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Saturday, December 16, 2017

OPINION: Thoughts on Alabama and America

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Let me start by offering the disclaimer that I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat. I am neither conservative, nor liberal. I am who I am. When I vote, I look at the person, their voting record, values, and previous experience with a real job. I try my best not to become nauseated with party affiliation.

Last night’s Alabama election results should (but probably won’t, given the sad history of party politics in America) send a message to Democrats, as well as Republicans…quit thinking that you are immune to the realities of life, and that, because of the prestige and power that comes with your position, that you are immune from the following:

Obeying the law.

Doing your job, as an elected official, and looking out for the best interests of those you were chosen to serve, as opposed to yourself, and those whom you have allowed to own you, through their contributions to you and your campaign.
Living by the same standards you have the audacity and hypocrisy to demand to others that they should live by.

Creating and voting for laws which you have no intention of following yourself.
To think that more than 48 percent of a state can still vote for a moral reprobate is mind boggling.

To hear excuses such as “It was more about the balance of power” which influenced my vote simply goes to show why the two party system in America is corrupt, and eliminates the U.S. as “One Nation Under God.”

One can only hope and pray that, whether it is the new Alabama Senator, a sitting Senator, Congressperson, or Governor of any state or Commonwealth within our nation, that, at some point soon, a tide of decency in politics will rise, we will vote for who is right, against who is wrong, and hope and pray that the ability to do such (as opposed to voting for “the lesser of evils”) will one day make a consistent showing among our Election Day options.

One can always dream.

Michael S. Williams is a resident of Front Royal, VA.

OPINION: Thank you for reporting depth and quality

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I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people at the Royal Examiner that work so hard to keep the citizens of Warren County and Front Royal apprised of the important issues facing our community.

I have noticed that the depth and quality of the reporting from the other news reporting organizations has declined greatly over the last several years. I appreciate knowing that there is a news service that takes the time to gather the facts and present them to the public; it is a necessity for a balanced community.

This creates an environment of accountability and transparency while holding the elected officials to the highest level of integrity for which they were elected to guide our town and county.

Again thank you for your dedicated service you provide for our community.

Sincerely,

Michael Graham,  Front Royal, VA

 

EDITORIAL: Authenticy vs Approval

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Since the Royal Examiner’s editorial decision to publish the photograph—but not name—of a minor homicide victim and his brother, the newspaper has been bombarded with hate-mail, calls from readers to boycott, nasty emails with words that would shock some sailors, and more.

To be clear, the boys’ photographs and information about recent events are all over social media—on a fundraising page, on a number of social media pages of the mother’s friends and on the social media pages of former babysitters, to name a few places. 

The Royal Examiner chose to use the photo of the boys because we felt it would connect the reader to the issue of child abuse and neglect that often leads to death.  A number of other media outlets chose to print the gory, graphic nature of the injuries that the victim endured before he died, but the Royal Examiner felt its readers—and the victims—need not have that information shared.

Mug shots these days are ubiquitous—everyone who gets arrested gets one.  Perhaps the community would be better served if newspapers behaved more like big-city television stations and showed mugging victims fresh from the hospital, bandaged up and fearful, instead of the thug in an orange jumpsuit who beat up an innocent victim for no good reason.

Incidentally, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Administration for Children and Families Administration on Children, Youth and Families Children’s Bureau reports that in 2015 (the last year for which figures are available) 1,670 children died from abuse or neglect while in the custody of family members. 

That figure alone is shocking and something for which any sensible person could muster up some outrage. 

The Royal Examiner strives to present accurate, authentic reporting.  Approval is appreciated, but it does not dictate how we do our jobs.

Sixth’s Goodlatte lauds Trump tax plan – but what is the truth?

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Shortly before the unexpected announcement he won’t seek re-election two days after the Democrat’s sweeping electoral victories in Virginia, I read U.S. Sixth District Delegate Robert Goodlatte’s glowing appraisal of the Trump-House Republican tax plan.  In his “Legislative Update” our delegate painted so rosy a picture of the plan I was prompted to explore exactly what has been laid on the national table as tax reform by the Trump Administration and House Republicans.

