FRONT ROYAL – The Warren County Board of Building Code Appeals ruled Thursday partially in favor of Bentonville homeowner Kristie Atwood, who maintained that officials failed to identify all of the construction issues at home.
Atwood, whose home burned down in a 2015 fire, signed a contract with Buracker Construction LLC to clear the site of debris and rebuild the family’s home. An occupancy certificate was issued in July 2016, despite what Atwood said were a number of issues with construction, including the fact that no water test had been conducted, an outdoor furnace had not been installed, nor had a water softener system been installed. Since issuing that certificate, Building Official David Beahm has acknowledged that there were five building code violations that the county previously failed to cite.
Atwood’s attorney, David Silek, said an independent building inspector found at least 60 other items that also should have been found in violation of the building code. He told the board, regarding Beahm, “He missed… by coming back (to reinspect) he acknowledged he missed some.” Silek then told the board that Atwood was requesting that the county provide an outside, impartial inspector to reinspect her home.
In addition to the five violations found after the occupancy certificate was issued, the appeals board identified seven additional violations and voted in Atwood’s favor, 4-1. George Cline was the dissenting vote; Dave Buracker recused himself from the proceedings because he and his wife, Martha Buracker, are the builders against whom Ms. Atwood has lodged the complaint.
Beahm said after the meeting that he believes the board’s decision was illegal because specific code sections were not cited in identifying the seven additional violations.
During a May 22 hearing, Silek outlined several other issues regarding the contractor, Martha Buracker:
A building permit application designating Buracker Construction LLC, which is an unlicensed entity, as the contractor. The state contractor’s license on that application, however, belonged to Buracker Construction. The building permit was issued to Buracker Construction. The contract for the job was between Kristie Atwood and Buracker Construction LLC.
Because Buracker Construction LLC was not licensed, the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (DPOR) has indicated that Atwood is ineligible for the recovery funding, which “provides relief to eligible consumers who have incurred losses through the improper and dishonest conduct of a licensed contractor or real estate professional,” according to the DPOR website.
Silek said that those funds, were Atwood be able to collect them, would be used to correct the violations found by the appeals board.
Appeals board members commented several times throughout the hearing that it is not within their purview to rule on any issues relating to the permit or the unlicensed contractor. Member Wendell Hatcher said, before making a motion to accept Atwood’s appeal request, “She is asking us to recognize Warren County’s errors in inspection; she has a valid complaint.”
Atwood said after the meeting she would consult with Silek before making a decision regarding her next step in resolving the issues with her home.
County looks at $1.1 million cost to meet compensation study recommendations
The Warren County Board of Supervisors got an update on its contracted Compensation and Benefits Study at a December 18 work session: the good news: in general the County pays better than 6 out of 10 surrounding municipalities it was compared against; the bad news: the recommendation to improve that standing and employee retention will cost the County nearly $1.1 million; with a corresponding compensation study of the public school system still to come with a recommendation promised to be “a BIGGER number”.
How much bigger might be ascertained from staff numbers included in the June Request for Proposal (RFP) leading to the July 2018 contract with Paypoint HR provided by the County Human Resources Department. Those numbers for the county government were 337 total employees, 212 full-time, 85 part-time and 40 seasonal; and for the public school system 936 total employees, 791 full-time, 145 part-time.
Other bad news includes the fact that the richer Northern Virginia municipalities to the east in the D.C. Metro area that were not included in the wage comparison study (other than Fauquier to our immediate east) are still there and will continue to dangle higher salaries to qualified and experienced employees willing to deal with the 30 to 60-or-so-minute commute.
It was also noted that one regional community that was included in the comparison study, Frederick County does try to offer competitive salaries with some of those Northern Virginia communities like Loudoun County “which skewers the numbers a bit,” County Administrator Doug Stanley pointed out.
“This gives us a lot to think about,” Board Chairman Tony Carter commented toward the end of discussion of the Paypoint HR power point presentation at the 10 a.m., one agenda item work session.
Carter’s earlier question to Paypoint HR representatives, “Can you guarantee that every employee will be happy if we implement this?” led to some laughter, as well as more serious responses from Paypoint HR President Dr. Rick Campbell and CEO Karin Campbell.
“What we do is establish what is fair pay in a given region,” Rick Campbell told the Warren supervisors who hold the County purse string decision-making authority.
