Author archive: Roger Bianchini

Local Government
Planning Commission majority recommends 2nd chance for kennel owner
March 15, 2018

Above, Wendy Tenney explains how she envisions her kennel business operating according to a renewed permit; below, she responds to tough questions from Ralph Rinaldi. Photos/Roger Bianchini


FRONT ROYAL –  On Wednesday evening, March 14, a divided Warren County Planning Commission forwarded a recommendation of approval of renewal of the commercial kennel conditional use permit of Wendy Tenney.  Tenney is the proprietor of the commercial kennel found by planning and zoning staff to have been in multiple permit violations at the time of the March 6, 2017 fire that killed 16 dogs in her kennel.

After a lengthy discussion addressing past conditional use permit violations, gaps in a business plan for a new kennel operation requested by the commission in January, as well as the lack of a current business license for her kennel and back real estate taxes one member said go back two years or more, the commission voted 3-2 to reverse the 2017 planning and zoning staff recommendation Wendy Tenney’s kennel permit be revoked.

Chairman Scott Stickley and Ralph Rinaldi opposed the positive recommendation, while Lorraine Smelser, Hugh Henry and Robert Myers voted to recommend Tenney get a second chance at becoming a permit-compliant and safe haven provider for animals under her and her family’s commercial kennel care.

At Tenney’s first appearance before the commission at a January 10 public hearing, her attorney Jay Neal of Woodstock told the planners the Tenneys homeschooled their children and said the kennel business was a convenient commercial use that the family enjoys.

And on Wednesday night a three-person majority decided to recommend the Tenney family get a chance to continue that commercial business enjoyment.  The county supervisors sent the matter back to the planning commission for further review after the staff revocation recommendation came before them on November 7, 2017.

That decision by the board of supervisors not to act on revocation four months ago came in the wake of a series of contentious letters from Tenney to or copied to the county supervisors in which she shifted blame for the fire and dog deaths on county codes and staff; calling county staff inspections and investigation of her operation “harassment”.  In those communications recounted in some detail in the Royal Examiner’s February meeting coverage of Tenney’s attorney’s second request for a 30-day delay on a vote on his client’s permit, Tenney claimed conditions of her initial conditional use permit requiring kennel heating and air conditioning in weather extremes were the cause of the fire and dog deaths. See related story here.

Tenney also referenced the planning-zoning department recommendation to revoke her kennel permit as indicative of an innate prejudice against the county’s smaller landowners.  The Tenneys’ Gethsemane Mountain Ranch property is 3.17 acres.

At the January commission meeting, County Planning Director Taryn Logan disputed the notion Tenney was being singled out, observing that the type of scrutiny applied to her business after the fatal fire would be focused on any business operation to determine if permit conditions were being met in the interest of public health and safety.

The finding of the emergency services investigation into the March 2017 fatal kennel fire was that a space heater Animal Control Deputy Laura Gomez had warned Tenney against using in the kennel, had been the source of the fire.  Planning Zoning staff also noted that no electrical permit for the kennel could be located in the wake of the fire and animal deaths.

County Emergency Services Officer Raymond Cross filed the official kennel fire report.  He wrote, “I was able to follow the burn patterns back to the area of the electrical space heater and found the wires and some components of that.  I did speak with the male at the scene in reference to the breaker this power was on and he advised that he was unable to locate where it came into the panel and if it even did, again his friend wired it with no county inspection or permit.”  Contacted in February, Cross said he was fairly certain the referenced “male at the scene” was Wendy Tenney’s husband.

As the planning commission debated the second 30-day delay in a vote in February, South River Commissioner Lorraine Smelser, in whose district the Tenney property lies, told her colleagues, “She’ll probably file a lawsuit as the next step if we don’t – I’m willing to go 30 more days.”

After the split March 14 vote to recommend Tenney’s CUP be renewed with a new set of conditions tied to it, the three-person majority denied any intimidation factor from the potential of litigation at an unfavorable ruling. – “I didn’t hear any of that,” Smelser commented after the meeting.

Speaking for the majority, Hugh Henry said he felt the updated permit conditions, coupled with ongoing county oversight would assure future compliance or revocation would be more easily accomplished.  “I felt like when the permit was first issued years back there weren’t many restrictions and a business plan wasn’t required.  And currently there is a business plan, specifications for the structure and a building inspection requirement.  And I think moving forward you’ve got a more definitive (plan) that will be executed, and if it’s not executed to that plan it will be easier to revoke the permit because it will be more clear where she is or isn’t in compliance.”

