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County advertises FY19 budget with 1-cent real estate tax increase

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The supervisors dealt with harsh financial realities in proposing a $107.8-million budget, requiring $76.2-million in local revenue. Photos/Roger Bianchini

Without dissent the Warren County Board of Supervisors authorized advertisement of its proposed $107.8-million Fiscal Year 2019 budget, including a one-cent Real Estate Tax increase and a 10-cent hike to the Machinery and Tool Tax.  The increases would raise the Real Estate tax rate to 66-cents per $100 of assessed value; and Machinery/Tool tax to $2.05.

As explained in more detail below, the combined tax increases will produce about $575,000 in additional revenue.  That coupled with $1.1-million in cuts and the use of nearly $2-million in General Fund reserves will balance a total budget proposal of $107,826,301, requiring $76,251,417 of local revenue.  The FY18 county budget was $105,626,234, requiring local revenue of $73,955,107.

The unanimous Tuesday, March 27 vote on a motion by Tom Sayre, seconded by Archie Fox, came despite an early budget process commitment by the supervisors to approve an FY19 budget with no tax increases after last year’s divisive 3-cent real estate hike.  However, as Royal Examiner reported in the wake of March 23 budget work session discussion a perfect storm of financial variables made that impossible while maintaining viable county operations.

Those variables included: employee health insurance rate increases of 12% to about 20% for public schools; a public school budget including wage hikes to keep teacher salaries competitive after a decade of floundering to do so; unanticipated increases in the Sheriff’s Office budget to accommodate additional school security personnel in the wake of the Florida and Maryland school shootings in the last six weeks; and a combination of revenue losses totaling about $1.6 million.

Primary in the negative revenue column was the double whammy of the loss of over $570,000 in tax revenue from the Dominion Power plant due to a pollution-mitigation equipment exemption ruling by the State Corporation Commission and the loss of over $1-million in State Composite Index (which judges a community’s ability to fund its public schools) revenue.  County Administrator Doug Stanley observed that the composite index rating that decreased State contributions to the county’s public schools included that $570,000 in Dominion tax revenue the County no longer receives.  It is a situation that will not be corrected until the next budget cycle.

“We would have been in good shape without the Composite Index and Dominion tax revenue losses,” board Chairman Tony Carter observed at the March 23 work session of that double lost-revenue hit.

During that work session the county administrator traced cuts to the budget totaling $1,123,468; as well as the use of nearly $2-million in General Fund Balance reserves to help balance the coming fiscal year budget.  Additional revenues from the tax increases total about $511,850 on the real estate side – $404,850 from each penny hike, plus another $107,000 in Real Estate tax-based fees, primarily to Dominion Power – and an estimated $63,000 from the Machinery & Tool tax increase.

The total FY19 Warren County budget is now $107,826,301.  That number is up about $1.7 million from an originally-projected $106,051,279. However, that $107.8-million number includes all revenue sources, state, federal and schools.  The total of local County General Fund revenue necessary to balance the budget is $76,251,417.  That is up just over $1.8 million from original estimates.  The final proposed local appropriation to the public school budget is $25,849,992, up $2,428,828 from an optimistically penciled-in flat projection from FY18.

See Related Story

School security costs explained

Above, Sheriff McEathron explains his SRO budget request at work session preceding March 27 board meeting; below, county supervisors and staff crunched the numbers toward a final FY19 budget proposal at a March 23 work session.

Prior to the March 27 meeting and budget advertisement vote, the supervisors met with Sheriff Daniel McEathron to discuss details of the numbers submitted to meet additional School Resource Officer (SRO) needs to beef up security at the county’s public schools.  The sheriff was absent from the March 23 work session at which Schools Superintendent Greg Drescher presented a request for another $326,905 in the sheriff’s office SRO budget to enhance school security.  That increase included $169,525 in personnel costs, $40,562 per new SRO deputy and $7,277 for increases to SRO administrative staff salaries.

