900 Monroe Ave | Front Royal
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County debates level of caution necessary as pandemic relief requests come
900 Monroe Ave | Front Royal
Following the failure of a majority of the Warren County Board of Supervisors to move a Chamber of Commerce request for “immediate” financial assistance from both the county and town governments to remain solvent through the end of the year in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter told Chamber President Niki Foster, “I’m sorry.”
Cheryl Cullers motion to postpone action pending discussion at a coming work session, seconded by Archie Fox, passed 3-2 with Carter and Board Chairman Walt Mabe dissenting.
Carter told his colleagues that their agreement would be contingent on the Town’s agreeing to fund its half of the Chamber request of $5,000 a month from each municipality from the July 1 start of the fiscal year through December.
Carter worried that with the Town apparently waiting to see if the County would respond favorably to the request before proceeding toward a decision, the supervisor’s delay on the front end of the request could set the timetable on the approval process of both municipalities back beyond the immediacy of that requested July start of assistance.
Again, as the previous night the potential of utilizing federal “CARES” (Coronavirus Aid Relief & Economic Securities) pandemic relief funding coming to the County, and indirectly to the Town through the County, at a total of $3.5 million seemed to confuse, rather than alleviate concerns about a financial commitment to the Chamber.
As was explained to the town council the previous evening, the Chamber has seen its largest annual fundraising event, the Wine & Crafts Festival, canceled along with other normally-revenue producing events. A May 22 letter from Foster and Chamber Board President Ray Bramble said the organization has seen a drop in membership renewals due to COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic restrictions on many small business operations.
And the letter observed that the Chamber as a 501-C 6 organization does not qualify for Payroll Protection Program (PPP) federal assistance. The combination of these variables has left the Chamber, which it was noted has served the community for 80 years, like many of its members or former members, in dire financial straits.
The discussion leading to the vote to postpone a decision on appropriating the necessary $30,000 began about an hour and 50 minutes into Tuesday’s meeting.
Emergency Management variables
Also, on the supervisors Tuesday agenda was an added item, an update from County Deputy Emergency Services Director Rick Farrall on the county and region’s COVID-19 statistics and expectations moving toward the governor’s Phase 2 reopening plan. That report came just over an hour into the meeting. Responding to questions, Farrall said details on moving into the governor’s Phase Two of reopening remained somewhat sketchy.
However, at a suggestion the County considers lifting its Emergency Declaration, Farrall urged caution, noting that could jeopardize emergency relief funding now scheduled to come the County’s way.
The board later heard from COVID-19 pandemic response critic Gary Kushner, whose lengthy letter stating the County should end its emergency declaration and go toward full reopening under voluntary decisions on mask-wearing and social distancing was read into the meeting record by Clerk Emily Ciarrocchi; as was a much briefer submission from Kristie Atwood belaboring the County’s expenditure on EDA civil case attorney legal fees.
