Baker Tilly, a leading local government executive search and advisory firm, is managing the search process for the next Town Manager for Front Royal, Virginia. The position is critical to the functioning of Town operations and the successful candidate will be responsible, under the guidance of the Mayor and the direction of Town Council, to manage Town operations as they collectively endeavor to enhance the quality of life for current and future residents of the Town. The application portal for those interested in applying can be found here, where a brochure is posted describing the organization, the position responsibilities and the leadership opportunities presented by the post. The brochure also describes the desired capabilities, qualifications and experience sought by Town Council for the job.
Additionally, the Town seeks any input that community stakeholders wish to contribute on the experience, management and leadership qualities they would like to see in the Front Royal’s next Town Manager, along with any other issues they may feel are relevant to the selection process. A survey to gather this input has been established online. Citizens and other stakeholders are encouraged by Council to respond to the survey by April 17th, 2020. Results will be tabulated and returned to the Town in order that it be available for candidate screening and selection. When published and returned to the Town, the survey report will be made available by the Town.
The link to the survey will be posted on the Town’s web page. The Mayor and Council encourage as many as possible to respond so that their perspectives may be registered.
For more information, please contact:
Council approves budget transfer on FRPD construction; remaining CARES Act distribution plan
In other business at its October 19 meeting, by a 5-0 vote, Meza absent, the Front Royal Town Council approved a Fiscal Year-2021 Budget Amendment allowing an “Interfund Budget Transfer” of $8,483,001.15 to facilitate payment on the United Bank loan on the construction of the new Town Police Headquarters. During the public hearing on the budget amendment, Paul Gabbert rose to tell council it was a transfer long overdue.
Gabbert also questioned council’s congratulatory “back slapping” on alleged savings of “millions of dollars” noting that with an unknown interest rate in 10 years when an estimated $4.78-million-dollar balance will have to be refinanced, exactly how much money will be saved or lost remains a long-term unknown. Gabbert also told town officials they should calculate contracted attorney’s fees related to the Town’s litigation against the EDA against those publicly bragged about savings.
“There are no back pats from the public,” Gabbert asserted of council’s choices of litigation with the recovering from financial scandal EDA and the two-year impasse over assuming financing on its police headquarters construction project.
Also, by a 5-0 vote, council approved “Option 1” of two options on the distribution of a remaining $309,058 in Phase 1 CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Securities) Act relief funds. The Town’s share of that first $3.5 million received by the County from the federal-enabled, state-distributed money was $1,276,558.
One apparent difference between the two options was a small percentage change in the “Additional Payout” category from 31.4% in Option 1, to 30% in Option 2 that appeared to reduce the “Estimated Chamber of Commerce Administration Fee” from $18,808 in Option 2 to $5,000 in Option 1. Contacted on those numbers, Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson said Option 1 would result in a lesser payment to the Chamber for its administrative work on the CARES distribution. He noted that the Chamber had offered to do the work at no charge, but that council felt some compensation was in order, choosing the $5,000 compensation on the Phase 1 work.
Consideration of a transfer of Contingency funds was removed from the agenda on a motion by Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock. Sealock indicated some questions about involved resources remained to be clarified. And council agreed to table consideration of the transfer pending more information.
Also, during the Interim Town Manager’s Report, FRPD Chief Kahle Magalis came forward for a promotion ceremony of Officer Zachary King to sergeant in the patrol division. His wife Jess, two children River and Tyler, and mother Dot were present for the brief ceremony during which Jess successfully pinned her husband’s new rank on his chest.
One local businessperson, Holly Leach, thanked the Town for its efforts on behalf of downtown businesses in the opening public comments period.
During his report, Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick presented social media statistics, views, and “likes” from the past weekend’s Fall leaf season during which a promotional effort by the contracted Tourism marketing company Strategic Solutions by Trish brought what Tederick called “influencers” or people with social media posting sites and followers related to travel and tourism, to Town.
However, there were no numbers presented that indicated a direct correlation between revenue generation and the social media “influencers” posts, responses, and “likes” compared to past Fall season Tourism numbers. Though such statistics may only be known over time, when and if “likes” translate into visits, not only to our national and state parks but downtown and other tourism-related businesses as well.
And those results in hard business revenue numbers will have to be judged against past tourist season revenues for a final judgment on the “influencer’s” influence on tourism destinations.
