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Rockland neighborhood shooting ban denied after storm of accusations, counter-accusations

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The final public hearing on a lengthy Tuesday, September 15th county supervisors meeting agenda was by far the most contentious and occasionally LOUD – if not “POP, POP, POP” gunshot loud – of the evening. At issue was a request that the Clear Back Subdivision in the Rockland area near the Shenandoah Valley Golf Club be added to the list of county subdivisions where shooting firearms is illegal due to public safety and intrusive noise concerns.

Following 10 public hearing speakers, some who visited the podium more than once to contest or re-hurl personal accusations over the veracity or motivation of opposition speakers during a sometimes contentious 45-minute public hearing, the Warren County Board of Supervisors sided with a 7-3 pro-recreational shooting majority to deny the request.

‘In God We Trust’ – but practice with your gun a lot just in case, seemed to be the prevailing theme of the evening’s final public hearing. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video by Mark Williams

Actually the public speaker breakdown was 7-4, but one supporter of the request, former law enforcement, and military firearms trainer Dale Orlowski, spoke to the matter during the general Public Concerns comment period near the meeting’s 7 p.m. outset. By the time the Clear Back firearms public hearing was reached at 9:35 p.m., Orlowski was long gone. During his earlier comment, Orlowski echoed previous meeting comments, calling the Clear Back shooting ban request a public safety issue, rather than a 2nd Amendment or personal freedom concern.


The vote to deny the request, on a motion by Cheryl Cullers, seconded by Delores Oates, was 4-0 with Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter absent.

At issue was what has been described at previous meetings as a belligerent attitude by subdivision recreational shooters, who have been alleged by gun-ban petition circulator James Harper to have refused several personal or business requests to suspend obtrusive gunfire during events like golf course-hosted weddings or a child’s birthday party at a nearby private residence.

In making his case for the shooting ban, Malcolm Barr Sr. said of the desired outcome limiting the amount of noise and potential accompanying danger in their neighborhood, “My wife and I wish it would be so in the absence of any law, but we fear not.”

Barr called the level of “gunfire” prior to the current lull after media publicity about the shooting ban request “seemingly incessant” close to his Rockland Road home not far from the Shenandoah Valley Golf Course Clubhouse. He noted his wife, Carol, underwent scheduled, daily home medical treatments for cancer that he believes have helped her beat Stage 4 cancer for 10 years. Quiet, he noted, is the desired atmosphere for those one to two-hour daily treatments.

As Royal Examiner previously reported, during August 4th public concerns comments to the supervisors, shooting ban petition circulator James Harper said, “Several weeks ago on a Saturday we all heard automatic gunfire for over 5-1/2 hours. This was non-stop gunfire,” Harper said … Years ago this was farmland, now it’s a neighborhood. Is it fair for two houses to disrupt the neighborhood?” Harper asked the board before presenting a list of signatures in support of the shooting ban for the subdivision area, including from former supervisor Ben Weddle, former town councilman Kermit Nichols, and … SVGC principal Richard Runyon. Harper recounted a story he said Runyon told him when he first moved near the golf course to introduce him to the shooting issue.

“He told me they were hosting a wedding, and they went across the street to ask them to stop shooting while the wedding was going on because it was an outdoor wedding. And they said ‘No’ and kept on shooting. That’s what we’re dealing with,” Harper told the supervisors.

Gun-ban petition circulator James Harper, above, and self-described local shooter and instructor Bryan DeNinno, below, had very differing outlooks on what is really going on in their neighborhood. Seated behind DeNinno in the photo are his son James, red mask, and other supporters.

However, the public hearing’s opening speaker, Clear Back area shooter Bryan DeNinno, his son James and others disputed such assertions, saying if asked for good reason to halt their firearms shooting, they would.

Both sides have portrayed the other as selfish in their stances on the shooting issue. Now, with the ban denied by the supervisors, and requests like Barr’s over his wife’s desire for quiet around specifically timed medical treatments at home, we may find out exactly how fruitful Board Chairman Mabe’s plea for direct, neighborly communications between the sides will be in alleviating further conflict over recreational shooting practices in the area.

Several pro-shooting rights advocates noted that Harper had his home up for sale, and asserted he had personal motive to fabricate negative portrayals of them to up the sales value of his home to city folks who might be seeking peace and quiet in a more rural setting. They also contended that Harper misrepresented the nature of his petition to acquire signatures and asserted that some signatures were from bordering areas not included in the Clear Back Subdivision at issue.

