At a Tuesday, December 13 work session the Warren County Board of Supervisors discussed establishment of a Trolley service that would link to the Town of Front Royal’s existing Trolley service loop. County Administrator Doug Stanley later explained the proposed County service would be independent of, but link up with the Town Trolley at the new Health & Human Services Complex at the old middle school building on 15th Street.
The plan would expand public transportation into, and perhaps beyond the County’s North Commercial Corridor. Stanley noted the Town Trolley currently averages about 35 riders daily, and estimated a route linking Town citizens to shopping destinations in the Corridor and beyond could double that ridership.
The idea of Trolley service into the route 340/522 Corridor was broached earlier this year by the RSW Regional Jail Authority. Currently there is no public transportation available for inmates either being released from the facility’s somewhat remote location several miles north of the County’s two big-box-anchored shopping malls, or for Work-Release inmates, many of whom are forced to walk those miles to jobs in those shopping centers or other locations distant from the jail. Stanley also serves as Warren County’s representative on the RSW Jail Authority.
Stanley told the Supervisors that the RSW Jail Authority had pledged $20,000 per year for the extension of public transportation to the Jail. He added that Crooked Run Center representative Ed Murphy and the EDA had each pledged $2,500. – “So, we have $25,000 of the $50,000 we need,” Stanley told the Board of funding possibilities.
An inquiry to the Front Royal Finance Department indicated that the Town pays $39,104 annually for its Trolley service. The current Town fare is 50 cents. Stanley suggested a fare of $1.00 for the North Corridor circuit originating on 15th Street in Town.
The County Administrator cited two other potential northside contributors who had expressed an interest in public transportation extended from the Town of Front Royal. One is the Holiday Inn at Blue Ridge Shadows, which was interested as a means for some of its staff to get to and from work. The other is waaay northside – Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown, which has a significant student population from Warren County. Stanley said there was the potential of the Middletown Council throwing in the needed balance of $25,000 if a number of trips to the college over the course of the day could be guaranteed.
With an out-of-county destination on the table, Fork District Supervisor Archie Fox suggested exploring the potential of creating a loop that would bring the County Trolley back from Middletown by way of Route 11 through Strasburg and back by way of Route 55 (Strasburg Road) to the northside Front Royal link.
Fox also suggested adding discussion of a County Trolley service to the next County-Front Royal Liaison Committee meeting.
Town, County appear on track toward outsourced Tourism function
The newly formed County-Town Tourism Committee comprised of two representatives from each municipality’s elected body met for the first time, Thursday afternoon, June 4. While the site was the conference room on the second floor of the Front Royal Town Hall, the majority of participants, including several members of the Joint Town-County Tourism Advisory Committee comprised of interested local business people, were logged in remotely in the virtual broadcast meeting.
In a technological first for Town WebEx broadcasts, there was a visual component to both the base site and the remotely connected participants, making it easier to keep track of who was speaking and where from.
Representing the County were South River’s Cheryl Cullers and North River’s Delores Oates. On the Town side were Gary Gillespie and Letasha Thompson, the latter for whom Mayor Gene Tewalt had to battle town council to get appointed. As Royal Examiner reported in the story “Mayor, Meza spar over committee appointment powers – Mayor by legal TKO” a number of Thompson’s colleagues appeared to believe her more proactive role in contacting Town Tourism and Visitor Center personnel in the wake of the firing of the Town Tourism Department’s driving force, Community Development Director Felicia Hart and the initiative to outsource Town Tourism marketing, disqualified her from appointment to the committee.
Thompson countered those arguments by saying she remained open to all suggested options for moving forward on Tourism, rather than simply being a champion of in-house Tourism and the Visitors Center’s current personnel and operational model because she had bothered to inquire how those operations and personnel previously and currently function.
And along with all present, Thompson did not voice objection to Oates early observation that of five operational models presented in mid-May by Tourism Advisory Committee Vice-Chair Kerry Barnhart, she had dismissed the first, the In-House model, because the Town had begun dismantling it as not optimally functional.
However, during the ensuing discussion in which Barnhart was queried as to her thoughts on the best path forward for Tourism promotion for Warren County and Front Royal, the possibility of a contracted marketing company utilizing some existing local tourism staff was noted.
