Prior to the end-of-meeting announcement of Interim Mayor Matt Tederick’s pending appointment to fill the position of town manager on an interim basis during the search for a permanent replacement for departing Joe Waltz, public and council attention had been focused on the public hearing and scheduled first vote on some dramatic reductions to water and sewer tap fees.
In fact the lone vote against Tederick’s appointment to be interim town manager came from Gene Tewalt, who had butted heads with Tederick earlier Tuesday night over the tap fee reduction initiative the mayor has propelled forward.
And while Tewalt declined comment on his vote in opposition to the interim town manager appointment, the two long-time local political figures have often butted heads over Town-County issues.
And that was again apparent in the discussion of the proposed water-sewer tap fee reductions that was the central focus of council and public discussion at the Tuesday, October 15, Town Council meeting at the Villa Avenue Community Center.
Tederick had put approval on a fast track to be completed before his interim mayor’s tenure is up in early November in the hope of being positioned to cast a potential tiebreaking vote in favor of the cuts if necessary.
Tewalt led opposition to that fast track and a final council decision pending receipt of more information related to coming water-sewer utility costs that he said could quickly melt a significant portion, if not all, of a $12 million Enterprise Fund reserve.
In fact as recounted in our related story, Tederick caught some friendly, if pointed criticism from former Front Royal Mayor and Councilman Stan Brooks during public comments Tuesday for referring to Town reserves as a “slush fund”. Brooks noted the term implied hidden money used for illegal purposes.
An impeachment ‘sidebar’
Another citizen urging caution on the tap fee issue, Fern Vasquez, noted that having lived through the Nixon “plumbers” and impeachment era of the early 1970’s she was well versed in the illegal ramifications Brooks referred to regarding “slush funds”.
And while she didn’t elaborate, having those same first-hand memories of another impeachment era, one might add that the “CREEP” (Committee to Re-Elect the President) Nixon “slush fund” at issue was used to finance such 1972 campaign dirty tricks as slipping LSD into the drink of a leading Democratic candidate, Ed Muskie while he was in the midst of a railroad whistle-stop campaign stump; and of course the Watergate break in of the National Democratic Headquarters, the cover up of which proved fatal to the Nixon presidency among Democrats and Republicans alike.
And as also reported in our related story, contacted about Tederick’s pending appointment as interim town manager, Brooks quipped, “I guess now Matt will be managing the Town’s ‘slush fund’.”
Tap fee cuts on hold
Be that political history as it may – ancient and national or local and developing – in the face of a majority of public comment and public hearing criticism regarding the importance of maintaining a healthy reserve fund balance and not making a tap fee rush to judgment, the scheduled first council vote on the tap fee proposal was tabled. That tabling was so that council could seek additional information on costs versus reserves as related to the redundant corridor water line system expansion on the table after eight years of discussion; as well as the perhaps soon to be state or federally mandated Intake and Inflow (I&I) improvements to the sewer system that are under consultant’s study at this time.
Mayor, council debate rationale for lower water-sewer tap fees to developers
As noted in our lead story on the Front Royal Town Council’s Tuesday, May 26 meeting, public hearings on two ordinance amendment proposals drew some discussion prior to a vote.
The first of those two was an altered motion on water and sewer rates and lowering tap fees for new development into the Town’s central water-sewer utilities. Mayor Eugene Tewalt temporarily gave up the meeting’s presiding officer role to Vice-Mayor William Sealock so that he could add comments into the public hearing record.
The mayor then explained his understanding of development of the tap fee and water-sewer rate discussion in recent months leading up to the night’s vote.
“Six months ago or thereabouts, we decided that the Town would install the water and sewer taps at the Town’s expense, which when we found out in talking to the person who had been doing that, it was about an $8,000 cost that the contractor or developer was paying to that individual that was doing that,” Tewalt recounted, observing, “So when we took this over, that’s $4,000 dollars for water and $4,000 for sewer to that developer,” that the Town would appear to be absorbing facing the proposed tap fee decreases on the table.
Tewalt continued to cite numbers indicating that lost revenue it appeared to him Town citizens would eventually be absorbing in higher water-sewer rates to meet an apparent revenue shortfall.
“That would equal to $12,127 that the town taxpayers are going to have to absorb somewhere … in order to cover these costs,” Tewalt told council.