Harper countered that he was not a liar, but rather was forwarding what he believes is a majority opinion of the now expanded Clear Back area residential neighborhood. Of the previous level of shooting present prior to what 18-year Rockland resident and shooting-ban supporter Malcolm Barr Sr. called a welcome lull in the recreational shooting since the shooting ban request went public in the media following the August 5 supervisors’ meeting, Harper said, “I don’t think the Clear Back Subdivision needs a militia, unless Joe Biden wins.”

But his expression of conservative Republicanism and support for President Trump didn’t help his cause with perhaps politically like-minded neighbors.

James DeNinno called neighborhood gun owners “calm, collected and good will people” and took issue with Royal Examiner’s reporting of what was described by four public speakers, five counting a submitted letter, on the topic at the August 4 supervisors meeting. Hey, we can’t help it if they said it – and how would you know they said it if we hadn’t reported it? Don’t kill the messenger, as the old saying goes.

Several speakers addressed a perceived “slippery slope” of governmental overreach in limiting their rights as Americans. “That pop, pop, pop is the sound of freedom,” Bryan DeNinno said in opening the public hearing. Several local shooters also disputed the description of “automatic” weapons fire in the area, denying possession of illegal weapons. One even worried over a potential late-night ATF raid on their home based on those descriptions leading to a potential shootout with federal agents.

The level of animosity between the opposing viewpoints – public safety and nuisance versus 2nd Amendment and property rights – was upped a notch with an appearance at the speaker’s podium by former Board Chairman and North River District supervisor Dan Murray, whose voice rose as he defended the shooting rights of his former neighboring district constituents, and occasionally directed critical comments at Harper and Board Chairman Walt Mabe.

As James Harper listens, seated in the right foreground, former Board Chairman Dan Murray gets his ‘Irish’ up as he belabors the board for even considering a recreational shooting ban in the rural area.

In fact, Murray asked Mabe to recuse himself from the vote due to Harper’s support of him in the 2018 election. Murray did not seek re-election and Oates won the battle to replace him as North River representative. Mabe was elected chairman after defeating Shenandoah District incumbent Tom Sayre.

Mabe responded to Murray, saying he would not recuse because he made no political promises in exchange for electoral support, and disputed Murray’s contention that Harper had been his “largest” financial supporter.

“I don’t consider this just an attack on the 2nd Amendment, it is also an attack on property rights,” Murray began, questioning where the evidence of danger to neighbors was – “Has there been any property damage? Has anyone been shot? If not, this is personal with an individual that wants to sell a property,” Murray continued setting his sights on Harper. “And he’s violating quite a few people’s rights … This is a travesty,” Murray said, arguing the matter should have never come before the supervisors.

His voice began rising as he said that during his eight years on the board, such an issue had never come before the board “Not once, NOT ONCE,” Murray said, escalating his tone and pitch upward as he cited Harper as forwarding a personal agenda.

See Harper try to respond, and Murray turn and yell, “Sir, I HAVE the FLOOR,” as the battle was joined in the below Royal Examiner video.

‘Excuse me, I have the floor,’ Murray turned to remind Harper, who attempted to interrupt when Murray’s attack turned personally toward him. Below, Harper leaves the podium area following his subsequent reply to attacks on his motive.

After listening to the exchanges and Murray’s dust-up with Harper, a citizen who had not signed up to speak asked to address the board. Susan Bowen is not a newcomer to the neighborhood.

“I guess I’m saddened at what I’m hearing tonight – the disrespect for those of us who live in the country. And I’ve been there for almost 75 years on a family farm, fourth generation. And I love the peace there. And I guess they have no respect for those of us who would like to live in a quiet atmosphere; to completely disregard our wish for a peaceful and quiet community.

‘I’ve lived there for 75 years and I’ve never heard gunshots like I’m hearing now from these people – I’ve never heard it before … and I’m just really saddened by it all … I don’t think you’re going to hurt anybody or kill anybody. It’s just the noise. It’s not the feeling of being safe. And I really appreciate your freedom, but don’t we count too? … Don’t we have rights too, to have a peaceful existence?

“I’m just terribly saddened tonight,” Bowen concluded to a silence she wished more prevalent at her home and neighborhood.

See the Clear Back Subdivision shooting ban public hearing and all the comments from both sides in this first Royal Examiner video:

 

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At least two supervisors willing to revisit continuation of coyote bounty program in more open forum

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Seeing the continued awarding of $50 bounties for the random shooting of coyotes in Warren County following a November 10, 2020, work session presentation by County legal and animal control staff seeking an end to the practice as counterproductive to its intent of thinning coyote pack numbers, Royal Examiner recently sought information on the Board of Supervisors apparently unanimous decision to continue the bounty awards.

