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The new pandemic response reality – closed, open governmental meetings

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But the governor said law enforcement, media, and governmental functions were immune, if not to COVID-19, at least to the public gathering ban – why not go for 3 out of 3 this morning? – your humble reporter argued. Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video & stills/Mark Williams

After a brief debate with the County powers that be over media access to Tuesday morning’s (March 24) Warren County Board of Supervisors Special Meeting from which the public was barred – and we thank County Board Chairman Walter Mabe for his decision to allow the Royal Examiner’s reporting and camera presence despite a staff legal belief that a March 20th Attorney General’s letter/opinion would allow the exclusion of media in what the governor has defined as an emergency or disaster situation related to the potential spread of COVID-19 in Virginia – we settled in to view the three-pronged meeting.

Those prongs were:

1 – adoption of an ordinance and authorizing resolution related to the conduct of the county government during the statewide and local COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) emergency declarations;

2 – approval of a salary of $77,456.37 for a new Lieutenant’s position in the Warren County Sheriff’s Office who will assist in regaining accreditation for the department, as well as having investigations and internal affairs responsibilities; and

3 – a detailed review of cuts and additions to the Fiscal Year 2021 budget and authorization to advertise a public hearing on the budget and associated tax rates.

Sheriff Butler makes his case for a new employee geared to regaining departmental accreditation, a move that would help future grant applications he pointed out. Earlier, media made a case for a ‘get out of jail free’ card on the outside chance the meeting-access discussion went south.

The board unanimously approved all matters before it, including the advertisement of a flat tax rate tied to the FY 2021 budget. However, as it did prior to the meeting regarding media access and state FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) law regarding media attendance at the meeting which, as noted above, was closed to the public other than by live video feed, the specter of the spread of COVID-19 and impacts on the local economy of prohibitions on “non-essential” local business activity and limits of 10 people in any one public gathering space, played heavily into the budget discussion led by County Administrator Doug Stanley.

“There is a lot of uncertainty. But I think we as a County can be flexible to respond to that,” Stanley told his board of dealing with unknown variables the COVID-19 pandemic and governmental responses to it, might bring.

“Can we have before our next meeting, depending on where the Coronavirus is, a work session to discuss our thoughts on what we need to look at and budget?” South River Supervisor Cheryl Cullers asked of potential impacts on County revenue generation, including sales, meals and lodging taxes and other peripheral variables that might come into play.

Above, the Warren Supervisors played to an empty house, save staff shuttled in and out, and media representatives; below, worrisome to County and Town officials this budget season are empty downtown streets and closed businesses.

Stanley suggested tacking that discussion onto the scheduled morning meeting of the following week – a meeting he observed could be held by teleconference. The budget and tax rate public hearings are scheduled for April 14, hopefully after some public gathering restrictions are lifted.

At the conclusion of his multi-faceted FY 2021 budget presentation that included comparisons to the County’s position and reactions to the 2008 housing market collapse and consequent recession, Stanley thanked his five-member board for all being present physically for it.

“As I told the chairman, it’s hard for me to run through all this stuff (by remote electronic hook up) – it’s hard to walk through that. It’s good to do it in person at least once, it makes it a little bit easier,” the county administrator observed budget complexities presented at an electronic distance.

Above, the county administrator presents budget variables to a properly socially-distanced board; and below, to Royal Examiner’s camera as county staff banished to adjacent rooms to keep the meeting room occupancy at 10, wait their turn.

 

Our videographer Mark Williams, hand-held the camera for the hour and a half meeting. Our tripod was left in the vehicle due to the uncertainty of entering the meeting space. Our apologies for the shakiness of the video in places.