That could be an important variable as an evolving consensus seemed to be to move away from the In-House model short-term to what is Option 3A in Barnhart’s list, “Fully Contracted Out”, with an eventual move to 3B, “Fully Contracted Out with Committee Leadership”.
One downside Barnhart noted of the “In-House” model was that as a governmental department, Tourism sometimes gets forgotten amidst the municipal bureaucracy.
The phased-in plan appeared favored as Gillespie reasoned because 3A appeared achievable more quickly than 3B. The outsourced “with Committee Leadership” would involve a third party, potentially an EDA, Chamber of Commerce, something like the existing Joint Tourism Advisory Committee of involved and impacted locals, or another contracted private entity to take on oversight and management responsibilities.
As noted in our story “County could bypass Town in ‘CARES’ funding – but doesn’t intend to …” both Barnhart and County rep Oates, the latter who took on a moderating role at the meeting, commented on the danger of ongoing conflicting ideas or non-communication between multiple involved entities with a common and overlapping tourism agenda.
Barnhart has pointed to the Tourism leadership role the now-fired Felicia Hart served to the Tourism Advisory Committee, even calling Hart the Town’s “Tourism Director” though her official title was “Community Development Director”. And she has pointed to the huge gap Hart’s unannounced departure initially left in the advisory committee’s function.
“Interestingly, the other entities I talked to, surprisingly all of them had that same struggle. There’s a city and there’s a county in almost every situation. And they need to work together on it. And all of them talked about things that they did, and one of them is joint visioning, joint planning, and joint performance … and I think that is what is really needed here,” Barnhart told the new Town-County Joint Tourism Committee at its inaugural meeting.
As Barnhart concluded that observation, Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick, who was present at the Town Hall site with committee members Gillespie and Cullers, joined the conversation.
“Kerry, just to give you some information regarding your question or statement as it relates to the funding and the trust as it relates to the Town of Front Royal spending the money appropriately; in my conversations with the finance director – because he’s going to be hereafter I’m gone with his institutional knowledge – as we interpret 3A (“Fully Contracted Out”) and how I believe some council members interpret 3A, the Town is only going to serve as a fiduciary agent. Meaning the actual recommendation on spending the money is going to come from the Joint Tourism Committee … and basically the Town is writing checks based upon the direction of the joint tourism committee,” Tederick explained, adding, “Now, happy to make that different but that’s how we interpreted to alleviate any concerns about, you know, just trust issues or whatever the case is, that’s how we interpreted 3A.”
“Yea, it’s almost there, but really 3A takes some leadership management responsibility (by) the Town, so it’s not just, ‘Here are the dollars.’ Three-B gets into more of a board that is very heavily in making those leadership and management decisions. They’re managing that function … not only for dollar purposes but for management,” Barnhart elaborated on the models she developed.
In the 3A model, the advisory committee has a reduced function, performing “staff work” and being responsible to “the town manager or whoever that entity is that the contractor is accountable to, but they are not managing them. So, the town manager has both the fiduciary and management leadership responsibility for that contractor. So, they are making the final call to spend the money,” Barnhart concluded of her 3A “Fully Contracted Out” model.
Some form of outsourcing was the model Tederick was recommending at the time of Hart’s firing and the reduction of the in-house Town Tourism function in late January, early February.
Hear, and see, this varied and broad discussion of a path forward out of the combined upheaval of the sudden decapitation of the Town’s Tourism function, followed closely by the onset of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic restrictions on travel, business, and governmental operations, in this virtual recording:
Warren County Parks and Recreation reopening plans for summer 2020
This spring, in support of the Governor’s Executive Orders and in compliance with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), the Warren County Parks and Recreation Department closed recreational facilities and canceled activity programs. Recently, the Governor announced that the implementation of Phase Two of Forward Virginia will begin on June 5, 2020, through Executive Order Number 65.
Warren County Parks and Recreation Facilities and Programs Phase Two Reopening Plan:
- Available for rent Thursday, June 11, 2020
- Capacity is 50 people or 50% of normal capacity per shelter, whichever is fewer.
- Social distancing guidelines are in effect. For additional details on making a shelter reservation, please call the RES Youth Center at (540) 635-7750.
Playgrounds, Skatepark, Trails, Tennis Courts, Disc Golf, and Open Spaces – OPEN
- No more than 50 people at once
- Social distancing guidelines in effect.
