Money matters dominate the supervisors May agenda
Kaitlin Rose Struckmann’s recordings of these meetings (and other supervisors and school board meetings in Rappahannock County) can be found on the Rappahannock Record YouTube channel.
The five members of the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors seated themselves in the courthouse at 2 p.m. Monday and, with the exception of one dinner break and another 10-minute restroom break, did not rise again until 9 p.m.
This being spring in Virginia, the subjects discussed — and most of the decisions made, all but one unanimously — were a distinctive shade of green.
That’s green as in money, not the stuff that grows on trees.
• The board approved a $12,652,097 school budget for fiscal year 2017, which starts July 1 — affirming its earlier decision to trim $50,000 from the school board’s request for a budget that was no higher than this year’s budget.
• At its final budget workshop of the season (convened between the board’s regular 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. monthly sessions on Monday), it hammered out more details of the county’s $22.2 million fiscal-year 2017 overall budget that is now scheduled for a final vote at the supervisors’ special session at 7 p.m. Monday, May 23 at the courthouse.
• It heard a presentation from local electoral board members to pay just under $60,000 as a salary for the director of elections (aka the registrar of voters), a position the general assembly has decided will be a full-time rather than part-time position starting July 1 — and provisionally made an allowance for the 30-percent rise in salary (and a matching cut in the registrar office’s other expenses) in next year’s budget.
• Despite the creation last month of a committee to resolve a myriad of disagreements and bruised feelings among county officials and the county’s seven volunteer fire and rescue companies, some supervisors and some volunteers in the mostly well-attended courtroom freely aired their feelings on several volunteer-related agenda items — all of which wound up being taken off the board’s agenda without action (except for one unanimous resolution to grant Washington Volunteer Fire and Rescue $6,400 from the Fire Levy’s emergency fund to pay for an ambulance repair).
• The supervisors heard a presentation from Larry “Bud” Meyer, the chairman of the Foothills Forum, the nonprofit organization that sponsored a recent county-wide survey (in partnership with this newspaper, which has an agreement with Foothills to publish the results and pursue stories based on them, and with University of Virginia’s Center for Survey Research, which conducted the mail-in survey). And then the board heard less formal presentations from a handful of citizens who thought the survey was unnecessary, or who worried that it was driven by a development-friendly agenda.
• It unanimously approved the latest Secondary Road Six-Year Plan for Rappahannock — an annual document formulated with approximately four parts hope and two parts VDOT funding, which includes proposals — going forward with varying degrees of certainty — to pave parts of Rolling Road, Battle Mountain Road, Schoolhouse Road, Turkey Ridge Road, Battle Run Road and South Poes Road.
• After a contentious public hearing and discussion, the board split, approving by a 3-2 margin, a special exception permit for Dwight Dunton to reopen the F.T. Valley Store as a retail store and likely gas-station under the county’s adaptive-reuse ordinance — although the opponents claimed it did not qualify for such a designation.
The school budget
With a minimum of comment (and no mention of the budget by Superintendent Donna Matthews during her usual “Our Schools” update at the start of the afternoon session), the supervisors voted unanimously to approve the $12.6 million school budget, more than half of the county’s overall budget. During the public comment period, longtime school board vice chair Aline Johnson rose to remind the supervisors that the school board’s level-funding budget request already represented a great deal of fiscally conservative, cost-saving efforts.
“I think we all have to work together to make up for shortages,” Johnson said. “But not at the expense of our students.
“If you can do a little better than $50,000,” she added, referring to what the supervisors decided to trim from the school division’s request, “I’d say ‘thank you.’ ”
The overall budget
The $22.2 fiscal 2017 county budget represents no increase in the 70-cents-per-$100 real estate tax rate and — after the budget workshop between the board’s regular sessions Monday — remains down slightly from last year’s budget.
At the budget workshop, the board was led through the most recent changes to what is still (on paper) the county’s first “balanced” budget in several years by County Administrator Debbie Keyser — who was attending her first supervisors’ sessions since her promotion, effective May 1, from deputy administrator. (John McCarthy, who retires June 30, is taking accumulated leave this month and next, and the two traded positions for the final two months of his 30-year tenure.)
After adjustments were made to reflect a lower-than-projected cost for the county’s share of the RSW regional jail ($487,184 instead of $618,000), lower-than-expected real estate tax revenue because of the recent reassessment (down $86,443), increased employee health insurance costs ($19,164) and other changes, the budget balance still remains a positive number, Keyser said. (That number is $32,879; this follows consecutive years of deficits that at several points rose into six-figure territory.)
Registrar and ‘Peace in our time’
County electoral board members Denise Chandler, Alma Viator and Hurley Smith presented their recommendations for compensating the county’s director of elections (aka the registrar of voters) now that the general assembly has mandated that the positions be made full time. This would add an additional 480 hours of compensated time.
Rappahannock is one of 17 counties in the state with part-time election directors. In recent years, however, elections have become so complex, part-time registrars must work hundreds of additional hours without compensation.
Openly acknowledging the years-long disagreement among county officials about registrar compensation, Smith appealed to the supervisors “to take the personalities out of the equation” and discuss the needs of the position. He suggested that doing so could bring “peace in our time.”
Reading from a letter sent earlier to the supervisors, Smith noted that the compensation proposal “represents … the minimum salary that we feel we must offer to attract and retain any qualified candidate for this position, particularly if a vacancy should occur.”
