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Fire Pit Fridays

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When:
April 3, 2020 @ 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
2020-04-03T18:00:00-04:00
2020-04-03T21:00:00-04:00
Where:
Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
134 Golf Club Circle | Front Royal VA 22630
Contact:
Rhonda Sayen
540-635-3588

Local Government

Mayor, council debate rationale for lower water-sewer tap fees to developers

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When:
April 3, 2020 @ 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
2020-04-03T18:00:00-04:00
2020-04-03T21:00:00-04:00
Where:
Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
134 Golf Club Circle | Front Royal VA 22630
Contact:
Rhonda Sayen
540-635-3588

As noted in our lead story on the Front Royal Town Council’s Tuesday, May 26 meeting, public hearings on two ordinance amendment proposals drew some discussion prior to a vote.

The first of those two was an altered motion on water and sewer rates and lowering tap fees for new development into the Town’s central water-sewer utilities. Mayor Eugene Tewalt temporarily gave up the meeting’s presiding officer role to Vice-Mayor William Sealock so that he could add comments into the public hearing record.

The mayor then explained his understanding of development of the tap fee and water-sewer rate discussion in recent months leading up to the night’s vote.

Vice-Mayor Sealock took over the meeting gavel, so Mayor Tewalt could express his concerns during the public hearing on the evolution of the recommendation on new water-sewer rates and tap fees. Royal Examiner File Photos

“Six months ago or thereabouts, we decided that the Town would install the water and sewer taps at the Town’s expense, which when we found out in talking to the person who had been doing that, it was about an $8,000 cost that the contractor or developer was paying to that individual that was doing that,” Tewalt recounted, observing, “So when we took this over, that’s $4,000 dollars for water and $4,000 for sewer to that developer,” that the Town would appear to be absorbing facing the proposed tap fee decreases on the table.

Tewalt continued to cite numbers indicating that lost revenue it appeared to him Town citizens would eventually be absorbing in higher water-sewer rates to meet an apparent revenue shortfall.

“That would equal to $12,127 that the town taxpayers are going to have to absorb somewhere … in order to cover these costs,” Tewalt told council.

A check of the 34 pages of related ordinance material in the agenda indicated large, across the board reductions to the “system development fees” (formerly known as connection or “tap” fees) ranging from $21,938 down to $12,217 to connect a sewer line to a 1-inch water meter; and from $1,464,450 down to $1,294,967 to connect a sewer line to 12-inch water meter.

Also indicated was a slight monthly increase in the base residential sewer rate for under 3,000 gallons usage per month from $16.17 to $16.74 and above 3,000 gallons usage from $13.91 to $14.40 monthly. That increase apparently holds to the water-sewer rate study consultant Stantec’s recommendation of a 3.5% sewer rate hike to cover system costs. Tewalt also noted that council had decided to defer the recommended 2% water rate increase to the next fiscal year cycle (FY-2022).

That led the mayor to predict a likely 4% increase for citizen water rates next year, or more if the “tap fee” reductions were included with the Town’s continued responsibility to make those connections for developers.

Over six months of evolving discussion of the water-sewer rate study, initially face to face in Town Hall and eventually largely by remote hook up, some confusion has developed about how recommended new water-sewer rates and connection fees were arrived upon.

“And this just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me at this point,” the mayor concluded of having the Town perform the connections for developers at reduced rates to be absorbed by taxpayers. However, it would take a while to determine exactly what was on the table and how it was arrived at.

As Tewalt concluded, Vice-Mayor Sealock asked Acting Council Clerk Tina Pressley if any public comments had been submitted for the public hearing. There were none, Pressley responded. So, Sealock then closed the public hearing and handed the presiding officer’s gavel back to the mayor.

Tewalt then asked for a motion. Meza responded by reading the motion originally printed for the agenda. “I move that Council affirm on its first readying an ordinance amendment to Town Code Chapter 134 pertaining to the increase of sewer service rates and the decrease of water service rates and system development charges for both sanitary sewer service and water service, as presented.” It would later be necessary to re-read the motion, deleting the reference to a reduction in “the water service rates”.