A check of the 34 pages of related ordinance material in the agenda indicated large, across the board reductions to the “system development fees” (formerly known as connection or “tap” fees) ranging from $21,938 down to $12,217 to connect a sewer line to a 1-inch water meter; and from $1,464,450 down to $1,294,967 to connect a sewer line to 12-inch water meter.
Also indicated was a slight monthly increase in the base residential sewer rate for under 3,000 gallons usage per month from $16.17 to $16.74 and above 3,000 gallons usage from $13.91 to $14.40 monthly. That increase apparently holds to the water-sewer rate study consultant Stantec’s recommendation of a 3.5% sewer rate hike to cover system costs. Tewalt also noted that council had decided to defer the recommended 2% water rate increase to the next fiscal year cycle (FY-2022).
That led the mayor to predict a likely 4% increase for citizen water rates next year, or more if the “tap fee” reductions were included with the Town’s continued responsibility to make those connections for developers.
“And this just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me at this point,” the mayor concluded of having the Town perform the connections for developers at reduced rates to be absorbed by taxpayers. However, it would take a while to determine exactly what was on the table and how it was arrived at.
As Tewalt concluded, Vice-Mayor Sealock asked Acting Council Clerk Tina Pressley if any public comments had been submitted for the public hearing. There were none, Pressley responded. So, Sealock then closed the public hearing and handed the presiding officer’s gavel back to the mayor.
Tewalt then asked for a motion. Meza responded by reading the motion originally printed for the agenda. “I move that Council affirm on its first readying an ordinance amendment to Town Code Chapter 134 pertaining to the increase of sewer service rates and the decrease of water service rates and system development charges for both sanitary sewer service and water service, as presented.” It would later be necessary to re-read the motion, deleting the reference to a reduction in “the water service rates”.
Following Chris Holloway’s second and the mayor’s call for any further discussion, Meza said, “I have a couple clarifying comments that I’d like to try to understand.” He then referenced the several months of conversation about the tap fee rates, observing that eventually, “council started moving in a rapid direction, a rapid pace to reducing those fees …”
Meza indicated it was his understanding council was moving in the direction of consultant Stantec’s recommendations.
“So Mr. Tederick, did Stantec take into account the fact that we would be doing our own installation on the tap fees?” Meza queried the interim town manager.
That led to Tederick’s introduction by remote connection of Stantec representative Andrew Burnham. In introducing Burnham to the virtually-conducted meeting conversation, Tederick noted, “I would be very delicate in how I address your question,” perhaps addressing Meza, “because it might be best to have the answer in a closed session due to potential legal matters.”
However, the conversation and Burnham’s input continued in open session.
Tederick prefaced Burnham’s entrance to the conversation with some topic history: “In 2010 when the study was last done and the rates were set … the Town was conducting the connections. Since that time the Town stopped conducting the connections but continued to keep the rate at that higher rate. The rate that is being assessed today does not include the cost of material or labor, or the fact that the developer or the builder will have the ability to go out and put the connection in himself. So, in our opinion it’s very as Stantec presented it; it was just a very fair and transparent way of conducting business.”
Meza said he respected the mayor’s concerns, but remained confused as to how council developed varying opinions on where the new rates should be set, adding, “And now it seems there’s concerns that its actually fallen short and we won’t be able to cover (our costs) and that will fall on our taxpayers. So, I guess my question to Stantec would be did we evaluate this appropriately to take into consideration all the additional costs, so that two years out we’re not going to have to artificially inflate our rates in order to be able to sustain the program?”
Enter the consultant
“The short and the quick answer to that is, it was taken into account,” Stantec’s Burnham said to enter the conversation. He then elaborated.
“Specifically, when we went through a presentation … it was a summary of our analysis that was done using the history of accepted methodologies in allocating costs. So, we wanted to make sure that your rates or the base charges and amounts of water used would cover your ongoing costs of operations and maintenance, renewal and replacement expenses.
“And that the system development charges (formerly known as connection/tap fees) would cover the initial cost of system capacity proportionally from all new connections; and that the cost of actually making the connection, the installation and the taps – those would be done separately based on actual costs for labor, materials to make the connection.”