Watch these discussions, ceremonies, and public comments in this Royal Examiner video:
Town Council urges Valley Health and Anthem to resolve cost impasse
In a final agenda item before adjourning to closed session Monday night, October 19, the Front Royal Town Council passed a Resolution urging regional medical provider Valley Health and insurance giant Anthem/Blue Cross Blue Shield to continue to negotiate to a mutually acceptable resolution on the existing impasse on costs associated with renewing their contract which expires at the end of the 2020 calendar year, December 31st.
The resolution on a motion by Lori Cockrell, seconded by Letasha Thompson, was approved by a 5-0 vote, with Valley Health employee Jake Meza who likely would have recused himself from voting, absent. There was no council comment prior to the vote, as there is an apparent community-wide consensus the two private sector health care entities need to resolve their new contract cost dispute.
As first reported by Royal Examiner contributing writer Malcolm Barr Sr. on September 28, (“Major health insurance carrier may quit Valley Health; health care costs may rise for many in 2021”) were the Anthem/Valley Health contract allowed to lapse it would impact as many as 70% of Valley Health patients, including government retirees and employees. The Front Royal Town Council resolution estimates an impact on “about 40,000 people in the Valley Health regional health care monopoly region” including those utilizing Warren Memorial Hospital in town.
Perhaps unhappily now for local governments, Valley Health is currently building a new Warren Memorial Hospital (WMH) enabled by a Town and County-approved $60-million-dollar loan through the County-Town Economic Development Authority covering a significant portion of the new facility off Leach Run Parkway’s estimated cost. The new hospital was already controversial due to the planned elimination of some services, most prominently a maternity/birthing unit.
Perhaps ironically, Meza’s reversal of previous recusals on the matter due to his employment status with Valley Health, enabled June 11, 2018, 3-1 vote (John Connolly dissenting) adding the Town’s approval of the EDA hospital financing to the County’s. With two councilmen, Morrison and Gillespie absent had Meza continued his previous recusals council would not have had a necessary voting quorum to proceed on the matter, at least at that June 11, 2018 meeting (“Birth Local’s last stand nets one ‘no’ vote on finalizing hospital financing”).
But back to the present, Monday’s resolution notes that many people carry Anthem as their medical insurance provider through their employers, locally including public school and local government employees.
The resolution also points to the ongoing threat from the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic which it observes, “continues to threaten the livelihood and well-being of the Front Royal and indeed, the greater Warren County community … and would only be exasperated by the dissolution of the currently-existing Valley Health and Anthem partnership to provide quality, affordable, and in-network healthcare services to the residents and citizens of the Front Royal and Warren County community of many thousands of people.”
The resolution makes several references to Valley Health’s “de facto monopoly on many vital life-saving and critical health care provisions” in the region and cites “a moral, if not legal, fiduciary responsibility” to continue to provide its services “to residents within this geographic region” and place those Anthem-covered service costs “above the profits and pecuniary interests of Valley Health”.
The County is also considering its options should the impasse not be resolved as reported in our story “County considers options as Valley Health and Anthem insurance split” – and the supervisors have expressed a distinct preference for a resolution of the Anthem-Valley Health dispute to changes to its employee insurance packages estimated to see costs at least double.
So, will public pressure and municipal resolutions have a positive impact on what may be a high-stakes poker game between the Northern Shenandoah Valley regional health care provider and the national health care insurance giant?
Stay tuned – it’s only our health and sometimes lives on the line versus corporate and executive compensation bottom lines.
See the motion, vote, and other business and public comments to council that will be summarized in a related story, in this Royal Examiner video of Monday’s 29-minute open meeting:
County Planning Commission mulls change of use permits
The Warren County Planning Commission met October 14th in the Government Center, combining a joint work session with the Agricultural and Forestal District Advisory Committee, and the regular commission meeting. The advisory committee, consisting of 10 members appointed by the County Board of Supervisors, including 8 landowners, a member of the board, and the Commissioner of the Revenue.
The committee presented its report and recommendation for the renewal of the three Forestal Districts in Warren County: Rockland, South River, and Limeton. Each district exists to encourage the development and improvement of Virginia’s agricultural and forestal lands for the production of food and other agricultural and forestal products. The districts are formed by voluntary action of participating landowners in any district. The Rockland district was formed in 1977 following enabling legislation. These special districts provide community benefits in the form of protection of the character of the community and continued rural uses of the land, potential tax benefits for participating landowners, and restrictions on government actions within the district, such as special review for any eminent domain or use restrictions that may adversely affect it.
The renewal request, for a period of 10 years, includes 196 parcels in the Rockland district, 35 in South River, and 20 in Limeton. The Planning Commission voted unanimously to forward the package to the Board of Supervisors recommending their approval of the continuation of the districts.
