It was a spirited, informative and occasionally contentious Front Royal Town Council Work Session Monday evening, November 4, at Town Hall.
The work session opened with a presentation by new recycling contractor Republic Services clarifying some do’s and don’ts of the Town’s new single stream recycling contract – the uptake being that following some basic guidelines it may not be as complicated a transition to the new system as it initially seemed.
Prior to adjournment to Closed Session to conduct an exit interview with departing Town Manager Joe Waltz whose final day here is Friday, the work session concluded with Councilman Gene Tewalt revisiting issues he has with the negotiating process on the contract that will install Interim Mayor Matt Tederick as Interim Town Manager succeeding Waltz for as long as six months.
As discussion turned to the inclusion of a tax shelter arrangement allowing Tederick to transfer his contract to an unnamed LLC under his control, Tederick observed, “I can’t be part of this conversation,” handing the meeting chair over to Vice Mayor Bill Sealock.
Tewalt again noted that he had not seen a draft of the contract prior to a vote on its approval. That led Councilman Jacob Meza, who was apparently more directly involved in the contract negotiation, to state that there had been copies on the table prior to the contract’s approval, which came as news to Tewalt.
“Why are we paying an LLC?” Tewalt pressed of the LLC transfer option Tederick previously told Royal Examiner could save him as much as $7,000 in tax payments.
“Why, do you think it’s illegal?” Meza asked.
Tewalt replied that it had an appearance of illegality.
Sealock said that when he inquired about the LLC option the Town Attorney didn’t have an issue with it, so he had voted to approve the contract as presented.
However asked about his involvement in development of the contract, Napier restated what he previously told Royal Examiner – “I do not give tax or business advice” but adding that the LLC/tax arrangement did not substantially change the nature of the contract as it applies to the interim town manager’s duties and responsibilities in overseeing the administration of the Town governmental apparatus.
Councilman Chris Holloway then observed that during earlier closed session discussion Tewalt had thrown his hat into the ring as a potential candidate for the interim town manager’s job. Tewalt, a past director of the Town Public Works Department, later confirmed that he had offered his services in the interim town manager’s role before realizing the Town Charter prohibition on council members being appointed to Town staff positions for a year after their service on council would prevent it.
Tederick offered that by not having tax deductions or benefits written into his contract he was saving the Town about $4,000 a month on his contract arrangement and called the tax/LLC aspect of the contract a “red herring”.
But when Tewalt observed the whole contract process reminded him of the EDA situation, Tederick reacted by calling the comment “out of order”.
Between that meeting-ending drama and the opening recycling explanation, council also revisited the Crooked Run West central water-sewer request and potential impacts on the Town’s water policy in the Route 522/340 North Commercial Corridor; adoption of a “Spot Blight Abatement Ordinance” mirroring one in place in both Leesburg and Loudoun County that would give the Town authority to finally begin a legally-established method of forcing property owners’ to correct problems with structures cited as a danger to public safety, health and welfare; and pedestrian safety improvements on Kerfoot Avenue in the vicinity of the youth soccer fields and skatepark.
More on these Council discussions in upcoming Royal Examiner stories; however, spoiler alert on the Crooked Run West request for Town central water-sewer – a clear council majority indicated no interest in extending that central utility to facilitate primarily residential development at Crooked Run West. A vote on the request was scheduled for the upcoming council meeting. We’ll see how that clear, stated majority holds up over the next week …
Watch all of those work session discussions and presentations in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:
Council poised for decision on CDBG pavilion project despite added costs
After technical difficulties with the remote hook up of Gallagher representative, Cheri Herschman knocked the employee insurance plan presentation off the top of the Monday virtual work session agenda list, the Front Royal Town Council heard from Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick on issues with the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program’s revitalization of Front Royal’s Historic Downtown Business District.
“Needless to say, we’ve had some challenges with the CDBG in general, and now with the Coronavirus hitting our community it’s been even more of a challenge,” Tederick told the council to begin the March 30th work session discussion.
Among those challenges needing to be addressed almost immediately, Tederick explained were approval of amendments to bylaws to address personnel changes in the Façade Advisory Board and acknowledgment of the decision to move to the “materials only” option on financing downtown business façade improvements due to unexpectedly high bids on work and materials through the federal-state grant process.
“Several members got off the board; we have to add new members to the board,” Tederick said of the necessity of bylaw updates regarding program staffing.