 

Of the additional complexity of facing future crucial budget meetings electronically and without direct public, and perhaps media, in-person attendance, Stanley said, “Obviously we want to make sure the public is with us throughout this process. It’s not something any of us have gone through before. And as Jason (Acting County Attorney Jason Ham) said, we are going to try and make every accommodation that we can to put the information out there …”

See the information put out there the morning of March 24, 2020, on pandemic preparedness, the budget, and the new sheriff’s office position, not to mention portions of this reporter’s pre-meeting discussion with County officials about media access as a defined essential service, in this, fought for and graciously granted exclusive Royal Examiner public meeting video:

 

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Board considers finances, departmental needs in midst of ongoing pandemic emergency response

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The Warren County Board of Supervisors navigated its way through a variety of requests for approval of financial dispersals, some routine, some a consequence of the current COVID-19 pandemic and emergency response, and others somewhere in between.

At the in-between mark seemed to be Commonwealth’s Attorney John Bell’s request for approval of $37,064 for “case management software” that would help expedite his staff’s ability to deal with a variety of caseload responsibilities. Those include some anticipated from current pandemic response delays on court proceedings, increased staff working from home restrictions, and State Supreme Court-level changes to Discovery order responses he said would “increase drastically” prosecutors’ office workloads.

Commonwealth Attorney John Bell. File photo.

 

Bell said the software would allow his staff to “do in minutes, rather than the massive amounts of time it now takes” the background work that precedes courtroom appearances.

“Now once the judicial emergency is over, it’s going to fall on us like a ton of bricks,” Bell told the supervisors of the eventual end of COVID-19 slowdowns on the judicial process, adding, “and if we have the appropriate technology we can handle this much, much better than we would be able to do with our current system.”

While he admitted the software package was “not cheap”, he added that it wasn’t the most expensive of its type available either. And most encouragingly for a board facing still-unknown revenue consequences of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease-2019) pandemic and emergency management response, Bell said he was fairly confident he would be able to cover the total expense of the software from State Comp Board revenues available to his office. He had already been able to transfer $10,000 from Comp Board funds and said he had received an indication that the remainder would be able to be transferred from his office’s “vacancy salaries” allotment.

So, what he was seeking from the supervisors Tuesday was authorization for the purchase to allow training on the new software to begin, in the full expectation that any County revenue utilized would be fully refunded.

On a motion by Archie Fox, seconded by Cheryl Cullers, the board unanimously approved the request.

Other budgetary requests came from the Department of Social Services in the amount of $12,000 to facilitate the continuation of the homeless thermal shelter program through the COVID-19 response; authorization of appropriation of an additional $534,370 in state funding county public schools were found eligible for – the money will be used for textbook purchases in the current budget, and approval of $57,628 to the Sheriff’s Office for an updated call/radio recorder for the 911 emergency communications call center. The current system was described as outdated to current emergency response needs.

Thermal shelter cots. File photo.

 

All requests were unanimously approved on roll-call votes requested by the chair due to the remote link-up of two board members.

About that bug
As with the commonwealth attorney’s office funding request somewhere between COVID-19 response recommendations and elsewhere, seemed to be where the supervisors were as they fielded a three-person board quorum (Mabe, Cullers, Fox) in the caucus room adjacent to the Warren County Government Center’s (WCGC) main meeting room, with two members (Carter, Oates) present by phone hook-up. Also physically present were County Administrator Doug Stanley, Deputy County Administrator Bob Childress, and Board Clerk Emily Ciarrocchi.

Earlier in the week during a discussion of the advisability of media presence on Tuesday morning, April 7 meeting, County Attorney Jason Ham said his advice was that the minimum amount of people necessary to chair, present and broadcast the meeting be physically present for Tuesday’s meeting.

In fact, during his report to the board by remote connection, the Harrisonburg-based Ham reiterated the importance of social distancing and work at a distance as the nation, Virginia and localities approach what has been described by U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams as a “Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment” regarding a potential spike in the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic that recently surpassed a thousand fatalities a day in the U.S.