In early October this reporter emailed Board Chairman Cheryl Cullers with copies to the other four board members in case there was a divergent opinion on the matter that has not, to this reporter’s knowledge, been publicly discussed. The only initial reply was from the board chair: “… but there are those that don’t agree with that information,” Cullers replied of the information presented to the board on November 10, 2020, by Warren County Sheriff’s Office Animal Control Officer Laura Gomez and Assistant County Attorney Caitlin Jordan.

Typical Consent Agenda request for approval of a coyote bounty payment. This one was submitted and approved nine months after supervisors were told the program was, not only ineffective but counterproductive to the intent of thinning coyote pack numbers. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini; Coyote Photo Public Domain

“That information” was addressed in Royal Examiner’s November 11, 2020, story “County headed to public hearings to end coyote bounty payments and expansion of loose dog prohibitions”. It included the following information: “The biggest issue with (coyote bounties) is we have documentation showing it’s not effective in any way. And removing the coyote bounty would not prevent people from still being able to protect their property and their livestock … And they’re showing in that letter that it has over a 150-year failure,” Animal Control Officer Gomez noted of the proposed ordinance amendment ending the bounty program.


“That letter” referenced by Gomez to the county supervisors on November 10, 2020, stated among other things that: “Coyote bounties have been tried throughout the United States for more than 150 years. There is not a single documented instance of a bounty

program temporarily or permanently reducing coyote populations or livestock depredation problems,” Michael L. Fies of VDGIF (Va. Department of Game and Inland Fisheries) wrote in response to a November 2016 inquiry by Bath County Animal Control officials included in Tuesday night’s agenda packet,” Royal Examiner reported at the time.

WCSO Animal Control Officer Laura Gomez told the supervisors on Nov. 10, 2020, that 150 years of data indicates bounties have not helped reduce coyote numbers anywhere, at any time; and in fact, have the opposite impact of increasing female coyote reproductive cycles.

And it was not simply the abandonment of bounties, but the implementation of what was called more “successful targeted control” programs in place of bounties, suggested at the state level that was brought to the supervisors late last year:

“Since coyote bounties are ineffective, our Department has consistently recommended against these programs in favor of targeted control efforts around farms with a history of coyote damage. This approach has been successfully used by USDA Wildlife Services to reduce livestock losses in other portions of the state,” VDGIF’s Fies wrote in the above-referenced 2016 letter to Bath County officials presented to Warren County’s elected officials by animal control and legal staffs in late 2020.

It might be noted that this reporter’s headline on the referenced story on that November 10, 2020, presentation on coyote bounty programs contained one glaring inaccuracy – “County headed to public hearings to end coyote bounty payments (and a related animal control issue on dogs running loose in the county). For no public hearing was there to be, nor to this reporter’s knowledge, any open work session or meeting discussion by the board of the information it was presented with by county staff on November 10, 2020, nor of any expressed citizen disagreement with that information.

Rather, on January 5, 2021, coyote bounties were presented for continuation as part of the Consent Agenda for matters considered “routine business” not requiring public discussion or scrutiny by the board prior to a vote of approval. And while other Consent Agenda items were pulled for discussion that evening, continuing the coyote bounty program was not one of them.

But that could be poised to change. Contacted about the approval process, first Board Chairman Cullers expressed a willingness to revisit the issue. “I would be glad to have a future discussion on this issue. I understand the side that feels it is not effective, but there are those that don’t agree with that information. Again I will be glad to readdress the issue,” Cullers replied to this reporter’s emailed inquiry about the initial approval process.

WC Board Chair Cheryl Cullers has expressed a willingness to revisit the bounty issue in a more public forum. But where do her colleagues, pictured below at the Nov. 10, 2020, work session discussion of the coyote bounty program, stand on the issue?

And “readdress” would seem a wise course for this board majority. Because that initial approval process, essentially done out of the public eye, other than the vote to continue it without a public hearing or public discussion other than one meeting public comment favoring continuation of the bounties that Cullers cited, seems to run contrary to the process of a board majority carried into office over a year and a half ago on campaign promises of ending political “business as usual” out of the public eye – a process cited as contributing to the EDA financial scandal the county is still recovering from.

