Closed Sessions and reports on Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) projects and funding and county priorities in its 6-year Secondary Road Plan took up much of the Tuesday morning, May 4, Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting and work session. The meeting closed session topics were EDA-related litigation and personnel matters related to the Warren County Planning Commission.
The post-meeting work session began with a closed session adjourned to, to discuss requested adjustments to the Lease Agreement with VA Golf, LLC. The supervisors voted in June 2020 to accept the group’s management offer to operate the County’s municipal Front Royal Golf Club gifted to the County’s citizens in the 1930’s by William Carson Sr. in memory of his late son. Referencing video of that meeting in a written summary in the board agenda packet, VA Golf principal Louis Nicholls noted that maintenance and care of the club’s restaurant equipment was not part of the original agreement that has been revised by the County to include that. Nicholls said VA Golf was willing to take on that responsibility, but asked for adjustments to the lease that would allow the golf management group to pay rent primarily through “trade out” dollars in the provision of space and services to all County-related departments including public schools. There was no announcement on the lease arrangement out of the work session’s closed executive session.
Then VDOT’s Edwin Carter was back from his meeting update on ongoing projects to review spent and available funding in coming years committed to the County’s 6-Year Plan priorities. One issue addressed during his earlier meeting report was VDOT versus utility company jurisdiction in preventive or reactive work on clearing trees which threaten to or have fallen on power lines during extreme weather events. Recent and forecast high wind conditions were sighted for the danger they posed in downing trees in proximity to power lines. Carter explained that VDOT was limited in its authority when the trees have already been downed onto power lines or trees deemed a danger were not on VDOT right of ways.
During his monthly projects update, Carter told the board that a recent VDOT roadside litter collection project on primary and secondary roads had produced 20,000 bags of trash in the tri-county area of Warren, Shenandoah and Frederick Counties, at a $65,000 cost to the contractor.
One item on a 15-item Consent Agenda was removed for discussion and another was pulled from the agenda at the request of Interim County Administrator Ed Daley. Pulled for discussion at the request of Board Chair Cullers was approval of the new Health and Dental Insurance Rates achieved by the board decision to switch providers for more favorable rates. Removed from the agenda was authorization of approval of an Amended Agreement between the County and Town for the allocation of CARES Coronavirus Relief Funds. Those federal funds pass through state agencies to the County, and are allocated to the Town by the County upon receipt of documentation of the Town recipients’ eligibility for CARES funding. With submitted changes the interim administrator explained he needed additional time to assure the version presented to the board was the correct one in its entirety.
Also during the meeting, North River Supervisor Delores Oates asked her colleagues to consider eliminating the board’s first Tuesday of the month morning meetings in favor of a 7 p.m. starting time. She argued that the 9 a.m. meetings made it difficult for would-be board of supervisors candidates and working citizens in general to attend.
Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter explained the morning meetings were established to facilitate outside agency and departmental monthly reports during workday hours for those involved people, some like VDOT’s Ed Carter who have to travel some distance to attend. After County Attorney Jason Ham explained some legal dynamics involved in establishing and advertising meeting dates and times, it appeared the board will take up the subject at a coming work session.
Health Insurance switch dynamics
Cullers noted concerns expressed to her about coverage dynamics related to the switch from Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield to United Healthcare, as well as RSW Jail’s coverage package through SIGNA compared to the rest of county departments. Cullers said she wanted to assure impacted employees that they would not be losing coverage options from the lower rates presented by United Healthcare.
Health Insurance consultant Ed White of McGriff Insurance explained that during the review of available options an “apples to apples” comparison of coverages had been made to assure comparable coverage options at the various rates presented by providers.
Pointing to Anthem Blue Cross as likely the major provider in the region and Virginia as a whole, White said it was understandable that employees who have had the same Anthem coverage for decades would be concerned about a change. He said that as far as overlapping medical provider representation it was essentially a 98% overlap, indicating minimal impact on participating medical providers. As far as prescriptions there could be some variables related to co-pays, he admitted.