In varying amounts of detail, the board also discussed four items removed from a seven-item Consent Agenda normally seen as routine business. Those included:
– A proposed hike in hangar rental rates at the Front Royal Airport, a request complicated by the Airport Commission not having met recently due to the COVID-19 restrictions, commission member Archie Fox told the board – action tabled to June 16;
– A request for $17,472 in funding to continue the Warren County Public Schools student meal distribution program through July and August. It was noted that the system has delivered 48,000 meals during the two months of pandemic emergency school closings, with even more meals being picked up. When Vice-Chair Cullers hedged at the financial commitment with unanswered questions on future revenue consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic closings, Chairman Mabe and Supervisor Carter noted that the County would be reimbursed between 75% and 100% of that money through FEMA or CARES relief funding. County Administrator Stanley also noted that without the commitment to run the program the additional months, the system faced the loss of bus drivers to other jurisdictions where jobs were assured. Consequently, Carter’s motion, seconded by Fox, was approved by a unanimous roll call vote;
– After a lengthy discussion about the third annual renewal of four in a contract for environmental and engineering services with LaBella Associates (formerly known as Joyce Engineering) at the closed county landfill, that contract was finally approved by a unanimous roll call vote on a motion by Delores Oates, seconded by Cullers. However, in the climate of social media and new board member distrust of staff, it was far from routine business. Perhaps responding to a posted chat room suggestion from blogger Kristie Atwood that the contract renewals be removed from the consent agenda and put out to bid; Cullers suggested that might be in the county’s best interest to re-establish a competitive bidding process. However, it was explained that the price of the contract had not changed since it was originally agreed to in 2017, and with a limited number of companies performing such work in the state, going out to bid now could see significantly higher bids, including from LaBella, come in. That dose of fiscal dynamics, coupled with a positive report on LaBella’s work throughout the contract moved the board toward approval of the one-year renewal;
– However, with much less discussion a decision on a similar third of four annual contract renewals with H&W Construction was postponed to the June 16 meeting to accumulate additional information. That contract is for “all labor and equipment necessary on an as-needed basis, for general construction, athletic field construction, road maintenance, repair, stormwater management, perimeter erosion and sediment controls, drainage improvement work and utilities for County Departments, Public Schools and Sanitary Districts in Warren County”
And two hours and fifteen minutes into the 9 a.m. meeting, an adjournment to closed session to discuss several items, including EDA litigation, as well as prospective business or industry relocation here, was unanimously approved on a motion by Oates, seconded by Fox. An hour and a half later the board left the closed session to a work session to discuss the acquisition, legal responsibilities, and distribution of federal CARES Coronavirus pandemic relief funding. See a report on that interesting discussion that might be considered “Part 2” of the report on last night’s town council discussion of the same topic, in an upcoming Royal Examiner story.
For now, listen to and watch the above-described County business in this recording courtesy of Warren County Board of Supervisors:
Sunday night house fire ruled arson – occupant charged
900 Monroe Ave | Front Royal
On Sunday, May 31, 2020, at approximately 10:20 pm, the Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services was dispatched to 121 E. 14th Street, Front Royal, for a reported residential structure fire.
Fire, Rescue, and officers from the Front Royal Police Department arrived at the scene and observed an active fire in the basement with a significant amount of smoke coming from the doors and windows of the first floor. Firefighters initiated a rapid search of the residence and determined no one was trapped inside the home. The fire was quickly extinguished, however, the residence was rendered uninhabitable with an estimated $80,000 in damages. One of the occupants of the home has received assistance from the American Red Cross.
An investigation by the Warren County Fire Marshal’s Office determined the fire was caused by an act of arson and requested assistance by the Front Royal Police Department Criminal Investigations Division.
As a result of the investigation and consultation with the Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Office, Lauren T. Roberts, a 33-year-old Front Royal resident, has been charged in connection with the fire incident. Ms. Roberts has been charged with a single felony count of Virginia Code § 18.2-77 Burning or destroying a dwelling house. Roberts was transported to the Rappahannock, Shenandoah, Warren (RSW) Regional Jail where she was held without bond. The court date for this offense is on July 28, 2020, at 9 am in Warren County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
Anyone with additional information regarding this incident is asked to contact Fire Marshal G. Maiatico at 540-636-3830 or Detective M.R. Ramey with the Front Royal Police Department Criminal Investigations Division at 540-636-2208.
Royal Comfort Shoe Center relocates & trades spaces with the OPEN HOUSE meeting space on Main Street
900 Monroe Ave | Front Royal
WHAT MATTERS Warren—Despite the plethora of challenges faced by retail establishments the past few months, Mark and Yuliya Poe, owners of the Daily Grind and Royal Comfort Shoe Center, have taken a leap of faith that has strengthened their dedication to their Main Street businesses and to the community in which they serve. As of last month, their establishments are now adjacent to each other in the Middle of Main building and the doors of The Daily Grind now open into the delightfully appointed Royal Comfort Shoe Center. The couple can now share resources and staff as the shoe center benefits from a better location closer to the heart of historic Main Street.