However, Rinaldi, who asked Tenney and her attorney the hardest questions Wednesday night regarding the business model, past problems with compliance and delinquent business license fees and real estate and sales taxes, worried over the message the commission might be sending.  Contacted the following day, Rinaldi said, “We went through the process and it is what it is.  But I’m worried at the signal we’re sending to the citizens of Warren County – you can not pay your taxes and not pay your business license and sales tax; and not comply with your conditional use permit and you can still run your business.”

Questioned by Rinaldi about the impact of back taxes on businesses or permitting, County Attorney Dan Witten noted that the board of supervisors has never passed an ordinance requiring taxes be current to acquire a conditional use permit.  During the meeting discussion Henry said the back tax issue raised by Rinaldi was a good point, but that he thought it could be resolved “outside this permitting process.”

Told that Tenney’s father had disputed some of the problems cited during the meeting to the press leaving the building after the meeting, including the back taxes that he contended he knew were paid because he had paid them, Rinaldi replied, “It doesn’t matter if they were paid tomorrow or paid yesterday, my understanding is she went 2-1/2 years without paying some of her taxes.”  When Rinaldi asked about the back taxes and business license during the meeting, Tenney attorney Neal replied that they would be “taken care of this week.”

Citing past problems of compliance with Tenney once her permit had been issued, Planning Director Logan suggested putting a deadline on compliance with certain conditions in the new CUP.

One of Rinaldi’s primary concerns had been with the absence of construction plan for a new kennel building.  A goal of having one completed by June 1 was cited in Tenney’s business plan submitted Wednesday, with a back end date of September 1.  Smelser suggested making the September construction completion date a deadline in the permit conditions.  That deadline was added to Henry’s motion to recommend approval of the permit, seconded by Smelser.

The 3-2 split to forward the recommendation of approval of the CUP was then made by voice vote.  Prior to that vote, Rinaldi’s motion to recommend revocation of Tenney’s permit died without a second.

Ralph Rinaldi to right and Chairman Scott Stickley, center, cast the dissenting votes against a positive recommendation for the Tenney commercial kennel operation.

Local Government
Hannigan resigns as Town Public Works Director as hearing date looms
March 14, 2018

Above, Jimmy Hannigan, foreground, on the job at the March 5 town council work session; below, what’s in a name – public works, environmental services? The Town website lists Hannigan’s department as Public Works. By whatever name it includes trash and recycling collection, street and vehicle maintenance, water and wastewater treatment, horticulture, and construction and design project review. Photos/Roger Bianchini

FRONT ROYAL – Front Royal Town Manager Joe Waltz confirmed Wednesday morning, March 14 that Director of Environmental Services Carl James “Jimmy” Hannigan has tendered his resignation effective April 7.

Hannigan will remain on the job as head of the department more popularly known as Public Works (including on the Town website) through April 6 as the town administration seeks a replacement.  Hannigan has been with the Town since October 2004, and has been director of the department since February 7, 2012.

His resignation takes effect four days after a scheduled preliminary hearing in Warren County General District Court on three felony forgery counts filed against him by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.  The charges relate to Hannigan’s sale of a car that was a disputed property during his September 2017 divorce from his third wife, Danielle.

Hannigan was arrested and charged on the three forgery-related counts surrounding the vehicle on January 8, 2018.  In the criminal complaint the date of the offense is listed as “on or about September 7, 2017.”  Following the first of two brief hearings held thus far that have seen the matter continued on the court docket, Hannigan’s attorney Eric Wiseley presented his client’s side of the case.

“Mr. Hannigan went through a nasty divorce last year, and his wife was not happy with the Court’s decision regarding an automobile that belonged to my client.  Not happy with the Court’s decision, she filed criminal charges that are a bit overblown,” Wiseley told Royal Examiner on January 24.

Danielle Hannigan disputes that account.  She contends she paid for the 1998 Honda C-RV that both she and her ex-husband used during their marriage; a marriage in which she noted they had four cars between them.  She admits both their names were on the title as a joint marital property, an idea she thought a “neat” one before the marriage soured.