Baseball, Softball, and Soccer Fields
- OPEN Monday, June 8, 2020
- No more than 50 people per field.
- Rentals for practices only.
- Fields will not be lined until Phase Three or later.
Front Royal Golf Club – OPEN
- Golfing, cart rentals, pro shop, and boat ramp access are available.
- Clubhouse facility is closed to the public
- Banquet room reservations are unavailable.
Claude A. Stokes, Jr. Community Swimming Pool
- CLOSED AT THIS TIME (Opening Date To Be Determined)
- The pool will be opening soon with limitations in accordance with Executive Order Number 65.
Warren County Splash Pad – CLOSED Not opening during Phase Two.
Public Restrooms – CLOSED (Opening Date To Be Determined)
Outdoor Basketball Courts – CLOSED (Opening Date To Be Determined)
Warren County Parks and Recreation Community Center, RES Youth Center, and indoor recreation facilities – CLOSED (Opening Date To Be Determined)
Events and organized activities, including sports leagues – Cancelled at this time
The Warren County Parks and Recreation Department offices remain open (but closed to the public) to field your related questions via phone at (540) 635-7750 or (540) 635-1021 or via
email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Rise in county COVID-19 stats, guidelines for Phase 2 reopenings explained
County-Town Emergency Management Team officials and Warren County Commonwealths’ Attorney John Bell briefed media on the current county and Lord Fairfax Health District statistics and details of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s Executive Order 65, moving portions of Virginia, including Front Royal, Warren County and our health district into Phase 2 of Coronavirus pandemic business and governmental reopening.
Those statistics included 217 COVID-19 cases now in Warren County, a rise as Deputy County Emergency Manager Rick Farrall noted, of 13 from the previous day. The cumulative two-day rise in cases of 51, with 38 new cases being reported on Wednesday. A portion of that rise is related to the result of testing at RSW Regional Jail, which now reports 75 total cases, 67 of which are active, Farrall noted.
A change in the C-CAP food distribution location, from the 15th Street Public Building back to C-CAP’s 316 North Royal Avenue location, was also noted by Farrall who handed a report on the governor’s Executive Order 65 over to Commonwealth’s Attorney Bell.
Bell noted the key number “50” as in 50% capacity and 50 total customers in now re-opened indoor restaurant dining areas. The 6-foot social distancing standard, along with masks will also remain in place. Phase Two guidelines begin this Friday, June 5.
Team Chairman Mabe again urged citizen networking with their neighbors who might need additional assistance, and a general sense of community working together through this trying health threat and economic hardship stemming from medically advised restrictions on public activities during the pandemic, which was forecast to last at least through the summer to some degree.
Near the meeting’s end, those present addressed details of the planned march in honor of George Floyd, who died while being arrested in Minneapolis, Minnesota over a week ago. Four now-fired Minneapolis police officers have been charged related to what has been legally defined as Floyd’s “murder” at the hands of those now-disgraced former officers. Local law enforcement is networking with, and is expected to march with, rather than in opposition to, that local demonstration beginning at 6:30 p.m. Social distancing will be in place for that event as well, Bell said.
See the full, approximately 25-minute briefing of valuable information in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:
County could bypass Town in ‘CARES’ funding – but doesn’t intend to …
There was an explosive revelation in a June 4th Letter to the Editor from Greg Harold concerning the distribution of federal “CARES” Act Coronavirus Economic Relief funds. That revelation in the Letter titled “Council’s Wanton Cries of ‘More’,” is that Warren County does NOT have to include the Town of Front Royal government in the distribution of CARES (Coronavirus Aid Relief & Economic Securities) funding.
“Not to say that’s what we’re going to do,” County Deputy Emergency Manager Rick Farrall said in pointing us to the administering agency, the U.S. Treasury Department’s website for confirmation of Harold’s statement. That confirmation was most immediately apparent in a May 28 update on commonly asked questions about the federal CARES funding.
“Is a Fund payment recipient required to transfer funds to a smaller, constituent unit of government within its borders?”
To which the Treasury Department answer was: “No. For example, a county recipient is not required to transfer funds to smaller cities within the county’s borders.”
As we noted in an appendix to EDA Asset Committee Chairman Harold’s letter to the editor, “… while Front Royal is not a city, it is “a smaller constituent unit of government” within county borders.