“Hello all, I’m sorry not to be here; but it’s the best thing, I think, for all of us in these difficult times,” Ham told his County colleagues before briefing them on federal legislation that could impact the county government and its employees were they to be impacted with COVID-19 symptoms. That includes up to two weeks of fully paid leave if employees contract symptoms or were diagnosed with COVID-19.

While not recommending its enactment at this point, Ham referenced a letter to the board concerning a state code section 15.2-1200 on the “General Power of Counties to Adopt Quarantine regulations”.

“I just want you to know all the tools you have in your toolbox to try to fight this,” Ham said, noting about 3,000 COVID-19 cases in Virginia, including another 1,000 in the D.C. area 70 miles to our east, which he noted pandemic-wise is “right in our backyard.” Thus far six cases of Warren County residents have been confirmed.

Ham observed that his legal firm had been split into two teams, “So one side never sees the other and we work from home on the other days. So, I encourage everyone to be safe, and will answer any question,” of which none were forthcoming.

The Supervisors adjourned to closed session at 10:45 a.m. to discuss the EDA’s $21.3-million civil litigation against Jennifer McDonald and 14 co-defendants, as well as the Town of Front Royal’s amended $20-million-plus civil litigation against the EDA, and the appointment of a replacement for resigned EDA Board of Directors member Mark Baker. No action was taken following the closed session.

Following that closed session’s adjournment at 12:45 p.m. and a 10-minute break, the board was led through a budget work session which adjourned at 1:37 p.m. Much of that 42-minute work session featured discussion of unknown variables on the County’s tax revenues due to the COVID-19 state and local emergency declarations and the unknown duration that restrictions on travel and business openings might continue.

County Administrator Stanley led the discussion and was joined by two former County Finance Directors, Carolyn Stimmel, who has been helping with the EDA’s preparation for its 2018 and 2019 audits, and her successor, now also employed elsewhere, Andre Fletcher.

With the budget public hearing scheduled for next week, the board reviewed the process by which the public may comment remotely. That process is to submit comments in advance of the 7 p.m., April 14 meeting to board Clerk Ciarrocchi. Further information is available on the County website or by calling the County Administration number.

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Future of Town central water-sewer rates and fees put on table

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At the first of two virtual work sessions of the week, staff led the Front Royal Town Council through a variety of topics ranging from:

1 – whether the Town has any liability for drainage-flooding issues in the Williamsburg Estates subdivision;

2 – what a consultant’s cost of service, the fee-and-rate study has recommended for the Town’s water-sewer utility’s future relationship to customers;

3 – the adjustment or waiving of some Town service fees;

4 – and how the Town may have “lucked out” as Councilman Gary Gillespie observed, regarding an initial $104,000 fine for violation of a Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Consent Order for improvements to infrastructure impacting the Town’s Wastewater Treatment Plant operations;

5 – not to mention an overview of the result of the “Envision” the future of downtown Village Commons/Gazebo area events, among several other items.

Of perhaps the broadest interest across the board for town citizens might be what coast-to-coast consultant Stantec has recommended on rates and fees to facilitate the Town’s ability to continue to provide and expand when necessary, its water-sewer utilities. That ability includes maintaining the operational water-sewer utility fund balance and reserves to continue to provide quality service to customers, both existing and new.

 

Whether those new customers should include out-of-town residential ones was a hot-button topic of debate last year as the Crooked Run 2 developers sought Town water-sewer, not for the commercial-industrial development the Town had previously agreed to without annexation for a community-wide commercial-industrial development/tax revenue benefit, but for residential development on county land outside the town limits.

Many existing in-town customers had a hard time with that pending expansion of the Town’s water-sewer utility responsibilities outside the town limits. And while Stantec representatives didn’t address the political side of that equation, the Town’s charging of double the in-town rate for water-sewer service outside the town limits as part of their three-pronged overview of rates and fees.