Following some additional input by council, Tederick told Mayor Tewalt, “The Town under the new ordinance, will not be paying for the actual labor or materials. So, the labor and materials are being passed on to the builder, or the builder could decide to go out and provide his own connections. So, in no way is the town taxpayer paying for that.”
Tewalt responded that if that was the case, “I have no problems with this,” adding he thought Stantec had “done a great job”. However, the mayor re-expressed his concern that at some point in the evolution of the ordinance amendment discussion council had agreed that Town crews would be involved in future new development connections.
“My understanding was that council said we’d be doing the installation free of charge, without any cost to the contractor. If I’m wrong, then accept my apologies,” the mayor said after nearly 15 minutes of discussion with several expressions of confusion over how what was on the table had been arrived at.
Vice-Mayor Sealock observed that he believed that a past failure by council to adjust the utility rates as costs to provide the service increased had created ongoing issues the Town as now trying to catch up with as the tap fee discussion continued.
“The rates not being changed over an extended period of time had a definite effect on the sewer charges. So, I want to bring that up – they’ve been running in a deficit for a long period of time,” Sealock noted.
After the clerk pointed out the motion wording change regarding removal of a reference to “decreased water service rates” Meza read the corrected motion, again seconded by Holloway. The motion then passed by a unanimous roll call vote.
The second and binding reading will occur at council’s next meeting in two weeks.
Hear the whole discussion, along with council’s other business conducted, in the linked Royal Examiner recording of Tuesday’s remotely conducted meeting:
Mayor, Meza spar over committee appointment powers – Mayor by legal TKO
A decision on a one-on-one verbal confrontation between Mayor Eugene Tewalt and Councilman Jacob Meza on who had the authority to make committee appointments, the mayor or a council majority, was rendered by a referee, we mean Town Attorney Doug Napier about 52 minutes into Thursday night’s Front Royal Town Council work session.
However, the sometimes contentious debate over who should serve from the council on a new County-requested committee to jointly discuss a path forward on Tourism promotion in the wake of separately heard, identical presentations by Joint Town-County Tourism Advisory Committee Vice-Chair Kerry Barnhart earlier in the week, began about a half-hour earlier, some 20 minutes into the May 21st work session. The half-hour delay on a decision was due to the necessity of the town attorney’s legal research on mayoral authority.
The dispute arose over Mayor Tewalt giving one of the Town’s two appointments to the new committee to Councilwoman Letasha Thompson.
Thompson has been the council’s most proactive member in getting direct input from involved Town Tourism staff and tourism advisory committee members in the wake of the late January decision to reduce the Town Tourism function and personnel. At last night’s work session Thompson was first to volunteer to serve for the Town on that County-requested four-member supervisor-council committee. Following Thompson to also volunteer their service were Gary Gillespie and Lori Athey Cockrell.
Jacob Meza followed by expressing interest but saying he would defer to the service of others. Meza then weighed in against Thompson’s appointment citing a supposed lack of neutrality in having expressed past concern at the council majority and interim town manager’s preemptive Tourism cutbacks without what she believed was adequate research into how the existing Tourism apparatus was functioning or a plan to replace what was being cut.
So, rather than the councilperson who has been most proactive in researching that function with both existing town staff and joint tourism committee members, Meza threw his support to Gillespie and Cockrell.
Thompson responded aggressively, disputing Meza’s contention that her proactive work with tourism operatives somehow disqualified her from an objective analysis of how best to proceed with the County in a coordinated and effective manner on tourism marketing.
“I think we’re all on the same page – we all think tourism is important; it’s how we’re going to get back on our feet. I think it’s rather odd that you take out the person who’s actually fought for the joint tourism meetings,” Thompson told Meza.
She noted that she had met with Barnhart “for hours” after her presentation on options moving forward “to get her perspective” and to get additional information on the research Barnhart and the Advisory Committee did to assemble the Advisory Committee PowerPoint presentation.
“Yes, I’m very passionate about us having strong tourism – and it is what it is,” Thompson told Meza and his colleagues.
But apparently taking the time to do background research involving those on the ground of Tourism marketing in this community, in support of one’s decision-making process is viewed as a negative by Thompson’s colleagues.
Vice-Mayor William Sealock joined in suggesting Thompson not serve as one of the two Town representatives, like Meza, citing Thompson’s immersing herself in the Tourism issue.