“It’s not that I am coming after him, I just want him held responsible for his actions, Danielle Hannigan told us, adding, “I don’t want to see him go to jail for it – I would just like to see the situation involving the car put right.”

Attempts to reach Hannigan or his attorney were unsuccessful prior to publication.  Any subsequent response will be added to this story as available.

As we pointed out following the February 27 hearing at which a continuation was requested by the defense, Danielle Hannigan is not the complainant listed on the three criminal warrants against her ex-husband. Rather, DMV Special Agent R. A. Brooks is.  The language used by Brooks to justify the felony “Forged Title” and “Forge and/or Utter” criminal complaints states that, “Carl James Hannigan, Jr. reassigned a title (title #) in the name and signature of Danielle Hannigan without the knowledge or consent of Danielle Hannigan and transacted said title to Avery Burroughs.”

The Town’s Employee Handbook indicates conviction on a felony charge would likely result in termination from town employment.

Local Government
School Board approves a budget with a $1.8-million local funding hike
March 14, 2018

The WC School Board presented its FY19 budget recommendation on March 7, one day after the county supervisors worked with a flat public school budget number from last year. Royal Examiner File Photo


FRONT ROYAL – The Warren County School Board has approved a budget request with a nearly $2-million increase in local funding from Warren County. The number presented prior to a unanimous March 7 vote of approval on a motion by James Wells, seconded by Doug Rosen, show a local appropriation request of $25,329,914. That amount is $1,848,750 above the school budget appropriation number of $23,481,164 the County had plugged into its revenue/expenditure estimates at a Board of Supervisors work session the previous day, March 6.

And while it appeared that $23.48-million estimate had a $60,000 hike above the current fiscal year’s $23,421,164 local appropriation to public schools, school system  explained, and County Finance Director Andre Fletcher verified, that $60,000 was included in the FY2018 school budget for rental space tied to the CSA program but had been included as a separate line item last year. So actually the number used by county staff on March 6 was flat from the current fiscal year.

The actual School Board request will not be happy news for a county board already wrestling with an estimated $1.2-million revenue deficit with the numbers it was using on March 6, the day before the School Board recommended a budget tacking another $2-million onto that projected County revenue deficit. A board majority appears to favor approving a budget with no tax increase this year after last year’s 3-cent hike approved by a divided board to fund operations at the new middle school.

And as Royal Examiner reported in coverage of the supervisors March 6 budget work session, the General Fund balance has already fallen below the recommended 15% of the annual budget mark. That projected $13-million general fund balance is just 12.37% of the FY 2018 $105.6-million county budget. Utilizing the general fund to balance an even higher county budget by further raiding reserves could push that fund balance precariously close to single digits. Such a trend would negatively impact the County’s past favorable bond rating, leading to higher future interest rates on any future bond issues for capital improvements.

Major increases (over $40,000) on the table in the recommended public school budget, include:

– a 2% salary increase for all full-time contracted employees ($763,323);

– a STEP increase for all eligible employees ($505,351) – it was noted during discussion that it has been a decade since the last STEP increase;

– a 10% increase for supplemental activities like coaching ($46,127) – like the STEP increase, a decade or more since the last raise here;

– a $78,500 increase in the school bus repair and maintenance budget;

– a $100,000 increase in contracted facilities maintenance service budgets;

– and a total of $1,123,321 in health insurance increases – of that number, $784,699 is a 20% hike to employer costs, and $338,622 is the school system picking up 15% of the employee’s 20% cost increase.

The total of all those increases is $2,438,122. Other smaller increases raise the total additions to the School Board budget to $2,780,695. The bright side may be the fact that the school board is only asking for an increase of $1,848,750 in local appropriations, apparently finding either other revenue sources or expenditure cuts elsewhere in the budget to cover $931,945 of the total increase sought.

The justification for all the employee-related increases is the ongoing issue of presenting a competitive salary and benefit package to retain staff, particularly an experienced and highly competent teaching staff, to populate all the system’s new and renovated school buildings. As one sage observer said after last year’s split 3-2 vote (Fox, Sayre dissenting) approving a County budget with a tax hike to fund the new middle school’s operational budget, “State-of-the-art schools don’t make much sense without state-of-the-art education going on inside them.”

Factoring in all the recommended increases, the public school system’s total budget request from all revenue sources – local, federal and state, the latter based on the governor’s proposal – is now $56,771,798.