“Are they appropriate?” Stantec’s David Hyder asked rhetorically of the double out-of-town rate during a PowerPoint presentation. His company’s answer was “yes” – that the Town maintains its 100% surcharge, or double the in-town rate for out of town service. That recommendation was based on several industry-standard criteria revolving around cost differentials for the provision of that service.

In fact, Hyder noted that his company’s analysis including a number of customers, miles of pipe laid, debt incurred, assets involved in providing the service, and flow rates pointed to a 121.6% water surcharge and 108.2% sewer surcharge. However, given yearly fluctuations on a “weighted” basis, Stantec reasoned that maintaining the 100% surcharge appropriate.

Back in town
As for the in-town customers, there is an increase on the table over the next five years. That increase is a 2% hike to water rates annually and a 3.5% increase in sewer rates. That averages to just under 3%, at 2.9% combined. But don’t panic, the combined annual increase for the average user of 5,500 gallons monthly on a 3/4-inch line is about 65-cents for water and $1.90 for sewer, totaling a hike of just over $2.50 annually each year between FY-2021 and FY-2025.

Stantec also recommended a reduction in “system development charges” generally known as tap fees, to reflect actual costs of new connections. That decrease for water and sewer would be from $14,090 to $9,993 (from current $4,340 water to $2,663; and current $9,750 sewer to $7,330). In comparison to 12 other area jurisdictions, those suggested reductions would take Front Royal from fifth from the highest, behind only Manassas, Culpeper, Warrenton, and Manassas Park, to third from the lowest higher than only Woodstock and Waynesboro.

Hear Stantec principals David Hyder and Andrew Burnham’s detailed explanation of Stantec’s recommendations in this Royal Examiner recording of the work session, as well as other business before the council. More on the work session in forthcoming Royal Examiner stories.

Download the Agenda here.

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Front Royal/Warren County urge community to signup for Smart911

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From the Warren County Office of Emergency Management:

As Warren County and the Town of Front Royal prepare for and respond to the spread of COVID-19, public health and safety officials are strongly encouraging the community to sign up for the Smart911 national safety profile registry, a free service that allows individuals and families to provide critical medical information to 9-1-1 and first responders.

The County and Town are launching the “Take Control, Let Us Know” campaign to empower the community to take action and provide valuable and accurate health data that increases the awareness of 9-1-1, first responders, and Emergency Management to an individual’s risk level for Coronavirus. Members of our community are looking for ways to improve the safety of their families, friends, and neighbors as Coronavirus spreads. By signing up for Smart911, individuals can help first responders get the key information they need about every person who may need assistance, not only during this outbreak but during any emergency.

Individuals can create a Smart911 Safety Profile for their household at www.smart911.com or on a mobile device through the Smart911 app that provides critical medical information for those who may be at higher risk of developing a serious COVID-19 illness. As identified by the CDC, the vulnerable population includes older adults, and those with a history of chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, respiratory conditions, and compromised immune systems. When an individual calls 9-1-1, his/her Smart911 Safety Profile is automatically displayed, allowing public safety agencies to send emergency response teams to the right location with enhanced medical data.

Individuals can additionally self-identify if they are under quarantine, and whether it is self-imposed or directed by a health professional. The Smart911 App allows quarantined individuals to receive check-in messages on their health status. Smart911 also allows individuals to sign up for alerts from Warren County and Town of Front Royal officials to receive reliable information about the ever-changing Coronavirus situation. Individuals who sign up will also receive tailored alerts based on their specific needs and geographic location. With enhanced Coronavirus awareness, individuals and first responders have vital information to take proper precautions.

“As Coronavirus continues to be a major public health concern, we are doing everything we can to prepare, respond, and mitigate risk to those in our community who need assistance,” said Richard Mabie, Warren County Coordinator of Emergency Services. “The information provided in a Smart911 Safety Profile enables us to know who is at the greatest risk in our community. We can provide individuals with critical updates based on their location and health history. Ultimately, Smart911 gives our community the chance to be proactive and lets us know who requires our services. We urge the residents of Warren County and the Town of Front Royal to Take Control, Let Us Know. Sign up for Smart911, and help us address the Coronavirus outbreak.”