I will use our now lame-duck Sixth District delegate’s appraisal as a starting point for that tax bill exploration:

The Sixth’s Bob Goodlatte at work – Pubic Domain Photos/Graphics

“After many months of work and discussion, I am encouraged by the introduction of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.  At its very core this bill is about tax relief for American families.  It nearly doubles the standard deduction to protect more of your hard-earned money, and lowers individual tax rates for low and middle income Americans,” Goodlatte began rosily, adding, “The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will also help to bolster the growth of businesses of all sizes in the United States, and keep jobs in our communities instead of being shipped overseas.”

Well that all sounds GREAT – unless on that latter point the reason jobs will be kept home is that American workers are in the process of being reduced to a Third World labor force as far as wages and benefits are concerned; and as far as the first point – well, what if at best it’s partisan hyperbole, and at worst just NOT TRUE?!!?

Multiple media outlets across the country had a far different assessment after a first look at the November 2 Trump-House Ways & Means Committee roll out of the long ballyhooed tax reform plan.  One even called it the groundwork for a new “Gilded Age” for America’s super rich.  Some of those national reports led me to the analysis of an independent, non-partisan, non-profit tax watchdog group founded in 1980.

Independent analysis

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) estimates more than two-thirds (66%) of the proposed tax cuts would go to the richest one-percent (1%) of Americans.  In all, ITEP estimates the Trump tax plan would give more than $100 billion in tax cuts to the wealthiest one-percent of Americans.  People who earn at least $615,800 a year would enjoy an average tax cut of $90,610.

“Meanwhile, those who earn between $41,000 and $66,000 a year would see an average tax cut ranging from about $400 according to ITEP estimates, to $1,100 according to the Trump/House plan’s own estimates,” Truthout’s Lindsay Koshgarian reported.

And despite that “average” middle income savings, ITEP and other sources report some taxpayers in the middle income bracket would actually end up owing more taxes under the plan.  According to the Reuters news agency, those other sources include administration officials – “Trump economic adviser Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have also acknowledged that some people could see a tax hike” from the “tax cut” plan.

But HEY, what does a 37-year-old non-partisan tax watchdog group, or administration officials for that matter, know anyway?

I decided to take a look at a fairly independent Republican, not part of development of the plan at the House level, for another perspective.  Prior to being laid up after a neighborhood lawn mowing dispute, Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul asked if the plan “was really Republican?”

Senator Rand Paul may be preparing to catch whatever is flying out of the House Ways & Means Committee regarding tax ‘reform’.

“This is a GOP tax plan?  Possibly 30 percent of middle class gets a tax hike?  I hope the final details are better than this,” Rand tweeted in response to the unveiling of the plan in the House Ways & Means Committee.

So we must ask, tax reform for those who really need it the most – the middle and lower working classes – or an early Christmas present for those who need it least; but would have you believe (with some delegates’ assistance) that when they’re not taxed on their millions and billions, it’s really everyone else (trickle, trickle) who is benefiting?

‘See how easy it’s going to be to file taxes now’ the president enthused at tax plan’s unveiling. An amused House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Ways & Means Committee Chair Kevin Brady yuk it up at the president’s slight of hand.

On Wall Street

I decided to try Wall Street and the conservative Wall Street Journal for reactions sure to trumpet the Trump tax plan as a BIG boon to the U.S. economy.  But it seems that almost immediately Trump was tweeting that the Wall Street Journal just “doesn’t get it” as far as the plan’s positive impact on the economy.

While lauding the plan’s reduction of business taxes, the WSJ wrote that pro-growth aspect of the plan was “marred by a mess on individual taxes that makes that part of the code even worse than it is now.”

CBS’s Moneywatch reported a Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget analysis that estimates the plan’s “cuts will be worth a total of $5.8 trillion through 2027 while the tax increases will be worth $3.6 trillion. That would result in a net increase to the national debt of $2.7 trillion including interest” – with no stated plan on how that revenue gap will be filled.

But perhaps there is a plan – just a currently unstated one first verbalized by Republican strategist Grover Norquist some time ago – “We don’t want to destroy the federal government, we just want to shrink it to the size where it can be drowned in a bathtub.”