In fact, we reached out a second time to North River Supervisor Delores Oates following her comment at the October 5 Board of Supervisors meeting to County Administrator Ed Daley regarding the effectiveness of air purification machines the County is pondering the purchase of for use in county government buildings. – “We want facts, not opinions,” Oates told Daley of a final decision on the air purification device purchase for Warren County Government buildings.

Supervisor Oates stands by her ‘facts, not opinions’ statement and added her willingness to revisit the coyote bounty issue. She pointed to other issues like COVID pandemic ramifications and the County’s IT security breach as distracting the board from further exploration of alternatives to the coyote bounty system.

And yes, facts, as they are available, would be valuable in ascertaining the effectiveness of the air purification machines in limiting the spread of contagious viral or other airborne illnesses. But why not the same standard of “facts, not opinions” in the decision to continue a coyote bounty program found locally, state-wide, and nationally to be counterproductive to its intent of thinning coyote packs anywhere over 150 years of experience?

And Oates too expressed a willingness to revisit the issue prior to publication.

“I would be happy to discuss. If memory serves me correctly, there were no alternatives offered to control the population of coyotes at that presentation. I believe we postponed a decision to learn more about what options were available to reduce the coyote population,” Oates responded to our email inquiry.

“I stand on my facts, not opinions statement,” she added, pointing to myriad other issues the County has faced in the past year: “On this topic, we didn’t revisit as I suspect many other issues have taken precedent. With COVID and the IT breach, the coyote topic didn’t seem urgent. I am not opposed to revisiting the alternatives to bounties in the near term,” Oates wrote Royal Examiner, adding, “Perhaps we needed to understand what targeted control meant. I will be honest it’s been almost a year since we heard the presentation. We wanted to understand what the cost was to farmers with a targeted control approach. I know there were lingering questions which is why we just didn’t eliminate the program.”

And with a perhaps building board consensus, it appears the county supervisors may be revisiting the coyote bounty issue, and exploring alternatives such as those referenced “targeted control efforts around farms with a history of coyote damage” that Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Michael L. Fies referenced in his 2016 letter on the subject to Bath County officials. As we told Supervisors Cullers and Oates during our discussion, it seems counterintuitive to continue to pay people in a bounty program cited by wildlife professionals as not only ineffective but achieving the opposite effect of often increasing coyote numbers, rather than reducing them.

And if there are citizens who disagree with those conclusions of wildlife professionals, it would be nice to publicly hear what facts, if any, those disagreements are based upon.

See the full November 10, 2020, presentation and discussion in the linked Warren County Work Session video Nov 10, 2020 Board of Supervisors Work Session – Warren County, VA (swagit.com):

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County Planning Commission reviews Fire Department Capital Improvement Plan, also faces upsurge in permit activity

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The Warren County Planning Commission met on October 13 in a work session to review a Capital Improvement Plan submission for 2021-2025 for the County Fire and Emergency Services Department. Chief James Bonzano told the Commission that calls for service for 2020, the last complete year, increased by over 3%, continuing a trend that began in 2013. This increase impacts response times, budget costs, and equipment availability, he explained. Calls were split between Fire, at 14%, and EMS (Emergency Medical Service), at 86%. EMS vehicles are called out more than 4 times as often as fire apparatus, have longer runs, and as a result, wear out that much sooner.

The National Standards for fire department equipment govern when it should be placed on the reserve list or removed from service. According to Chief Bonzano, the current fleet has 18 units of its 65 that are over 15 years old, and two over 25 years. In Warren County, there is currently no capacity to place vehicles in reserve. The chief also identified facility improvements needed, live-fire training, and firefighter cancer prevention as priorities in the submission. The Chief oversees a nearly $6 million annual combined budget.

Several commissioners suggested ways to extend budgets by alternative financing or leasing. The Chief acknowledged he is looking into these mechanisms but cautioned that many of them assume a fleet that allows for residual values when turning in a vehicle at the end of the lease. Much of the current fleet is far past the age where it would have any residual value as used equipment. The Fire/EMS Department is also pressed for volunteers – not only operational but associates – helpers of all kinds, including fundraisers. The Fire and Rescue Services capital investment submission will now be fed into the County’s budget process.

Fire Chief James Bonzano II, left, and Fire Marshal Gerry Maiatico explain the Fire and Rescue Department’s Capital Improvement request to the County Planning Commission. The Department faces funding challenges as the workload grows.


 

The regular Planning Commission meeting followed immediately after the work session, and the commission considered two Conditional Use permits (CUP) requests.