To sign up, visit www.smart911.com or download the Smart911 app to your mobile device through the Apple Store or Google Play.

This is a rapidly changing situation, and the most current information is available on the following websites: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus or www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/. Please consult www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus for the latest number of COVID-19 cases in Virginia.

Additionally, you can find local information on the Warren County COVID-19 website: https://www.warrencountyva.net/coronavirus-latest-information, the County of Warren, VA Facebook page, or the Town of Front Royal COVID-19 website: https://www.frontroyalva.com/645/Covid-19-Local-Response.

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COVID-19 Emergency Management Team briefing number 2: Community, patience with restrictions, and expanded Schools free-lunch program

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The three speakers at the second weekly local COVID-19 Emergency Management Team briefing, from left, Acting School Superintendent Melody Sheppard, County Board Chairman Walter Mabe, and Lord Fairfax Health District Director Dr. Colin Greene. Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video/Mark Williams – Royal Examiner Audio/Mike McCool

At the second of weekly briefings, the joint Warren County-Town of Front Royal COVID-19 pandemic Emergency Management Team was joined by Lord Fairfax Health District (LFHD) Director Dr. Colin Greene and Warren County Public Schools Acting Superintendent Melody Sheppard.

County Board and Management Team Chairman Walter Mabe opened the 3:30 p.m., Thursday afternoon, April 2nd roundtable discussion and question and answer media session with a brief review of public and personal health do’s and don’ts and online sources of information, as well as a call for a community response to the threat of the pandemic.

“The other thing we’re asking you to do is to help others. Not everybody that you know has access to the Internet … They are people who are your neighbors, they’re your friends and associates that may not have the Internet. They need to be spoken to … and told what they need to do, especially for just the simple things that we’re trying to do,” Mabe said of neighbors helping neighbors at a time when social distancing is a pandemic response key phrase.

Banished to the adjacent caucus/work session room to keep room numbers under 10, are from left, Town IT/Communications Director Todd Jones, County Board Clerk Emily Ciarrocchi – happy belated wedding wishes, Emily – Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick, County Fire Chief Richard Mabie and County Administrator Doug Stanley. County Emergency Manager Rick Farrall and FRPD Chief Kahle Magalis were also present, if not pictured.

But whether it’s at the suggested 6-foot face-to-face distance, or by phone, Mabe said we can maintain our sense of community through the pandemic response period, however long it may last.

And how long, among other medical and statistical variables, were among topics touched on by Dr. Greene. The doctor pointed out that the basic recommendations of frequent hand washing and other precautionary tactics will be worth keeping beyond the first wave of COVID-19 in the nation and localities across the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Dr. Greene said there have now been four confirmed COVID-19 cases among Warren County residents, though he added that they may not have all been identified by testing at Valley Health’s station at its Commerce Avenue site in Front Royal. He also said the number of confirmed cases in the six-municipality LFHD has risen to 43, with a nearly even split between men and women.

Most of that number has been between the ages of 40 and 70, with a spectrum from “under 20 to over 80”. Thus far, none of Virginia’s 41 fatalities have been in our health district that includes the City of Winchester, Clarke, Frederick, Warren, Shenandoah and Page Counties.

Dr. Greene declined to speculate on how many actual cases in the health district or commonwealth there may be. As the State Health Department website notes, only 17,589 of Virginia’s 8.62 million population have been tested.

Dr. Greene, far right, plays to a largely-empty room – there’s Emergency Director Farrall, seated at far left, back to camera.

He also updated national statistics, including about 225,000 confirmed cases and 5200 deaths in the U.S. – about a 2% fatality rate. It is a rate the mandated restrictions many states and cities are implementing are hoped to maintain or decrease from higher numbers seen elsewhere, including Europe. Greene noted death rates from 6% to 11% in Western Europe, with Italy holding that high number, followed by Spain’s 9% fatality rate. Only Germany at about 1.2% has a lower fatality rate among western European nations than the U.S. currently has, Greene said.