Once the work session was concluded, the planning commission regular meeting was called to order. Once the agenda and the minutes of the previous meeting were approved, Chairman Myers opened the floor for public presentations, and there were none. Opportunities for public presentations are included at every Planning Commission meeting and intended to allow any member of the public to address relevant planning issues to the commission that are not included on the regular agenda.
The Public Hearing portion of the meeting opened with the review of a request by property owners Kevin and Renee Roig, and Daniel and Samantha Nobles, for a conditional use permit for a short-term tourist rental of their property at 2686 Panhandle Road in the Fork Magisterial District. The property is zoned Agricultural. The applicants purchased the property as a second home for their own use and determined to help offset the maintenance and operating costs by offering Bed & Breakfast accommodations through Airbnb. There is no Property Owners Association for this property and all setback requirements have been met. The home is 948 feet from the nearest dwelling. The Applicants have been working with the planning department to provide all required documents and the conditional use permit will require compliance with all county ordinances, identifying prohibited activities, health department requirements, with occupancy requirements not to exceed 6 persons.
Chairman Myers opened the floor for public comment, and there were eight neighboring residents who offered their input on the request – Their comments ranged from concerns about unknown persons wandering around the neighborhood to noisy activities to potential trespassing, to potential increased traffic on a very rural road with mountainous terrain, to the endangerment of livestock, to general complaints about the use of the property as a “business”. All the speakers were opposed to the permit being approved. A former owner of the property indicated that the installed septic system required several treatments and was concerned that guests may not perform the required treatments and thereby endanger the groundwater that the system was designed to protect. A recurring theme of the comments was that allowing this use of the property would not be in character for a close-knit neighborhood of long-standing.
Once all comments had been made, the Chairman closed the public comment period and asked the applicants, represented by Renee Roig and Samantha Nobles, to respond to the comments from the neighbors if they wished. The applicants began by expressing their appreciation for the input and for the attention of the planning department and the commission for allowing them to comment. They stressed their desire to be part of the community – acknowledging that the COVID-19 pandemic had restricted their ability to have more communication with their new neighbors. They assured the commissioners that their original and primary reason for the purchase of the property was as a second home for their families’ use, given that it is only an hour and a half drive from their homes. They indicated that their intent was to fulfill any requirements that would allay the fears of their neighbors about the use as a tourist rental, including screening of guests and prohibiting any dangerous activities such as shooting, open fires, or fireworks. Finally, they reminded the commissioners that if the permit was not approved, they still intended to use the property as a getaway home for their own families.
Chairman Myers thanked the applicants for their comments. He reminded the audience that the Virginia legislature has declared that Short-term tourist rental is not considered commercial use and that, on the other hand, a long-term rental is a by-right use. A tourist renter who is a problem is likely to be very temporary, but a long-term tenant can be a far greater problem.
Vice-Chairman Henry also commented that short-term tourist rentals often improve a property and its environment since they have to be maintained to a high standard to attract guests. He also cautioned against viewing profit as a bad thing, and that there is a need for balance in assessing the impact of use on the community.
Commissioner Beall pointed out that a person is entitled to use their own property as they see fit, so long as the use is legal. But she had mixed feelings about the situation.
Commissioner Kersjes asked if the septic system was compliant, and vice-chairman Henry responded that it was, but it did require some additional maintenance to operate properly, and it could be beneficial to make that an additional condition for issuance of the permit, along with any others that would be appropriate.
Chairman Myers reiterated that approval of the permit application is only a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors, who has the final approval authority.
Matt Wendling from the Planning Department told the commissioners that markings for property lines, rules of behavior for guests, and emergency contact information would be included in the Property Management plan, required as a condition of approval.
Vice-Chairman Henry then asked if the motion to approve could be amended to include additional requirements, such as septic system maintenance or other restrictions.
Vice-Chairman Henry offered an amended motion to recommend approval, seconded by Commissioner Kersjes, approved unanimously.
The commission then turned to the second public hearing on the agenda, that of a Zoning Ordinance text amendment, to amend Chapter 180 of the Warren County Code (Zoning Ordinance) to add “rural events facility” as a use allowed by conditional use permit in the Agricultural (A) zoning district. After a reading of the amended text, Vice Chairman Henry offered a motion to recommend approval of the text amendment to the Board of Supervisors, Commissioner Kersjes seconded. The motion was approved unanimously.