Terra Site Constructors, LLC, is requesting a Conditional Use Permit for a contractor storage yard at 6986 Winchester Road in the North River Magisterial District. The property is zoned Industrial (I). Planning Director Joe Petty reviewed the recommendations for approval of the request for the commission members. There were no public comments on the proposal, so Commission Chairman Robert Myers closed the public hearing. The site will primarily be used for the temporary storage of heavy equipment. After a brief discussion, the commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the permit. The request will now go to the Board of Supervisors for approval.

Jake Johnson, representing Terra Site Constructors LLC, takes questions from the County Planning Commission. Terra Site Constructors seeks to locate a storage yard on Winchester Road.

 

Gordon Lee Birkhimer has requested a Conditional Use Permit for a short-term tourist rental for his property at 52 Forest View Drive, an Agriculturally zoned property in the Fork Magisterial District. Mr. Birkhimer is planning a sailboat trip around the world and expects to be absent for up to two years. He has engaged a professional management firm to oversee the rental activity, and a local citizen to do maintenance and upkeep.

When Chairman Jones opened the floor for public comment, Pamela Rhodes addressed the commissioners and outlined her opposition to the permit. As a 30-year resident of the neighborhood, she expressed the opinion that the applicant would have no control over what kind of people would be renting the property and as an absent property owner would not care. She was opposed to long or short-term rental for the property. In addition, one neighboring property owner, Phyllis Wright, had written to the planning department and opposed the permit being issued. Her concerns were for personal safety, fire danger, and the potential for crime.

Resident Pamela Rhodes explains her opposition to a short-term tourist rental in the Massanutten Farms Subdivision.

 

Once the Public hearing was closed, Vice Chairman Hugh Henry commented that the community’s experience with short-term tourist rentals has been very good – an asset in a neighborhood, particularly since strict rules govern the issuance of a permit. Tourist rentals must be well maintained or guests won’t rent them. A long-term renter is a much greater risk, since a property owner can rent his property to anyone he chooses, and neighbors have no recourse. Management companies do generally perform background checks, and a written set of guidelines in the property management plan assure that guests know what the rules are.

Given the growing experience with the issuance of short-term tourist rental CUPs and the concerns of neighbors, Vice Chairman Henry asked the applicant if he would agree to two additional conditions: A prohibition against the use of ATVs on the property or roads around it, and a prohibition on discharging firearms. The applicant agreed. The commission then voted unanimously to recommend approval. The request will now go to the Board of Supervisors for approval.

The commission faces a steep climb at its November meeting with 10 CUP requests for a variety of uses, including short-term tourist rentals, a cluster housing development, an Outdoor Recreation Operation, two Rural Events Facilities, a gunsmithing service, and a campground, as well as two proposed Text Amendment changes to the Warren County Code Chapter 180. Commissioners approved authorizations to advertise all these requests.

Planning Director Joe Petty told the commission that the Comprehensive Plan review work sessions will resume in January, and he thanked the commissioners for their time and work so far on the new plan. Meantime, the Planning Department will be meeting with the contracting firm that is helping with the rewrite to prepare for the next steps.

Chairman Myers then adjourned the meeting.

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County seeks Town to jointly explore regional water alliance

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While the Front Royal Town Council was failing to gather a quorum to conduct its work session slated to follow a 6 p.m. Finance and Audit Committee meeting at Town Hall, across town at the Warren County Government Center several town officials including Assistant Town Manager Kathleen Leidich and Public Works Director Robbie Boyer, were present to hear a presentation by the Frederick Water Authority to a work session of the Warren County Board of Supervisors.

Board Chair Cheryl Cullers noted the invitation extended to, not only town staff, but its elected officials at last month’s Liaison Committee meeting, to hear the presentation on what appears to be a state-and-federal government promoted move toward regional water authorities.

“I’m not trying to tell the Town what to do – I want them to be a part of this,” Cullers said of a cooperative move into an altered water-sewer utility relationship that could be of mutual benefit to both municipalities, particularly over the long haul of future development on the county’s north side.

Warren County Board Chair Cheryl Cullers made it clear she hopes the County and Town move forward together to explore participation in a regional water authority. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini


Cullers noted that several council members have stated the intention of watching the County video of the presentation in playing catch up. And what town officials did or will hear is very interesting as to long-range planning for regional growth and provision of cost-efficient water and sewer service. For while the Town of Front Royal has its own central water-sewer utility, it is dealing with what was termed “100-year-old infrastructure” in some areas and a limited and now oft-threatened by solid waste-fueled destructive algae blooms, water supply, the Shenandoah River. The Frederick Water Authority on the other hand is in the midst of creating new infrastructure for what appears to be a massive underground water source, while entertaining a change in its structural documentation to extend its reach beyond the boundaries of Frederick County and the City of Winchester to adjacent counties including Warren and Clarke.