The plan is to add four school resource officers so that each elementary school will now have a full-time SRO presence.  Currently there is one SRO assigned to each of the county’s two high schools and two middle schools, with one SRO circulating among the five elementary schools.

While North River Supervisor Dan Murray questioned the necessity that one of the SRO’s be a higher-ranking, and paid, lieutenant at the March 23 work session, he also observed, “I have been the most outspoken against a tax increase but to save the life of one child is worth it.”

And Murray and his colleagues appeared to accept Sheriff McEathron’s explanation on the necessity of adequate command staff – a lieutenant – to oversee the massive responsibility of providing security for nine schools, their students and staffs – “That’s huge, I know you’re responsible for the whole county, but that’s a lot,” the sheriff said of the SRO staff’s responsibilities.

The sheriff pointed out that he had reduced a captain’s position elsewhere in his department, and that a sergeant would be moved into the SRO lieutenant’s position, so that it was not an entire lieutenant’s salary that was being included in the SRO increase.  The SRO sergeant’s position already exists and that officer also serves as an on-site School Resource Officer.

Murray seemed amendable, if somewhat resigned, to the fact that as he said “like everywhere” the SRO department might be to his liking, a bit “top heavy”.

But with the specters of the Parkland, Florida and the St. Mary’s County, Maryland school shootings and fatalities over the past six weeks still looming large on everyone’s minds, the full SRO budget request of $692,997 appears to have survived the county chopping block.

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Local Government

Town Council’s goal setting session ends – Crooked Run West to Parking Meters – Part 6

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Town Manager Joe Waltz wraps uo the Goal Setting Work Session.

At the August 19th Front Royal Town Council work session, the Council had a list of seventeen items to discuss. The first seven goals have been covered in previous stories on the Royal Examiner.

In part 6 of our coverage, the rest of the list of seventeen goals were discussed. This include:

  • Crooked Run West
  • Code Enforcement
  • Route 522 Corridor Water Reliability/Redundancy Project
  • Project Budgets
  • Compensation Study (Year 3 implementation)
  • Old Town Hall
  • Property Maintenance
  • Workforce Housing
  • Valley Health PILOT
  • Parking Meters

Town Manager Joe Waltz leads the discussion.

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Town Council’s goal setting session continues – Health Insurance – Part 5

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Town Manager Joe Waltz leads the discussion on the Town’s Health Insurance.

At the August 19th Front Royal Town Council work session, the Council had a list of seventeen items to discuss. The first six goals have been covered in previous stories on the Royal Examiner.

In part 5 of our coverage, Goal item number 7 was discussed – Health Insurance.

Town Manager Joe Waltz leads the discussion.

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Town Council’s goal setting session continues – Happy Creek Area – Part 4

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Town Manager Joe Waltz leads the discussion. Photo and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

At the August 19th Front Royal Town Council work session, the Council had a list of seventeen items to discuss. The first five goals have been covered in previous stories on the Royal Examiner.

In part 4 of our coverage, Goal item number 6 was discussed – Happy Creek area development, infrastructure.

Council indicated staff is working to get development of the Happy Creek Road area moving forward. A primary goal is to qualify for a funding split with VDOT on area road infrastructure improvements. New road infrastructure improvements were designed over 20 years ago. That plan needs to be redesigned and reengineered in order to improve the Town’s ability to qualify for a VDOT funding split.

The road plans for the area are closely tied to the Front Royal Limited Partnership (FRLP) plans for a primarily residential development of some one thousand homes on about 750 acres of land on the town’s east side.

Staff informed council that a revised road plan needed to be created by October 30. It was also determined that a plan for roads in the nearby designated Urban Development Area and near the new Valley Health hospital project also be completed by October 30. Council also decided to reevaluate PND (Planned Neighborhood Development) /Subdivision ordinances.

“I’m not finger pointing the planning division, I want to find a happy medium between what the planning division and the town council wants,” Interim Mayor Tederick stated. A council consensus was to create a committee to address the issues with PND/subdivision ordinances by September 30. This committee will provide a report to the council by January 30, 2020.

