On January 10, 2022, Governor Northam today took steps to increase Virginia’s hospital capacity and support healthcare workers responding to COVID-19 after a record number of hospitalizations were posted on Friday of last week. He issued a limited 30-day order to expand the number of available hospital beds, increase staffing capacity at hospitals and nursing homes, and allow public health agencies greater flexibility in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. The limited duration is based on modeling that suggests the virus will peak in the next few weeks.
“Health care workers and hospitals are exhausted, and they are again facing increasing numbers of patients, affecting their ability to provide care,” Governor Northam said. “These steps will help ease the strain, giving medical professionals more flexibility to care for people. Ultimately, the best thing everyone can do for our hospitals and their staff is to get vaccinated.”
Virginia has among the nation’s lowest COVID-19 case rates and death rates per capita, and the Commonwealth ranks in the top ten most vaccinated states in the country. But the highly-transmissible omicron variant has increased the number of people turning to the hospital with COVID-19. The overwhelming majority of individuals hospitalized have not been vaccinated against COVID-19. In fact, one hospital company reported last week that 97% of COVID-19 patients relying on ventilators are not vaccinated.
More than 3,500 patients statewide are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, and ICU hospitalizations have more than doubled since December 1, 2021. In addition, the winter season is spurring an increasing number of flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases in Virginia, impacting hospital capacity. To address this patient increase, Emergency Order Eighty-Four directs the State Health Commissioner to waive normal bed licensing requirements, allows hospitals to increase their licensed bed capacity, and mandates increased coordination between hospitals and local Medical Services Agencies.
Healthcare workers across the country are facing severe burnout and exhaustion 22 months into the pandemic. The Governor’s Emergency Order directs a number of actions to boost staff in hospitals and nursing homes. The Order allows providers with an active out-of-state license to practice in Virginia; authorizes experienced Physician Assistants to practice without a written supervisory agreement; increases provider-to-patient ratios; and provides certain liability protections to health care workers who act in good faith to protect patients.
In addition, Emergency Order Eighty-Four increases flexibility in the transfer of patients to state-operated psychiatric hospitals, which have seen dangerously-high census levels since the pandemic began.
Governor Northam encouraged everyone to take easy steps to help:
• It’s a good idea to stay away from people who have not gotten their shots.
• It’s a good idea to wear a mask when you’re around other people, especially if you don’t know whether they have been vaccinated.
• If you have not gotten a booster shot, now is the time to do it. Shots are widely available at pharmacies, doctor’s offices, and local health departments all across Virginia.
• If you have children age five and above, now is the time to get them vaccinated. This will make it easier and safer for them to go back to school.
• If you have chosen not to get your shots, you need to wear a mask and practice social distancing—to protect yourself and other people.
Happy Creek riparian planting with Front Royal’s Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee
On Saturday, November 19, with leadership and oversight from Front Royal’s Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee (ESAC), local community groups and volunteers came together to help plant a 200 meter section of Happy Creek’s riparian buffer, between South Street and Short Street. More than 30 volunteers participated in the planting, including representatives from the Tree Stewards, Beautification Committee, Izaak Walton League, Piedmont Environmental Council, as well as community members. Volunteers planted more than 450 whips (young seedlings) of seven different varieties of native, flowering, riparian shrub species. Species included: Red Chokeberry, Black Chokeberry, Witchhazel, Winterberry, Northern Bayberry, Elderberry, and Arrowwood Viburnum. Species and planting densities were approved by the DEQ.
As part of ongoing restoration efforts for Happy Creek, this section of the riparian buffer had been designated a high-priority area in which an abundance of invasive and undesirable vegetation had begun to establish. In early November the Department of Public Works removed the undesirable vegetation, clearing the way for a full-scale riparian planting. Jim Osborn, Chair of ESAC and the Town’s Environmental Specialist, explains more: “We were excited to create such a positive community event centered around helping restore an important section of our local watershed. Happy Creek is an invaluable asset, landmark, and resource for our Town, and we need to be the good stewards it deserves.”