The commission then considered a request for a conditional use permit for a rural events facility on Lee Burke road in the Fork District that would host weddings and other events on a 41-acre parcel of agricultural land. The Applicant, Shelly Cook, wishes to incorporate these events in the agricultural setting and has developed a plan for its use that is undergoing engineering at this time. Planning Staff recommends that if the Planning Commission recommends approval, that conditions such as compliance with all Health Department, VDOT, and Warren County Fire and Rescue requirements, as well as those of the Planning Department.
Chairman Myers then opened the floor for public comments. There were 4 speakers who expressed support for the project in general but were concerned that they did not have enough information about the final placement of the event facility on the project. The applicant explained that the engineering work was not yet complete, but that the placement would be in a location approved by the Planning Department. Some concerns regarding music, lights, alcohol consumption, and hours of operation were raised by the commenters. The applicant explained that the facility itself would not be serving alcohol, and individual vendors would have to serve in compliance with all applicable laws.
The Chairman then closed the public hearing and turned to the commissioners for any questions or comments. Commissioner Kersjes raised the issue of proximity to the senior living facility on the adjoining property and asked if the light or music might create an issue for the residents there. The applicant indicated she had spoken with the onsite manager there, but not with the facility owners, who are out of state. The onsite manager indicated no conflict with it. Vice-Chairman Henry asked if the applicant had subdivision rights for the property should this use not work out. The applicant indicated she did.
David and Nita Sudlow are requesting a Conditional use permit for a Chapel on their property at 6435 Strasburg Rd, in the Fork Magisterial District. The chapel is to be located in a structure that was a garage. The chapel will not be a formal church but will be limited to groups of 49 or less. Commissioner Kersjes offered a motion to approve an authorization to advertise for a public hearing, Commissioner Longo seconded. Approval was unanimous.
Finally, the commission considered a second conditional use permit for David and Nita Sudlow for a guest house in an existing structure on the same property. The project will require an upgraded septic system that meets the Virginia Department of Health Requirements. Vice-Chairman Henry offered the motion to approve the authorization to advertise, Commissioner Kersjes seconded.
The Chairman then made comments regarding the need for better traffic control at the corner of John Marshall Highway and High Knob road. Planning Director Logan acknowledged the concern and reminded the commissioners that VDOT approval is a lengthy process and the problem is one of long-standing.
Previous articles in the Royal Examiner have addressed the most critical problem with that intersection:
“Driver inattentiveness is a serious issue on the approaches to High Knob, complicated as they are westbound from Linden by a blind hill approach to the entrance, and from the east and Front Royal by a looping curved approach.” – Roger Bianchini, November 19, 2018
Planning Director Logan also announced the retirement of longtime Planning Department Administrative assistant Cindy Kokernak, who will be greatly missed.
Chairman Myers adjourned the meeting at 9:00 PM.
Budget season must be on the horizon as supervisors begin departmental reviews
At a Tuesday night, October 13 work session the Warren County Board of Supervisors reviewed a draft schedule for its Fiscal Year-2022 (FY-22 which runs from July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022) Budget process and may have previewed that process with a detailed review of two of its in-house county departmental budgets, staffing and logistical operations.
Those departments were General Services and Public Works, headed by Brandy Rosser and Mike Berry, respectively. The department heads gave very precise power point presentations on their departmental functions, including future concerns that could impact those budgets, on the public works side including Sanitary District operations. Also prominent on the public works side were changes in availability of disposal sites, rising costs and tonnage on the recycling side of refuse disposal operations.
Rosser reviewed the General Services Department established during FY-2018 to oversee County-owned property and building maintenance and custodial services. The custodial function has taken on added importance with added duties from the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic reopening precautions, Rosser noted.
The department also provides management and staff support in implementation of the County’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP). Rosser’s power point included a number of projects overseen in past four years, including Eastham and Rockland Parks trails and the installation of Music Park equipment enabled by the generous donations of Ms. Lorraine Holquist; boat landings and building renovations including Ressie Jeffries Elementary School, RSW Jail, the Community Center in old library, the Parks & Rec Department Splash Pad among others.
Some projects are facilitated through grant applications won, Rosser told the board, elaborating on local versus State or Federally supported contributions.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting the board heard from Circuit Court Clerk Angie Moore on the advisability of closing county courthouse operations on New Year’s Eve, December 31, due to the closing of the state court system, making computer system availability necessary to virtually all of the courthouse operations inaccessible.
Moore also noted a “budgetary nightmare” aspect to remaining open on December 31, which is that any land recordings or other business able to be conducted are recorded as occurring on January 2, the first business day of the following year. It was noted that Warren County was one of only 14 of the commonwealth’s approximately 126 courts open December 31 of last year.