So, if the council thought that less than a million dollars or $1.5 million were “crumbs” from the $3.5 million of CARES funding the County received on June 1, how might ZERO dollars administered through its hands play in Town Hall?
That is not to say Town businesses and citizens would lose out on that funding. Rather, the County could take on the responsibility of distribution of CARES funding to businesses and citizens on both sides of the town-county boundary who qualify by the program’s standards.
Asked after Thursday afternoon’s weekly Coronavirus Emergency Management Team briefing, Team and County Board Chairman Walt Mabe echoed Farrall’s earlier comment that unilateral County action is not currently on the table.
“It’s an option but it’s not our intent,” Mabe told Royal Examiner.
But one might imagine that if a continued, aggressively hostile and accusatory tone is the council’s collective loudest voice concerning how CARES funding will be divided, that intent could conceivably change.
In fact, Thursday evening during the first meeting of the newly formed four-member (two from the council, two from county board) Joint County-Town Tourism Committee, North River Supervisor Delores Oates referenced the recently evolving divide between the two municipal governments. In response to Joint Tourism Advisory Board Vice-Chair Kerry Barnhart’s observation on the danger of “being in the same kind of situation we’ve been in, where we have competing visions, competing, you know things that conflict with each other,” Oates began: “Well Kerry, I’m really glad you brought that up.
“Because unfortunately with the Town and the County there’s us and them perception. And WE are here to say that WE are going to end that perception,” Oates continued with emphasis on both pronouns. “We are an all us, and this tourism effort is going to be an all us. And I think in order to accomplish that we need to keep the lines of communication open,” Oates continued in describing an open, mutually beneficial network to move the partially dismantled Town Tourism function and the County’s forward on one transparent and profitable track.
“We aren’t unified and I’m going to call out the elephant in the room, Oates said to her committee comprised of she and Cheryl Cullers on the County side and Letasha Thompson and Gary Gillespie on the Town side.
More on that committee meeting in a coming Royal Examiner story and linked virtual meeting recorded broadcast.
County: Town’s ‘half’ equals 27% if council wants to move alone with relief funds
If the Town wants to play its own “I, Me, Mine” (with a songwriting nod to late Beatle George Harrison) economic recovery game with its “equitable” share of federal Coronavirus Relief money, it is likely to find it is playing with less than the $1 million to $1.5 million town staff said it is anticipating of the $3.5 million in CARES (Coronavirus Aid Relief & Economic Securities) money Warren County received on June 1.
That is because in a population-based model upon which the CARES money is to be distributed to smaller municipalities within qualifying county’s, an 8-3 “unit” split, or 73% to 27% distribution of those funds has been estimated by county staff. Those numbers are based on the county population of about 40,000 and the town’s 15,000, that latter number who are also county residents, as Mayor Gene Tewalt explained to council on June 1st.
Those numbers equate to $946,000 the Town would get, with the County retaining roughly $2.5 million according to the government formula on “equitable” distribution of the CARES relief funds. The process and numbers were explained to county supervisors following Tuesday’s morning meeting, at an early Tuesday afternoon, June 2nd work session.
The topic was broached on the County side during a presentation by County Deputy Emergency Services Director Rick Farrall on the County’s receipt of the $3.5 million CARES money the previous day. As Front Royal Mayor Tewalt noted during council work session discussion of the same topic the previous evening, he and Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock met with county officials Monday afternoon to discuss a mutually acceptable distribution and relief plan.
However, as reported in our story “Money, money, money, EDAs and ongoing weekend downtown walking mall” council collectively did not appear initially receptive to the two-pronged plan Tewalt and Sealock brought them from the afternoon meeting with county officials. Contacted later, Farrall said in addition to him, Front Royal Mayor Tewalt and Vice-Mayor Sealock, present were County Board Chair Walt Mabe and County Administrator Doug Stanley. Farrall also later verified that the County received the CARES funding the day of that meeting, Monday, June 1. He noted it was applied for on May 20.
As summarized by the mayor Monday night, the County proposal was to divide the $3.5 million in half; have the County and Town jointly administer a relief package to qualifying businesses and/or citizens inside and outside the town limits with $1.75 million; and let each municipality use their share of the remaining $1.75 million, based on the 73% – 27% County-Town “equitable” population formula split, as they saw fit.