As the agenda packet noted, those several “members who got off the board” included two, former Town Planning and Zoning Director Jeremy Camp and Tourism and Community Development Director Felicia Hart, whom Tederick terminated as part of his January 27 municipal downsizing initiative tied to his FY-2021 budget proposal. Also on the list was former Town Manager Joe Waltz, whom many observers of Town Hall believe resigned several months earlier to avoid being asked to implement then-Interim Mayor Tederick’s staff and departmental cutback plan.
The bylaw amendment would acknowledge Tederick’s replacement of Waltz as the program’s Grant Administrator, Director of Finance B. J. Wilson’s stepping into Hart’s role as “Assistant Project Manager” and the addition of Interim Planning-Zoning Director Chris Brock as “Project Manager”.
To build or not to build
Also on the table for movement toward quick council action, as in its first meeting of April, was a decision on whether or not to proceed with construction of the new Village Commons-Gazebo area Pavilion building aspect of the CDBG plan. Staff noted in the agenda packet that project estimates have added $143,349 to the $140,000 the Town has available for that major new downtown revitalization construction project now estimated at a total cost of $283,349.
Staff’s recommendation should the council decide to proceed with this new construction aspect of the CDBG program, which was to request a CDBG budget amendment that would allow a 50/50 Town-CDBG Program split of the additional costs.
“We just need to get some guidance from council whether to continue down the path of staff trying to find the $75,000 dollars – in the packet we have various line items that I’ve been able to identify in the current budget in order to fund the $75,000 dollars. So, I just need to know … if that’s what you want to do,” Tederick told the council.
The line items Tederick identified to raise the Town’s half of the needed additional revenue should the State Grant administrators agree to the budget amendment for the project, came from departmental budgets whose staffs were impacted by Tederick’s late January terminations. They include a total of $39,079 from the Community Development Department; $25,000 from former Council Clerk Jennifer Berry’s budget; and $10,921 from the remaining staff salary allotment for the Horticulture Department.
First, Councilman Jacob Meza questioned whether the Town could commit the money to this project while so many revenues and timeframe on business closing variables from the COVID-19 pandemic emergency response remain unknown.
“We’re still kind of structuring our budget for next year. But I still think there might be decisions to be made on the dollars that’ll be spent out of our budget considering the financial impact that we’re going to sustain with the all the preparation and the work keeping the COVID-19 down,” Meza said, adding, “All I’m saying is I think I’m okay with tonight deciding that we’re going to put the $75,000 in the budget with the line items that you’ve put in our packet that went out. But I’m still not a hundred percent sure that some things will be financially feasible depending on the financial impact of the COVID – does that make sense?”
While replying that he understood Meza’s concerns, Tederick noted that the line item funds he had identified were out of the existing budget, not next year’s where the Town will see the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and response on Town revenue streams and expenditures. The interim town manager pointed out staff needed a direction from council in the short term on whether they wanted to pursue a major aspect of the CDBG project in this budget year, or leave it to an uncertain budget-year future.
“So, you’re saying take it out of this year’s budget, but I thought we originally talked about having to set aside additional funds because the cost overage was unexpected, and you’re saying not take it out of the next year’s budget,” Meza replied.
Tederick reiterated that the additional $75,000 he had identified to try and move the pavilion project forward with a requested CDBG budget amendment was, indeed, out of the Town’s current FY-2020 budget.
Noting that due to project changes some funds committed to the façade aspect of the downtown revitalization project might end up coming available to other CDBG projects like the pavilion, Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock suggested council seize the moment if funding was now available, rather than wait facing an uncertain budgetary future.
“So, I’m thinking looking forward instead of looking backward with this epidemic or pandemic, that we need to think about going forward in a positive manner,” Sealock told his colleagues.
Tederick then told council he did not feel there was great time pressure, and that the matter could be forwarded to another work session “to give you time to process … and have another round of discussion on whether to move forward or not”.
However, Finance Director B. J. Wilson noted that the building contractor on the project had been holding the price now on the table for some time. He pointed out that work session discussion of the matter had been on council’s schedule several weeks earlier; and that it was currently an unknown how much longer the price estimate at the root of the March 30 discussion might hold in what has been a builder’s market.
After the mayor polled a somewhat nervous council, a majority consensus was established to move the matter forward for a decision at the council’s next meeting.
Hear, if not see, council and staff’s discussion in the linked Royal Examiner audio recording:
Warren County Parks and Recreation facilities closed
From the Warren County Office of Emergency Management:
Warren County is taking additional precautionary measures to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the community. Among these is restricting the use of Warren County’s parks to trails and outdoor spaces only. The Front Royal Golf Club is also open to the general public.
During the use of these areas, individuals must, at all times, maintain social distancing as described in the Governor’s Executive Order 55 (Temporary Stay At Home Order Due To Novel Coronavirus – COVID-19).