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Town Council’s goal setting session continues – Pedestrian safety – Part 3

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Town Manager Joe Waltz leads the discuss on Pedestrian Safety.

At the August 19th Front Royal Town Council work session, the Council had a list of seventeen items to discuss. The first two were covered in this related story:

Town tackles priority issues over Melting Pot pizza at 4-hour work session – Part 1

In Part 2, the Council discussed Streets/Infrastructure improvements (paving, storm sewer, curb & gutter and sidewalks) and I & I, or Inflow and Infiltration, issues with its drainage system.

Town Council’s goal setting session continues – Infrastructure – Part 2

Now with Part 3, the Council discussed pedestrian safety.

Pedestrian Safety has been championed by Vice Mayor Bill Sealock this past year. The Town has taken steps to heighten public awareness and elevate common sense in conjunction with existing traffic laws to reduce the likelihood of more vehicular-foot traffic collisions.

Goal 5, Pedestrian safety:

The final high priority item was the ongoing issue of pedestrian safety on Town roads. South Street and North Shenandoah Avenue continue to be high-traffic areas of primary concern. It was noted that pedestrian-vehicle accidents have primarily occurred at dusk and dawn during the busiest traffic flow times of the day. It was noted that a 50/50 cost sharing request has been submitted to VDOT for improved lighting to combat the visibility issue.

Additional signage and improved pedestrian crossing markings are also planned. Educating pedestrians to utilizing marked crossings and alerting drivers to pedestrian right of way in these areas continues to be a crucial factor in heading off future vehicle-pedestrian collisions.

“I’d like this council to review the study and recommendations on getting more curb; it’s more complicated but I think it would help with increasing pedestrian safety,” Councilman Meza said.

Council determined to re-evaluate the South Street plan by September 30, and to develop a safety plan for Kerfoot Avenue near the soccer fields by September 29.

The Royal Examiner’s camera was there:

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EDA in Focus

EDA Reform Committee weighs options as information being assembled

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The EDA Reform Committee gets down to business – Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini. Video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

The committee grown out of the first full joint Town-County meeting to discuss the future of the Economic Development Authority held its first meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon, August 22, at the Front Royal Town Hall.

Among topics of discussion were:
– election of a chairman;

– the “Pros and Cons of limiting the EDA mission”;
– “Types of EDA Structures and Relationships in Virginia and Nationally”;
– “How to dissolve the EDA legally”;
– The “EDA filing bankruptcy”;
– And the advisability of separate County, EDA legal counsel.

The short answers were: Archie Fox; probably a good idea to focus on commercial and industrial recruitment and facilitating a positive environment for existing businesses; regional associations and independent ones; probably cannot be done within the existing financial situation but long run make EDA employees County staff; not enough info to determine an answer but probably not; and perhaps separate counsel as a short term trial in the wake of current County-EDA Attorney Dan Whitten’s pending departure for another job on September 13 with his assistant on maternity leave until mid October.

Soon-to-be-departed for other horizons County-EDA Attorney Dan Whitten, left, Committee Chair Archie Fox and new EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons listen to the noise from the other side of the table.

Some public skepticism greeted the announcement of the committee’s makeup of the Town Manager and County Administrator, County and Town Attorneys, EDA Executive Director and one representative of both the Front Royal Town Council and Warren County Board of Supervisors.

And while those two elected municipal officials and appointed administrative and legal staffers may be best positioned bureaucratically to develop a game plan to guide the EDA forward or not, it was their presence in their positions in recent years – save new EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons – as the EDA financial fraud scandal was allegedly developing under their collective noses that contributed to any public perception that a municipally-led committee might not be best qualified to reach a permanent solution to see past mistakes are not repeated.

Perhaps in reaction to such public skepticism, Interim Front Royal Mayor Matt Tederick told Royal Examiner in a recent video interview that he plans to suggest creation of a citizen committee to review the EDA Reform Committee findings.