“I don’t think it went too well,” Farrall told the supervisors of the mayor’s presentation to council the previous night.
“According to the formula they’re going to get the big cut of it and we’re going to get the crumbs,” as we reported of Councilman Gary Gillespie’s reaction Monday night.
Even Sealock, who was involved in the meeting with county officials the day the money was received; and who told his colleagues the County as recipient of the grant was “100% responsible” for documentation and accounting that all the money was used as federally prescribed, seemed perturbed that the County had developed a plan without the involvement of Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick.
“I’m just wondering why we weren’t consulted other than today of all days,” a frustrated Sealock said.
Despite the presence of county board Chair Mabe at the Monday meeting with the mayor and vice mayor, Chris Holloway wondered if the plan was formulated by the county administrator without county board authorization or approval.
Mayor Tewalt tried to derail the “we are being taken advantage of” train that was gathering momentum. “They want to take the $3.5 million and use half of it for economic recovery; and then take the populations and split it whatever that ratio would be of the other $1.7 million and use that the way we want to utilize that amount of money …
“But they just want to know if we would be agreeable tonight – just split the money, and use half of it for recovery and half of it to do the other (things) as far as the government’s concerned. So, we can pay whatever we have to pay and they can pay whatever they want to pay,” the mayor told council.
In response to Gillespie’s “They’re going to get the big cut … and we’re going to get the crumbs” remark, the mayor readdressed the population-based formula. “Yea, but … there’s 40,000 people in the county and we’re only 15,000. So, they should get the most of it,” Mayor Tewalt reasoned.
Vice-Mayor Sealock then explained the above-referenced “unit” split as based on a count of 5,000, with 5,000 divided into the town population three times and the county’s eight. Hence, the 8-3 “unit” or 73%-27% population-based divide of the money.
“Well, Mr. Mayor you asked us if we wanted yes or no on it – and my answer’s no,” Gillespie responded, unmoved by the numbers or the population-based distribution formula originating at the federal level with the CARES grant program.
Tederick said he believed the County had received the funding within the previous two weeks, but that Tewalt and Sealock’s presentation was the first he had heard of a distribution proposal developed on the County side.
“Well, I think they just put it together today,” the mayor replied.
As the “our money, our plan, our rules” momentum built on council, Lori Cockrell did voice a word of caution Monday night, telling her council colleagues, “I don’t want to say, no, we don’t want any money.”
“I understand the ask, I’m not offended by it; it makes sense why they’re asking. Maybe even the dollars could end up making sense when we see it spelled out,” Jacob Meza added. One repeated complaint voiced was the absence of more written documentation to accompany the mayor and vice-mayor’s explanation of the proposal, as well as the absence of a county official to answer questions.
Cutting nose off to spite …
Discussing the County proposal and an initially suspicious and negative reaction from several councilmen with Farrall later Tuesday afternoon, he reiterated a point to this reporter he made earlier to the county supervisors. That point was that the joint relief aspect of the County proposal could actually see an additional benefit to in-town businesses and/or citizens as recipients from both governments to whom they pay taxes as dual town-county citizens or commercial entities.
“You’ve got a 50/50 (split) with $1.75 million. I assume that could be more spent in-town,” Supervisor Tony Carter observed of the joint aspect of the county proposal.
A little quick calculating indicated that if the Town and its recipients were the potential beneficiaries of half of the jointly administered money ($870,000) and the Town got a flat 27% or three “units” of the other $1.75 million ($473,000) to do with as it pleased within documented CARES guidelines, their total take would be $1.34 million, some $400,000 more than taking their 27% share of the entire $3.5 million ($946,000).
“Logically, if the Town would think about it, town business might benefit better from this model … they may get more money for town business in a joint pot, than saying ‘give me my little slice and I’ll see you’,” Farrall replied to Carter’s observation.
Fifteen minutes into the work session that led to a discussion of the anticipated third party roles of the EDA (County) and Chamber of Commerce (Town) acting as distributors of funds to accommodate state prohibitions on charitable giving by municipal governments. That discussion included difficulties created by the Town’s choice of hostile, shoot-for-the-moon civil litigation, rather than good faith negotiations with the EDA.