Effective immediately, all Warren County parks restrooms, playgrounds, and picnic shelters will be closed to the general public. The Warren County Parks and Recreation community center, indoor and outdoor recreation facilities remain closed. Registration for classes and events is temporarily disabled on our website. Events and organized activities are canceled; this includes use by sports leagues. Equipment rental is not available at this time. The Warren County Parks and Recreation Department offices remain open (but closed to the public) to field your related questions via phone at 540-635-7750 or 540-635-1021 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a rapidly changing situation, and the most current information is available on the following websites: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus or www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/. Please consult www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus for the latest number of COVID-19 cases in Virginia.
Additionally, you can find local information on the Warren County COVID-19 website: https://www.warrencountyva.net/coronavirus-latest-information, the County of Warren, VA Facebook page, or the Town of Front Royal COVID-19 website: https://www.frontroyalva.com/645/Covid-19-Local-Response.
What are you looking for in the next Town Manager for Front Royal?
Baker Tilly, a leading local government executive search and advisory firm, is managing the search process for the next Town Manager for Front Royal, Virginia. The position is critical to the functioning of Town operations and the successful candidate will be responsible, under the guidance of the Mayor and the direction of Town Council, to manage Town operations as they collectively endeavor to enhance the quality of life for current and future residents of the Town. The application portal for those interested in applying can be found here, where a brochure is posted describing the organization, the position responsibilities and the leadership opportunities presented by the post. The brochure also describes the desired capabilities, qualifications and experience sought by Town Council for the job.
Additionally, the Town seeks any input that community stakeholders wish to contribute on the experience, management and leadership qualities they would like to see in the Front Royal’s next Town Manager, along with any other issues they may feel are relevant to the selection process. A survey to gather this input has been established online. Citizens and other stakeholders are encouraged by Council to respond to the survey by April 17th, 2020. Results will be tabulated and returned to the Town in order that it be available for candidate screening and selection. When published and returned to the Town, the survey report will be made available by the Town.
The link to the survey will be posted on the Town’s web page. The Mayor and Council encourage as many as possible to respond so that their perspectives may be registered.
For more information, please contact:
Town will waive card-payment fees thru June, undecided on long-term options
Life in municipal government COVID-19 pandemic virtual world continued Monday evening, March 30, as the Front Royal Town Council “gathered” by remote computer hook up for work session discussion of several matters.
Near the meeting’s end, Interim Town Manager and Town Director of pandemic Emergency Management Matt Tederick noted a third confirmed case of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease-2019) in Warren County. He also was joined by the mayor and council in thanking staff for helping the town government traverse the unfamiliar territory of continuing to provide services under state-recommended restrictions on public interactions. Those restrictions have led to the locking of municipal building doors to the public, funneling most citizen-government interactions to online, phone or drive-thru options.
Consequently, one of the four topics of conversation Monday was a lifting of the 2.35% fee on payment of Town utility or other fees by credit or debit card. After a somewhat laborious discussion of contractor “technical interface” issues not allowing direct withdrawals from customer bank accounts, which would bypass the need for the plastic money fee on utility account payments, the council agreed to waive the fee for the three-month balance of this fiscal year.
Since the issue is tied to an upswing in credit or debit card payments tied to the restrictions on public interactions and municipal building closures due to the COVID-19 emergency response, Town Attorney Doug Napier told the mayor and council that they simply had to authorize Tederick to move forward on waiving the card-payment fees as part of his duties as the Town’s COVID-19 Director of Emergency Management.
Staff is estimating a $60,000 revenue shortfall over the three-month period, twice the current average of $10,000 monthly in plastic transaction fees. The staff summary noted that the shortfall could possibly be offset by a “reduction of expenditures identified by staff and/or usage of the reserve fund balance.”
It was noted that one of the Town Finance Department’s drive-thru windows remains open for business at the rear of Town Hall, as an option on cash or check payments. And Councilwoman Lori Cockrell wondered if many citizens were aware of the option to set up automatic payments from their bank accounts.
Prior to the consensus to allow Tederick as director of emergency management to move forward with the fee waiver, Councilwoman Thompson worried over the suggestion that Town utility fees be raised in the coming fiscal year as another means of offsetting the revenue shortfall. That led to a discussion in which Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson expressed the opinion that the lost fees, as an “operating expense” of the Town, could not be covered by the use of fund balance reserves.
“We can’t go into reserves to cover an operating expense. So, we’d have to either reduce our expenses or raise our revenues to cover this. But we cannot dip into the reserves,” Wilson told the council.
