Finance panel gone; theater building could host courtroom drama instead

Among the unexpected actions and unusual discussions omitted due to space limitations from last week’s report on the Nov. 7 Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors meeting was a decision to abolish the finance committee the board created last year, and at least one supervisor’s warning that the county-owned RAAC Community Theatre building on Gay Street might need to be used in the future for county office or courtroom space.

Jackson district supervisor Ron Frazier had begun the first discussion with a motion that the finance committee be expanded, to include the county treasurer and other interested citizens. The committee was populated by the board last year with supervisors, county financial staff and members of the public to help develop the county’s spending priorities in both the short and long term, and Frazier’s motion was meant to add members because of trouble the committee had found finding meeting times at which all — or more than two or three — could attend.

Frazier’s motion failed to find a second.

“Really?” Frazier said.

“I agree with Mr. Frazier that this committee isn’t working,” said Hampton district supervisor John Lesinski. “I was a proponent of this committee. But after seeing how the budget process ran this year, and really feeling that every member of this board should integrally involved in the working of this budget . . . the treasurer is already involved, I don’t think we need a special committee for that. . . .

“I would actually put forward for discussion that we don’t even need this board any more, and we disband it,” said Lesinski.

“If that’s a motion, I’ll second it,” said Stonewall-Hawthorne supervisor Chris Parrish, “and the reason is, we as supervisors are responsible for the budget. We need to go over it individually line by line, and we have the opportunity to reach out to members of the community individually, on our own, and get that feedback and bring it to the board for a vote. It does seem a lot cleaner to do it that way.”

Frazier said his fellow supervisors were not understanding the purpose of the committee — that it was meant for long-term planning, not annual budget planning.

“The fact that the radio financing is the mess that it is right now,” he said, referring to the county’s 10-percent share of a $7.6 million, tri-county emergency communications system upgrade, for which the board scrambled in September to find $360,000 to make its first payment, and for which it will likely have to borrow in future years. “It’s because we didn’t do any long-range planning before this year. And members of this board habitually don’t get involved in hardly anything. With all due respect, we’re told what to do.”

Lesinski disagreed, maintaining that the disbanding of the committee would “promote the involvement of board members” 12 months of the year.

“Last year was the first year that this board’s members looked at all line items,” Frazier said.

“This board should be doing that every year,” said Lesinski.

“But at the same time, no one is doing long-range planning,” said Frazier.

“That should be the responsibility of the treasurer and the county administrator,” said Lesinski. “I don’t think this proposal to disband the committee is a suggestion that we take any less responsibility for anything — it’s for all of us to increase our involvement.”

“But you’re not going to do it,” said Frazier. “You’re not going to do it.”

Parrish said he looks into every part of the budget, including the school’s portion, every year.

Board chair Roger Welch of Wakefield district pointed out that the board had begun budgeting surplus funds five years ago in anticipation of the emergency-communications system upgrade, but that those funds, and that surplus, was “wiped out” by unexpectedly expensive, state-mandated needs of the social services department.

The debate, largely between Frazier, Parrish and Lesinski, went on for another 10 minutes before the board voted 4-1, with Frazier against, to disband to committee.

Theatre space

When County Administrator Debbie Keyser brought up a brief report tentative plans by the tenant to build a handicapped-access ramp at the RAAC Community Theatre, which the Rappahannock Association for Arts and Community leases from the county, the subject of public restrooms came up. (The theater, a converted century-old church, has none of its own; security issues prevent theatergoers’ continued use of the restroom two doors up the street in the courthouse.)

Parrish said he thought that providing public restrooms on Gay Street would be the responsibility of the town of Washington, not the county — especially since the town collects its own meals and lodging taxes (revenues that are in fact at least 50 percent higher than the county’s total, because of the presence of the Inn at Little Washington).

Because the theater building is county-owned (and the tenants pay about $250 a month for rent), Parrish said, “it’s not unlikely we’re going to need it for office space . . . and I’m wondering if we shouldn’t keep that in mind before we start looking at other options.”

County Attorney Peter Luke, at Parrish’s request, reminded the board that Keyser’s predecessor John McCarthy had warned the board years ago that three courts — circuit, district, juvenile/domestic — share the courthouse’s main courtroom, and that eventually “a judge is going to say, ‘We need another courtroom.’ The RAAC building is the most likely location.”

“I certainly don’t like the idea of putting out there that we might be taking RAAC’s theater from them,” said Piedmont district’s Mike Biniek. “They have been a very vibrant and integral part of our community.”

Biniek suggested the county consider office space at the former jail. “I think they have bathrooms there, too, but I haven’t been up there in quite a while.”

That got a delayed laugh. The board took no action and moved on.

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.