The Washington Town Council, without much to vote on besides paying the monthly bills at its regular meeting Monday night (March 12), found itself engaged mostly in talk about appearances – specifically, the keeping- and/or shoring-up thereof.
For example: The town’s new website (found at washingtonva.gov), though it’s been online for several weeks, had its official introduction to town council members.
“I think it is absolutely terrific,” said Mayor John Fox Sullivan, “I want to compliment Mary Ann [Kuhn, the council member who spearheaded the effort to rebuild a website that was essentially built seven years ago and then forgotten] and Alisa [Moody, the web consultant hired to do the work in October].
“Like all projects of this nature, it took longer than anticipated, and it was a lot of work,” Sullivan said, “but I think it’s something this town can be very proud of.”
The site also connects to the town’s new Facebook page, said Kuhn, who wrote most of the site’s engaging copy, having been a writer and editor (including of this newspaper) before she was an innkeeper and owner of Middleton Inn. “So tell your friends to go on Facebook and ‘like’ the town of Washington,” she said to the half-dozen or so in the audience, one or two of whom appeared likely to have their own Facebook page.
The website’s copy, obviously meant to help bring visitors to the town, is surrounded and accented by a large number of astonishingly beautiful photographs. Kuhn said the town would always appreciate having more photos, and also said the site – which becomes now one of at least six Rappahannock County-based websites with local event calendars, including the county tourism website and this newspaper’s website – will be kept up-to-date by her, town clerk Laura Dodd and others.
Replies to a group-email Sullivan sent Tuesday to members of the Rappahannock Hospitality and Visitors Association, recommending they check the website out, have been of an emphatically congratulatory nature.
The next topic of an appearance-related nature involved the 144 windows panes in the main hall of the historic Town Hall, which require repointing and repainting – an expensive process because of the existence of lead. Council member Jerry Goebel said he’d received an estimate from a company that “has always repaired the windows here” of $12,000. Town attorney John Bennett suggested a request for proposals (RFP) be assembled for a project of this size; Sullivan agreed; Goebel will put the specs together and the council will vote on the matter in April.
Finally, the Architectural Review Board’s Kevin Adams asked the council whether the project to create a “butterfly trail,” or nature trail, adjacent to the town-owned Avon Hall property, was going to impinge on the plans – created during the wastewater plant run-up – to sell the property to help pay for the sewage system and treatment plant. “It concerns me that this fantastic butterfly garden is slowly consuming one of the main assets of the town that I thought was someday going to be sold to satisfy part of the wastewater bill.”
Sullivan, council member Gary Schwartz and town clerk Laura Dodd pointed out several unexpected boons have helped take pressure off the town to sell Avon Hall – including a $500,000 state water-quality grant applied to the treatment plant debt and a more than 90-percent hookup rate in the system’s first year (when 40 percent was predicted).
“Also, everything that will be done for this nature trail, I would think, would not diminish the value of Avon Hall, but more likely increase its value,” Sullivan said.
The council discussed the more than 100-percent increase in the annual fee it pays to the Rappahannock County (nee Sperryville) Water and Sewer Authority to operate, test and maintain the town’s water plant in Harris Hollow. The RCWSA, after conducting a detailed cost-accounting, Sullivan said, found that it was charging the town $13,000 less per year than it was spending on the contract (the RCWSA has a similar contract with the Rappahannock County Public Schools, also due to increase dramatically July 1). Thus the town’s fee will rise from about $14,000 a year to $27,000 a year. (The water and sewer authority’s operations are paid for by usage fees charged primarily to citizens of Sperryville.)
Sullivan and other council members agreed that finding someone to do what the RCWSA does for less than the proposed amount would be difficult, and it was agreed to postpone action on the increase until the council begins work on its 2012-2013 budget.
“Also,” Sullivan said, “speaking for myself and perhaps a few others, I think it’s going to inevitably make sense for us to think about . . . does it makes sense at some point for both the county and the town to have a centralized operating maintenance staff [for sewage, wastewater and water operations in Sperryville, Washington and at the schools]. In a county that is as small as this, and a town as small as this, to have separate operating staffs might not be the way to operate efficiently.”
One item the council actually voted on: a resolution to declare May 12 as Rappahannock Food Pantry Day. Earlier this month, the Board of Supervisors, at Sullivan’s urging, passed a similar resolution. Sullivan, who with his wife, Beverly, supports the Food Pantry by hosting an annual fundraiser at the couple’s home and helping organize satellite events, told the council that “the purpose of [this resolution], quite directly and candidly, is to serve as a device to get as many people in the town and county to focus on the Food Pantry, and rally around the Food Pantry, on this particular day – in the form of contributions of cash and/or food.”
Sullivan said several other groups and individuals are being encouraged, or are already planning, to create other events on the same day. He also recommended that the town, which is where the Food Pantry is located (on Mount Salem Avenue), contribute $1,000 to $1,500 to the pantry.
The resolution, which included approval of a $1,500 donation, passed unanimously.