“That doesn’t make any sense, credit card fees is an operating expense, isn’t it?” Councilman Jacob Meza offered in response.
“Yes, it’s an operating expense, so we have to cover it with our revenues,” Wilson repeated.
Queried further, Wilson explained that in the short term if the funds were not available from the utility departments’ revenues, reserves might have to be used to temporarily plug the gap.
“Well, let there be a shortfall, and cover it with the reserves,” Meza suggested, drawing some laughter from council.
However, the finance director observed such a path could lead the Town into eventual trouble with state financial authorities.
“Obviously that would have to be an option for our current year if it comes down to it. But moving forward … our (utility) revenues are supposed to cover our (utility) operating expenses. And if we continually have a shortfall it could get us into a little trouble with the APA,” Wilson told the council’s cut, spend and reduce majority.
Queried later, Wilson explained “APA” stands for Auditor of Public Accounts, a State financial department that tracks municipal budgetary submissions for irregularities.
As the discussion progressed, Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock observed that in the short term the Town could cover the cost of the card fee waiver, but that long-term revenue/expenditure issues in the face of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic response would have to be dealt with in the coming FY-2021 budget starting July 1.
“We can absorb $60k in our reserve. Of course, I also want to talk about saving any dollars in the 2019-2020 (budget) then move on to our new budget, because we’re going to see some significant shortfalls. So, I’m wondering why we’re spending so much time on this thing that you can’t resolve tonight. And why we’re not moving on … I hear everybody say they’re for it for the 90 days. So, we’re not going to resolve anything else about whether it comes out of reserves or we’re rescheduling some work,” Sealock told his colleagues.
“We can discuss this all night and we’re still not going to get anywhere,” Mayor Gene Tewalt concurred, moving council toward its instruction to Tederick to enact the card payment fee waiver as part of his role as director of emergency management for the Town.
In lieu of videotaping a black computer screen with informational boxes popping up here and there, Royal Examiner audio-taped the work session for the later perusal of citizens not linked in to listen live.
In this linked audio recording, hear the above discussion, as well as council and staff’s visiting of how the pandemic response may impact the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding and plans for downtown façade and other improvements; a planned switch of the Town’s employees’ insurance package that would raise the deductible option from $250 to $500, but will not be enacted until FY-2022 after the changes have been fully explained to staff; and evolving budget variables in the current pandemic “non-essential” business closures environment as council moves forward with its locked-in half-cent real estate tax decrease in place for FY-2021.
Here’s the audio from the March 30 Work Session:
‘Don’t get excited’ – but don’t be complacent: Town, County join forces with citizens to stave off COVID-19 threat
At 4 p.m. Thursday afternoon County and Town representatives on the COVID-19 Coronavirus Emergency Management team held a status-report briefing on what they are doing and are preparing to do as the nation, state and community move into the third month of the worldwide pandemic’s arrival on U.S. shores.
And on the heels of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) in Warren County, that message was stay calm, use common sense in maintaining recommended social distancing and cleanliness, reference reliable municipal and other governmental and health agency websites for updated information, while taking social media pronouncements with a cautionary grain of salt – but if you develop respiratory, cold or flu symptoms during the pandemic emergency reach out to your primary care physician or the public health establishment for assistance.
Another important message was that despite social distancing restrictions on direct public access to the Front Royal Town Hall and Warren County Government Center, your town and county government services are there for you by alternate means, including phone and online contacts.
“Don’t get that excited – make sure you follow the rules that are sent over by the governor; make sure you follow those set forth by the County, as well as the Town of Front Royal … the only way we can stop the spread of this virus is to stay away from one another, stay away from places where you come into contact with people. And hopefully, by doing these things that we’ve been asked to do, we can cut down on the cases here in Front Royal and Warren County,” Mayor Eugene Tewalt said in opening the briefing.
Picking up on the theme of the importance of public cooperation in Warren County and Front Royal’s collective response, County Board Chairman Walter Mabe added, “I can only tell you that our county can only be as prepared as its citizenry is prepared. We are going through a crisis that probably nobody in this county has been through before. There are things happening every day and the situation is evolving every day. And being able to make it better, we have to listen to the folks that are trying to give you the information that is going to make it better for you.”
It was noted that even for those younger, healthier and less susceptible to serious symptoms from COVID-19, stopping the spread locally, as well as statewide or nationally, can be crucial to the more vulnerable citizens age and health-wise, including those you or someone you know, loves.
Mabe also noted that contrary to public statements from some optimists, “There is no currently approved vaccine, there’s no magic pill to make this thing go away – it’s all going to be up to the citizenry.”