Meza then cited Mayor Tewalt’s insistence that he would appoint Thompson to the committee as a challenge to the will of the council majority. None of Meza’s apparent “gang of four” council allies indicated any disagreement with his stance either against Thompson’s appointment or council’s authority to decide who among them should be appointed.
However, the mayor was unmoved.
“I feel that Letasha has been involved with this, and Gary has too. So, tonight I’m going to make the appointment personally and give it to Letasha and Gary – so I hope that you all can do a good job and represent the Town very well,” Tewalt said, asserting his mayoral authority and drawing a “thank you” from Thompson.
That did not sit well with Meza, who challenged the mayor for not bending to the will of the council.
“This is a decision made by the council, not selected by the mayor, correct?” Meza replied.
“No, I disagree. I think I have the opportunity and the power to appoint two members and I’ve appointed the members,” the two-time mayor and long-time councilman responded.
“I think that you have the obligation to follow the direction of the council. And if the council is saying that we want to pick two members to represent the voice of council, you have an obligation to uphold that vote, do you not?” Meza pressed the mayor.
“No, I feel that I have the obligation right now,” Tewalt responded as Vice-Mayor Sealock injected that he did not support the mayor in this case. However, Sealock sent a mixed message, noting the mayor did have some committee-appointment authority, though he did not believe so in this case.
“This is not a board that you have appointed for action. In that case you do have that capability when you do appoint a board to look into the issue or whatever,” Sealock said, citing the joint County-Town nature of this particular committee that he told the mayor “takes you out of the picture” of mayoral committee appointment authority.
Thompson told her colleagues that if they shut her out of the committee appointment, she would continue to talk to those County and Town sources with whom she seemed to be the lone council member to establish an ongoing relationship with regarding tourism.
But Tewalt held his ground, telling her she remained appointed. The mayor added that he believed the council did not have the authority to overturn his committee appointment authority.
Again, Meza disputed that, asserting council authority over the mayor on committee appointments. The raising of the town attorney’s name and the necessity of a legal ruling at this point led to the discovery that Napier, was in fact, present with Tederick, apparently at Town Hall, despite not showing up on the virtual name list of work session attendees. Napier told council he was looking for the applicable statutes as they spoke.
Twenty minutes later a decision was ready to be rendered just as Councilman Holloway joined the meeting.
Napier then told the full council and mayor, “I’ve looked at everything we can look at, and this is Town Code 4.8 and I can’t find anything anywhere to contradict this: ‘4.8, the mayor is the presiding officer. The mayor as the presiding officer of the council, dot, dot, dot, shall appoint all committees.’
“So, the mayor appoints who he wants for the Tourism Committee,” Napier said.
“Thank you, Doug. Again, I appoint Letasha and Gary,” Mayor Tewalt reminded council.
Though defeated by Town Code, Meza wasn’t finished.
“I respect that appointment, Mr. Mayor. But I did want to make a note that you had a majority of council recommending different appointments (one actually) that you went against,” Meza stated for the meeting record.
“So noted,” the mayor responded
“Not surprising,” Councilman Holloway commented, throwing in with the Meza-Sealock led otherwise silent council majority despite having missed the lengthy debate on the Thompson appointment.
And then council moved on to other business, that business being the downtown street closures discussed in our companion story on the Thursday, May 21, work session.
See both discussions, and consideration of the redundant North Corridor water line project that opened Thursday’s work session; and the status of the Town Manager interview process being spearheaded by the contracted executive search firm of Baker Tilly that has narrowed 47 applicants down to 9, going on 5 candidates under council’s consideration, in the linked Royal Examiner recording:
Holiday weekend downtown walking mall closures okayed by council
While it wasn’t the most entertaining – as in WWF “Cage Match” entertainment – portion of Thursday’s Front Royal Town Council work session (see related story) the discussion and decision to move forward with the closing of portions of East Main and Chester Streets in Historic Downtown Front Royal to vehicular traffic this coming Memorial Day weekend has the most immediate impacts.
Those impacts will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday and conclude at 7 a.m. Tuesday morning. They include allowing the area’s multiple restaurants to have outdoor seating to facilitate broader, Governor’s Executive Order 61 Phase One openings, including allowing alcohol to be served with food in prescribed outdoor seating areas. Contacted later, Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick explained that individual restaurants must contact their ABC representative to receive authorization to serve alcohol in the designated outdoor areas over the holiday weekend.