Interested spectators included six of the seven EDA Board of Directors, from left in back row are Greg Harold and Ed Daley, and in front of them from left, Tom Patteson, Jorie Martin, Jeff Browne and Gray Blanton – only Mark Baker was absent.

But judge for yourself – watch the committee, whose name newest EDA Board member Jorie Martin suggested at Friday morning’s monthly EDA meeting be considered for a change, get their feet wet in establishing what went wrong in the past and how such mistakes can avoid being repeated in the future as the EDA board and staff move to right the ship of community economic development in this Royal Examiner video (And Jorie, we have a name suggestion not so reminiscent of “Reform School” – how about The EDA Steering Committee? After all, they are steering toward a plan of action.)

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Town Council’s goal setting session continues – Infrastructure – Part 2

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Town Manager Joe Waltz continues the goal setting work session with streets, infrastructure and I&I issues. Photo and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

The Town Council continued the goal setting session with the next two items.

Goal 3 – Streets infrastructure improvements:

The council next addressed its road infrastructure, putting it high on its budget priority list. “We need to address the infrastructure, it’s a real problem here, as it’s falling apart in my area. The budget will not sustain a project to fix our streets at this time, we need another source of financing,” Councilman Tewalt told his colleagues.

Several councilmen suggested a bond issue or loan might be required to take on this problem.

There were several particular problem roads discussed such as the Bridge on Prospect Street, as well as traffic lights on North Shenandoah, which are in need of repair. Eventually an infrastructure plan with cost estimates was proposed to catalog all the roads and bridges that need repairs. Council will seek fund alternatives to help with cost estimates given that the projected budget can’t withstand the number of repairs needed. A project plan is scheduled for submission and approval by September 30.

Goal 4 – I&I issues:

The Council then addressed I & I, or Inflow and Infiltration, issues with its drainage system. Due to heavy rainfall, the council had a meeting with DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) and have been under a State Consent Order on upgrades since 2009. Consequently a new meeting is scheduled to rewrite the order because of existing violations. Apparently plans of action are already in effect and the staff estimate is about $3 million dollars to come into compliance with mandated upgrades to control stormwater runoff.

The unusually high amount of rain last year was pointed to as the cause of the overflow issues and consequent Consent Order water treatment violations. Flow tests will be conducted in the spring of 2020 to see if the repairs and upgrades have worked and brought the I&I system up to code. However, these repairs are on town owned properties, but involve customer owned pipes that have not yet been repaired. Council has designed a plan for long term repairs and upgrades to the customer-owned pipes. This plan is scheduled to be contracted by December 31 of this year.

So now we’ve covered four out of seventeen – Part Three will be Pedestrian Safety.

Pedestrian Safety has been championed by Vice Mayor Bill Sealock this past year. The Town has taken steps to heighten public awareness and elevate common sense in conjunction with existing traffic laws to reduce the likelihood of more vehicular-foot traffic collisions.

The Royal Examiner’s camera was there:

Town tackles priority issues over Melting Pot pizza at 4-hour work session – Part 1