More than just a shoe store, the Center offers custom fittings, consultation, and a wide range of high-end footwear. Opened in 2018, they have expanded to now offer 250+ different styles of well known and leading brands in the comfort shoe industry including SAS, Vionic, Propet, Thorogood Boots, Naot, Jambu, Samuel Hubbard, Taos, Sanita, Crocs, Drew, Clarks, Aetrex, Birkenstock, Florsheim and New Balance, and they are constantly adding new brands. In addition to high quality, comfortable, stylish footwear and orthotics, they offer specialty socks as well as shoe repair and shoe lifts (all work is completed in-house). Owner Mark Poe is also proud to provide his guidance from his expertise as a Certified Pedorthist (C-Ped). His decades of experience in the industry ensure customers find the footwear that best supports their individual needs.
The entrepreneurs did much more than embrace relocation and expansion during these trying times surrounding the COVID crisis. They have dedicated their former shoe center storefront at 114 E. Main Street to become the new OPEN HOUSE space and will continue to fulfill the mission of the community meeting space Beth Medved Waller began funding four years ago. In mid-April, as Waller prepared for another month of investing her $2,000 per month commitment to fund the OPEN HOUSE space (unused due to the quarantine since early March), she did some sobering soul-searching. As much as she loved providing the free meeting space, she forced herself to face the reality that she had already invested $4,000 in a building that was sitting empty and would be for the considerable future. “One of my favorite WHAT MATTERS Initiatives was sponsoring OPEN HOUSE. It always warmed my heart to drive by Main Street and see wonderful people of our community gathered and meeting. Great connections, service, ideas, and memories have originated within the space throughout the years. But I couldn’t justify spending thousands more to fund an initiative that would likely be dormant for many months,” said Beth.
Yuliya Poe, who has been the neighbor to OPEN HOUSE for years as she operates The Daily Grind shared, “When we learned of Beth’s decision to close OPEN HOUSE, we offered to immediately take over her lease. We respect the commitment she has for the community and loved what she was doing with the space. When we ran into her in the hallway, and she proposed using her furnishings at OPEN HOUSE to convert the former shoe center location into a meeting space for the community, we did what we do—followed our hearts. Within 24 hours, plans were being made to turn the former shoe center space into a non-profit center and carry on the mission she started.”
Stay tuned for updates about the new OPEN HOUSE, which will be sponsored by their businesses and expanded to offer even more to the Front Royal/Warren County community. And when you find yourself ready to click on Amazon for your next shoe purchase, or drive to neighboring zip codes to open your wallet, be sure to stop by The Royal Comfort Shoe Center instead and give your feet the benefit of friendly local expertise and your heart the privilege of supporting a business that gives back to our community (and of course you’re welcome to enjoy a cup of Daily Grind coffee while you shop). Learn more on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/rcshoecenter/ or call 540-749-2741. They are open Tuesday-Friday from 10 to 5, and Saturday from 9 to 2.
Are you or your group in need of a free video or article that could be created to help market your cause or event? Or do you have an interesting story to share? Beth’s WHAT MATTERS Warren videos post on Facebook and YouTube. They are also shared with the Royal Examiner online (most are distributed in their daily email blast to thousands of local residents). Sign up for the Royal Examiner at www.royalexaminer.com and check out the “WHAT MATTERS Warren” tab under “Features.”
Learn more about Beth’s nonprofit, WHAT MATTERS, a 501 (c) (3), at www.whatmattersw2.com–check out the “Community” section to request a TOWN TIP or WHAT MATTERS WARREN BETHvid or contact her at 540-671-6145 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About WHAT MATTERS:
WHAT MATTERS is a 501(c)(3) that focuses on local and global outreach to help spread the word, support and raise funds for causes that matter (primarily through Facebook). WHAT MATTERS has ZERO overhead as 100% of the expenses are funded by Beth’s real estate business thanks to her clients and supporters. Every cent donated goes to the cause. If you’d like to get involved with her local or international nonprofit work or travel to Africa with her on a future trip to work with the children of Light up Life Foundations, please visit www.whatmattersw2.com. Be sure to check out the “projects” tab for her current WHAT MATTERS Initiatives.