“This is not a festival,” Tederick observed, noting that roaming downtown with alcoholic beverages in hand as during the Wine & Crafts or Blues & Brews Festivals will not be allowed.
However sitting outside, properly socially distanced of course as Tederick indicated the Town would encourage per the Governor’s Executive Order 61, under forecast 70 to 80 degree, partly sunny, partly cloudy weather with good food and something to wash it down within the wake of two months of mandated business closures and stay at home for fun orders, might just work for most.
Tederick also confirmed that Royal Cinemas’ owner Rick Novak will utilize the outdoor summer Town movie night broadcast equipment to play movies and sell concessions outside his Park Theater this weekend, as well.
As for the closure of portions of East Main and Chester Streets, Tederick said the Town parking lots in the Gazebo-Village Commons and Crescent Street areas would be open for parking. East Main Street will be blocked from North Royal to Blue Ridge Avenue, and Chester Street will be closed from East Main to just beyond the Chester Street entrance to the Gazebo-Village Commons parking lot.
While discussion of the future of joint County-Town Tourism marketing was also part of Thursday night’s agenda, as reported below, there was no reference to specific efforts to draw Northern Virginia/D.C. Metro area citizens still living under “Phase Zero” non-opening restrictions to the Town’s expanded Historic Downtown Memorial Day weekend activities.
Our colleague and local Memorial Day ceremony organizer Malcolm Barr told us those activities will include a paired-back Memorial Day laying of the wreath ceremony Monday at noon, at the Warren County Courthouse lawn. Rather than the normal Dogs of War-referenced ceremony at the Gazebo featuring school bands, citizens and their dogs parading in memory of a nation’s fallen and their loved ones who have sacrificed so much, Barr estimated a brief, perhaps 10-minute ceremony led by Barr’s Husky rescue dog Diva, and wreath placers Mayor Eugene Tewalt and County Board Chair Walter Mabe.
The Memorial Day ceremony in honor of our fallen and their families will be viewable in an exclusive Royal Examiner video; as will the entirety of Thursday’s occasionally volatile Town work session linked to both this and our related story on that volatility surrounding appointments to a County-requested four-person committee on the future of tourism marketing here.
Warren County Government Center soft reopening
On Tuesday, May 26th, the Warren County Government Center will conduct a “soft reopening” for the Treasurer’s and Commissioner of the Revenue’s Offices. All other offices in the Government Center will remain closed to the public with services still available via telephone, email, or by appointment.
Citizens are encouraged to continue utilizing alternative payment methods for the first half of 2020 taxes, including:
- Regular mail
- Outdoor dropbox
- Online eCheck payments with NO convenience fee
- Online credit/debit card payments with 1.99% convenience fee
For those citizens who must visit in person, they will be directed via signate to come in the building through the secondary entrance door marked “Building Inspections” at the center of the building. An automatic hand sanitizer station will be at the entrance for public use. The flow of foot traffic will be in one direction with social distancing decals placed at proper intervals on the floor down the length of the hallway. Once citizens have completed their business in the Treasurer/ Commissioner suite, they will be directed to exit through the door on the north side of the building towards the drive-thru. Cones will be placed on the sidewalk alongside the drive-thru to ensure the safety of the pedestrians exiting the building.
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, the County of Warren, VA Facebook page, or the Town of Front Royal COVID-19 website.
County appoints Jonathon C. Munch as Finance Director
Warren County today announced the appointment of Jonathon C. Munch, CPA, CPFO, VCA as the new Finance Director for Warren County. Mr. Munch graduated from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, with a Bachelor of Science in Accounting. He has been a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) since 2002, a Certified Public Finance Officer (CPFO) since 2015, and a Virginia Contracting Associate (VCA) since early 2018. Mr. Munch is an active member of the Virginia Government Finance Officers Association (VGFOA), having served as President and as an Executive Board Member. In that capacity, he chaired several committees and sub-committees. Mr. Munch has also served as a conference speaker and instructor for both the VGFOA and the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada (GFOA). Mr. Munch will begin his employment with the County effective June 15, 2020. He fills the vacancy created this past October by the resignation of Andre Fletcher, former Finance Director.