Front Royal grapples with pedestrian safety in wake of two fatalities

One day after traffic safety discussion, another pedestrian struck in town

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Upcoming Events

Aug
27
Tue
1:30 pm Botanicals in Watercolor I @ Art in the Valley
Botanicals in Watercolor I @ Art in the Valley
Aug 27 @ 1:30 pm – 4:00 pm
Botanicals in Watercolor I @ Art in the Valley
This four week course with the instructor, Elena Maza, will deal with the basic three-primary color palette, different pigments and how they interact, how to mix all colors from three primary colors, how to apply[...]
Aug
29
Thu
1:00 pm Substance Abuse and Recovery Summit @ Mountain Home Bed and Breakfast
Substance Abuse and Recovery Summit @ Mountain Home Bed and Breakfast
Aug 29 @ 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Substance Abuse and Recovery Summit @ Mountain Home Bed and Breakfast
The McShin Foundation and RSW (Rappahannock, Shenandoah, and Warren County) Regional Jail would like to invite you to our substance abuse and recovery summit to be held on August 29, 2019, in Front Royal, Virginia.[...]
Aug
31
Sat
1:00 pm DJ Skyhigh’s End of Summer Blast @ Warren County Fair
DJ Skyhigh’s End of Summer Blast @ Warren County Fair
Aug 31 @ 1:00 pm – 9:00 pm
DJ Skyhigh's End of Summer Blast @ Warren County Fair
Come join DJ Skyhigh for his end of summer blast. Lisa Bell will be hosting wine tastings (at an additional charge) of over 50 international wines. Wines may also be purchased by the bottle to[...]
Sep
3
Tue
1:30 pm Watercolor Landscapes @ Art in the Valley
Watercolor Landscapes @ Art in the Valley
Sep 3 @ 1:30 pm – 4:30 pm
Watercolor Landscapes @ Art in the Valley
This four week course with instructor Elena Maza will focus on learning basic skills to create watercolor landscape paintings: basic composition and use of color and value to create a sense of depth and distance.[...]
Sep
4
Wed
1:30 pm Botanical Drawing @ Art in the Valley
Botanical Drawing @ Art in the Valley
Sep 4 @ 1:30 pm – 4:30 pm
Botanical Drawing @ Art in the Valley
Learn and practice the art of botanical drawing in pencil with local artist and instructor Elena Maza. This four session course will focus on learning basic drawing skills as applied to botanicals: basic line drawings[...]
Sep
7
Sat
10:00 am SHS Marching Band Mattress Fundr... @ Skyline High School
SHS Marching Band Mattress Fundr... @ Skyline High School
Sep 7 @ 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
SHS Marching Band Mattress Fundraiser @ Skyline High School
Skyline High School Marching Band is having a mattress sale fundraiser on Saturday, September 7, 2019, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Skyline High School (151 Skyline Vista Drive, Front Royal, Virginia). There will[...]
12:00 pm 2019 NFL Kick Off Party @ Sly Fox Golf Club
2019 NFL Kick Off Party @ Sly Fox Golf Club
Sep 7 @ 12:00 pm – 8:00 pm
2019 NFL Kick Off Party @ Sly Fox Golf Club
Golf – “Captains Choice Format” 12pm Shotgun “Tail Gate” Food and Drinks – 5pm to 8pm Golf + Food & Drinks $45 Tail Gate Food & Drinks Only $15
1:00 pm Strokes of Creativity: 1-year ce... @ Strokes of Creativity
Strokes of Creativity: 1-year ce... @ Strokes of Creativity
Sep 7 @ 1:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Strokes of Creativity: 1-year celebration @ Strokes of Creativity
Join us for our 1-year celebration on Sept. 7 from 1-6 pm. We will have demos, and Artist meet and greets. Unique and one of kind items, face painting, crafts and Chase from Paw Patrol will[...]
6:00 pm FRUMC Celebrates Homecoming @ Front Royal United Methodist Church
FRUMC Celebrates Homecoming @ Front Royal United Methodist Church
Sep 7 @ 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
FRUMC Celebrates Homecoming @ Front Royal United Methodist Church
In tandem with the 110th anniversary of the church building, the Front Royal United Methodist Church will host Homecoming ceremonies on Saturday and Sunday, September 7th and 8th. Five previous pastors have agreed to return[...]
Sep
10
Tue
1:30 pm Watercolor Landscapes @ Art in the Valley
Watercolor Landscapes @ Art in the Valley
Sep 10 @ 1:30 pm – 4:30 pm
Watercolor Landscapes @ Art in the Valley
This four week course with instructor Elena Maza will focus on learning basic skills to create watercolor landscape paintings: basic composition and use of color and value to create a sense of depth and distance.[...]