Following Chris Holloway’s second and the mayor’s call for any further discussion, Meza said, “I have a couple clarifying comments that I’d like to try to understand.” He then referenced the several months of conversation about the tap fee rates, observing that eventually, “council started moving in a rapid direction, a rapid pace to reducing those fees …”

Meza indicated it was his understanding council was moving in the direction of consultant Stantec’s recommendations.

“So Mr. Tederick, did Stantec take into account the fact that we would be doing our own installation on the tap fees?” Meza queried the interim town manager.

That led to Tederick’s introduction by remote connection of Stantec representative Andrew Burnham. In introducing Burnham to the virtually-conducted meeting conversation, Tederick noted, “I would be very delicate in how I address your question,” perhaps addressing Meza, “because it might be best to have the answer in a closed session due to potential legal matters.”

However, the conversation and Burnham’s input continued in open session.

Tederick prefaced Burnham’s entrance to the conversation with some topic history: “In 2010 when the study was last done and the rates were set … the Town was conducting the connections. Since that time the Town stopped conducting the connections but continued to keep the rate at that higher rate. The rate that is being assessed today does not include the cost of material or labor, or the fact that the developer or the builder will have the ability to go out and put the connection in himself. So, in our opinion it’s very as Stantec presented it; it was just a very fair and transparent way of conducting business.”

Did it seem to be easier for council to communicate when they were all in a room together?

Meza said he respected the mayor’s concerns, but remained confused as to how council developed varying opinions on where the new rates should be set, adding, “And now it seems there’s concerns that its actually fallen short and we won’t be able to cover (our costs) and that will fall on our taxpayers. So, I guess my question to Stantec would be did we evaluate this appropriately to take into consideration all the additional costs, so that two years out we’re not going to have to artificially inflate our rates in order to be able to sustain the program?”

Enter the consultant

“The short and the quick answer to that is, it was taken into account,” Stantec’s Burnham said to enter the conversation. He then elaborated.

“Specifically, when we went through a presentation … it was a summary of our analysis that was done using the history of accepted methodologies in allocating costs. So, we wanted to make sure that your rates or the base charges and amounts of water used would cover your ongoing costs of operations and maintenance, renewal and replacement expenses.

“And that the system development charges (formerly known as connection/tap fees) would cover the initial cost of system capacity proportionally from all new connections; and that the cost of actually making the connection, the installation and the taps – those would be done separately based on actual costs for labor, materials to make the connection.”

Following some additional input by council, Tederick told Mayor Tewalt, “The Town under the new ordinance, will not be paying for the actual labor or materials. So, the labor and materials are being passed on to the builder, or the builder could decide to go out and provide his own connections. So, in no way is the town taxpayer paying for that.”

Tewalt responded that if that was the case, “I have no problems with this,” adding he thought Stantec had “done a great job”. However, the mayor re-expressed his concern that at some point in the evolution of the ordinance amendment discussion council had agreed that Town crews would be involved in future new development connections.

“My understanding was that council said we’d be doing the installation free of charge, without any cost to the contractor. If I’m wrong, then accept my apologies,” the mayor said after nearly 15 minutes of discussion with several expressions of confusion over how what was on the table had been arrived at.

Is it just me, or were meetings and work sessions more fun prior to the pandemic restrictions on social distancing? – Perhaps again soon, to some extent.

Vice-Mayor Sealock observed that he believed that a past failure by council to adjust the utility rates as costs to provide the service increased had created ongoing issues the Town as now trying to catch up with as the tap fee discussion continued.

“The rates not being changed over an extended period of time had a definite effect on the sewer charges. So, I want to bring that up – they’ve been running in a deficit for a long period of time,” Sealock noted.

After the clerk pointed out the motion wording change regarding removal of a reference to “decreased water service rates” Meza read the corrected motion, again seconded by Holloway. The motion then passed by a unanimous roll call vote.

The second and binding reading will occur at council’s next meeting in two weeks.