Mr. Munch joins Warren County from Fauquier County, Virginia, where he has been employed for the past seven (7) years as the Director of Finance for the Fauquier County Government and Public Schools. In Fauquier County, he is responsible for planning, implementing, and directing financial operations of the consolidated Finance Department, which includes financial reporting; planning and implementation of fiscal policy; oversight of debt portfolio and issuance of debt; and direction of preparation of budget and internal audit and pre-audit functions. Prior to his tenure in Fauquier County, Mr. Munch was employed by Prince William County, Virginia, where he served in progressively responsible Accountant positions for almost eight (8) years.
Walt Mabe, Warren County Board of Supervisors Chair, stated, “We are very pleased to find such an individual as Jon, who possesses the knowledge, experience, and education to make an immediate effective impact in Warren County. Given his past experience in the business and local government worlds, he has shown that he is quite the capable individual. We are pleased that he is joining us from a larger locality, bringing a fresh perspective to our unique challenges.”
Doug Stanley, County Administrator, stated, “Warren County is very fortunate to have someone of Jon’s knowledge, background, and expertise joining its staff. The Finance Director position, and the responsibilities that come with it, are an extremely important and integral component of the leadership team, and I believe Jon will be a great fit for Warren County. I want to again express my sincere gratitude to both Carolyn Stimmel and Andre Fletcher, former Finance Directors, for their support in helping to fill in and ensure that important functions were performed and reviewed each month and that the budget and audit functions for the past year were completed on time. I also sincerely appreciate the hard work of our dedicated Finance staff, including Christine Howell, Payroll Technician, Ivy Thompson, Accounting Technician, Jeannie Decker, CSA Coordinator, and Connie Oden, former Administrative Assistant, whose service has been invaluable in the daily operations of the department.”
Mr. Munch said, “I am very excited to have this opportunity to be a part of the team at Warren County. I am grateful to the County Administrator and the Board of Supervisors for the confidence that they have shown in me by entrusting me with this great opportunity, and I look forward to contributing to the success of Warren County in its mission of providing the best service to its citizens in an efficient and effective way.”
The Finance Department is located in the Warren County Government Center at 220 North Commerce Avenue, telephone (540) 636-1604. Office hours are 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Ramsey boundary adjustment, school surplus, COVID-19 & tourism occupy county supervisors – and citizen asks to save the municipal golf course
On Tuesday evening, at its second regular, virtual meeting of May, the Warren County Board of Supervisors passed a Resolution denying local developer Chris Ramsey’s request for a 20-acre boundary adjustment into the town limits of Front Royal.
The May 19 vote appears to end a four-year effort, resurrected with new parameters last year, to facilitate residential development along Guard Hill Road with access to lower in-town water and sewer utility rates and lower developer utility connection or “tap” fees. The Town had endorsed the request in forwarding it to the County for consideration.
The Resolution cited the request as inconsistent with the County Comprehensive Plan call for continued Agricultural uses in the area; as unnecessary to accommodate recent in-town growth rates into the foreseeable future; and a likely creator of traffic issues on winding and hilly Guard Hill Road and its intersection with the Route 522/340 major north side entrance way into Front Royal.
The vote to deny on a motion by North River District Supervisor Delores Oates, seconded by Cheryl Cullers, was 3-0 with two abstentions. Both Board Chairman Walter Mabe and Archie Fox abstained as they indicated they would at earlier work session discussion of the matter. Both Fox and Mabe have indicated potential conflicts of interest due to long personal and/or business relationships with Ramsey.
The Resolution declining the boundary adjustment noted the 2015 friendly boundary adjustment of Front Royal Limited Partnership’s 604 acres into town to facilitate coming residential development that adhered to state Urban Development Area guidelines of construction adjacent to existing residential and central utility access.
The potential of development of as many as 1200 homes there off Happy Creek Road on the town’s east side was observed to be able to accommodate in-town residential growth at the recent annual rate of 25 homes per year for “the next 25-50 years”.