Interim Administrator Daley told the chair and board that orientation meetings for employees and retirees on the County’s health care plan were being scheduled. He added that he had put the person who brought the concern forward in touch with White, so that a personal review of impacts on that individual’s coverage could be made.
Following those assurances, on a motion by Delores Oates, the board unanimously approved the insurance carrier switch.
Sheetz and IT issues revisited
One member of the public addressed the board on the last open meeting agenda item – reconsideration of the denial of the Sheetz rezoning application in Linden. See more on that in a coming related story.
At the meeting’s outset, Board Chair Cullers also read two resolutions of appreciation for work done by County Public School and neighboring Frederick County’s Department of Information Technology staffs assisting with the aftermath of the March discovery of the cyber intrusion of the Warren County software and communications system.
As previously reported that “intrusion” was determined to be part of a larger national incident being investigated by law enforcement at multiple levels.
Stacy Swain also gave the board an update on Virginia Cooperative Extension Office programs and how they’ve been impacted by COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
See all the meeting and work session highlights in the linked County video of the May 4 meeting and work session, also available on the County website.
County Planning Commission, up to full strength, endorses second new storage facility
The Warren County Planning Commission, finally up to full strength with the addition of its newest commission member, Kaylee Richardson of the South River District, met Wednesday night for its regular monthly meeting.
Although the agenda was extensive with three conditional use permits, 10 requests for authorization to advertise, and one site plan for approval, the meeting proceeded without any controversy. No citizens made any presentations to the committee during non-agenda Public Comments, so Chairman Robert Myers launched into the public hearings portion of the meeting.
Three conditional use permits were requested for 9700 Court, LLC, regarding a commercially zoned site on the west side of Winchester Road, north of the Crooked Run Shopping Center, to build an enclosed storage facility, and an adjoining storage yard for cars, boats, and RVs. The property is in the North River Magisterial District. The commissioners had been given an extensive briefing at a previous meeting, so Planning Director Joe Petty provided a quick overview of the project, which will incorporate a 3-story climate-controlled building totaling 63,000 square feet, and to the rear of the property, an outside storage yard. A second building of two stories, with the same ground footprint may be added later if business justifies it.
The third CUP request was necessitated by the Warren County Code requiring additional permitting if the size of the facility is projected to be over 50,000 s.f. There were no public comments on the project for any of the three permit requests. Commissioner Kersjes asked if the facility would be capable of storing antique or classic cars in the storage units. The permit documents indicate that project representative did not address that question directly but did indicate that some ground floor units were designed for drive-up access with contractors in mind, so the issue could be addressed with the architects. The planning director did say that the requirements of the permit for the outside storage area would include a provision that all vehicles be tagged and inspected to be stored there. With no further discussion, the commission voted unanimously in all three cases to recommend approval of the Conditional Use Permits to the County Board of Supervisors.
The commission agreed to advertise public hearings for 10 Conditional Use Permits for its July meeting, which means that meeting will likely be a long one. There were three applications for Conditional Use Permits for short-term tourist rentals. John Suh is seeking a permit for his agriculturally zoned property at 515 Corron Drive in the Fork District, Neal Sutliff is seeking the same for his residentially zoned property at 1720 Khyber Pass Rd on the Happy Creek District, and Melissa Halko is requesting a permit for her property at 261 Sunset Village Rd in the Junewood development. The commission approved all three for authorization to advertise public hearings.
Along with the rise in short term tourist rentals, review activities in the planning department of private use camping permits has led to a spike in applications for that use on lots used for recreational purposes. Chad and Charleen Backstrom, Shawn and Christine Tsanganelias, and James Humphries have all applied for private-use camping CUPs for their properties on Burma Road in the North River District. In addition, Randall Lewis and Monica Stover have requested a private-use camping permit for their property on Farms Riverview Road in the Shenandoah District. All these properties are zoned R-1, and the Commission unanimously agreed to advertise for public hearings on the requests.
Mountaintop The Church at Skyline has applied for a CUP for a private school on their property at 7655 Stonewall Jackson Highway in the South River District. The school would operate from August to May, Monday through Friday, and would accommodate 30 or fewer students. It would not expand or change the existing use of the church. The church was constructed in 1992, and that use was permitted by right prior to the adoption of the current ordinance. The commission unanimously voted to approve the authorization to advertise the public hearing.