Local Government
Town approves $90,000 contingency transfer for town hall power backup
March 12, 2018

On March 5, Environmental Services Director David Jenkins traced the need and logistics of adding a generator for electrical service backup for town hall. Photos/Roger Bianchini


FRONT ROYAL – Front Royal’s Town Hall will be refitted to accommodate a back-up power generator in the wake of a budget transfer authorized Monday night, March 12. The vote to approve the $90,000 transfer from General Fund contingencies was 4-1, Morrison dissenting, Connolly absent, on a motion by Eugene Tewalt, seconded by William Sealock.

The approval of an unanticipated expenditure came in the wake of a March 5 work session presentation by Environmental Services Director David Jenkins following a power outage at town hall during the late February wind storm that moved through the region and a good portion of the mid-Atlantic and northeastern United States. Jenkins and Town Manager Joe Waltz explained that because all town government communications are funneled through the town hall system, when the power goes out there, not only are administrative communications cut off, but also all town police communications, including fiber optic transmissions related to body cameras and intra-departmental communications.

“All phone lines come in here – this is our connectivity to the world … when we lose power to this building, all (town) communications go out,” Waltz said in response to a question from Councilman Jacob Meza about the necessity of the expenditure. Meza had noted one line item in construction of the new town police headquarters was about $300,000 for a generator there.

Noting what he called an oversight when the town government moved into the old bank building converted into town hall, Waltz observed that five years had gone by before that oversight had caught up with town governmental functions. But he added that, that oversight had taught a valuable lesson – that the town didn’t want to have all its communications “eggs in one basket and put all connectivity in one location.”

With the double backup system in place were there to be the type of emergency that could knock one location’s power and backup system out, as long as the other location had at least generator power the town and its police would maintain communications capabilities internally and with the outside world.

Consequently, as Waltz and Jenkins explained to council, having explored all options it was decided that “a one location solution was not feasible.”

That explanation of the two location solution, re-stated by the town manager prior to the Monday vote, worked for all but one of the councilmen present.

At the work session Jenkins traced the logistics of installation. While there was some council concern expressed about losing parking space in the lot behind town hall, staff and Mayor Tharpe indicated a space used for a town vehicle should suffice; and that an alternate space for that vehicle could easily be found.

On March 5, Jacob Meza sought and got answers on the necessity for backup generators at both town hall and the new police headquarters.

Local Government
Despite 3-2 majority, council fails to approve 1-cent tax hike in budget
March 12, 2018

To paraphrase the old baseball movie Field of Dreams – ‘Build it and they will pay for it’ – though exactly how is yet to be seen. File Photo/Courtesy Town of FR

FRONT ROYAL – Despite two tries and a 3-2 majority on Monday night, March 12, the Front Royal Town Council failed to include a first reading approval of a one-cent real estate tax hike as part of the Fiscal Year-2019 budget. While Eugene Tewalt, William Sealock and Jacob Meza outnumbered no-tax-hike voters Chris Morrison and Gary Gillispie, a 4-2 supermajority is required for approval of such high-dollar or tax-related budget items.

It was unclear to several of his colleagues polled after the meeting, Meza and Sealock, how the absent John Connolly’s vote might have gone had he been present. While a supporter of the new police station, Connolly has been generally conservative on tax increases, though measured in addressing the need to provide funding for approved projects.

The $110,000 of revenue a one-cent real estate hike would provide would have been committed to debt service payment on one or several capital improvement projects either underway or on the table for approval. At the top of that list is the $10-million-plus new Front Royal Police headquarters under construction on Kendrick Lane across from the Royal Phoenix Business Park site. Also up for consideration of a portion of that initially-voted down tax revenue are the West Main Street connector road through the Royal Phoenix Business Park and Phase 2 of Happy Creek Road improvement project.

The Town’s current real estate tax rate is 13.5-cents per $100 of assessed value.

Only one person, Joe Andrews, addressed council during the public hearing on the proposal. Andrews opposed any tax increase, calling any budget shortfall he cited at an estimated $80,000, a product of “frivolous spending” rather than an issue of revenue shortfall.