Way off Wall Street

Okay, let’s get off Wall Street and away from Republican ghosts – Greg Gardner of the Detroit Free Press noted the Trump-Republican tax plan includes elimination of a $7,500 tax credit applied to the purchase of hybrid and electric cars.  Gardner observed, “Wiping out the credit would create another obstacle for automakers who are trying to nurture a market for battery-powered transportation” for automobiles ranging around $37,000 to $40,000 or so.

Hey, gotta keep old Secretary of State and former Exxon-Mobile CEO Rex Tillerson happy – even if he has not denied calling you a “(some such) moron”.

But if the plan strips economic incentives to promote development of alternative, less polluting means of motor transportation, it also lowers the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent and repeals the estate tax – not things of major concern to middle or lower income Americans.

Interviewed by the ABC affiliate TV-3 in Harrisburg, PA, CPA Robert Wilson concluded that the reduction of tax brackets (from 7 to 4) “just results in people in the lower brackets paying more tax.”

Oh well, so much for the “little people” Mr. Goodlatte and pals have promised will benefit from the plan.

Above, proposed changes for single filers; below, for joint filing

Local government impacts

A story in the journal Governing: The States and Localities analyzed a potential impact on municipal governments nationwide:

“The bill would eliminate all private activity bonds, which allow tax-exempt municipal bonds to be issued on behalf of a government for a project built and paid for by a private developer … The proposal caught the infrastructure finance community completely off-guard … ‘For months, we’ve been hearing that munis were safe,’ said tax attorney Will Milford, of the firm Bryant, Miller, Olive.”

Why the alarm?

“Tax-exempt bonds fetch lower interest rates in the municipal market and therefore lower the overall cost of financing,” Governing explains, “The projects financed with this type of debt are typically things in the public interest, such as low-income housing, hospitals, airports” – and schools they might have added.

Governing called elimination of the low-interest bonds “devastating for governments trying to find money for economic development projects.”

Local government reactions

Such low interest bonds have been an important tool of local municipal capital improvement projects in Warren County for some years.

“The issue here is really about the ability to refinance bonds when the interest rates come down,” County Administrator Doug Stanley told us, observing, “The Board of Supervisors has been able to save a significant amount of money in past few years when we were able to refinance bonds associated with school construction.”

Long-time Warren County project consultant Springsted circulated a call to action in opposition to the plan forwarded to us by Stanley, “In addition to a dramatic cut in the corporate tax rate, the recently announced House tax bill takes serious, direct aim at the municipal bond market.  Both measures are sure to interfere with state and local governments’ ability to cost-effectively provide financing for projects,” Springsted wrote.

EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald also alerted us to the fact that one national organization, The Council of Development Finance Agencies (CDFA) will discuss strategies to fight this provision of the tax plan at its upcoming National Summit in Atlanta.  The CDFA called this aspect of the Trump-Republican tax bill “a move that would prove devastating to development finance efforts nationally.”

McDonald agreed, telling us, “Some of the proposed tax cuts and job acts could be detrimental to the economic development of not just this community, but the nation as a whole.  Economic development relies on some of these very successful programs to create jobs and tax revenue for the community.”

Noting the tax bill “is the product of months of collaboration between senior members of the House, Senate, and White House” the CDFA said that “without major pushback and input there is a good chance the bill may become law.”

So it seems that like some middle-income Americans, the communities they live in may also be negatively impacted by the Trump-House Republican tax plan as presented after months of partisan development behind closed doors.

Back to Bob

But maybe there’s hope! After all, the ever-elusive Mr. Goodlatte concluded his “Legislative Update” initial praising of the tax plan rolled out under his nose by stating, “As the Ways and Means Committee prepares to consider this bill next week, I will carefully examine the details of the plan and how they will impact the Sixth District.  I’ve advocated for common sense tax reform throughout my time in Congress, and I am pleased to see this effort move forward to deliver the tax relief folks in Virginia and across the country need. Let’s get down to business.”

I know I, for one, believe our Sixth District delegate when he says he’s getting ready to roll up those legislative sleeves and do some in-depth, non-partisan analysis of a Trump-Republican initiative that has been talked up for months as economic Nirvana for all.