Ken Colton has requested a conditional use permit for the storage of cars, boats, and recreational vehicles on his industrial zoned property on Winners Court in the North River District. The commission voted unanimously to approve advertising for that public hearing.
In an action of interest to residents of the Waterlick area, Kimberly Countryman has requested a CUP for a Country General Store at 4536 Strasburg Road in the North River District. According to the applicant, it will serve as a country style neighborhood grocery, food carryout, with country gift items, homemade food and vintage items. The hope is to reopen the store as it was operated prior to 2008. The commission unanimously approved the authorization to advertise a public hearing on the proposal.
Five Nine Design group has submitted a plan for the commission review of a public utility storage structure at 5985 John Marshall Highway, and will be used to support an underground fiber optic network. The structure will not include antennas, towers, or dishes on the site and will be surrounded by a fence and accessed only by service personnel. It will sit between Interstate 66 and John Marshall Highway. The commission voted unanimously to affirm that the structure was substantially in accord with the County’s Comprehensive Plan.
Planning Director Joe Petty reminded the commissioners that work on the County Comp Plan is scheduled to begin in earnest in July, and while it will be a major task, some work has already been completed.
The members of the commission welcomed their newest colleague, Kaylee Richardson, who replaces Crystal Beall in the South River District. Commissioner Richardson lives on a 32-acre farm in Bentonville, and grew up in Warren County. She says she is looking forward to what she recognizes as a “lot of work” in helping the County exercise good stewardship over the resources we sometimes take for granted.
The Commission adjourned at 8:15 p.m.
Library outdoor amphitheater proposal, bridge naming initiative and drug court proposal highlight County Board work session
After a half-hour full frontal assault by “divisions” of the Sons of Liberty seeking County support of a resolution in support of changing the names of the two northside entranceway bridges over the forks of the Shenandoah River into Front Royal for Revolutionary War figures of note, the Warren County Board of Supervisors faced a sometimes dizzying array of financial briefings on COVID-19 relief funding and State Compensation Board-funded salary increases.
Less mind numbing at the Tuesday, June 8th work session were a report on a plan to create an outdoor entertainment amphitheater on the grounds between Samuels Public Library and Ressie Jeffries Elementary School and plans to expand the Warren County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office into portions of the old county jail next door to the rear of the courthouse. Well, that latter topic did get somewhat dizzying when it was explained that the proposed CA’s Office expansion was viewed as a three-year stopgap measure as a longer-term solution reuniting all the office’s attorneys within the same space was explained by County Project Manager Jeff Hayes.
On the less cluttered side of those reports, Samuels Library Executive Director Michelle Ross and Friends of Samuels Public Library President Melody Hotek presented a power point on the library amphitheater project. The location would be on a sloping hill on the west side of the property with the pavilion-stage area at the bottom. The amphitheater was presented, not just as a library program and neighboring elementary school asset, but one that could be utilized for a variety of programs throughout the community.
A total cost estimate of $50,000 to $60,000 was presented, with a first estimate on the pavilion structure coming in at $18,519. Ross and Hotek said that about $20,000 has been raised in support of the proposal, with some of that coming from the Estate of Hotek’s late husband Jeff, and engineering work committed by her brother-in-law Dan Hotek.
Supporting documentation in the project summary noted: “COVID-19 has made the value of fresh air very apparent. Even before the pandemic, outdoor spaces on library grounds were trending. Now, although the vaccine rollout is well underway, it will likely be fall at the earliest before most libraries resume indoor programming. What was a nice-to-have luxury has become the only game in town … Even after all the lockdowns are over, outdoor spaces will remain useful for more than preparing for the next pandemic, allowing patrons to enjoy the natural environment wile having access to library amenities.”
As with all presentations at Tuesday’s work session, no action was taken by the board regarding possible support, including funding assistance since binding votes can only be taken at meetings.
Near the meeting’s end, Broadband Committee member Vicky Cook updated the board on goals and work in achieving those goals of providing near, if not total, high-speed wireless coverage countywide.