Volunteers kept warm through the chilly morning hours with coffee, muffins, and good comradery. Those that hadn’t planted before were given lessons by ESAC and Tree Steward members. While many were actively shoveling out holes in the stream bank, members of the FR-WC Anti-Litter Council and the Izaak Walton League used the time to help remove litter from the stream and its banks. Additionally, a set of volunteers helped prune several existing Sycamore trees that naturally recruited over the past couple of years. “Sycamores are a beautiful native tree whose foliage and bark offer an aesthetic appeal throughout all four seasons,” says Melody Hotek, President of the Tree Stewards. “They are also the look and feel of our beloved Shenandoah River, and so having them adorn Happy Creek is a perfect fit.”
Justin Proctor, ESAC member and local conservation biologist, reminds us the value of planting native. “Planting natives is a win-win across the board. These plants are adapted to handle our local climate and soils, they help build back our beneficial insects and pollinators, they provide food for wildlife including native and migratory birds, and their deep root systems stabilize river banks and help clean out pollutants.”
Taylor Clatterbuck, ESAC student representative, is excited about Spring. “I can’t wait to see all of these riparian shrubs leaf out and start blooming next year. Every time I walk, cycle, or drive by, I will be able to look out over something that I can be proud of.”
All watersheds need good, ongoing stewardship, and Happy Creek is no exception. Stay tuned for additional watershed projects in 2023.
Waltz’s town manager contract unanimously approved at special meeting Wednesday, Nov. 30
Two days after failing to heed the call of Councilman Skip Rogers to “immediately” expedite a contract offer to former Front Royal Town Manager Joe Waltz to return to that position after a three-year absence to a “dream job” in energy management with a municipal cooperative in Ohio, the Front Royal Town Council revisited that request. And at a 6 p.m. Special Meeting announced shortly after noon, Wednesday, November 30, for that evening for the sole purpose of appointing a town manager, council unanimously confirmed the hire of Waltz to his old job.
Seconds into the meeting, Mayor Chris Holloway called for a motion, to which Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell responded: “Mr. Mayor, I move that council appoint Joseph E. Waltz as town manager for the Town of Front Royal and authorize the mayor to execute the town manager agreement dated November 30, 2022, on behalf of the town.” That motion was quickly seconded by Councilwoman Letasha Thompson and approved by a 6-0 roll-call vote. – Well, it would have been 7-0 if Rogers’ “double yes” vote hadn’t run afoul of Council Clerk Tina Presley, who noted “double votes” were not a viable option on her voting tally sheet.
Following the prescribed six-member vote of approval of the lone agenda item, Mayor Holloway adjourned the meeting at the 1-minute-26-second mark amidst applause, and congratulatory acknowledgments directed Waltz’s way. Following the adjournment, Royal Examiner asked Waltz about his three-year path out of and back to Front Royal.
“Yea, I went to Ohio and spent the last three years in Ohio, and I retired from there. And I moved back here, was doing some energy-related work for another company. But honestly, when I came back to the community in October and found the town was still looking for a town manager,” Waltz said, the professional pull back to this community was strong. “It’s another opportunity, and I’m excited to be back. When I left here, I left on good standings. I left because I was following a lifelong dream (in the energy management field). So yea, but my heart was always here in Front Royal,” Waltz said.
Of the apparent stall in finalizing a contract indicated by the gap between his announced return on November 9, originally envisioned to be ratified by November 21st, and the achieved ratification on the final day of November, Waltz observed, “I mean, we were just negotiating, you know, and that’s a process – it just takes time.”
Amidst photo taking of congratulatory handshakes, we asked the mayor and vice-mayor about resolution of the Waltz return after, as Councilman Rogers noted two days earlier, a period of some instability at the town manager’s position over the past three years following Waltz’s leaving to pursue a job in his first field of energy management.