Hear the whole discussion, along with council’s other business conducted, in the linked Royal Examiner recording of Tuesday’s remotely conducted meeting:

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State News

Governor Northam announces Microsoft Corp. to create 1,500 new jobs in Fairfax County

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When:
April 3, 2020 @ 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
2020-04-03T18:00:00-04:00
2020-04-03T21:00:00-04:00
Where:
Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
134 Golf Club Circle | Front Royal VA 22630
Contact:
Rhonda Sayen
540-635-3588

~ Company will invest $64 million to establish software development and R&D regional hub ~

Governor Ralph Northam today, May 27, 2020,  announced that Microsoft Corp. will invest $64 million to establish a new software development and R&D regional hub, which will create 1,500 new jobs. The company will occupy 400,000 square feet in the Reston Town Center in Fairfax County for its new location, anticipated to be ready for employees in summer 2021. The plans include a new retail space for engaging directly with customers. Governor Northam met with Microsoft on an economic development mission at its headquarters in Washington in 2019.

“Virginia, like the rest of the nation, is facing unprecedented job loss due to COVID-19, so this announcement couldn’t come at a better time,” said Governor Northam. “Microsoft Corp. and Virginia share a strong history, and we are proud that this major operation in Fairfax County will add to the company’s significant job count across our Commonwealth. Virginia is a leader in the information technology industry, and Microsoft’s continued investment here is a testament to our top-ranked business climate, infrastructure, and world-class workforce.”

Microsoft has had a presence in Virginia since 2002, with corporate locations in Reston and the Richmond area as well as an enterprise data center in Mecklenburg County.

“Microsoft is a valued corporate partner, and we are excited to see the company expanding its footprint at its new software and R&D regional hub in Fairfax County,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “The creation of 1,500 new, well-paid jobs is obviously very welcome news during these economically challenging times. The demand for cloud services is steadily increasing, and Microsoft’s newest operation will serve its growing customer base while developing cutting-edge software and creating 21st-century tech jobs.”

Established in 1975 and headquartered in Redmond, Washington, Microsoft is a publicly held corporation with revenues surpassing $125 billion and nearly 156,000 employees worldwide. The company enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge.

“One of Microsoft’s core principles is actively listening to our customers, so we can build and improve our technology based on their feedback. Being close to our customer base is extremely important to our ongoing collaborations,” said Terrell Cox, general manager at Microsoft. “We’ve had a presence in Reston for many years now, and this expansion will allow Microsoft to deliver even more solutions from a region known for its innovation and passion for technology.”

The Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority and the General Assembly’s Major Employment and Investment (MEI) Project Approval Commission to secure the project for Virginia. Microsoft will be eligible to receive a MEI custom performance grant of $22.5 million, to be paid post-performance, subject to approval by the Virginia General Assembly. Microsoft plans to utilize the custom performance grant to fund partnerships with local colleges and universities to develop the tech talent pipeline for cloud computing and related degrees to support its local expansion.

“Microsoft can choose from any number of technology hubs for its operations, and we are so pleased that the company chose to expand its operations in Fairfax County and Northern Virginia,” said Victor Hoskins, President, and CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority. “Because of our wealth of technology talent and the tech ecosystem here, this area is a great match for the company’s talent needs as well as its business goals.”

“Reston is proud to welcome Microsoft’s expansion in our Town Center,” said Senator Janet Howell. “Microsoft Corp. has been an important corporate citizen for many years. The decision to grow here is yet more proof that our region is a major technology hub.”

“I am thrilled that Microsoft has chosen to locate this significant operation and create 1,500 new jobs in Fairfax County,” said Delegate Kenneth Plum. “The Commonwealth and the County have a longstanding relationship with Microsoft, and this operation will only strengthen it. We look forward to welcoming the software development and R&D regional hub to the Reston Town Center.”

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Local News

Town looks to expand, revisit success of weekend downtown ‘walking mall’

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When:
April 3, 2020 @ 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
2020-04-03T18:00:00-04:00
2020-04-03T21:00:00-04:00
Where:
Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
134 Golf Club Circle | Front Royal VA 22630
Contact:
Rhonda Sayen
540-635-3588

Early in its May 26th, post-Memorial Day, Tuesday evening meeting, the Front Royal Town Council got a glowingly positive report on the Memorial Day weekend downtown business re-opening event marked by the closure of a portion of East Main and Chester Streets to vehicular traffic.

Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick began the discussion by lauding the involvement of C&C Frozen Treats proprietor and Family Funday sponsor William Huck for his proactive involvement, including pulling the festival permit to allow the street closings.

C&C Frozen Treats William and Nina Huck, above, were acknowledged for their proactive involvement in making the Memorial Day weekend downtown reopening a big success. And below, East Main was blocked off all the way down to Blue Ridge Ave. at the Main St. Mill. Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

“I think it was a wild success, frankly,” Tederick told council, adding, “I’ve gotten numerous text messages and phone calls from folks, businesses, restaurants sold out of food on Monday. I think it was just a really good event – a lot of citizens seemed to appreciate it.”

Tederick then urged town businesses outside the Historic Downtown area to contact the town manager’s office if they had ideas for “creative outdoor planning” in their areas to help resurrect the local business community from two months of COVID-19 pandemic mandated public health safety shutdowns.

“We’re being as flexible as we legally can be and we’re following the code, we’re following the laws but we’re doing everything we can to assist our local businesses, restaurants, as well as brick and mortar businesses,” Tederick enthused in the wake of the Saturday through Memorial Day Monday downtown event.

See Royal Examiner’s two-pronged photographic report on Saturday’s opening and Monday’s stirring, if brief, Memorial Day event at the Courthouse grounds.

From Saturday, above, as Mountain Trails joins in the East Main St. fun – that tent-covered air mattress looks pretty comfortable; to Monday when Memorial Day ceremonies helped kick off the day’s celebration of sacrifice and our collective survival, Front Royal’s Phase One reopening launch was deemed a popular success.

Tederick then acknowledged an expected new executive order from Governor Ralph Northam’s office requiring the wearing of masks inside the re-opened business and government buildings. Virginia is in the process of moving from the Democratic governor’s Phase One reopening that kicked in Friday to Phase Two expected to launch June 10.

“My opinion, that’s going to come with a whole lot of cost, as well as preparation; and there’s going to be a whole lot of questions as well,” Front Royal’s interim town manager and longtime County Republican Committee officer and operative said, without elaboration on how those “lot of” costs and preparations would be generated from an anticipated mask-wearing order.

Noting his time downtown at about four hours on both Saturday and Monday, Mayor Gene Tewalt said, “The biggest question that I’ve been asked from people that ran their businesses is, are we going to keep doing this on a weekly basis. And I told them I wasn’t sure – that I’d get back with you and the council to see which way you guys want to handle this … It went very well, at least that’s what everybody told me and it was a great event.”

Mayor Tewalt and Interim Town Manage Tederick and families crossed paths while checking out the Saturday kickoff of Front Royal’s Memorial Day weekend pandemic business re-launch.

Gary Gillespie, Lori Cockrell, Chris Holloway, and Letasha Thompson added their positive reviews, and/or the positive reviews of those they had spoken to about the event as council pondered the potential of a regular weekend closing of a portion of the downtown business district to vehicular traffic to facilitate additional customer foot traffic in a walking mall-style downtown.

Vice Mayor Bill Sealock asked about the hours at the Finance Department’s Town Hall drive-thru payment window on Fridays, which would be blocked by the traditional closing of East Main at Royal Avenue. Told by Finance Director B. J. Wilson the window closed at 4:30 p.m., council pondered the possibility of adding Friday evenings to the walking mall concept beginning around 5 p.m.

Town Hall was decorated and wrapped up in a red, while & blue bow this Memorial Day weekend. What colors might it take on if weekend walking mall initiatives continue?

“If the consensus of the council is let’s do it again this weekend, I think the staff and I are prepared to launch if that’s something you’d like to see be done,” Tederick told the council.