Discussion and support documentation indicated that of the 16,606 housing units identified in Warren County during 2019 Census gathering, supporting a population of 40,164 countywide, 90.4% had computers and 83.3% had Internet subscriptions. The goal is to raise that broadband coverage to 95% to 99%-plus. The importance of universal coverage, even in remote areas, was cited as crucial to educational, commercial and economic progress.
As the “Project Description” noted: “Warren County Broadband Extension Project will provide universal access to high-speed, reliable, and secure internet connectivity to all Warren County residents, including but not limited to, unserved and underserved residents, school and businesses. The broadband extension project will increase economic prospects and educational opportunities to all the residents and businesses in the county.”
A final agenda item – further discussion of eliminating the board’s 9 a.m. first monthly meeting in favor of an evening or late afternoon start – was withdrawn at its maker, North River Supervisor Delores Oates, request. Oates explained she had received feedback on complications such a move could create for people with younger children hoping to attend meetings in having to arrange childcare situations apparently not at issue earlier in the day.
Prior to adjournment near 8:30 p.m., Oates offered a brief update on the Warren County-Front Royal Drug Prevention Committee’s work. She noted a committee meeting with Judges William Sharp and Darryl Funk on creation of a Drug and/or Family Drug Court in the county. Oates pointed to the success of such directed courts elsewhere in Virginia in helping stabilize with intervention and recovery efforts, family situations, particularly with children involved.
Oates also acknowledged a coming joint effort with the public school system on educating parents and students alike on the dangers of counterfeit prescription medications peddled on the streets that are often laced with highly dangerous chemical combinations or unidentified prescription agents like Fentanyl, the latter ID’ed in a rising tide of illicit drug use overdose deaths.
See all these discussion in the linked County video, including County Emergency Services Coordinator Rick Farrall’s summary of the “Executive Summary” of the six-section, 97-pages of reference material, federal regulations and guidelines related to the “Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds”. County Administrator Ed Daley only had two pages of material on the State and Comp Board funded, County related salary increases – but it was two pages with 84 numbers on them.
In response to a question from Oates on time limits for distribution of coming pandemic relief funds, Farrall said it would NOT be the end of the coming calendar year as with the last round, but rather through the end of calendar year 2026. That information no doubt brought a collective sigh of relief from those involved in the trenches of that application and distribution process.
Sheriff Butler responds to Town attack on his and department’s handling of sewage dumping investigation
While saying that he had not yet seen it, given an overview of the May 24th Town of Front Royal power point response to his May 11 summary of his department’s investigation into County suspicions of illegal sewage dumping by Town trash truck crews at the County’s Bentonville Solid Waste Transfer Station, Sheriff Mark Butler gave us a response to Town allegations of personal or departmental wrongdoing in that investigation.
Royal Examiner received the sheriff’s response on May 25. However, we held it to include with other responses we might receive from County supervisors also named in the Town legal department-presented power point. But at the end of the subsequent week the involved county supervisors and staff have chosen not to respond to the public escalation of the Sludge War of words initiated by town officials on April 26; responded to by the sheriff at the May 11 County Board of Supervisors meeting; and revisited at council’s May 24 meeting – see LINKED stories below.
This is Sheriff Butler’s emailed response of May 25th in its entirety:
“The Warren County Sheriff’s Office did its job. After the incident was investigated, we found what we presented at the Board of Supervisors countywide meeting. The Sheriff’s Office serves the entire county and will continue to do so each day. The Sheriff’s Office serves all residents of Warren County to include the Town of Front Royal.
“The Sheriff does not work for the Board of Supervisors nor the Town Council. The Sheriff’s Office works for all residents of Warren County and if the roles had been different, the case would have been run in the same manner.
“As for the authority of the Sheriff, that comes from the Code of Virginia and the Constitution. Unfortunately, the Sheriff’s Office makes decisions daily that may or may not please everyone. The Sheriff’s Office is responsible for investigating all fraud, waste, and abuse at the county level. Our job is to find the facts of the complaint – which was done and will continue to be done without bias.” (From the Office of Warren County Sheriff Mark Butler.)
- County responds to Town attack on its methods in dealing with sewage dumping allegation
- Illegal sewage dumping investigation closed with no charges – but is that the end of the story?
- Unreasonable search & seizure? Constitutional violation of Town staff’s rights alleged as ‘Sludge War’ escalates
Moving on: Warren County assistant superintendent, School Board member
The Warren County School Board learned during its Wednesday, June 2 meeting that Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Assistant Superintendent Melody Sheppard is leaving to become superintendent of Shenandoah County Public Schools in Woodstock, Va., and Board Vice Chairwoman Catherine Bower has decided to make her current board term her last.
“It has been my pleasure to serve this staff and the students and parents in the community of Warren County for the last 23 years,” Sheppard told School Board members. “I’m going to miss my time here.”
Sheppard — who is working on her doctoral degree in educational leadership through the University of Virginia, with anticipated completion in June 2022 — has experience as a school administrator, a technology director, the director of career and technical education and principal at the Blue Ridge Technical Center, and for the last eight years as assistant superintendent for administration, in which she has facilitated the renovation of two elementary schools, a non-traditional school, and the building of a new middle school.
During her tenure as assistant superintendent, Sheppard also served capably as interim superintendent for nine months when she replaced a scandal-ridden former leader allegedly embroiled in the Front Royal Warren County Economic Development Authority financial fiasco and led the school division toward finding a replacement — all while also managing WCPS’s initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Congratulations to Mrs. Sheppard on her new endeavor,” WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger said, acknowledging that the Shenandoah County School Board approved Sheppard’s appointment at a special called meeting on May 27. Her job there begins on July 1 with the effective retirement of current Shenandoah County Superintendent Mark Johnston.
Sheppard’s new job announcement appeared bittersweet for some of the School Board members.
“You’re always so well-prepared and keep us straight… and just tell us how it is,” Chairman Arnold Williams, Jr., told Sheppard during the meeting. “You will be sorely missed, you really will. I hope they [Shenandoah County] know how lucky they are.
“The lady can beat up a vendor on price like you’ve never seen and never raise her voice,” Williams joked. “I hope you’ve shown some of us how to do that.”
“Great gain for them, great loss for us,” Bower said about Sheppard moving on. “I’ve enjoyed working with you. You’re fantastic,” she told Sheppard from the dais.
Board member James Wells said Sheppard “has done a magnificent job” for WCPS. “She will be greatly missed but Shenandoah County will be all the better for her,” he said.
Board Vice Chairwoman Bower, who represents the Fork District, also announced that she will not seek a fourth term to serve on the School Board. The Front Royal, Va., resident’s current term is set to expire on December 31. Prior to her current board position, Bower served six years as chairwoman of the Warren County School Board.
“I’ve had three great terms for 12 years. It’s time for some new blood,” she said.
Watch the full Warren County School Board meeting here.
While impacts remain unknown, council forwards changes to ‘Special Events’ Code Chapter
At Monday evening’s Special Meeting of June 1, two members of the public involved in annual downtown events, William Huck (Family Fun Day) and Malcolm Barr Sr. (Memorial Day and Dogs of War salute) addressed the Front Royal Town Council at a public hearing on proposed changes to the Town’s Special Events ordinance. Both wondered what potential impacts sweeping proposed changes to the relevant Town Code Chapter 72 might have on acquiring future permitting to continue their events as they have been previously held.
Barr pointed out the Memorial Day service, which the Town has co-sponsored for several years, was held on the County Courthouse grounds the past two years, including the previous day, due to Novel Coronavirus-pandemic social distancing restrictions. However, both that and Huck’s annual Family Fun Day are traditionally held at the Village Commons area bordered by the Town Gazebo, Visitors Center and new Pavilion at the intersection of East Main and Chester Streets and Laura Virginia Hale Drive in the heart of the Historic Downtown Business District.
As far as an answer to both Huck and Barr’s question – “What’s going on?” as it applies to their events, the verbal answer was somewhat vague. However, a first read through of the two pages of the newly adopted Chapter 72 Ordinance compared to the four pages (in much smaller print) of deleted text indicates much less code detail than previously, with key elements including “Permit Exceptions” and “Permit Revocation/Suspension” kept virtually identical to the comparable deleted sections.
One new section titled “Violations Of This Chapter” appears to contain new language on punitive actions that can be taken by “the Town Manager or a designated employee charged with enforcement of the Code Chapter. That language is:
“Any person who shall violate any provision of this Chapter shall be suspended from having any future events for one year from the time of the event or as the Town Manager or designee deems appropriate based on the violation.” Appeals of such punitive decisions “must be made to the Town Council within thirty days of the decision.”
The new Chapter 72’s opening paragraph acknowledges the changes made as a result of a Town Council directive of May 10, 2021, to staff “to move forward on amending Town Code Chapter 72 Special Events to allow for and reflect new Policy and Procedures to be approved”.
New Chapter 72 Section 1 “Purpose Of Chapter” reads: “The purpose of this chapter is to accommodate competing demands for the public use of Town streets, and public property that are requested to be used for a special event. Policy and Procedures regulating these areas of demand is necessary to maintain public peace, safety, acceptable conditions of traffic flow and prevention of any illegal or unlawful activity.”
After a brief discussion of points raised during which it was noted that most of what was on the table was removal of the old code’s language, on a motion by Joe McFadden, seconded by Letasha Thompson, council approved the new Special Events Chapter 72 Ordinance on a 5-0 vote, Councilman Meza absent.
So, stay tuned – Exactly how these changes impact existing and future event permitting remains to be seen. In the wake of an apparent reversal of last year’s decision to close East Main Street on Spring thru Fall weekends as an economic and tourism incentive that appeared to be very popular with both locals and tourists, as well as all but a small minority of downtown business owners, council has seemed more reluctant to close downtown streets in conjunction with permitted events with the notable exception of the two high school’s outdoor Senior Prom event of May 22 in the Commons area, which also saw the parking lot vacated to facilitate the event.
A third speaker at Tuesday’s Special Events Code Chapter Public Hearing was Edwin Wright of the Manor Line Market. Wright thanked council for considering the needs of downtown businesses in amending their codes.
Mayor’s business request
Also approved by a 5-0 vote following a public hearing at which no one spoke and Mayor Chris Holloway handed his presiding gavel over to Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell to recuse himself from participation, was a requested vacating of six lots “facing Scott Street” on an “undeveloped (165.5-foot by 40-foot) portion of Carter Street between Breeden Lane and Steele Avenue”. The mayor’s recusal was because the requested vacating of the property by the Town was by Holloway Construction LLC, the mayor’s residential construction company. A late amendment to the item was the raising of the number of involved lots from five to six.
Prior to the vote several council members commented that Mayor Holloway had not received any preferential treatment on the matter.
“I just want to state that this is something that we think is an amenable decision that is fair and equitable. So, if anyone has any questions about that, we definitely, this is not anything strange. It is very normal business,” Councilman McFadden said to open council discussion.
“I just wanted to say something along those same lines. When we were discussing this, Chris was not present and he got the same treatment as everybody else in town,” Councilwoman Thompson asserted.
“And I’m going to add to that. That all the different departments were contacted – public works and electrical and also the Viewing Committee,” Vice-Mayor Cockrell said of an appointed Town committee of business people, adding, “And all of which said that it would pose no harm to the adjacent property owners. The property owners were given notice about this tonight and could have come in and spoke if they so chose.”
Also approved without dissent Tuesday night were Resolutions adding Good Friday to the list of municipal holidays and Funeral and Volunteer leave to the list of things town employees can seek time off for. The holiday motion was by Gary Gillespie, seconded by Thompson; the leave matter on a motion by Scott Lloyd, seconded by McFadden.
A Budget Amendment and Bid Approval for work on Happy Creek Sanitary Sewer Replacement were also approved by 5-0 votes, as well as a bid on North Royal Avenue Waterline Upgrades. Councilman Gillespie pointed to those approvals as a sign of council’s commitment to infrastructure improvements.
Town Manager Steven Hicks also introduced a Resolution on creation of a Town Building Code and Environmental Division. The motion-seconding team of McFadden-Thompson sent that Resolution toward a 5-0 approval. Discussion indicated that Hicks would be appointed the Town’s building code official. It was noted that revenues from fees should see the department “pay for itself” and that all revenue created by the department would remain there and could not be transferred to cover other departmental budgetary needs.
Agency reports, fighting the Spotted Lanternfly, reason for rising tax assessments highlight County meeting
On Tuesday morning, June 1, the Warren County Board of Supervisors navigated a lengthy agenda led off by a variety of reports from various agencies, including an update on the Spotted Lanternfly infestation and mandated precautions to try and prevent its spread beyond county borders, as well as its eradication from this transportation hub community. The message on the intrusive and destructive insect infestation: “ID, report, scrape, smash it” before it does that to aspects of our agricultural and commercial transportation systems.
A final Annual Report on People Inc.’s activities on behalf of some economically marginalized sectors of our community from Director Robert Goldsmith, who told the supervisors he would be retiring after 44 years with the organization at the end of this calendar year, was warmly received. VDOT and new Rappahannock Electric Cooperative CEO John Hewa also updated the board on their respective activities in the community and/or business models.
And good news from EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons – the long-awaited 2018 and 2019 audits are now in draft form, nearing final approval as the new EDA team and the supervisors examine the money trail during the final two years under the executive directorship of Jennifer McDonald. Both criminal and civil litigation have emerged from that era, the former in a holding pattern in federal hands at this point and the civil in which McDonald is named as the key player in allegedly misdirected or embezzled assets is fluctuating between $26 million and $62 million.
And Parsons updated the board on, as previously reported, the SYSCO rental of the sprawling Baugh Drive warehouse for a year – “and are moving in as we speak” Parsons told the supervisors.
The EDA will still be able to market the facility for sale during the leasing period, Parsons noted. The SYSCO rental will relieve the county’s taxpayers of the entire $345,600 of annual debt service of the Baugh Drive warehouse acquired during the previous board of directors and McDonald’s executive directorship of the EDA – “I think that’s a great thing for the taxpayers to give us all a little bit of relief on the building,” Parsons told the supervisors.
And speaking of taxes, County Commissioner of Revenue Sherry Sours and Treasurer Jamie Spiker addressed tax payment deadline extensions to June 21st and hikes in real estate and property assessments from what was called “a perfect storm” of economic factors raising property values prior to this tax billing period.
County Emergency Services Coordinator in charge of COVID-19 pandemic mandates and rules, as well as CARES Act federal relief financial distribution matters, Rick Farrall led the board through a summary of the dizzying finances of CARES Act distribution to both the County and Town through the County.
Farrall also summarized the altered or unaltered consequences of Governor Northam’s Executive Order 79 easing social distancing and masking restrictions on vaccinated Virginians. As noted in the Royal Examiner’s recent summary of Farrall’s May 26 Situation Report (SETREP), it is still recommended that non-vaccinated people mask, maintain 6-foot social distancing, and engage in regular preventive handwashing for their own safety. Farrall was thanked by the board for his work in overseeing the monumental task of keeping up with the evolving legal, logistical and financial aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic response over the last year-plus.
During board reports near the meeting’s end, North River Supervisor Delores Oates continued to lobby her colleagues to eliminate the 9 a.m. morning meetings in favor of a second 7 p.m. evening meeting. Oates sighted her own work schedule, as well as that of other citizens, making it difficult to attend morning meetings. County Administrator Ed Daley noted that Frederick and Shenandoah Counties have previously moved from monthly morning meetings to around 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. starting times, as opposed to a second 7 p.m. starting time inconvenient for some staff members and those agency people like VDOT and others listed above, traveling distances to deliver monthly, quarterly or annual reports.
Following a brief closed session, two appointments were announced: Kent Houchins to the Community Policy and Management Team and Cyril Cook to the Airport Commission. The board then adjourned to a 25-minute work session that followed the meeting, during which Farrall delivered his governor’s Executive Order 79 report.