‘Equitable’ – dueling perspectives
County Board Chairman Mabe also observed that while town officials might consider “equitable” a 50/50 down the middle split, giving each municipality roughly $1,752,000 million of the $3,504,164 federal CARES funding to the County, it wouldn’t be based in the reality of the program guidelines.
“That could be what they want,” Mabe warned his colleagues.
Farrall responded by noting such a perspective did not fit the definition of “equitable” as it applied to the County.
“I would dismiss any talk of saying 50% down the middle. Because that is in no way equitable to the County; nor is it how the funds were generated in the first place,” Farrall said drawing immediate agreement from Mabe and Supervisor Delores Oates.
Farrall continued to note that in counties with smaller town municipalities that rely on their county governments for essential services like schools, parks and recreation, and emergency services, the CARES “equitable” formula of sharing can go beyond population considerations alone.
“In a county that has these smaller towns, it’s not just a straight population (equation) because those smaller towns are dependent on the county for many things they don’t have to pay for. So, back to Jason’s point, this is where in the language of the CARES Act we have to determine an equitable distribution where it is not 100% population.”
“Jason’s point” was County Attorney Jason Ham’s earlier observation, “It depends on how you define the word ‘equitable’.”
Ham continued, “Warren County has agreed to equitably share with the Town, and so you could determine equitability to be based on population. But then you also have to consider that, you know, Rick here is going to save somebody’s life if they’re in a burning house in the Town of Front Royal,” Ham said of Farrall’s employer, the County Fire & Rescue Department that serves county residents both inside and out of the town limits (and a HEART-felt God Bless Them for that, seven-plus years down the road from one in-town medical emergency survivor).
“And his salary is paid by people who live in the Town of Front Royal, as well as those in Warren County. It’s however you define equitable, and that’s one way to do it,” Ham concluded of a population-and-services formula tied to the federal CARES Act money.
Not on immediate call to run into a burning building to save anyone, the County’s Deputy Emergency Manager continued, “So somewhere between the pure population split and (the cost of shared services) you could negotiate if you will. But at the end of the day it’s up to the County to determine that split. We’re just trying to be nice …”
“At the end of the day we’re all at the benefit of something we didn’t have,” board Vice-Chair Cheryl Cullers injected, adding, “I mean to fight over it at this point – you’ve got to do this a way it makes sense.”
“Well, the County’s not fighting it. The decision just has to be made between the Town and County. And what it amounts to now is just the split. We’ll work out the details, we’ll have to,” Mabe observed.
Noting the earlier observation that the mayor’s presentation of the county proposal to council “didn’t go well” Oates asked, “What were the objections, I’d like to understand that.”
“Just, they want more money. It’s as simple as that. They don’t agree,” Mabe replied, as Oates finished his sentence, “With the equitable solution we’ve come to.
“Okay,” Oates added of her developing understanding of the situation.
For now, listen to and watch the above-described County business in this virtual recording courtesy of Warren County Board of Supervisors:
County debates level of caution necessary as pandemic relief requests come
Following the failure of a majority of the Warren County Board of Supervisors to move a Chamber of Commerce request for “immediate” financial assistance from both the county and town governments to remain solvent through the end of the year in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter told Chamber President Niki Foster, “I’m sorry.”
Cheryl Cullers motion to postpone action pending discussion at a coming work session, seconded by Archie Fox, passed 3-2 with Carter and Board Chairman Walt Mabe dissenting.
Carter told his colleagues that their agreement would be contingent on the Town’s agreeing to fund its half of the Chamber request of $5,000 a month from each municipality from the July 1 start of the fiscal year through December.
Carter worried that with the Town apparently waiting to see if the County would respond favorably to the request before proceeding toward a decision, the supervisor’s delay on the front end of the request could set the timetable on the approval process of both municipalities back beyond the immediacy of that requested July start of assistance.
Again, as the previous night the potential of utilizing federal “CARES” (Coronavirus Aid Relief & Economic Securities) pandemic relief funding coming to the County, and indirectly to the Town through the County, at a total of $3.5 million seemed to confuse, rather than alleviate concerns about a financial commitment to the Chamber.
As was explained to the town council the previous evening, the Chamber has seen its largest annual fundraising event, the Wine & Crafts Festival, canceled along with other normally-revenue producing events. A May 22 letter from Foster and Chamber Board President Ray Bramble said the organization has seen a drop in membership renewals due to COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic restrictions on many small business operations.