In addition to the mayor and board of supervisors chairman, included in the COVID-19 Emergency Management briefing on the first of weekly Thursday briefings for the duration of the threat from the newest Coronavirus first identified in the Hunan Province of China three months ago, were County Emergency Services Chief Richard Mabie, County COVID-19 Emergency Manager Rick Farrall, Sheriff Mark Butler, Town Police Chief Kahle Magalis, County Administrator Doug Stanley, Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick and County Commonwealth Attorney John Bell.
The latter addressed legal aspects of enforcement of directives from the state government as to public behavior: Education; formal warnings on public behavioral directives; issuing of misdemeanor citations that could carry up to $2500 fines and a year in jail in worst-case scenarios; before arrests are contemplated for refusal to follow legally binding governmental directives, is the planned order of law enforcement response, Bell said. He added that an overstepping of police or governmental authority was not the goal, rather public safety and common-sense compliance to safeguard this community’s population, especially its most vulnerable citizens was.
A special nod was given by several present as to the degree of cooperation that has developed between the County and Town sides of the joint emergency declarations, particularly in the emergency services and law enforcement sectors.
“Yes, the Coronavirus pandemic is unusual – it’s unusual in the duration that we’re potentially facing. But I want the public to know that your community leadership is prepared to meet this head on,” County Administrator Stanley said, referencing annual emergency training sessions involving multiple agencies. “We will be ready for what we can do to arrest the impact on our community.”
Stanley continued to note the role that non-profit and other organizations aimed at public sector assistance can play.
County Board Chair Mabe pointed to the county public school system’s free lunch distribution program that has continued beyond the school closings. Starting out at feeding 61 students out of meals prepared at E/ Wilson Morrison at the outset of the pandemic emergency management school closings, Mabe noted that number had steadily climbed to 125, 250 and over 350.
However, that is just the start, Mabe noted, as the public-school administration is prepared to utilize it school bus system to distribute a thousand and eventually 2500 or more free lunches out to its K-12 student base.
“We have a lot of experience in this room,” Mayor Tewalt observed later, adding, “as mayor I want to encourage the public in Front Royal, especially our citizens, to listen to what’s been said here this evening. It’s important that you pay attention to these things. And if you pay attention to these things it may not be near as bad as we may think it’s going to get.”
Watch the entire COVID-19 Emergency Management briefing in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:
Mayor gives emergency response update
Town of Front Royal Mayor Eugene Tewalt stopped by Royal Examiner’s studio and provided us with an update report on the emergency response process underway.
Watch this exclusive Royal Examiner video and get the latest update information:
The Mayor also shared this release with us:
As a community, we have entered uncharted territory that is changing rapidly due to the COVID-19 virus. Both the Town and County governments have been meeting daily to discuss the myriad issues pertaining to the COVID-19 virus and our community. Yesterday, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued an executive order that goes into effect at midnight tonight that closes or modifies the operation of businesses not considered “essential”. This order seeks to contain, control, and prevent infections and unnecessary risks to our citizens.
The Front Royal Police Department, Warren County Sheriff’s Office, Town of Front Royal and County of Warren governments, Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney, Warren County Fire & Rescue, Emergency Management, and Valley Health have been working tirelessly to keep our citizens as safe as possible. Our community must adhere to the restrictions put in place to help with this process. The Governor’s emergency powers are derived from VA code 44-146.15. The Governor’s Executive Order Number Fifty-Three (Executive Order #53) describes in detail businesses considered essential, non-essential, or otherwise exempt to closing with restrictions. Gatherings of more than ten people are prohibited rather than simply discouraged. The Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney, Warren County Sheriff’s Office, and Front Royal Police Department have coordinated on this issue. We intend to enforce this order through warnings, education, and collaboration with our business partners to comply; however, non-compliance could result in a summons for a Class 1 misdemeanor.
We are calling on all of our friends and neighbors in the Town of Front Royal and Warren County to do their part in this fight. Ask yourself if you have an absolute need to run that errand or leave your safe space or if you want to leave because you are tired of being cooped up. Each time you encounter someone, you run the risk of becoming infected.
In the best interest of our community, we urge you to adhere to Governor Ralph Northam’s most recent executive order. We are collaborating with our local businesses and civic groups to help those that are at high risk or may not have the resources to get essential products or services. We are streamlining this coordinated effort to keep unnecessary risk to a minimum.
We thank you as a community for doing your part to protect our local medical staff, first responders, grocery and pharmacy personnel, and keeping other essential employees healthy and safe to ensure our community service providers remain fully staffed.