NO I don’t. – But you knew that, didn’t you?

D-I-V-O-R-C-E

Okay, maybe I need a divorce from my Sixth District delegate – let’s just call it quits, Bob.  After all, political representation is a lot like a marriage in its give and take and mutual responsibility, right?  And I never see you anymore, Bob – at least not out here in the northwestern reaches of your district (or other districts too I hear from the “kids”).

Uh oh, not so fast.

‘Train in Vain’ – two days after Democrats stunning electoral gains in Virginia, Bob Goodlatte announced he is headed on down the tracks – but will he maintain support for the Trump-Republican House tax plan prior to his departure after the 2018 mid-term election?

Other than the fact I woke up today to find an “I’m leaving – soon” note from my delegate, Market Watch’s Quentin Fottrell writes, “There’s no longer a silver lining to paying spousal support.  President Trump’s tax plan unveiled this week will abolish tax deductions on alimony.  This won’t impact people who have already agreed on their payment amounts but – assuming the GOP tax bill is passed by Congress – this new arrangement will be in effect for divorce decrees on Jan. 1, 2018 and thereafter.

“This will create a total re-evaluation of divorce cases,” said Malcolm Taub, partner and co-chair of the divorce and family law practice group at Davidoff Hutcher & Citron LLP. “It’s major.”

“We settled a case this week in court where my wealthy client agreed to pay his dependent wife significant alimony because he could deduct it,” added Randy Kessler, an Atlanta-based lawyer who wrote the book, Divorce: Protect Yourself, Your Kids, and Your Future.  “The deduction, as it stands, is a great motivator to encourage the higher wage earner to agree to help support the spouse with less income.”

Uh oh, you don’t think THAT’S what this whole tax “reform” charade is about, do you? – Melania, Melania, has anyone seen Melania since China?!!?

Public Domain Photo/theeconomiccollapse-blog.com

OPINION: If the council again enacts this poor idea, what problem is it going to solve?

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This is letter I sent to the Mayor, Hollis Tharpe, and the town council. My intention is that this is an opinion or letter to the editor.

I retired after 29 years of listing and selling real estate. I have managed my own rental property the entire time as well as advised clients on rental property and occasionally rented it for them by selecting the best tenant we could. Therefore, I have plenty of experience with tenants and rental property.

I have great concerns on the Landlord/Tenant ordinance that is being proposed. I have addressed the council on this matter twice recently as well as in the past when that poorly thought out ordinance was enacted and then dismissed due to failure. Always my first thought for any problem is…. what is the real problem… what is the root of the problem… how do I solve the problem?

As I see it, the real problem is a people problem, not a government problem. If the council again enacts this poor idea, what problem is it going to solve?

First a discussion of what “regular” landlords are looking for in a qualified applicant: Credit scores that meet the landlords criteria Income to support the monthly rent payment. References supporting that the tenant left the previous property in good condition and paid rent on time. Property managers also run a criminal background check.

So, now what do we do? How do we solve the problem? I have the answers to my questions. The real problem is tenants who do not have an acceptable credit history and/or adequate income and/or a criminal background history. Tenants who left previous rental property in poor condition and/or did not pay rent. The root of the problem is people behavior.

The way I solve my problem is to rent to the most creditworthy tenant who has shown past behavior of paying the rent and leaving the property in good condition. If perspective tenants do not meet my criteria, the application is rejected. Personally, I discuss this ahead of time with the applicant and if they think they won’t meet the criteria, they do not complete an application. Generally, property managers have the same process.

You can inspect my properties and the properties of the landlords providing poor housing, but you can never make me rent to tenants who do not meet my qualification standards. Those standards consist of a credit score of no lower than 640, acceptable former landlord references, and the income to support living in the property. Most property management professionals also do a criminal background check and tenants must meet that standard.

Since I am renting for myself and not a client, I do not consider hospital bills that are so high a person cannot pay them, nor some bankruptcies or other credit issues. I consider each applicant on a case-by-case basis. No matter what ordinance is enacted, I will not rent to perspective tenants who do not meet my criteria. Other landlords and property managers will not rent to perspective who do not meet their criteria. So inspecting my property and others like it are not going to resolve the issue up for discussion. I can say with 100% certainty that I am not going to rent to the tenants who occupy Batouli’s properties or those like his. Those tenants are generally in desperate situations and generally have very poor credit, often have issues with substance abuse, and criminal backgrounds.