Governor Northam COVID-19 update briefing – June 2, 2020; addresses protest, Phase 2 starts Friday
900 Monroe Ave | Front Royal
Governor Northam joins the Virginia Emergency Support Team to share the latest updates on the COVID-19 response. Here are the highlights:
The Governor began the June 2 briefing by discussing the protests across Virginia. His message to protesters is “I hear you,” and that he pledges to stand with them. Several spoke with the Governor including 70th District Del. Delores McQuinn, Shirley Ginwright with the Virginia African American Advisory Board, and Jim Bibbs, chief human resources officer for the Virginia Port Authority.
The Governor announced most of the state can move into Phase Two of reopening the state this Friday, June 5. He said Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Accomack County will stay in Phase One.
Here are some changes under Phase Two:
- Restaurants can have indoor seating at 50 percent capacity
- Gyms can have indoor classes/ workouts at 30 percent capacity
- Pools can open with some restrictions
- Museums/zoos can open with restrictions
- Recreational sports allowed but there can be no shared equipment
- Gatherings limited to 50 people rather than 10
Money, money, money, EDAs and ongoing weekend downtown walking mall
900 Monroe Ave | Front Royal
At a Monday night, June 1st work session the Front Royal Town Council wrestled with the legal and financial dynamics of a number of matters, several related to COVID-19 federal and local relief packages, as well as a Chamber of Commerce request that the Town partner with the County in keeping the Chamber financially solvent through the end of the calendar year. That request for $5,000 per month from both the Town and County ($10,000 total) beginning “immediately” is also COVID-19 pandemic-related, as the Chamber noted cancellation of its biggest annual fundraiser, the Wine & Crafts Festival among others, as well as a drop in membership renewals believed related to pandemic restrictions on business operations.
Also, on a busy agenda, the council discussed having its own Economic Development Authority created and a board and staff in place by the July 1 start or close to it, of Fiscal Year 2021. That should answer any county board questions about the status of the Town’s request to become the first Virginia municipality to be authorized to be part of two EDA’s simultaneously, as it was noted the governor had finally signed the request approved earlier by the General Assembly, into law.
The belligerent town elected official stance toward the re-tooled and recovering from financial scandal EDA noted by the Warren County Board of Supervisors on May 4 (see related story: ‘Cancer’ gone from EDA, will Town belligerence follow suit in November?) was on full display Monday night, beginning just over an hour into the work session.
“The Front Royal-Warren County EDA brand is hugely damaged right now – beyond repair. They’ll have a really hard time going forward attracting businesses to our area,” Councilman Gary Gillespie said in support of the rapid movement to creation of the Town’s own, unilateral EDA.
Gillespie said he has championed the distancing of the Town from the EDA, if not it’s total withdrawal apparently hoping for some property to fall the Town’s way along with virtually all the money the EDA is seeking to recover from alleged co-conspirators with former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald.
“The EDA mostly works for the County – and it’s been that way for the last 15 years or better,” Gillespie asserted despite the Town’s current civil legal claim of over $20 million in allegedly lost Town assets from the EDA financial scandal centered on the past four to five years of Town business with the EDA. The EDA’s civil action against multiple defendants stands at $21.3 million in allegedly misdirected assets.
“We need this for the Town of Front Royal for economic development; and more so now with this COVID-19, just for redevelopment. Nobody knows where the chips are going to fall after all this is said and done,” Gillespie said of the chaotic pandemic economy. “And this (new) EDA would go a long way in helping us. You know, I’ve been told by several people, you know, that if the Town wants a say-so in the EDA that we need to pony up. And it makes it really difficult to do that now, because the EDA possibly owes the Town of Front Royal $20-million dollars, you know. So, we need to bring this in house to bring economic development to our town in a major way and in a hurry.”
Jacob Meza concurred with Gillespie’s assessment, saying “the pros far outweigh the cons” in the Town going solo on economic development in the future.