Frederick Water Authority Executive Director Eric Lawrence told county officials that the Frederick County Board of Directors was positive in reception of exploring the idea of expanding the water authority into a regional operation across county lines. As illustrated in power point below, Lawrence noted the Frederick Water Authority’s access to 4 billion gallons of water, enough reserve for a year of use by its current customer base.

Executive Director Eric Lawrence outlined the Frederick Water Authority’s existing parameters, structure and infrastructure. That structure includes independence from the Frederick County government, though it is a relationship that currently includes the Frederick County Supervisors appointing the water authority’s board of directors. Lawrence noted that like municipal utilities, the Frederick Water Authority is a non-profit operation with its fees going back into the supporting infrastructure. A cost-comparison showed favorable numbers on average residential charges in the region. And Lawrence noted that potential expansion into adjacent counties, further expanding the customer base would poise the operation to continue to offer excellent rates with a massive water supply with redundancy and backup within that water supply base.

Warren County, along with Clarke County, has expressed interest in a regional water authority based out of the existing Frederick Water Authority. And thus far Frederick County’s response has been positive, Lawrence told the Warren supervisors. Below, long-tenured Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter, maroon shirt upper right, pointed to aspects of the Rt. 522/340 North Corridor Agreement that might prevent Warren’s participation in a regional water utility authority without the agreement of the town government.

However, Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter pointed to an old written aspect of the Route 522 North Corridor Agreement that saw the Town of Front Royal extend its central water-sewer utility into Warren County’s Route 340/522 North Corridor to facilitate industrial and commercial tax-base expansion in the county’s northside. That “Sanitation Authority” aspect of the Corridor Agreement could seem to legally prohibit shopping for better water-sewer utility rates by Warren County on its northside. However, were the Town to agree to throw into the regional water concept with Warren County, seeing benefits to its own future operations and expenses, such a legal blockage could evaporate.

North River Supervisor Delores Oates noted recent experience had shown that working at odds with each other was in neither the County, nor Town’s best interest.

“I’m just saying that it’s easier to say than to do,” Carter said of a joint move of the Town and County governments toward a regional water authority that could create a major realignment of how the Town’s water-sewer utility operates.

North River Supervisor Delores Oates said a joint County-Town exploration of participating in an expanded, regional Frederick Water Authority seemed a logical path forward. Below, Carter said he was just noting that sometimes talking municipal cooperation was easier than achieving it.

See details of the Frederick Water Authority operations and future potential in an expanding regional format, along with its implications on utility costs on both sides of the town-county line, in the first hour-and-six-minute power point presentation and Q&A in the County work session video.

A cost comparison of current residential utility rates in the region.

Following that regional water authority presentation and discussion the board adjourned to Closed/Executive Session to discuss EDA litigation and related matters including recovery of EDA assets. And on the back end of that hour-and-fifteen-minute Closed Session, see a detailed presentation on the operations, costs and revenue streams of the County’s Parks and Recreation Department; followed by County Administrator Ed Daley’s summary of options on Compensation Board Bonus pay related to COVID pandemic operations and County payments to non-Comp Board covered employees.

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EDA in Focus

EDA completes audits for 2018 and 2019; 2020 audit is next

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The Board of Directors of the Front Royal and Warren County Economic Development Authority accepted its audited financial statements for fiscal years 2018 and 2019, today, October 5, 2021. The audit of the financial statements was conducted by the firm of Brown Edwards, CPAs of Harrisonburg, VA.

“We have received the final outside audits conducted for 2018 and 2019,” said EDA Board Chairman Jeff Browne.  “This was a huge effort on the part of Brown Edwards, and they have done very good work in challenging circumstances. Getting these two financial audits completed is a major step forward in putting the EDA’s past difficulties behind us. Now we can better focus on economic development issues to benefit the community.”

“The auditors’ letter points to three areas for improvement of internal controls,” Browne said. “It was important to make each improvement recommended by the CPAs, and we have done just that. The Warren County staff now administer the check-writing duties, collection of rents, and have layers of approvals for expenses within EDA and the County administration that were not there three years ago.”