Actually the County might have to amend that prediction to “the next 16 to 32 years” in the wake of FRLP principal David Vazzana’s amended development plan presented to the Town Planning Commission May 6. The new FRLP development proposal reduces the residential aspect to 400 to 800 units on 207 acres, with the remaining 397 acres proposed for alternate uses (see Royal Examiner’s early May story: “FRLP presents evolving development plan despite uncertain financial times”)
Finish A.S. Rhodes now, save money
Also on Tuesday, the board authorized the return of $1,076,200 in surplus Public School funds for the coming fiscal year. The Warren County School Board had requested a refund of the full $1,623,021 surplus from FY-2019. However, county staff’s initial recommendation due to negative revenue impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic crisis and use of $1.2 million of the County’s Fund Balance to meet the School’s current budget request, was the return of half those FY-19 reserves, or $811,511.
The approved amount adds $264,689 to that half surplus total to facilitate completion of the A.S. Rhodes Elementary School renovations currently underway. As staff noted in the agenda packet summary, “It does make sense to fund the full request for the A.S. Rhodes renovation project”. As previously discussed during work sessions, continuing renovations to completion now while contractors are on-site will reduce costs; and delaying completion into another Fiscal Year budget cycle will likely see higher costs in general tied to the remaining renovation work.
In the agenda summary County Administrator Doug Stanley explained that past boards have “encouraged WCPS (Warren County Public Schools) to conserve funds with the ability to have those returned for one-time capital purchases” and that “on a few occasions the schools have had to use them for operational uses”.
The vote to approve the return of the half-reserve amount with the additional funds to complete the A.S. Rhodes renovations, on a motion by Cullers, seconded by Fox, was unanimous.
The board also dealt with a number of Coronavirus pandemic-related matters Tuesday. They included the adoption of ordinances:
- “Deferring penalties and interest on certain Warren County taxes (real estate, personal property and machinery, and tools) until August 6, 2020”. This applies to taxes only that come due on June 5 this year. On August 6 a 10% penalty or $10, whichever is higher, will be imposed on those taxes that still have not been paid;
- Continuing the Emergency Ordinance declaration facilitating “continuity in the government of Warren County” during the pandemic crisis by authorizing electronic meetings without public attendance, but with the submission of public comments by electronic means for an additional 60 days as required by law. The initial ordinance was adopted on March 24. Responding to a question, County Deputy Emergency Services Manager Rick Farrall estimated a mid-June date when the governor’s Phase 2 reopening guidelines would kick in, perhaps facilitating a return to some semblance of publicly attended municipal meetings;
- Certified Board Chairman Mabe, County Administrator Stanley, and Chief Financial Officer Stimmel to execute receipt of federal Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF) totaling $3,504,154 through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act approved by Congress and signed into law by President Trump. It was noted that “Counties must ensure that an equitable share of the CFR funds it receives are shared with and granted to each town within its jurisdiction” and that all involved municipalities’ portions “must be spent in accordance with the same requirements” and that “the same documentation must be retained for audit purposes”. (I’d like to cover the meeting where town and county officials discuss exactly what “equitable share” means.)
Tourism options reprise
At an approximate one-hour work session that began at 6 p.m., county officials heard Joint County-Town Tourism Advisory Committee Vice-Chair Kerry Barnhart’s PowerPoint presentation on options for the future of Tourism marketing in the community. It was a duplicate presentation to the one made to the Town the previous evening. See that presentation and Royal Examiner’s story on that Town work session in the related story “Town points toward Memorial Day weekend expanded East Main St. opening”.
Following Barnhart’s presentation, Supervisor Oates suggested a joint meeting of County and Town officials to discuss how best to proceed forward with a joint Tourism marketing strategy.
“My concern is we’re going to continue to chase our tails with going around in circles without having all the stakeholders in a room and confirming what it is we would all agree to,” Oates told her colleagues, adding, “And we need to do it sooner than later because I agree with Kerry that the circumstances of COVID have put us in a very interesting position where we actually can benefit from the folks that want to get out of the city and come into our area in the near future.”
There appeared to be a board consensus to proceed in that suggested direction to facilitate quicker movement forward on coordinated tourism marketing while localities to our east, in particular, remain in pandemic “Phase Zero” continued business closings due to the severity of the COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak in Northern Virginia and the D.C. Metro area.
See these discussions and other business conducted, and electronically submitted citizen comments including an impassioned plea for the survival of the County’s municipal public golf course from Front Royal Golf Club Committee member Chris Lang, in the video, courtesy of Dewayne Coats, Warren County.