Free Lunch Program expanding
Following Dr. Greene’s question-and-answer with the media, Public School Acting Superintendent Sheppard traced the free lunch distribution program schedule, stops and times. The school system is expanding its free lunch program available to students under the age of 18, out into the community through the state-mandated school closings. She also explained that while the doors are closed to the County’s bricks and mortar educational sites, education continues through online and other methods to see the county’s students are not robbed of this school semester or year.

Dr. Greene had some newer statistics than those posted on the Virginia Health Department website earlier in the afternoon.

If you missed the live stream video, or even if you didn’t, see the full COVID-19 Emergency Management Team briefing in this Royal Examiner video – there is information included that you, and your neighbors, need to know:

 

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Town Notice: Fairground tank rehab project

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The Fairground Tank will be removed from service beginning April 13th, 2020 for full rehabilitation. The telecommunication antennas on the tank have been relocated to temporary poles on the property adjacent to the tank site. The antennas will remain on the temporary poles until the tank work is complete which is planned to last for 45-60 days.

The Town has prepared a plan to provide continued water service throughout the duration of the project. The work planned for the tank will include repainting the interior and exterior of the tank. The Town requests that any fire flow testing related to business insurance purposes be planned for after the tank project is completed.

Please contact Mike Kisner at 540-636-7474 or Robert Boyer at 540-635-7819 if you have any questions.

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Council poised for decision on CDBG pavilion project despite added costs

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‘CH’ – Gallagher’s Cheri Herschman – tried to open the council’s March 30th virtual work session with an employee health insurance presentation. However, her audio hook up experienced issues, leading to her getting bumped to second on the agenda. Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Audio/Mike McCool

After technical difficulties with the remote hook up of Gallagher representative, Cheri Herschman knocked the employee insurance plan presentation off the top of the Monday virtual work session agenda list, the Front Royal Town Council heard from Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick on issues with the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program’s revitalization of Front Royal’s Historic Downtown Business District.

“Needless to say, we’ve had some challenges with the CDBG in general, and now with the Coronavirus hitting our community it’s been even more of a challenge,” Tederick told the council to begin the March 30th work session discussion.

Among those challenges needing to be addressed almost immediately, Tederick explained were approval of amendments to bylaws to address personnel changes in the Façade Advisory Board and acknowledgment of the decision to move to the “materials only” option on financing downtown business façade improvements due to unexpectedly high bids on work and materials through the federal-state grant process.

“Several members got off the board; we have to add new members to the board,” Tederick said of the necessity of bylaw updates regarding program staffing.

As the agenda packet noted, those several “members who got off the board” included two, former Town Planning and Zoning Director Jeremy Camp and Tourism and Community Development Director Felicia Hart, whom Tederick terminated as part of his January 27 municipal downsizing initiative tied to his FY-2021 budget proposal. Also on the list was former Town Manager Joe Waltz, whom many observers of Town Hall believe resigned several months earlier to avoid being asked to implement then-Interim Mayor Tederick’s staff and departmental cutback plan.

The bylaw amendment would acknowledge Tederick’s replacement of Waltz as the program’s Grant Administrator, Director of Finance B. J. Wilson’s stepping into Hart’s role as “Assistant Project Manager” and the addition of Interim Planning-Zoning Director Chris Brock as “Project Manager”.

To build or not to build
Also on the table for movement toward quick council action, as in its first meeting of April, was a decision on whether or not to proceed with construction of the new Village Commons-Gazebo area Pavilion building aspect of the CDBG plan. Staff noted in the agenda packet that project estimates have added $143,349 to the $140,000 the Town has available for that major new downtown revitalization construction project now estimated at a total cost of $283,349.