The audited financial statements show that, at the end of the fiscal year 2019, the EDA’s total net assets were $38,036,737, and its net liabilities were $44,575,435, resulting in a deficit net position of $6,538,698. The EDA will work with Warren County’s auditors starting with the fiscal year 2020, which audit can now be undertaken.


Final Financial Statement 10-5-21

Final Letter to governance

 The EDA Board of Directors will have their next regular monthly board meeting via Zoom on Friday, October 29, 2021, at 9 a.m.

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Local Government

Outside agency, departmental updates dominate County Board’s attention

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The Warren County Board of Supervisors had a light action agenda – a six-item Consent Agenda – but a full morning of outside and County agency operational and personnel updates before adjourning to a 10 a.m. Closed Session for information on Economic Development Authority litigation. Following that approximate half-hour Executive Session, the board got the bad news from County Fire Marshal Gerry Maiatico that the County was not a recipient of SAFER grant funding recently announced through the State.

Maiatico explained that perhaps already being the recipient of grant funding for the Rivermont Fire Station, being near the front of the line for additional grant funding might be a longshot at this point. However, he added that there appeared to be funds remaining under the recent SAFER grant umbrella, so the department hasn’t given up hope some additional funding might come the County’s way for coming operational needs or equipment needs.

Fire Marshal Gerry Maiatico says County Emergency Services hasn’t given up hope some SAFER grant funding might not still find its way the County’s way. Below, Schools Superintendent Chris Ballenger outlined thus-far successful efforts to minimize pandemic exposure through the school system. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

Prior to the Closed Session County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Ballenger gave a detailed update on the school system’s status into this 2021 semester in the second year of COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic precautions. The report was positive, with no system schools on the state “outbreak” list. Responding to a question, Ballenger explained that approximately 40 students on a quarantine list were a result of home exposures, and precautions to prevent those out-of-school exposures from being carried into the schools. Families were urged to do due diligence on potential home exposures, to help the system “Protect Instruction” as the semester progresses. The primary goal being to keep as many students as possible in school and safe from Coronavirus exposure, along with their instructors.


The system, like others, is dealing with a shortage of substitute or replacement instructors due to the evolving Coronavirus situation with the more contagious Delta-variant-fueled Phase 4 remaining an issue.

A presentation by People Inc. representatives tied into a follow up by Warren County Department of Social Services Director Jon Martz. Martz pointed out he had me with People Inc. reps the previous days to coordinate efforts moving forward as economic hardships are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

With Marshall Williams at the podium, People Inc.’s Samantha Barber explains efforts to help with living situations for those struggling economically in the region, including those trying to successfully rehabilitate after their release from jail. Below, WCDSS Director Jon Martz introduces new DSS Job Developer Brooke McClung.

Martz made one of several new staff introductions to the board, from his department Job Developer Brooke McClung. However, he also noted the loss of DSS staffer Samantha Edwards to another jurisdiction closer to her home. Edwards is leaving her county position tomorrow to become the DSS Assistant Director in Rappahannock County.

Others staffers headed this way introduced to the board Tuesday morning included Human Resources Director Jane Meadows and Finance Director Matt Robertson. Kayla Darr was noted for her work filling gaps in Admin during this time of staffing transitions.

County Administrator Ed Daley, left, reminds town officials they are invited to next Tuesday’s 6 p.m. Board Work Session for a regional water presentation by Frederick County officials.

During his County Administrator’s Report, Ed Daley reminded town officials of next week’s 6 p.m., Tuesday, October 12, work session in which the County will receive a Regional Water initiative presentation by Frederick County officials. Town Council and key staff have been invited to consider potential advantages of both municipalities moving in a regional water provider direction.

See these discussions and other business, including the monthly VDOT update, and a work session presentation on operations and staffing at the County Public Works Department, in the County video.

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Local Government

County applies for broadband grant – seeking input from unserved locations

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Warren County has applied for a state grant to achieve universal fiber-to-the-home broadband to unserved locations in the County.

These state grants will only be available to areas that are unserved by broadband. As part of the planning effort, a list of unserved areas was submitted to the state agency that determines whether broadband service is available.

Click here to take the survey.

Several providers, including Virginia Broadband, Shentel, and Century Link/Lumen, have challenged the list of unserved areas in Warren County by claiming they already offer broadband service within areas proposed for grant funding.


A survey is available now to verify these unserved areas in Warren County.  Without adequate survey responses from these areas, they may be excluded from the broadband grant project.