COVID-19 relief impasse
Monday’s work session began with council complaining about a County proposal brought to them by Mayor Gene Tewalt and Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock concerning the distribution of COVID-19 federal grant funds distributed through the state government to counties and cities based on population sizes.
The staff summary noted the Town anticipated a mandated distribution of between $1 million and $1.5 million – approximately $1.3 million was settled on in estimating the Town’s approximate 14,000 (around 38%) of the County’s total population of 40,000 – of the total of $3.5 million the County would receive in CARES (Coronavirus Aid Relief & Economic Security) funding.
Mayor Tewalt explained the County wanted Town agreement on the distribution of approximately $1.7 million for a jointly administered relief program targeting all county businesses, in and outside the town limits.
“They want to take the $3.5 million and use half of it for economic recovery and then take the population and split it whatever that ratio would be with the other $1.7 million, and then they propose that (unintelligible) we want to utilize that amount of money, whether you pay the water bill, the electric bill, whatever. But they just want to know if we’d be agreeable tonight to just split the money and use half of it for recovery and half of it to do the other as far as the government’s concerned. So, we can pay whatever we have to pay, and they can pay what they want to pay,” Mayor Tewalt told the council.
However, a lack of detail or a county official to explain such detail and the lack of a 50/50 split of the funding allowing the Town to manage its half without County involvement seemed to annoy several council members.
“They’re going to get the big chunk of it, and we’re going to get the crumbs,” Gillespie complained.
The mayor reiterated the population-based nature of the general distribution to try and re-explain why it would not be a straight 50/50 split.
Meza noted the Town had a local relief plan in place and suggested the County just hand the Town its share and let town officials work unilaterally to distribute their portion as they saw fit. However, when Interim Town Manager Tederick referenced page 18 of the agenda packet summary of how the CARES money could be utilized, it appeared a big chunk of the Town’s local relief plan – to allow businesses or citizens to pay back town taxes and utility bills – ran afoul of the CARES program guidelines.
Those limitations noted that “Fund payments may not be used for government revenue replacement, including the provision of assistance to meet tax obligations.”
As for utility bill payments, there was a mixed message.
“Fund payments may not be used for government revenue replacement, including the replacement of unpaid utility fees,” the second graph on page 18 of the agenda item summary began, adding however that, “Fund payments may be used for subsidy payments to electricity account holders to the extent that the subsidy payments are deemed by the recipient to be necessary expenditures incurred due to the COVID-19 public health emergency … For example, if determined to be a necessary expenditure, a government could provide grants to individuals facing economic hardship to allow them to pay their utility fees and thereby continue to receive essential services.
In the end, council agreed to table a decision pending further elaboration and documentation of the County proposal.
Weekend downtown street closure thru fall
Prior to adjourning to what ended up being a five-minute closed session “to discuss or consider a bond repayment resolution regarding recent large scale construction the Town has been involved in,” council instructed Interim Town Manager Tederick to make the necessary moves to implement the continued closing of portions of East Main and Chester Streets from 4:30 p.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Monday to vehicular traffic to continue the walking mall COVID-19 business reopening initiative likely through the fall.
As part of that initiative, the council agreed to close Town Hall’s drive-thru Finance Department window on Saturdays.
There was no post-closed session announcement, so which “large scale construction” bond repayment was discussed remains a mystery.
Listen to council’s far-ranging work session discussion in this Royal Examiner recording:
How to update French doors
900 Monroe Ave | Front Royal
French doors are a great way to separate two interior spaces that are visually connected. They’re also ideal for enhancing your view of the outdoors and letting natural light shine into a room. However, they can sometimes look dated. Here are a few ways to give them an upgrade.
Change the look
French doors are typically made of wood. If you’re not a fan of yours, why not paint them? White is a timeless choice, but you can also turn your doors into a focal point by painting them a color that contrasts with the rest of the room. Alternatively, replace the whole setup with doors that each feature one large pane of glass or have a modern steel frame.
Adopt a new style
Finally, if you love the look of French doors but lack the space for them to swing open, consider sliding or folding options.