“I’m glad to have him back, and so’s everybody else. I think Joe’ll be great,” Mayor Holloway said. Having just observed Waltz’s potential first assignment was to be sitting in on the 7 p.m. Town Planning Commission Special Meeting scheduled for the same Town Hall second-floor meeting room in which his hiring had just been finalized, the mayor added – “Hey, he signs a contract today, and he’s back to work tonight. Can’t beat that, he’s earning his money already.”
“I’m really happy about working with Joe,” Vice-Mayor Cockrell said, adding, “I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from citizens who reached out to me when they heard that Joe was potentially coming on board. We were happy, but to know that citizens were happy and all the employees were happy – that’s a win-win for me.”
Having overheard a portion of Waltz’s discussion with this reporter about his first tenure here, Cockrell observed, “I love the fact that you said you brought Kahle (Magalis, town police chief) on board, and Robbie (Boyer, public works director) was somebody you appointed. That’s two major departments here, so that’s great. And probably some of the other people right now who are now in supervisory roles you worked with when you were here. Because the majority of people, other than planning and zoning, everybody else, the departments, a lot of the people they were moved up through the department to get the positions where they are, so that’s a good sign.”
“We have a great staff here, we always did,” Waltz injected of the Town personnel he has interacted with.
And according to the mayor’s timetable, in about 55 minutes, he would apparently be getting to know some of those planning and zoning department personnel he would soon be establishing a relationship with.
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Eastern Screech Owl
What inspired you to help wildlife? For many, it was this beautiful owl, Dopey.
Dopey is a red-morph eastern screech owl who was admitted as a nestling in 2013, after being found on the ground and unable to be re-nested.
When he was placed in an outdoor enclosure with other young screech owls, he was often found on the ground and seemed unaffected by our presence. As he continued to mature, other neurological issues, such as seizures, developed, preventing him from surviving in the wild.
Because he was unable to survive on his own, and was comfortable and low-stress in captivity, we decided to permanently care for him at the Center.
Dopey is one of our 22 Wildlife Ambassadors and is part of our education team!
Our ambassadors are imperative to our mission at Blue Ridge Wildlife Center: to teach others how to be good stewards of our natural world. Seeing native wildlife live and in-person allows people to truly appreciate our native species. That love and appreciation ultimately develops into a desire to help our native wildlife and ecosystems so that we can all take advantage of the biodiversity, land use, and health benefits of healthy ecosystems.
But we need your help to get our awesome Wildlife Ambassadors to more educational events.
We currently rely on staff and volunteer vehicles to bring our ambassadors to programs and this greatly limits how many of the animals we can safely transport and how far we can take them. Your donation TODAY will go towards purchasing a van to transport our animal ambassadors, like Dopey, to educational programs.
Help us teach children and adults to appreciate and respect our native wildlife with your donation today.
This van will allow all our animal ambassadors to be safely transported and allows plenty of space for biofacts and other educational materials to make our programming as effective as possible. Our ambassadors, staff, and volunteers are grateful for your support!
WC DECA celebrates three of its Alumni during DECA Month
Each year, during November which is National DECA Month, the Warren County DECA shares the success stories of three of their alumni. We are pleased to introduce to you three of our recent alumni and how DECA helped prepare for their post-secondary experiences.
Makayla Grant (2021). As a WCHS DECA member, Makayla competed at the district and state levels. She was the chapter’s Vice-President of Recruitment and Engagement. Makayla is also the initial recipient of the Dr. Leonard F. Maiden DECA Scholarship which is given annually to a graduating WCHS DECA senior. Makayla is currently a second-year student at Virginia Commonwealth University. She had this to say about her DECA experiences.
“DECA has prepared me for college primarily because I was given ample opportunities to practice professionalism, presentation skills, and interviewing skills. I was a member for three years and the VP of recruitment and engagement for one year. Today I’m a Sophomore Business Foundation’s student at Virginia Commonwealth University with projections to concentrate in Product and Brand Marketing. My time in DECA helped give me the confidence and preparation to currently become a Teaching Assistant, a member of Business Student Ambassadors (at VCU), and secure two part time jobs in the Richmond area.”