 

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King Cartoons

Front Royal
70°
Sunny
7:26am6:28pm EDT
Feels like: 70°F
Wind: 8mph W
Humidity: 40%
Pressure: 30.13"Hg
UV index: 5
WedThuFri
75/48°F
77/54°F
66/50°F

Upcoming Events

Oct
21
Thu
10:00 am Senior Painting Class with Dottie @ Strokes of Creativity
Senior Painting Class with Dottie @ Strokes of Creativity
Oct 21 @ 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Senior Painting Class with Dottie @ Strokes of Creativity
Senior Painting Class with Dottie at Strokes of Creativity. Tickets: CLICK HERE Cost: $80 for 6 weeks Dates: Thursdays – Oct 21, Oct 28, Nov 4, Nov 11, Nov 18, Dec 4 Time: 10 am[...]
1:00 pm Art Class for 4th & 5th @ Strokes of Creativity
Art Class for 4th & 5th @ Strokes of Creativity
Oct 21 @ 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm
Art Class for 4th & 5th @ Strokes of Creativity
This class is for Grades 4th and 5th. Perfect for home schoolers. Recommended ages: 9 and 10 years old Tickets: CLICK HERE Tickets are available through Square Up, or can be paid in person at[...]
Oct
23
Sat
11:00 am Fall Farm Days: History of Sky M... @ Sky Meadows State Park
Fall Farm Days: History of Sky M... @ Sky Meadows State Park
Oct 23 @ 11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Fall Farm Days: History of Sky Meadows @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area.  During Fall Farm Days History Weekend, step back in time and see history come to life. Stroll through the Historic Area buildings, interact with our living historians and discover our links to historic[...]
11:00 am The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
Oct 23 @ 11:00 am – 5:00 pm
The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
Blacksmith Shop in the Historic Area. The forge is fired up and the blacksmiths are hard at work in the Historic Area. Members of the Blacksmith Guild of the Potomac have set up shop and[...]
1:00 pm Paint Class for Kids Ages 8 and up @ Strokes of Creativity
Paint Class for Kids Ages 8 and up @ Strokes of Creativity
Oct 23 @ 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm
Paint Class for Kids Ages 8 and up @ Strokes of Creativity
This is a painting class for children 8 years old and up. Tickets: CLICK HERE Tickets are available through Square Up, or can be paid in person at Strokes of Creativity. Date: Saturday, October 23,[...]
Oct
24
Sun
11:00 am Fall Farm Days: History of Sky M... @ Sky Meadows State Park
Fall Farm Days: History of Sky M... @ Sky Meadows State Park
Oct 24 @ 11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Fall Farm Days: History of Sky Meadows @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area.  During Fall Farm Days History Weekend, step back in time and see history come to life. Stroll through the Historic Area buildings, interact with our living historians and discover our links to historic[...]
11:00 am The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
Oct 24 @ 11:00 am – 5:00 pm
The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
Blacksmith Shop in the Historic Area. The forge is fired up and the blacksmiths are hard at work in the Historic Area. Members of the Blacksmith Guild of the Potomac have set up shop and[...]
6:30 pm Benefit Concert for Front Royal ... @ Riverton Church
Benefit Concert for Front Royal ... @ Riverton Church
Oct 24 @ 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm
Benefit Concert for Front Royal Police @ Riverton Church
Riverton Church is hosting a benefit concert featuring the Mr. Ron Dye (director) and the Riverton Church Symphonic Wind Orchestra as well as Yesterday Swing Orchestra. Free Admission: Offering taken to benefit the Front Royal[...]
Oct
25
Mon
11:00 am Art Class for K-1st @ Strokes of Creativity
Art Class for K-1st @ Strokes of Creativity
Oct 25 @ 11:00 am – 12:00 pm
Art Class for K-1st @ Strokes of Creativity
This class is for Kindergarten and First Grade. Perfect for home schoolers. Recommended ages: Ages 5 and 6 Tickets: CLICK HERE Tickets are available through Square Up, or can be paid in person at Strokes[...]
1:00 pm Art Class for 2nd & 3rd @ Strokes of Creativity
Art Class for 2nd & 3rd @ Strokes of Creativity
Oct 25 @ 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm
Art Class for 2nd & 3rd @ Strokes of Creativity
This class is for Grades 2nd and 3rd. Perfect for home schoolers. Recommended ages: 7 and 8 years old Tickets: CLICK HERE Tickets are available through Square Up, or can be paid in person at[...]