County revisits, sheriff defends budget

Near the end of last week’s monthly supervisors session, County Administrator John McCarthy had asked Sheriff Connie C. Smith to be present for a follow-up discussion of the sheriff’s office budget after the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren (RSW) Regional Jail had been open for three or four months.

The discussion itself was postponed until next month’s meeting, when McCarthy said he hopes to have a better idea from Smith about her office staffing after the closing of the local jail. But Smith took the opportunity to preemptively defend the office’s budget.

Smith told the supervisors that she’s recently had to take a deputy off the road to work full-time court security; that Deputy Jeff Brown, one of two part-time court security officers, is also on medical leave, and added: “Myself and the major [Maj. John Arstino, the deputy sheriff] are having to go over to court to help out and keep the judges happy, and we’re also working on trying to get grants, and we are helping out with fire and rescue . . .

“I don’t know that any of you have scanners,” she said, “but . . . fire and rescue are having trouble getting out, so I’m sending deputies to drive an ambulance so we can get patients to the hospital.

“We are working together with everybody trying to make things work. But as far as cuts, I can’t take any more cuts . . . I know things are tight, but you can’t cut law enforcement, and fire and rescue and schools but so much.”

As the fiscal 2015 budget was being considered in April, Smith had been told she’d be losing seven positions, primarily jail-related. The state Compensation Board, which decides what staffing levels the state will help fund in local jurisdictions, reinstated five of those seven positions late in the budget process, in part after Smith made the case that most of the jailers also worked as dispatchers.

McCarthy pointed out that the Comp Board funds salaries — in some cases only partially — but does not fund benefits, including health insurance, longevity incentives and pension costs, which he said can comprise up to 30 percent of the county’s total cost for an employee.

The plan, he said, was to be able to use some $100,000 in jail and sheriff staff-related cost reductions to build a surplus for fiscal year 2016, when the county begins paying its share of the jail debt — about $300,000 annually, at this point — as well as its operating expenses.

“I’m aware that departmental budgets are often front-loaded, meaning the majority of the year’s costs are often made in the first few months,” McCarthy said, “but at the current rate, the sheriff’s office budget won’t be $100,000 under but about twice that much over budget by the end of the year.”

In May, the supervisors agreed to revisit the sheriff’s budget after the jail had been open for several months.

Operating expenses for the jail — $375,000 in this year’s budget — are based on each county’s share of the inmate population. Originally estimated at 12 percent, Rappahannock is paying this first year a 10-percent share, McCarthy said. And in current actual prison population numbers, he added, the county’s share is closer to 5 percent, while Shenandoah and Warren county’s shares are rising from original estimates.

Because the annual shares are based on a three-year rolling average, McCarthy told the supervisors, the county’s costs won’t go down dramatically next year, but if the current trend — fewer prisoners from Rappahannock, more from Shenandoah and Warren — continues, the numbers could go down substantially in the following two years.

After its first year of operation, the RSW Jail also hopes to qualify to accept out-of-area inmates, including state and federal prisoners, which will also reduce costs to the three sponsoring jurisdictions.

VDOT’s road treatment plans

Mark Nesbit, Warrenton residency manager for the Virginia Department of Transportation, reported to the supervisors that alternatives to traditional road-salting chemicals are still being studied by VDOT engineers.

Rock Mills resident David Konick had been lobbying the supervisors and VDOT since February, when he emailed photos of caked compounds on the roadsides and bridge structures near his home and expressed concern about the effects on aquatic and plant life throughout the state.

Later in the meeting, Konick pressed the supervisors to get a timeline for VDOT’s actions based on results of the ongoing study of alternative de-icing methods, and asked about the locations of the water-testing Nesbit also mentioned would soon be conducted. Nesbit said there wasn’t a timeline, and said VDOT was “open to suggestions” on water-testing locations. Konick suggested Rock Mills.

Courthouse roof repair

John Greenwalt Lee presented a detailed slideshow and talk to the supervisors on his restoration company’s work over the last two months on the courthouse complex roofs, brickwork and paint. From the full-height scaffolding wrapping the main courthouse, Lee said, he and his staff found many examples of “very intricate and fine work” done on the original 1840s structure — and numerous instances of repairs done over the ensuing 150 years that did not help keep water and moisture out of the structure.

In addition to repointing and reflashing the metal roof (which was repaired by another contractor), Lee said the project involved removing a good deal of injected foam insulation materials which, rather than allow the moisture building up inside such a structure to evaporate, kept the water in and caused roof timbers (particular at the corners), trim and even brickwork to rot and degrade.

“We hope to have done work that will give this roof another 70 to 100 years of life,” said Lee, who showed several examples of roof timber rebuilt with custom-fitted cypress lumber he said came from a 200-year-old tree he purchased years ago.

The project — including the standing-seam metal roof repairs — cost the county $62,500, McCarthy said.

Roger Piantadosi
About Roger Piantadosi 539 Articles

Former Rappahannock News editor Roger Piantadosi is a writer and works on web and video projects for Rappahannock Media and his own Synergist Media company. Before joining the News in 2009, he was a staff writer, editor and web developer at The Washington Post for almost 30 years.