In addition to raising the real estate tax from 13.5 cents to 14.5 cents, other portions of the tax proposal voted down Monday included keeping personal property taxes flat at 64-cents per $100 of value; setting a personal property tax relief rate of 60-percent of value on the first $20,000 of assessed value on qualifying vehicles assessed at over $1,000 of value; and a corresponding tax relief rate of 100-percent for qualifying vehicles assessed at $1,000 or less; and adjustment of town codes to accommodate any changes.

Sealock made the initial motion to approve the tax rates as presented, Tewalt seconded the motion. After the failure due to the super-majority requirement, Meza asked the two councilmen who voted against the tax increase for their reasoning so that he could attempt to adjust the motion to gain at least one of their votes.

With debt services on the horizon, Gillispie said he saw no need for a tax increase this year. Morrison indicated he believed the countywide real estate reassessments now underway would eventually provide enough of a revenue increase to cover what was being sought by the one-cent hike this year. Later queried on his confidence assessments would increase values, Morrison said he based that on a continued rising of the value of his home property. Asked about the necessity of municipalities to equalize the tax rate so that higher assessments do not automatically increase municipal tax revenue above what has been approved, Morrison indicated that it would be easier to achieve a tax increase following such an equalization reduction in the tax rate.

Meza took another shot, adding a “sunset clause” to Sealock’s original motion, stating that once the police station debt service was paid off, this one-cent added to the town real estate tax rate would come off. However, Meza’s motion failed by the same 3-2 for margin as Sealock’s, again failing to net the required supermajority.

The matter was set of council’s work session next week, prior to a second attempt to reach a compromise.

Councilman Tewalt was the most scathing in criticizing his colleagues voting against the tax hike. After reminding them he had been against the $9-million to $11-million price tag eventually put on the police headquarters, he noted they had supported the project. And once the majority had approved that capital improvement project, Tewalt noted that he had supported incremental tax increases to provide the revenue to pay off the debt service.

He estimated that debt service initially, if financed through the New Market Tax Credit program that would see the first nine years in interest only payments, at $275,000. When the full debt service kicks in Tewalt said the annual payments would be in the $700,000 to $800,000 range.

“We can’t keep pulling money out of our reserves … if we add one cent tonight we won’t have to add four or five cents all at once in the future. You can’t just wait until the money is needed – if you vote for a project and not to pay for it,” Tewalt hesitated in frustration before adding, “I don’t know how some people on this council run their homes.”

Morrison said rejecting what he called an “old way of doing things” as far as financing “will force us to be more creative” in coming up with funding solutions.

We’ll see what creative financing idea Councilman Morrison has up his sleeve at council’s March 19 work session.

Local News
Gun violence vigil, counter-demonstration go off civilly
March 11, 2018

Two perspectives on the right to bear arms versus the right to a safe public environment, especially for school-age children – Photos/Roger Bianchini

FRONT ROYAL – A total of nearly 100 people gathered peacefully in the Front Royal Village Commons area Saturday afternoon, March 10, despite several days of sometimes inflammatory social media posts suggesting an armed counter-demonstration to the planned “Vigil and Protest for Victims of Gun Violence”.

As reported by Royal Examiner on Friday, several aspects of the anti-gun violence vigil involving local high school students and the Selah Theater group comprised primarily of area teens were cancelled due to the tone of some gun-rights posts on the “What’s Up Front Royal” Facebook page and the call for anti-vigil demonstrators to show up with open carry firearms.

And while two of the approximate 15 to 25 gun rights advocates did show up with openly-displayed semi-automatic rifles, including an AR-15 like the one used in the Parkland, Florida high school shooting, those demonstrators, Emmy Bossung and Todd Kern, told us their weapons were unloaded and they did not want to create any undue anxiety among the vigil participants gathered to pay homage to gun violence victims. Rather, Bossung and Kern said their appearance with the weapons was intended to illustrate the right of Americans to bear arms within local and federal legal parameters.

Above, Emmy Bossung, far left, and Todd Kern, center, said they came with unloaded semi-automatic rifles to make a point, not intimidate anyone; below, an anti-gun violence participant chats with “new gun laws may not be the answer” advocate Gary Kushner prior to the beginning of Saturday’s dueling demonstration – dialogue is always good.

And it is the idea of strengthening those legal parameters, particularly as they apply to background checks, waiting periods on gun purchases, age, and increased emphasis on mental health parameters as a viable part of background checks that separated the approximately 60 anti-gun violence demonstrators from the 25 to 30 gathered to emphasize their right to bear arms as American citizens.