The Front Royal Visitors Center has been a popular stopping point for community tourism information. After Town ‘Tourism’ promotion was suggested for outsourcing and removal from the Town budget, is council eyeballing a ‘Tourism’ promotional facility upgrade?

Staff’s recommendation should the council decide to proceed with this new construction aspect of the CDBG program, which was to request a CDBG budget amendment that would allow a 50/50 Town-CDBG Program split of the additional costs.

“We just need to get some guidance from council whether to continue down the path of staff trying to find the $75,000 dollars – in the packet we have various line items that I’ve been able to identify in the current budget in order to fund the $75,000 dollars. So, I just need to know … if that’s what you want to do,” Tederick told the council.

The line items Tederick identified to raise the Town’s half of the needed additional revenue should the State Grant administrators agree to the budget amendment for the project, came from departmental budgets whose staffs were impacted by Tederick’s late January terminations. They include a total of $39,079 from the Community Development Department; $25,000 from former Council Clerk Jennifer Berry’s budget; and $10,921 from the remaining staff salary allotment for the Horticulture Department.

First, Councilman Jacob Meza questioned whether the Town could commit the money to this project while so many revenues and timeframe on business closing variables from the COVID-19 pandemic emergency response remain unknown.

Revitalize what – targeted for federal funding through state agencies for a façade facelift, downtown businesses are currently facing an undetermined shut down as part of attempts to stem the tide of the COVID-19 pandemic spread statewide and locally.

“We’re still kind of structuring our budget for next year. But I still think there might be decisions to be made on the dollars that’ll be spent out of our budget considering the financial impact that we’re going to sustain with the all the preparation and the work keeping the COVID-19 down,” Meza said, adding, “All I’m saying is I think I’m okay with tonight deciding that we’re going to put the $75,000 in the budget with the line items that you’ve put in our packet that went out. But I’m still not a hundred percent sure that some things will be financially feasible depending on the financial impact of the COVID – does that make sense?”

While replying that he understood Meza’s concerns, Tederick noted that the line item funds he had identified were out of the existing budget, not next year’s where the Town will see the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and response on Town revenue streams and expenditures. The interim town manager pointed out staff needed a direction from council in the short term on whether they wanted to pursue a major aspect of the CDBG project in this budget year, or leave it to an uncertain budget-year future.

“So, you’re saying take it out of this year’s budget, but I thought we originally talked about having to set aside additional funds because the cost overage was unexpected, and you’re saying not take it out of the next year’s budget,” Meza replied.

Tederick reiterated that the additional $75,000 he had identified to try and move the pavilion project forward with a requested CDBG budget amendment was, indeed, out of the Town’s current FY-2020 budget.

Noting that due to project changes some funds committed to the façade aspect of the downtown revitalization project might end up coming available to other CDBG projects like the pavilion, Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock suggested council seize the moment if funding was now available, rather than wait facing an uncertain budgetary future.

I’ve got an idea for a downtown façade improvement – a movie marquee with films and playing times listed for a non-pandemic-stricken citizenry.

“So, I’m thinking looking forward instead of looking backward with this epidemic or pandemic, that we need to think about going forward in a positive manner,” Sealock told his colleagues.
Tederick then told council he did not feel there was great time pressure, and that the matter could be forwarded to another work session “to give you time to process … and have another round of discussion on whether to move forward or not”.

However, Finance Director B. J. Wilson noted that the building contractor on the project had been holding the price now on the table for some time. He pointed out that work session discussion of the matter had been on council’s schedule several weeks earlier; and that it was currently an unknown how much longer the price estimate at the root of the March 30 discussion might hold in what has been a builder’s market.

After the mayor polled a somewhat nervous council, a majority consensus was established to move the matter forward for a decision at the council’s next meeting.

Hear, if not see, council and staff’s discussion in the linked Royal Examiner audio recording:

Town will waive card-payment fees thru June, undecided on long-term options

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