Everyone knows what I am talking about here. I have owned a property next door to Mt. Vernon apartments for 15 years. I have had occasions to talk to some of the tenants there who have asked me about housing when they are being evicted or are moving because they cannot tolerate the conditions. I have asked them why they rented there and it is always the same answer. I desperately needed a place and no one else would rent to me.

So they do know the conditions of the property when they rent it. The only way some of these tenants can change their living conditions is to upgrade their credit, get a job or a better job or move somewhere else where they can live on public assistance.

Bottom line, I do not think this problem can be solved with an ordinance. Our tax dollars will be spent with a new office requiring everything an inspector needs to work, perhaps an assistant, the benefits costs to the employer, vehicle cost, and only the Historic District is affected. So the rest of Front Royal can rent anything in any condition. This is not acceptable to me and shouldn’t be to you either.

This is government for the sake of government to quell some squeaky wheels so the rest of the landlords can abide by an ordinance where these tenants cannot live. Doesn’t make any sense to me. If you seriously want to solve this problem, get a committee together of people who know what the issues are, tenants who are having problems, town officials, and go from there. Perhaps there is a way to solve this, but I don’t see the answer as an ordinance for Landlords in Front Royal.

Look at it and see how we can solve it. At a previous town council meeting, I offered to field calls on this issue as a volunteer. I am still willing to work with a group to see if we can solve this issue. I do believe everyone is entitled to a roof over their head. Perhaps Front Royal needs to consider a “project” type of housing to meet the demands of this kind of tenant. Who would be the property manager? Not I. Too much of a bad thing. I’ve read newspaper articles on building “workforce” housing. Those folks generally meet my criteria for renting as well as other property managers. That is a no brainer, but for those who don’t meet the criteria and who don’t, won’t, can’t pay the rent, we still have a problem.

Please start a committee so we can start to work on this issue. At a minimum, everyone would gain a lot of knowledge on the subject.

Sincerely,
Nancy Heflin

OPINION: Voters are confronted by a specter from the past

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In this election season, voters are confronted by a specter from the past. One political party is spreading discord by advertising that plays on fears and lies to create a wedge. Much like the leader of their party, they want to take advantage of a simmering anger that many can’t express.

Republican candidates are complicit in the deep divisions that are damaging our country. They would remove protections for consumers, deny remedies for pollution and climate change, repeal personal freedoms, and remove affordable healthcare for millions. Rather than reduce economic inequality, they promote the power and fortunes of the 1%.  Their candidates, regardless of how home-grown they claim to be, do not speak for the common person. Their interests lay in increasing advantages for the privileged few.

The Democratic Party draws on a long and deep concern for the common good. Instead of restricting voting, Democrats encourage the expression of all citizens at the ballot box. Instead of allowing corporate and family fortunes to determine policy, we encourage participation from all Americans.

Democrats promote economic security by supporting greater access to healthcare, more affordable education at all levels, and better wage opportunities for individuals whether they live in cities or rural areas. Democrats believe we are in this struggle together, and that improving individual lives will benefit all.

Steve Foremam
Chair, WCDC

OPINION: Vote Tuesday, November 7th for the ticket of Gillespie, Vogel, and Adams.

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As Chairman of the Warren County Republican Committee, it may not come as a surprise that I am supporting Jill Vogel for Lt. Governor on Tuesday, November 8th.  What you may not expect is why I think you should as well. Unlike most candidates for statewide office, I have known Jill personally for many years. Her family is from the Shenandoah Valley and run a successful local business. During a summer break in college, I interned in Jill’s law firm.  I witnessed firsthand the high ethical standards by which Jill Vogel operates.  She is exactly the sort of smart, successful businesswoman with great integrity we need in Richmond.

