ski Resort in Pennsylvania and is the majority owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates Major League Baseball franchise.