The Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors quietly adopted a school budget during its monthly meeting Monday (May 5) at the courthouse, and then talked even more quietly about noise.
The board’s adoption of the fiscal-year 2015 school budget was quiet, a brief discussion ending with a unanimous roll-call approval, primarily because the draft submitted by superintendent Donna Matthews — recognized at the same meeting for finishing her doctorate degree, and thereafter addressed as Dr. Matthews — totals $12.4 million, and requires no increase in local funding over last year (the county’s share remaining at about $9.09 million).
“I want to thank the school board and particularly the superintendent,” said Jackson district supervisor Ron Frazier, in past years a perennial critic of the school division’s fiscal policies, addressing Matthews. “I think for the first time in my 27 years here, I’m pretty sure you all went through the budget line by line.”
Following a plea during the public-comment session by an Amissville resident who said her neighbors’ incessantly barking dogs are bringing her and her husband much worry and many sleepless nights, the board’s nuisance-noise discussion was quiet and cautious primarily because — as County Administrator John McCarthy put it — “dogs and guns . . . both topics will fill this room up faster than almost anything else.”
The courtroom was far from full Monday, as the supervisors heard from just one citizen about its own $22.9 million 2015 budget — on which it tentatively scheduled a public work session for 5 p.m. next Tuesday (May 13) at the courthouse. McCarthy was asked to invite to that session Sheriff Connie C. Smith and building office/E911 chief Richie Burke, both of whose departments’ budgets and personnel accounted for most public question and comments at last week’s first hearing on the 2015 budget.
Longtime farmer Monira Rifaat of Sperryville, who voiced similar comments at that sedate and sparsely attended budget hearing April 28, returned Monday to again press the supervisors not to raise property taxes. (A 4-cent increase in the tax rate is proposed to cover costs of the 2015 fiscal year’s pension, health insurance and county-employee salary increases and future years’ regional jail-related and general-reassessment costs.)
“I’m going to ask you to consider not raising the taxes,” Rifaat said, “but lowering the expenses. I ask again whether our Rappahannock County business model is a sustainable one. I think our administrative expense, our overhead, is tipping the balance.”
“Keep in mind that our reserve has been vastly diminished,” said Stonewall-Hawthorne supervisor Chris Parrish, referring to state-mandated social-services costs that began to rise sharply three years ago and which accounted for most of last year’s 4-cent rise in the property tax rate after depleting Rappahannock’s traditionally healthy year-to-year surplus. “Two cents of this increase is more or less going back into the general fund and, if the costs of the sheriff’s transition to a regional jail and the jail expenses themselves are better than we expect, it will stay there.
“My personal opinion is that it’s prudent to have a reserve,” Parrish said. “And we’re in a little bit of an unprecedented situation these past couple of years.”
Amissville resident Deborah Reina rose during the public comment session to ask that the supervisors consider changes to its noise regulations — specifically those that address barking dogs and target shooting that is “incessant” and goes on at all hours.
“My husband and I put our entire life’s savings into purchasing land here and building a home, and we have not been able to enjoy our property for even one day,” she said, noting that most of the noise sources — dogs and sometimes guns — are less than 300 feet from their home in a neighborhood of smaller-lot properties, and that the two spend frequent nights unable to sleep.
As McCarthy and county attorney Peter Luke pointed out to the supervisors during their discussion (which came after Reina had left), the county’s only noise regulation is part of its overall zoning ordinance, and addresses just volume, not “nuisance” or “incessance.” A 60-decibel threshold — above the normal ambient sound level at a property line, which McCarthy said is often already 40 to 60 decibels — means that “only an unmuffled motorcycle” is going to make that much noise.
Three supervisors (Hampton district’s Bryant Lee, Piedmont district’s Mike Biniek and Parrish) nodded when Luke asked for their assent to allow him to look further into a possible ordinance that would, based on their comments, address noise that is incessant and ongoing, and which could take into account the time of day and proximity of homes in the county’s various higher-density areas.
The supervisors adopted a resolution to thank retired treasurer Frances Foster — whose tenure ended April 30 after 52 years as treasurer or deputy treasurer in Rappahannock County — for “her wisdom, her leadership, and her dedication to the public trust and public interest.”
McCarthy also reported on a meeting last week with Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) officials, county representatives and Woodville resident David Konick, who petitioned the supervisors and VDOT after this winter’s storms to reassess the amount of salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice on roads throughout the state.
VDOT’s engineers, McCarthy said, found after some initial research an absence of scientific studies on more eco-friendly alternatives mentioned by Konick and others — including a solution that incorporates beet juice. The evidence they found was anecdotal, but promised to continue their research and report back to the county.
McCarthy said: “I think VDOT’s on notice that we’d like to know about alternatives” to salt, which Konick had found encrusted on bridges and roadways in his Rock Mills neck of the woods after the last of the winter’s many snowstorms.