To say that Richmond needs Jill Vogel is true, but our Shenandoah Valley needs her as Lieutenant Governor even more. I bet most people cannot name the last person elected to statewide office from the Shenandoah Valley (Harry Byrd, Jr., who left office in 1983). It has become increasingly clear that most politicians in Virginia do not know the difference between Western Virginia and West Virginia. Jill Vogel lives here, has repeatedly campaigned in the Shenandoah Valley, and—most importantly—was raised with our shared values.

Now, I would be remiss not to mention that Ed Gillespie, my pick for Governor, held an event in Warren County just last month, at the height of the campaign; and John Adams, who headlined last year’s John Smedley Pig Roast, has campaigned actively in the Valley. If you want to know who cares about the Shenandoah Valley, look to action, not just words. If our Shenandoah Valley values are important to you, then I ask you to vote Tuesday, November 7th for the ticket of Gillespie, Vogel, and Adams.

Sincerely,

Daryl Funk
428 Kerfoot Avenue
Front Royal, VA 22630

OPINION: Random Acts of Bureacracy Make Me Cranky

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Everybody seems to be aggravated about something all the time these days.

I don’t remember it being this bad when I was growing up or even when I was raising a family.

My aggravation started when I received an email from my bank letting me know that my credit score had changed and to call their credit service department ASAP to review.

My mind started to race about the possibility of my identity being stolen. Visions of the many advertisements promoting identity protection ran through my mind as I recalled the internet stories telling how peoples lives were destroyed while trying to correct the situation. I called the credit service to get the full story of the situation.

The credit service was accommodating informing me of the reason why my credit score had decreased by more than 100 points in the last 30 days. It was caused by the 3 new notifications of accounts that were put in collections . I was taken back being unaware of any reason for the need for collects and what was generating the problems.

The first issue pertained to an unreturned library book valued at $30 that was placed in collection. I discovered that my son had checked out a book and the library assumed I was responsible for the book, not my 20 year old son with the same first name. I had to contact the local library to correct this mistake and shift the responsibility to my son and inform the collection and credit service to take it off my report

The second issue was a $25 charge for a missed appointment of my adult daughter from our family medical practice that was reported to collections. This situation developed because the doctor’s office did not realize that my daughter had reached an age that she was responsible for her own health care and was never sent a bill for missing the appointment. This was corrected after many conversations with several administrative assistants informing them that I was not responsible for these bills for my adult daughter. They reluctantly informed the credit service of the mistake that would take 60 days to show up on my report.

The most time consuming collection issue was dealing with the free magazine subscription that I was given as gift for purchasing retail products at a national retail store for opening up an account. I was told the subscription would be free for 6 months and would cancelled after the 6 months was over. The problem occurred after the 6 months subscription had ended, the company continued the bill my account each month for several months without my knowledge since the account was closed. It was sent to collection for non payment. It was time consuming and frustrating to correct because of the time it took to find the right person in the company that had the power to correct the problem. It took over a week to locate the person that understood the situation which apologized for their internal $40 billing mistake.

I’m mad as hell for the amount of time that was required to contact each company and having to talk to many different people to locate the person with the authority to correct the mistake. The reality of having to wait for up to 120 days for the corrected information to be received and changes reflected on my new credit report is irritating All this aggravation created over a total $95 of internal mistakes from the companies and organizations that reported these collections issues not of my making. I had to address these issues to correct because of the impact to my credit score which affects our day to day lives.. This was very aggravating and I am mad as hell to have to go through it. I am sure that I am not the only person to have this happen to them, so I can understand why people are so aggravated with life. My sign would read “ just aggravated ”

 

Rental standards: Find a code that will work

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I was not at the recent meeting for the proposed Town Inspection Code but wanted to put my “two cents” into the discussion. I have been a landlord for more than thirty years and currently own forty rental units in Front Royal on Cherrydale Avenue (which will not be subject to the proposed inspection code). When we bought these units, they were one step from slums. Our intent was to “provide decent housing at reasonable cost for deserving people.” I had considerable experience with rental units previously and thought this would be a way to serve people who sometimes fall through the cracks.

On the day that we took possession, there were more than thirty water leaks and a number of jacked-up vehicles in various states of repair distributed around the property. Less than twenty keys were provided by the prior owner and most of the exterior doors did not lock. The siding was asbestos. Interestingly, the tenants were responsible for cutting the grass in front of their apartment even if they lived on the second floor. There were no stoves and few refrigerators. Tenants were responsible for providing these themselves.