And there was some civil discussion across those opinion lines and the barricades put in place by Front Royal Police prior to the 1 p.m. start of official anti-gun violence vigil activities. And other than a few isolated yells and some passing motorist horns momentarily drowning out some of the vigil speeches, for the most part the opposing sides remained civil, if separated philosophically.

Sixth Congressional District candidates Jennifer Lewis, Peter Volosin and Charlotte Moore appeared in support of the anti-gun violence vigil, while the county’s three state delegates though invited, did not. Those delegates, Chris Collins (29th), Todd Gilbert (15th) and Michael Webert (18th), Webert particularly, drew the ire of organizers for pro-NRA stances and past votes against gun law reform.

One local teen did speak and another’s essay was read at the anti-gun violence vigil. Madeline Phoenix, 14, read an essay written by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student and shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez; and Ell Phoenix read an essay penned by a local high school student who
elected to remain anonymous in the wake of the sometimes ominously-worded social media posts in recent days.

One the gun violence vigils most emotional moments was when participants went to the microphone at the Gazebo to take turns reading names of the deceased at recent mass shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14 and at the Las Vegas musical concert on October 1, 2017.

As anti-gun violence advocates supporting stronger laws regarding gun purchases gather within the FRPD fenced in perimeter, anti-new gun legislation advocates gather at the edge of that perimeter.

As Heather Davis kicks off the WC Va. Indivisible anti-gun violence event, participants on both sides of the barricade reflect varying perspectives. Some gun rights advocates, including AR-15-packing Emmy Bossung with ‘Gun Free Zones create victims’ sign carrier below, carried their message around the Vigil Against Gun Violence perimeter – not sure if that made those inside feel safer or not.

Towards the end of the organized WC Va. Indivisible anti-gun violence event one pro-gun rights advocate unveiled a Confederate flag emblazoned with an AR-15 . Anti-gun violence demonstrators took a different view on civil rights, quoting Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student survivors’ statement ‘We call BS’, as illustrated here surrounded by photos of the Parkland, Florida high school dead.

With a little support from a friend, teen Madeline Phoenix reads from essay by Parkland, Florida high school shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez; below vigil participants line up to read the names of the dead at Parkland, Florida and last year’s Las Vegas concert shootings. Below the honoring-the-dead line that saw 75 names read from those two shootings within the last 6 months, pro-gun rights advocates at the police perimeter and across Chester Street; and one family inside the perimeter’s take on the issue.


Local News
FRPD plans to separate dueling gun violence demonstrators on Saturday
March 9, 2018

‘The vigil is about honoring people who have died. Speakers will be reading the names of people who have died and I would hope they will be respectful of that,’ WC Indivisible VA organizer Heather Davis says of events planned for March 10 at the Front Royal Town Gazebo. Photo/Roger Bianchini

An organizer of Warren County Indivisible’s “Vigil and Protest for Victims of Gun Violence” scheduled for Saturday afternoon, March 10 in Front Royal say they will proceed despite the promise of an open-carry, pro gun-rights counter-demonstration.  Multiple responses indicating a desire to participate in the suggested pro-gun counter-demonstration were posted online in recent days, some of a nature reported to raise safety concerns among some planned participants.

Heather Davis confirmed that some vigil against gun violence activities scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. at the Town Gazebo, including the bulk, if not all of the planned Selah Theater group presentations by local high school students have been cancelled out of fears of what might develop from the presence of armed, pro-gun rights advocates.  However, as of Friday one student essay is still slated to be read as part of the program, Davis told Royal Examiner.

Davis said that she had spoken to Front Royal Police Chief Kahle Magalis about FRPD’s planned handling of what has developed into dueling demonstration agendas revolving around gun violence.  Davis said Chief Magalis told her FRPD planned to cordon off the Gazebo area where the vigil will be held, while placing gun-rights activists in the vicinity of the nearby train caboose.

Royal Examiner contacted Chief Magalis, who confirmed the plan to separate demonstrators while not infringing on anyone’s right to express their opinion.

“We will have extra personnel, security and guidance so that both sides can have a platform to express their beliefs in a manner that everyone is safe, secure and that the businesses downtown are not disrupted,” Magalis said.  He noted that social media posts had indicated a potentially sizable turnout for both demonstrations, and that FRPD would assign personnel accordingly.