Michael Kelly (2021). As a WCHS DECA member, Michael competed at the district, state, and national levels. Michael’s greatest contribution to the chapter was serving as Co-Manager of DECA Tailgaters, one of the chapter’s School-Based Enterprise (SBE) which received a Gold standard certification from National DECA. Michael is currently a second –year student at James Madison University. He had this to say about his DECA experiences.
“DECA has helped me tremendously and the numerous skills I learned from Mr. Gardner and my advisors have really translated to life after graduation. Through DECA I have gained an immense amount of confidence that I use toward anytime I have to publicly speak, present a project, or interview for a job/internship. Not only did DECA teach me how to present myself, but it improved my critical thinking ability as well as my ability to lead. Every employer wants a leader that’s not just reactive, but proactive as well, and by the time any DECA member walks across the graduation stage they have become the embodiment of the chapter’s motto “Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.” I will continue to use the skills I learned in DECA to reach my goal of getting my Juris Doctorate and eventually working for the CIA, FBI, or DOD.”
Emily Mawson (2022). Serving as her chapter’s president during her senior year, Emily also competed at the district, state, and national levels. She was a state winner during both her junior and senior years. Emily is also a recipient of the Dr. Leonard F. Maiden DECA Scholarship Currently, Emily is a freshman at West Virginia University. She had this to say about her DECA experiences.
“Last year, I had the pleasure of serving as Warren County DECA’s chapter president. During my term, I produced one of the most successful seasons our chapter has ever seen. We broke records at the district, state, and national level. I’m incredibly proud of the work we produced as a chapter. I spent two years in DECA, and as a freshman at West Virginia University, I am a proud alumni of the organization. I’m currently studying psychology and criminology at West Virginia University, with a focus in behavioral analysis. My chapter and advisor encouraged me to chase my dreams and even provided a $1000.00 scholarship to jumpstart my education.
Without DECA, I would not be the person I am today. DECA encourages leadership, organization, team work, and professionalism. These are all qualities that employers and higher education institutions look for in students and employees. Many of the core aspects of DECA are transferable to different areas of life. I’ve used the education provided by DECA in my educational and professional life. DECA allowed me to grow as a leader, encouraging me to be an active listener and use my creative background to improve every project I worked on.
Many of the essays on college applications I filled out asked how I responded under pressure. A fair majority of the prompts asked me to describe a hardship or how I overcame a difficult decision. Application committees aren’t necessarily asking about your past, but how you respond under pressure. DECA provides instruction and opportunities to teach young adults about maintaining professionalism and overcoming adversity. That alone has helped me more than anything else.
During my first semester at West Virginia University, I was able to secure a job at Milan Puskar Stadium. During football season, I was hired to work in premium seating as part of hospitality management. The education provided by DECA allowed me to be well informed of the industry I was working in. During my senior year, I worked on a project based in project management, hospitality, and entrepreneurship. My time in DECA has served me well professionally.
DECA has allowed me to accomplish many things. I’ve secured jobs, received scholarships, and performed at a higher rate in projects because of this incredible organization. This important educational opportunity has transformed me as a person, and I cannot repay my chapter, or my advisor, Mr. Richard Gardner.”
Warren County owed over $1.5 million in delinquent personal property and real estate taxes
“Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” That oft-used phrase was penned by Benjamin Franklin in 1789, and it holds true today.
Taxes are something almost every citizen deals with. Taxes fund our government and the services it provides. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, residents pay federal income taxes, real estate taxes, and personal property taxes, among others.
Warren County is tasked with collecting both real estate and personal property taxes biannually. Most citizens get their payments in on time, though not everyone complies. Warren County Treasurer Jamie Spiker said in a recent interview that the COVID pandemic proved hard on many, and because of that, the County opted to suspend its practice of placing holds on Virginia DMV vehicle registration renewals of drivers who were delinquent on tax payments. Municipalities also stopped other collection efforts, such as placing liens on taxpayer bank accounts and on employers’ paychecks to tax-delinquent employees.