Council’s comments appeared to indicate that the positive feedback wasn’t only from the restaurants the outdoor street seating the street closures were designed to help facilitate with social distancing regulations. So, if that feedback is, in fact, broad-based and ongoing, it appears the Town is poised to move forward with a continued weekend, late Friday afternoon to Sunday evening downtown closings. – Get ready to pull some more permits, Huck.

And that with a call out to businesses in other areas of town for some “creative outdoor planning” to jump on the marketing of Front Royal’s Phase One business reopening bandwagon. – But don’t forget your masks and social distancing safeguards as we are likely to have increased visitation from residents from more highly contaminated areas to our east and south.

Also, on Tuesday’s agenda were two items that drew some discussion on the first readings of the two required for final approval. One was an ordinance amendment lowering water and sewer tap-in fees to developers; the other on approval of financial appropriations for the Fiscal Year 2021 Town Budget.

See all these discussions and votes in the linked Royal Examiner virtual meeting recording; and more detail on the two ordinance amendment proposals in forthcoming Royal Examiner stories.

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Community Events

A successful Memorial Day commemoration ceremony held at the Winchester National Cemetery

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When:
April 3, 2020 @ 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
2020-04-03T18:00:00-04:00
2020-04-03T21:00:00-04:00
Where:
Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
134 Golf Club Circle | Front Royal VA 22630
Contact:
Rhonda Sayen
540-635-3588

Participating members of the Sons of the American Revolution from left to right: Chip Daniel, Clay Robinson, Dale Corey, Nathan Poe, Brett Osborn, Eric Robinson, Sean Carrigan, Marc Robinson and Paul Christensen.

On May 22, 2020, the National Cemetery in Winchester held a commemoration ceremony for Memorial Day. Participants included the Colonel James Wood II Chapter Virginia Society Sons of the American Revolution, the American Red Cross, VFW Chapter 2123, the Northern Shenandoah Valley Community Veterans Engageme Board, and Heroes on the River. The ceremony was held to honor Americans who died in the military service of their country. There were brief remarks, a moment of silence, the playing of taps and presentation of wreaths.

The history of Memorial Day is complex. The decoration of graves began during the Civil War. The first fallen soldier so honored was John Quincy Marr, the first soldier killed in action in the Civil War. He died June 1, 1861, at the Battle of Fairfax Courthouse. He was laid to rest in Warrenton, Virginia, on June 3.

Throughout the war and during the aftermath, graves were decorated at various locations. On May 5, 1868, General John Logan issued a proclamation calling for Decoration Day to be observed nationwide every year. He was the commander-in-chief of the Grand Old Army, an organization founded of and for Union Civil War Veterans in Decatur, Illinois. May 30 was the date selected for the decoration of Civil War graves. In 1868, ceremonies were held in 183 cemeteries in 27 states. In 1871, Michigan declared Decoration Day to be a state holiday, and by 1890, all the northern states had decreed Decoration Day a state holiday. After the end of World War I, the day had been expanded from recognition of Civil War Veterans only to honor all of our military who died in the service of the country.

Wreaths presented at the commemoration ceremony. Pictured from left to right are Ashley Moslak, Marc Robinson, Adam Packham and Ralph Hensley.

The term Memorial Day was first used in 1882 and gradually became more common. In 1967, Congress passed a law declaring the official name to be Memorial Day. The following year, they passed the Uniform Holiday Act which moved four holidays to Monday, creating a three day weekend for those celebrations. Memorial Day was to be the last Monday in May, and the law took effect in 1971.

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Food

A guide to picking berries

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When:
April 3, 2020 @ 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
2020-04-03T18:00:00-04:00
2020-04-03T21:00:00-04:00
Where:
Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
134 Golf Club Circle | Front Royal VA 22630
Contact:
Rhonda Sayen
540-635-3588

At this time of year, berries are abundant at grocery stores, markets, and farms. Here are some tips to help you pick the best ones in the bunch.

Blueberries
The skin of a perfectly ripe blueberry is dark blue or purple with no traces of red. The fruit should be firm and round without looking dried out. Large blueberries may be more attractive, but the smaller ones tend to have more flavor.

If you pick your own blueberries, place a bucket or container under the branch, and gently loosen the berries one by one with your fingers.