Several hundred thousand dollars later, we had a much improved property with new kitchen cabinetry, steel entrance doors and dead-bolt locks, new bathrooms, carpet, appliances, etc. and began to rent to our new tenancy. After about ten years, I told my wife that we were going to change the motto. She asked what the new one was. I told her that the new motto was “We will not be your next victim.” We once again began to renovate for the second time. New tenants were required to have decent credit, adequate income and a few other qualifications that pertain to responsible people.

So, having had considerable rental experience with both those in the lower income bracket and those who have higher income, I feel qualified to comment on the upcoming inspection code.

First of all, it is virtually impossible to provide decent housing at a low price. Everything done to maintain or improve property costs money. This in turn causes rents to rise and therefore causes real estate taxes to rise. The better the apartment is, the higher the rent is. The better the rental unit is the better tenant who will be attracted.

Poorly maintained rental units are less desirable and are frequently, all that an individual can afford. They may be a single mother with one or more children, a menial job and no education. Their spouse or baby-daddy may have left them. They sometimes live on food stamps. Maybe they have been abused or have an alcohol or drug problem. Whatever the issues, these people need a place to live that is cheap. That is all that they can afford.

One little change causes their entire world to collapse. The car won’t start or their babysitter didn’t show so they cannot go to work. Then their rent becomes overdue and the Town shuts off their utilities. If they cannot find a way to resolve this, they might vacate their apartment without notice, sometimes leaving huge piles of furniture, rotting food and a filthy apartment. The apartment will be vacant until the landlord finds a new tenant and does what is necessary to get the apartment rented. Fixing the bare minimum will not make the apartment attract more responsible people. A large expenditure will likely result in better tenants but the price will rise considerably and those who are not economically viable will not be able to afford the higher rent. Where are they going to live?

It would seem that a rental unit inspection prior to occupancy would solve the problems associated with poorly maintained rental housing but it will not in my opinion. An inspection will not improve the rental unit appreciably. It will simply mean that the landlord will repair the items delineated in the inspection report. Door and window locks, lack of heat, leaks and sagging floors, might be repaired but the unit will still be a slum.

As an example, suppose that the kitchen ceiling is sagging from a plugged toilet upstairs. The inspector requires the owner to repair the ceiling and fix the toilet. The owner sends someone to the upstairs apartment to unstop the toilet and puts a piece of quarter-inch plywood over the sagging ceiling, attaches it using drywall screws and the job is done. It meets the inspector’s requirement but the apartment is still substandard and has not been improved at all.

Interior painting, replacement of older appliances, new bathrooms, etc. are not included in inspection deficiencies that could be done to improve the apartment unit but a landlord cannot be compelled to make the changes that could be made. Therefore, the inspection items will be completed and the rent will rise to pay for these costs. Meanwhile, the unit will still be a slum.

The Town previously had an inspection law that I personally succeeded in having overturned by the Circuit Court. This was due to the fact that the ordinance that the Town passed violated state statutes (which the town fathers knew about from the beginning but chose to enact anyway).

Typically, this is the way it would work: Before an apartment could be rented, the landlord would make an application for an inspection. The inspection was scheduled for a certain day (which could be in one day or several days later). No time was given so the owner would need to make arrangements to have someone available all day while waiting for the inspector. Ultimately, the inspector would arrive and always find several insignificant items that needed repair. I was once cited for a light switch cover that had “speckles” of paint on it. Once the required repairs were done, the apartment would have to be re-inspected before occupancy which meant going through the entire scheduling routine again.

The proposed ordinance under consideration would also require the owner to pay a fee to the town for the inspection. The cost of the inspection, waiting time for the owner, etc. would fall on the owner. If the inspector found nothing wrong, the costs for compliance would still fall on the owner and once again, the costs will be passed on to the tenant who cannot afford to pay more rent. Further, it is likely that deficiencies will be minor and the rental unit will still be a slum.