Spiker said DMV holds will begin again in the Spring of 2023, noting that bank and employer liens were reinstated earlier this year. “Some accounts are hard to collect on if they are not employed in Virginia; they registered their vehicles in another state or in another name,” Spiker continued.
Regarding the delinquent personal property tax list, Spiker said, “Without giving actual information on specific accounts, some of the delinquents listed [on the delinquent personal property list] are either making payments, have Warrant in Debts, and/or DMV holds.“ She said some of those on the list have actually paid their back taxes since the list was produced on Oct. 3. Because of the additional monthly interest added to past-due accounts, Spiker said some balances on delinquent accounts that are making payments do not reflect much change.
As of Oct. 3, Warren County was owed over $266,000 in back personal property taxes, according to the Warren County Delinquent Personal Property database. The County has over $1.3 million in Real Estate taxes that remained uncollected as of that date. Warren County maintains a database that lists the unpaid amount for each real estate parcel by owner name and another list for delinquent personal property tax, also displayed by name.
As for real estate taxes, those accounts that are past due since 2019 were turned over to collection firms in 2022. The local firm Pond Law Group collects on past-due accounts whose last names begin with A-L. Richmond-based Taxing Authority Consulting Services (TACS) collects delinquent accounts whose last names begin with M-Z.
Ms. Spiker explained that once the collection firm gets a past-due file, real estate owners are contacted and asked for payment. Taxpayers have the option of paying fully at once or arranging a payment plan. If neither of those options is worked out, the firms begin the process that leads to a sale of the property to pay back taxes.
Tax auctions were not held in 2020 due to COVID, Spiker said, though they were restarted in 2021. There was one auction in 2021 and one in 2022. Moving forward, Warren County will have at least four delinquent property auctions annually, with each firm committed to having two per year.
Despite over a million dollars in real estate revenue remaining uncollected, Spiker says she would love to have a collections person in the Treasurer’s office, something that has been requested for almost every budget year, though such a collections position has never been approved.
Spiker said of having an in-house collector, “I feel like the position would pay for itself.” The salary for such a position could range from $35,000-$60,000, depending on qualifications. She says if the position is not approved in the next budget year, she would pursue other options, such as hiring a part-time employee or switch to an agency that handles personal property as well as real estate collections.
With delinquent taxes for real estate alone north of $1.3 million, can the Warren County Board of Supervisors afford not to add a collections position?
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Pileated Woodpecker
This female Pileated woodpecker came into care this week after a suspected vehicle collision.
She was having difficulty breathing due to bleeding in the lungs and she was suffering from head trauma. After 24 hours on oxygen support, this bird improved in demeanor and breathing.
Pileated woodpeckers are the largest woodpecker species in North America, with females reaching over 14oz in weight, 19 inches long, with a wingspan of 30 inches!
The majority of their diet is made up of insects, typically found in dead trees. Pileated woodpeckers leave rectangular holes in the trees that other birds later use as nests.
Woodpeckers have special and fascinating anatomy—they have extremely strong, chisel-like beaks designed for high-impact drilling.
Also, their tongues are incredibly long (almost a third of their body length) with barbed edges to help the reach deep into drilled holes to pull out tasty insects!
Check out this video, which shows the patient boring holes into a dead log in search of wood-boring insects, like grubs and ants.
This illustration by Denise Takahashi depicts a great example of a woodpecker’s hyoid apparatus, the cartilage and bone that support the tongue. In woodpeckers, the hyoid curves all the way around the back of the skull so they have plenty of room to store their long tongues!
We are happy to report that after a week in pre-release caging, this patient fully recovered and was released!
Looking for an easy way to help native wildlife? Become a monthly BRWC donor! For as little as $5/month, you can provide year-round, sustainable support that helps us fulfill our mission.