Strawberries
A fresh, ripe strawberry has a uniformly red hue, bright green leaves, and pale seeds. The fruit should be firm, so avoid ones that look wet or bruised.

To pick strawberries from a patch, cup the fruit in the palm of your hand and break the stem with the nails of your thumb and index finger.

Raspberries
A perfectly ripe raspberry should be bright red. It’ll be plump and feel almost velvety. If you purchase this fruit in a container, make sure the delicate berries at the bottom aren’t squished.

Ripe raspberries easily come off the plant when plucked. Look for the reddest fruit, hold it between your fingers and gently tug. Watch out for thorns on the branches.

Blackberries
A blackberry is ready to eat when it’s dark, glossy, and plump with no signs of red. Like raspberries, this fruit is delicate so check to see if all the berries in your container are intact.

You can pick blackberries the same way you do raspberries, just make sure to choose ones that have already started to soften.

Once you bring your berries home, you can enjoy them right away or set them aside for your favorite recipe.

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State News

Traffic crashes claim eight lives during 2020 Memorial Day weekend

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When:
April 3, 2020 @ 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
2020-04-03T18:00:00-04:00
2020-04-03T21:00:00-04:00
Where:
Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
134 Golf Club Circle | Front Royal VA 22630
Contact:
Rhonda Sayen
540-635-3588

The 2020 Memorial Day weekend not only netted a reduction in overall traffic volumes on Virginia’s highways, but also a decrease in traffic deaths. Preliminary reports indicate eight people lost their lives during the four-day, holiday statistical counting period. During the same statistical counting period in 2019 and 2018, traffic crashes on Virginia highways resulted in 11 deaths.

Of the eight individuals killed this year on Virginia highways, two were riding on motorcycles and one was a pedestrian. The statistical counting period began at 12:01 a.m. Friday (May 22) and ended at midnight Monday (May 25). Virginia State Police statewide responded to 480 total traffic crashes during this past holiday weekend.

The fatal crashes occurred in the city of Virginia Beach and the counties of Caroline, Montgomery, Pittsylvania, Prince William, Rockingham, Southampton and Sussex. The two fatal motorcycle crashes occurred in Pittsylvania and Rockingham counties. The pedestrian, who was pushing his bicycle when he was struck and killed, was in Sussex County.

“Even though we are thankful for the slight decrease in traffic fatalities over the Memorial Day weekend, eight deaths are still too many,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “It is also concerning to see reckless driving citations and DUI arrests practically on par with last year’s holiday weekend. Fewer drivers should have demonstrated a significant decline in the number of citations and traffic deaths. Sadly, that was not the case and too many motorists were putting too many lives at risk due to reckless choices and deadly driving behaviors.”

During the weekend’s statistical counting period, Virginia troopers statewide cited 2,489 reckless drivers and arrested 70 impaired drivers. During the 2019 Memorial Day weekend, state police cited 2,548 reckless drivers and arrested 75 drivers for DUI.

“Considering that traffic was much less than what we normally see on this particular holiday weekend, it is very concerning to have only reduced the death toll by three in comparison to the past two years,” said Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran. “As Virginia continues to gradually re-open through the Governor’s ‘Forward Virginia’ plan and more motorists return to the highways, it is imperative that Virginians make traffic safety a priority.”

The Virginia State Police holiday enforcement efforts are part of the Department’s annual participation in the Operation Crash Awareness and Reduction Effort (C.A.R.E.), a state-sponsored, national program intended to reduce crashes, fatalities and injuries due to impaired driving, speed and failing to wear a seatbelt. During the 2020 Operation CARE Memorial Day statistical counting period, Virginia troopers also cited 2,469 speeders and 224 seatbelt violations. State police assisted 1,460 disabled motorists during the holiday weekend.

Funds generated from summonses issued by Virginia State Police go directly to court fees and the state’s Literary Fund, which benefits public school construction, technology funding and teacher retirement.

For more information on traffic safety and how to keep Virginia “Moving Toward Zero Roadway Deaths,” go to www.tzdva.org.

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Front Royal
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