Karin Campbell noted that the role of an independent, third-party consultant was to “bring an unbiased, objective opinion” to the county’s officials – “We are the messenger of these numbers,” she said.
The compensation study was contracted in July in an attempt to diminish the number of experienced employees the county regularly loses to higher-paying jobs elsewhere.
County Administrator Stanley elaborated that the comparative study area was comprised of 13 municipalities, including all adjacent counties and some of the towns in those counties.
After Paypoint HR CEO Karin Campbell reviewed the company’s methodology and scope which included an excellent 94% response rate from county employees, she cited one area where she noted “opportunity for improvement” by the county. That was in “the area of employee wellness, education and communication of benefits.”
She elaborated that some municipalities offer additional perks from cell service discounts to tuition reimbursements that employees look at as an extension of their benefits package.
Rick Campbell then reviewed the existing salary scale, what was determined as the minimum adequate living wage for this community – $12.18 per hour – and recommended alterations to the county’s wage structure to improve employee retention.
Those recommendations included: 1/ raising the salaries of positions below the $12.18 hourly rate – “nine 40-hour Part-Time General positions” requiring $25,787; 2/ raising the salaries of positions Substantially Below the competitive study area Market rate – 151 positions including 22 in the Department of Social Services and 30 in Fire and Rescue with the remainder General positions both full and part-time, requiring $929,784; and 3/ raise another 47 positions also considered below the Market rate – $142,990 to implement. Those numbers add up to a total cost of $1,098,561 impacting salaries for 207 county employees upward.
The recommendation concluded with advice to “continue providing raises to positions Near Market” rate, and discontinuation of “providing raises to positions Above Market or Substantially Above Market” rates.
The study summary concluded with a reference to more work on a Sheriff’s Office Career Development plan. – “Prior to implementing a career development program for any single department or employee group, career development plans for all non-supervisory personnel should be considered,” the report stated, adding that Sheriff’s Office deputies in patrol, animal control and school resource officer Grade 14 level – noted as the bulk of the department – was currently compensated at a 63% rate of the external study area market.
County staff estimated that board consideration of the final report would come in January or February 2019. A multi-year implementation plan has been requested by the County.
Ed Carter, VDOT report to Board of Supervisors: Route 55-High Knob gets more rumble strips
At the December 11th Board of Supervisors Meeting, Ed Carter from VDOT made his monthly presentation to the Board. Mr. Carter gives updates to VDOT projects in the County.
- Addressed numerous potholes on various hard surface routes with cold mix and anticipate the Same in December.
- Conducted grading and stone application on non-hard surface Routes 652, 610, 607,626, 613, 631 and 639. Several of these routes we covered several times as continued rainfall necessitated. They’ll continue this month as well.
- Used contractor pipe flusher on Routes 603, 638, 636, 650, 631 and 639. Will be continuing for an additional week in December.
- Completed all mowing operations and will cutting brush on Routes 652 and 656 in December.
- Performed shoulder repairs on Route 340 and will continue on various primary routes in December.
- Mobilized and responded to two weather events in November.
Lake Front Drive is awaiting finish pavement layer, which is scheduled for this week in December, weather permitting.
Ashby Station Road and Rocky Lane environmental permits were not cleared by November 30th. New date is December 10th. As soon as VDOT has the permits, staff will be meeting with the contractor to begin pipe replacements.
Existing rumble strips have been refreshed and a new set installed closer to the intersection at High Knob. Traffic Engineering is working to verify flasher sensor lights will work at this location. Residency Administrator met with High Knob Owner’s Association on November 12th to address their concerns.
Signal Group is evaluating timing at Country Club Road and Route 340/522 for extending green time from Country Club.
Town Council wrestles with new property maintenance authority
FRONT ROYAL – It’s rough having the power – especially when you’ve pursued it for so long, then finally achieve it.
That is the situation the Front Royal Town Council wrestled with at a December 3 work session – how to approach enforcement of a property maintenance code that allows it the same powers as cities and counties to enforce building maintenance standards within its boundaries.
As Royal Examiner readers may recall from tracking the issue over the course of the last year and a half, the dilemma is that while the town’s elected officials want the ability to enforce standards that will improve the overall look, livability and property values of Front Royal, how much is it going to cost the town government and its citizens to achieve these things?
The one dissenting vote to both readings of the new property maintenance code, Vice-Mayor Eugene Tewalt, has continued to predict unexpectedly high costs, even for what has been described as a lower-cost, middle ground option adopted by council nearly two months ago. Tewalt has also been critical of his younger council colleagues for continuing to approve capital improvements, and now additional code enforcement, without creating revenue streams to pay for either long-term debt service or required staff additions.