So how do we make an attempt at resolving at least some of the problems with substandard housing without causing expense to the owner and tenant for an inspection and the creation of an entire new department in city hall? A simple idea would be to have the Town include a notice to new tenants when having the utilities put in their name. The notice would inform them that they can ask for an inspection either by the Town or a shared inspector from the County acting on behalf of the Town. A checklist of serious violations could be printed on the form and the tenant could check off what they think is wrong and either call, email or deliver the form to the appropriate Town office. This will NOT rectify the slum or substandard rental properties in our town but neither will an “inspection law.” At least this would allow tenants from any location in town to call for an inspection. The new proposed ordinance only applies to certain parts of town that have been designated as “blighted” such as downtown and surrounding areas.

Winchester, Portsmouth, Petersburg and almost every other town in Virginia has slums and substandard housing. Have they found a way to solve their problems? Answer: Not to my knowledge.

The concept of a new inspection ordinance to replace the one found illegal is almost worthless. The previous one did not change anything (when the old law was in effect) and a new will not change it this time.

Town Council: Show us some personal initiative and go out and research to see what other communities have done and find out if they were successful. Simply sitting in a chair and voting for a new ordinance when the old one was of no value will not fix the problem. Hopefully, someone is listening and willing to work to solve these issues.

John Costello

OPINION: Former military writer angered, sorrowed, by presidential lying to justify America’s part in the Vietnam war

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Like many others in Warren and neighboring counties, I’m avidly watching Ken Burns’ “Vietnam” series on the local public television channels. Avidly because I was a military writer in the Pacific through the 1960s, trained for combat correspondents’ duty in Vietnam if and when called, and watching now how Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, and Generals Westmoreland, Abrams and others consistently lied to we correspondents as the war progressed. The only difference between now and then, that cast of characters knew how to lie proficiently and effectively for more than a decade.

Following each night of “Vietnam” I have dwelt on my memories of the Vietnam war and become more and more angered by the senseless slaughter of 57,000 young American soldiers, including my best friend, Bill Barton of Pontotoc, Miss., a fellow Associated Press correspondent who was fatally wounded on the distant battlefield. Others of my profession also gave their lives…

Military writer Malcolm Barr Sr., is “imprisoned” in a bamboo enclosure while taking part in war games with the 25th Infantry Division in the Koolau Mountains of Hawaii in the mid-1960s.

As I watch this excellent series, my admiration and love for the guys in the military of that day increases, particularly those of the First Marine Brigade. This Hawaii-based group deployed to a place, South Vietnam, that I so desperately wanted to go.

However, while the Associated Press sent my journalist colleagues, including Bill Barton, to Saigon, they sent me in the opposite direction for duty as a Washington correspondent in the nation’s capital. Bill was bitterly opposed to the war; I, guardedly, was for it. I felt guilty when he died and have not thought about it much since. Until now. Watching Ken Burns’ series, I am angry, angry at how the American public was fooled for so many years at the cost of so many lives. In countless interviews I was fooled, carrying the propaganda, the lies, forward to the public. I’m not ashamed to say I was glad to be overlooked.

Barr also took part in war training with the U.S, Marine Corps First Marine Brigade. He was invited into the U.S. Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Association (USMCCA) about 1975.

I do not intend to belittle in any way my military friends’ service to their country during Vietnam, nor that of all the young men who are portrayed so gallantly in the scenes from the film series, but gaining more knowledge of the war through this series puts me increasingly on my colleague Barton’s side. At the time, his death to me was not warranted (“why my best friend?” was the question I asked myself) and now, as I watch the television series night after night, I begin to see the senselessness of it all. As a military reporter, and a frequent interviewer of McNamara, Westmoreland et al, I cannot believe how we in the media, and more Americans than we at the time realized, were taken in by our leaders in what fast became a losing battle.

I am sad as I write this. Repeating myself, I am relieved that the AP, in 1967, assigned me to Washington, D.C. rather that to Saigon. To my colleagues who are, with me, proud members of the U.S. Marine Corps Combat Correspondents’ Association, I say “Semper Fi” and may those they left behind continue to rest in peace.

Editor’s Note: The writer’s son, Malcolm Barr Jr., is a graduate of Randolph Macon Academy and an Iraq war veteran. The writer, Malcolm Barr Sr., is a veteran of the Royal Air Force.