The position now pays $38,360, a base salary set by the state; the county pays an additional cost-of-living supplement of $8,000. Smith said that he, Chandler, and Viator had calculated a proposed annual full-time salary of $59,820. “This represents a budget increase of $12,960, Smith said, but “because of the Commonwealth’s partial reimbursement regimen, the actual increased cost to the county would be $8,533.”
Smith said current Registrar Kim McKiernan has told the board she could cut the department’s budget enough to reduce the net increased cost to the county to zero.
He closed his presentation by saying, “Gentlemen, this is a no brainer. We hope this will resolve this contentious issue and we can get on with our lives.”
Denise Chandler, referring to a large chart, compared registrar base salaries and the cost of living in several other small Virginia counties: King and Queen, Surrey, Bath and Richmond. She explained that at 143.8 percent, Rappahannock’s cost of living is 42 to 50 percent higher than any of the other counties, yet the base salary does not reflect that difference.
Rescue agreement and/or disagreement
Before a scheduled agenda item in which Jackson district supervisor Ron Frazier was to report on the progress of the ad hoc committee charged with working out an agreement between the county and its seven volunteer fire and rescue companies, Frazier and several volunteers — Flint Hill VFR President Bill Welch and Amissville VFR Chief Scott Chamberlain among them — rose to publicly thank the supervisors for deciding to create the committee last month, and to mutually appreciate the progress made at its one meeting.
At the start of the 2 p.m. session, Frazier requested that a related item — a hearing for an amendment to the ordinance that allows the county to charge a service fee for ambulance calls — be removed from the agenda, to which his colleagues agreed. Later, he commended the cooperative nature of the work so far by the committee — which consists of Frazier, Piedmont district supervisor Mike Biniek, Amissville resident Page Glennie, Keyser, Sperryville resident Ken Thompson and Flint Hill VFR past chief Frank Huff.
Frazier also said he’d met with Culpeper County supervisors about the county’s controversial decision earlier this year to return funds it had collected through the county’s EMS Cost Recovery ordinance to Medicare and other insurers, because the money was mistakenly billed for ambulance transports for out-of-county (mostly Culpeper) residents by the Amissville company — something the EMS Cost Recovery ordinance specifically forbids.
“When I told them we had decided to return some $38,000 to Medicare,” Frazier said, “They said, and I quote, ‘That’s just stupid.’ ”
Thus ensued — and again later, before the supervisors also removed an agenda item to consider what to do with an additional $1,000 of Amissville-related insurance — a discussion of the possible merits of the county “getting out completely” of the insurance-billing business and allowing each volunteer company to do its own billing (as suggested at one point by Stonewall-Hawthorne supervisor Chris Parrish) and other possible solutions.
At some point, an exasperated Hampton supervisor John Lesinski finally asked, “Isn’t this why we created the committee?”
Foothills Forum’s Bud Meyer presented the supervisors a brief slideshow with results from the nonpartisan nonprofit’s extensive mail-in survey of Rappahannock County’s 7,000-plus residents this fall and winter — a survey that found, among many other results, some 90 percent of respondents were satisfied with living in Rappahannock, appreciating its scenic wonders and privacy, and a scant three percent said they were dissatisfied.
The survey found that more than 70 percent of the respondents were open to some changes — the most notable being improvements to broadband internet access and cell service.
An unusually high 42 percent of Rappahannock’s 3,258 households responded to the survey, Meyer said. Fewer than three in 10 said they believed Rappahannock should stay just as it is with no more changes. Seventy percent said they favored limiting taxes.
Among the handful who stood later during the public comment period to criticize the Foothills survey were Beth Gyorgy of Slate Mills, who said “this governing body has some serious issues on the table, and I was just sorry to see this on the agenda”; and Christine Smith of Sperryville, who cautioned that, if you consider that more than half of the surveys were not returned, and that 26 percent of those returned said “no change was necessary in Rappahannock, you have fully 70 percent of the households in Rappahannock saying there is no change necessary or who are choosing not to engage in the process. So please keep those percentages in mind along with the others presented.”
Secondary road six-year plan
The supervisors unanimously approved the 2016-17 six-year secondary road plan, which VDOT requires each county to agree to annually to prioritize unpaved roads to be improved. The plan includes projects to pave a half mile of Rolling Road (from Route 231 to Route 600), likely to start this year; about a half mile of Battle Mountain Road, also possible for a 2016 start; two-tenths of a mile of Schoolhouse Road, probably not until 2017-18; and four-tenths of a mile of Turkey Ridge Road, the most expensive of the projects listed, at $530,000, since it passes through the heart of the county sometimes not-so-affectionately known as Rock-ahannock (and, based on funding projections, is not likely to begin until 2018 or 2019).
A similarly not-funded-until-2018 inclusion in the plan is to pave 1.15 miles of Battle Run Road.
“When I came to Battle Run Road in 1988,” said Planning Commission member Alvin Henry during the public comment period, “it was a frontier. Now there are large homes [there], and I see people walking their dogs on leashes and picking up poop in plastic bags.” He said he wanted to thank VDOT for their good work, but asked that they reconsider paving Battle Run Road.
There will be more on the supervisors’ Monday sessions in next week’s edition. You can email the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Patty Hardee also contributed to this report.