However, undiscussed thus far has been the potential return on investment from more aggressive enforcement if a corresponding rise in property values leads to increased real estate tax-base revenue.
After months of debate dating to at least July of 2017 for this council, on October 22, 2018 council approved the second reading of a new property maintenance code that took the above-described middle ground approach of five options presented by staff. That option, formerly known as Option C, enforcement-wise “addresses all structures in the Town”; “addresses maintenance issues” and “can be enforced on a complaint basis or proactive enforcement”.
At the December 3 work session Chris Morrison pushed for immediate implementation of that option – “I think things can be implemented now – tell me if I’m wrong,” Morrison challenged his colleagues.
He also suggested council give citizens some clarity on the parameters of what has been approved – that citizens can initiate action through complaints to the town government.
Morrison has been the chief council proponent of a new property maintenance code and a rental inspection program, the latter eliminated from consideration by a council majority as definitely too expensive to implement. And on the back end of his council tenure having failed to hold his seat in the November election, Morrison seemed driven to see a commitment to forward movement on what has been adopted by his colleagues before the end of his council tenure come January.
Morrison suggested outsourcing the role of a building inspector to make legal judgments on mandated repairs or demolition in the absence of council agreeing to fund creation of its own building inspection department. Morrison noted that council had set aside funds toward some kind of implementation of a building inspection operation. While he cited $40,000 available, staff appeared to put the amount as high as $75,000 in past work session discussion.
“So why can’t we outsource now … why can’t we do it immediately?” Morrison asked his colleagues.
“If we do it under those conditions I have no problem starting with blighted buildings,” Tewalt replied of a proactive approach with outsourcing as necessary when town mandates on corrective action are challenged by property owners.
Councilman William Sealock suggested bypassing use of Warren County’s Building Inspection Department and utilization of town staff for initial phases up to the point where a state-certified official whose opinion would have legal standing in court was needed. Morrison agreed.
Town Manager Joe Waltz suggested revisiting the option of partnering with the Town of Strasburg in enforcing a property maintenance code. Like Front Royal now, Strasburg has taken the first step of approval of a property maintenance code but has yet to begin enforcement due to cost parameters.
“We can put it out there and see what kind of prices are set,” Waltz suggested.
“We can start slow – there’s nothing wrong with doing it right,” Mayor Hollis Tharpe suggested of a measured, slow and inexpensive approach to implementation.
“We’ll let Joe get behind the wheel,” the mayor said of having the town manager explore enforcement and outsourcing options.
“We need time so the town manager can put a plan together,” Sealock observed.
“I will move as fast as I can,” Waltz replied.
Morrison said he felt some good had come out of the discussion that will allow the Town to move on complaints forwarded by citizens, as well as initiate proactive movement against derelict structures. However Morrison worried at the lack of “closure” on a process as council’s final meeting of 2018 approached on December 10.
Downtown parking: Mayor breaks tie vote on Virginia Beer Museum parking exemption request
There were two issues on Downtown parking at the December 10th Town Council meeting. The first dealt with designating and authorizing the Town Manager regarding the installation and placement of traffic signs and parking regulations and to remove all references to the On-Street Parking Policy in the Town Code by rescinding the 1993 Resolution authorizing approval of the On-Street Parking Policy. Download the this agenda item and background information here.
The second was a public hearing on exempting off street parking for the Virginia Beer Museum. Mayor Tharpe broke the tie vote on the first reading. Download the this agenda item and background information here.
These issues will be back on the agenda for the second reading.
BOS: Public Hearing Jan 22nd to adopt new rules for public presentations
At the December 11th Meeting of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, County Attorney Dan Whitten ask for authorization to advertise for a public hearing on January 22, 2019 to amend the Warren County Code Section 56-3 re: rules for Address to the Board of Supervisors by Nonmembers During Public Comment Period.
Watch the discussion.
Ordinance Amendment to Town Code Chapter 72 (Special Events)
During a recent Business Forum several business owners discussed concerns with parking during Special Events held in the Gazebo Area located at Main and Chester Streets in Downtown Front Royal. Town Staff has proposed amendments to Chapter 72 to help alleviate this concerns and has also changed other areas of Chapter 72 to make the Chapter more user friendly.