Vigil against gun violence organizer Davis noted that the event’s major focus is the acknowledgement and honoring of victims of gun violence and a move toward more sensible gun laws, not a call to strip American citizens of their right to own guns.

“I hope they won’t be disruptive,” Davis said of pro-gun rights activists, “The vigil is about honoring people who have died.  Speakers will be reading the names of people who have died and I would hope they will be respectful of that.”

The March 6 Warren County Indivisible press release announcing the event noted that the names of two of the most recent, and worst mass shootings in U.S. history, the Las Vegas concert shooting of October 1, 2017 (58 dead) and the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre at a Parkland, Florida high school (17 Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS students and teachers dead) will be read aloud at the vigil.

Sixth District Congressional candidates Peter Volosin, Jennifer Lewis and Charlotte Moore are still slated to appear.  Also invited but not indicating they will participate were Warren County’s three Republican state delegates, Michael J. Webert (18th), Chris Collins (29th) and Todd Gilbert (15th), as well as members of their staffs. Indivisible of Warren County, VA bills itself as “a non-partisan group of concerned citizen activists who put country before party, and stand against any erosion of our historic democratic principles of liberty, justice, and equality.”

On Thursday, this reporter spoke to one person expressing an interest in participating in the pro-gun rights demonstration.  Told the other demonstration was “against gun violence” of the kind students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School experienced last month, rather than against the right of law-abiding citizens to own guns, he replied, “Well, I think everyone is against gun violence.”

I guess at least on the local front here in Front Royal and Warren County, Virginia, we will find out tomorrow afternoon if he is right.

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.

Local Government
Council has concerns over Valley Health contributions to new hospital infrastructure
March 6, 2018

Valley Health VP of Facilities Management Mark Baker, who is also a Warren County EDA Board member, addresses council concerns over infrastructure proffers tied to new hospital project. Photo/Roger Bianchini

FRONT ROYAL – At least one member of the Front Royal Town Council expressed a desire for more clarification from Valley Health on its willingness to pay for infrastructure improvements prior to a vote on a rezoning to enable construction of a new hospital off Leach Run Parkway.

At a Monday, March 5 work session Councilman Eugene Tewalt asked for a commitment on some necessary road and utility improvements before voting to approve a change from current RS (Residential Suburban) and A-1 (Agricultural) zoning to MCD (Mixed Commercial Development) for Valley Health’s 147-acre parcel.

According to the staff summary, Valley Health has amended its original financial proffer on design and construction of signalization at the hospital’s main entrance from $175,000 to up to $300,000. However, Tewalt appeared concerned that a timeframe for that construction was noted on a condition that it be requested by the town government within five years “from the date an occupancy permit is issued.”

And while the wording seems to put the Town in control of the timing of the request, were it decided not to be necessary immediately, Tewalt may have been troubled by the potential once on the shelf that the request might slip between the cracks amidst future council and staff turnover.

Staff noted that $300,000 might not cover the total cost of the project dependent upon when it occurred, as well as other variables including design parameters and right-of-way acquisitions.

Traffic concerns revolve at least in part around the planned hospital’s proximity adjacent to Warren County Middle School and the planned HEPTAD Swan Estates residential property.

Another concern was the cost of extending a “redundant underground electrical transmission line” to the new hospital, estimated at a cost of $731,282. While staff noted the utility issue wasn’t directly related to the rezoning application,  the fact that the Town does not currently have the funding in place for that project needed to be addressed.

Staff also noted the absence of any commitment to fund a future traffic signal at Oden Street, where a second entrance to the hospital would be located; or at the nearby entrance to the Swan Estates residential project. Staff observed that while Valley Health should not be expected to fund 100-percent of those projects, that the hospital’s proximity was “a significant contributing factor” in expediting the need for signalization at both locations.

Valley Health Vice President for Facilities Management Mark Baker was present and said while some of the concerns, like the electrical utility costs came as a surprise, that Valley Health was “open to discussion” on those and other concerns.

Town Manager Joe Waltz noted that there was one more council work session available for further discussion before a scheduled public hearing on the rezoning request scheduled for the March 26 council meeting.

Councilman Jacob Meza recused himself from the discussion due to his position with Valley Health.