A consensus appeared to be to approve the closure at the next supervisors’ meeting.
Tuesday’s meeting opened with Sheriff Mark Butler presenting staff awards, several associated with Mother’s Against Drunk Driving (MADD) recognitions.
Deputies Anthony Stevens, Jonathan Price and Cindy Burke were singled out for outstanding contributions to the department’s efforts to keep our roads and county safe for the general public. Stevens received an Outstanding Service Award for his compassion to a citizen in distress, and a MADD recognition; Burke was awarded a Community Policing Medal for community service and problem-solving skills; and Price rounded the awards out with a nod from MADD for his work keeping our roads safe from intoxicated drivers.
See those awards open Tuesday’s meeting; the departmental and courthouse reports; and the FY-22 Budget Process Schedule review in this Royal Examiner video:
County okays immediate emergency services communications tower replacement
At its October 6 work session, Warren County officials dealt with a second emergency services funding issue – this one equipment related, rather than personnel as in the Chester Gap Fire & Rescue discussion. In fact, Chester Gap Chief Brown stayed for this discussion as it impacts his department along with all the County’s emergency service responders.
The equipment at issue are two microwave communications towers, one at Guard Hill Road on the north-central side of the county, the other in Bentonville to the south. The towers are crucial to station to field communications with, not only fire and rescue personnel, but law enforcement officers responding to sometimes life-threatening situations, as well as interdepartmental communications. That details of those emergency response situations are available to first responders on all fronts is crucial to their safety and the public safety, Sheriff Mark Butler explained.
“I told you I wouldn’t come to you (for money) unless it was a need – this is a need,” Butler said.
“A real serious need,” Chester Gap Chief Brown added. And it appeared the most serious problem is with the Bentonville tower in his neighborhood, which was referenced as being essentially dysfunctional since August 25, to the point where fire and rescue and the sheriff’s office can’t communicate in that part of the county.
As with the earlier Chester Gap and countywide discussion, short and long-term solutions were on the table. Short-term, a $93,000 cost was cited to replace the two antennas showing current signs of failure. Longer term, to upgrade the entire emergency communications system a $2 million to $2-1/2-million price tag was estimated.
Interim County Administrator Ed Daley told the board that the microwave communications tower replacement costs in the short term would become the number one priority on the CARES Act public safety funding allotment, with courthouse upgrades second.
A consensus was reached to move immediately on the short-term issue to assure the complete restoration of service in the Bentonville-Browntown area and improve the communication gap situation countywide. However, it was stressed that movement on the entire system upgrade was needed to begin in the near future, as the aging system is facing periodic interruptions across the board.
A two-week turnaround in the order with installation in less than three months was cited on the replacement work.
See the discussion of another vital aspect of countywide emergency services in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:
EDA approves short-term lease on Baugh Drive during Strategic Planning weekend meeting
The EDA Board of Directors met, via Zoom, Friday, and Saturday, October 9-10. There was one item of new business before the board. On a motion by Jorie Martin and seconded by Greg Harold, the Board of Directors unanimously approved a short-term storage lease with ECOMNET for use of 426 Baugh Drive warehouse building.
The remainder of the evening, as well as the full-day Saturday, was devoted to the process of updating the EDA Strategic Plan. The board, along with EDA staff, invited members of the community and Board of Supervisors to share their insights on the role the EDA can play in improving the economic health of and shaping the economic direction of the Front Royal Warren County community.
Attendees included Walt Mabe and Delores Oates, Warren County Board of Supervisors; Ed Daley, Interim County Administrator; Melissa Chapman, President, Ninth Way Solutions; Jeanian Clark, Vice President of Workforce Solutions and Continuing Education, Lord Fairfax Community College; Scott Jenkins, owner of Mountain Home B&B; Chris Laurence, Realtor; Dee Sparger, Outreach Coordinator, Front Royal Presbyterian Church; and Kelly Sprague, owner/manager Blue Wing Frog restaurant.
EDA Board Director Jim Wolfe facilitated the program. The goals of this event were to begin to articulate a vision and mission statement for the EDA, plus develop a list of objectives that the EDA can accomplish within the next five years. While the EDA Board, staff, and participants represented diverse professional backgrounds, all involved share a common passion for this community and a hopeful outlook for the future.
Chair Jeff Browne stated, “A lot of good ideas came out of the sessions that give us terrific ideas to consider as we move forward. There was a strong consensus on important ideas, like Town-County cooperation on a common vision for our community.”
The Board of Directors is proud to have begun this community conversation and look forward to fine-tuning the plan in the coming weeks.