And the letter observed that the Chamber as a 501-C 6 organization does not qualify for Payroll Protection Program (PPP) federal assistance. The combination of these variables has left the Chamber, which it was noted has served the community for 80 years, like many of its members or former members, in dire financial straits.
The discussion leading to the vote to postpone a decision on appropriating the necessary $30,000 began about an hour and 50 minutes into Tuesday’s meeting.
Emergency Management variables
Also, on the supervisors Tuesday agenda was an added item, an update from County Deputy Emergency Services Director Rick Farrall on the county and region’s COVID-19 statistics and expectations moving toward the governor’s Phase 2 reopening plan. That report came just over an hour into the meeting. Responding to questions, Farrall said details on moving into the governor’s Phase Two of reopening remained somewhat sketchy.
However, at a suggestion the County considers lifting its Emergency Declaration, Farrall urged caution, noting that could jeopardize emergency relief funding now scheduled to come the County’s way.
The board later heard from COVID-19 pandemic response critic Gary Kushner, whose lengthy letter stating the County should end its emergency declaration and go toward full reopening under voluntary decisions on mask-wearing and social distancing was read into the meeting record by Clerk Emily Ciarrocchi; as was a much briefer submission from Kristie Atwood belaboring the County’s expenditure on EDA civil case attorney legal fees.
In varying amounts of detail, the board also discussed four items removed from a seven-item Consent Agenda normally seen as routine business. Those included:
– A proposed hike in hangar rental rates at the Front Royal Airport, a request complicated by the Airport Commission not having met recently due to the COVID-19 restrictions, commission member Archie Fox told the board – action tabled to June 16;
– A request for $17,472 in funding to continue the Warren County Public Schools student meal distribution program through July and August. It was noted that the system has delivered 48,000 meals during the two months of pandemic emergency school closings, with even more meals being picked up. When Vice-Chair Cullers hedged at the financial commitment with unanswered questions on future revenue consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic closings, Chairman Mabe and Supervisor Carter noted that the County would be reimbursed between 75% and 100% of that money through FEMA or CARES relief funding. County Administrator Stanley also noted that without the commitment to run the program the additional months, the system faced the loss of bus drivers to other jurisdictions where jobs were assured. Consequently, Carter’s motion, seconded by Fox, was approved by a unanimous roll call vote;
– After a lengthy discussion about the third annual renewal of four in a contract for environmental and engineering services with LaBella Associates (formerly known as Joyce Engineering) at the closed county landfill, that contract was finally approved by a unanimous roll call vote on a motion by Delores Oates, seconded by Cullers. However, in the climate of social media and new board member distrust of staff, it was far from routine business. Perhaps responding to a posted chat room suggestion from blogger Kristie Atwood that the contract renewals be removed from the consent agenda and put out to bid; Cullers suggested that might be in the county’s best interest to re-establish a competitive bidding process. However, it was explained that the price of the contract had not changed since it was originally agreed to in 2017, and with a limited number of companies performing such work in the state, going out to bid now could see significantly higher bids, including from LaBella, come in. That dose of fiscal dynamics, coupled with a positive report on LaBella’s work throughout the contract moved the board toward approval of the one-year renewal;
– However, with much less discussion a decision on a similar third of four annual contract renewals with H&W Construction was postponed to the June 16 meeting to accumulate additional information. That contract is for “all labor and equipment necessary on an as-needed basis, for general construction, athletic field construction, road maintenance, repair, stormwater management, perimeter erosion and sediment controls, drainage improvement work and utilities for County Departments, Public Schools and Sanitary Districts in Warren County”
And two hours and fifteen minutes into the 9 a.m. meeting, an adjournment to closed session to discuss several items, including EDA litigation, as well as prospective business or industry relocation here, was unanimously approved on a motion by Oates, seconded by Fox. An hour and a half later the board left the closed session to a work session to discuss the acquisition, legal responsibilities, and distribution of federal CARES Coronavirus pandemic relief funding. See a report on that interesting discussion that might be considered “Part 2” of the report on last night’s town council discussion of the same topic, in an upcoming Royal Examiner story.
For now, listen to and watch the above-described County business in this recording courtesy of Warren County Board of Supervisors: