Weather or not, county business goes on  

Rappahannock County’s five supervisors, two of whom still had no electricity at home after last week’s storm, spent a couple of hours at the (air-conditioned) courthouse for their regular monthly meeting Monday (July 2), devising ways to maximize limited space and state-reduced budgets.

The supervisors voted unanimously to purchase the office building across Gay Street owned by Sharon and Peter Luke, the latter being the county attorney (who sat, recused, in the bleachers, for the proceedings) and former longtime commonwealth’s attorney. The county now rents, for $1,350 a month, the small office building to house both Luke’s official-duty offices and those of current commonwealth’s attorney Art Goff.

Buying the building, County Administrator John McCarthy told the board, would allow the county to move its witness quarters, now a small room on the courthouse’s ground floor, across the street, and increase the size of its public waiting area – a cramped and increasingly uncomfortable space on court days. The price the supervisors agreed to, after studying the proposed contract, was $350,000.

Luke was also appointed to serve as a legal advisor to the Board of Zoning Appeals, in a challenge to a recent decision by McCarthy as zoning administrator to allow Raymond Deakins to build a home on his property near Rock Mills. Deakins’ neighbor David Konick, an attorney (and McCarthy’s long-ago predecessor in zoning administration) claims the building would violate setback, public road and other regulations – and further challenged, in an email, the board’s intent to appoint Luke as the BZA’s advisor.

The BZA’s meeting at 7 p.m. July 19, at which Luke will advise the zoning board neutrally and not represent the county or McCarthy – in accordance with a supplementary resolution passed by the board Monday – will decide whether Konick is “aggrieved” and can thus proceed with his claim.

Cell towers closer?

McCarthy reported that the company originally charged by AT&T with building three new cellular towers in the county last year, TowerCo, is in the process to transferring the projects to a subsidiary, SBA, which he says appears to indicate that the facilities could be built sooner.

In addition, he told the board, documentation for a new FCC program to increase broadband in rural areas – the Mobility Fund – indicates that much of Rappahannock County is eligible for the fund, thanks in part to an online survey conducted last year to determine the degree of internet access available to non-urban dwellers across the country. The fund starts up in October; McCarthy said the new tower construction company could decide to wait until then, but that either way the prospect of five new AT&T towers in the county – something the supervisors approved last spring after months of vigorous and sometimes acrimonious public debate – were looking better.

The extension of the Sprint-owned tower at Ben Venue has been completed, he said, though not yet turned on. The extension of another Sprint tower behind the Amissville fire hall, and new 199-foot towers at the high school, on U.S. 522 in Boston and on Woodward Road in Sperryville, have not yet begun, and the supervisors agreed to renew any permits that might expire before October’s apparent decision time for SBA.

Employee health insurance

As it promised to do at last month’s meeting, the board set about creating a “work group” of school board, supervisors and public members, meant to study ways to make make health insurance for county employees more equitable and cost-effective – largely in response to comments made during the spring budgeting process that school division employees were offered a more attractive package than other county employees.

Jackson district supervisor Ron Frazier, who was among the school division’s most vocal budget analyzers, volunteered to represent the supervisors in the work group. He recommended that Jeffrey Knight, a CPA, and Hurley Smith, be considered as the public representatives to the group. Stonewall-Hawthorne district supervisor Chris Parrish said the public rep on the committee should be Ron Makela, a former school board member who was the first to make a presentation during the budget hearings that compared Rappahannock County Public Schools’ health-insurance plan with those of surrounding districts. The board voted to ask Makela to serve, and to ask Knight to serve as alternate.

Roads and bridges

The board voted to authorize McCarthy to request that the county’s state legislators introduce bills to name the U.S. 522 bridge over the Thornton River in Sperryville – the 83-year-old steel span is currently being replaced by VDOT – after the late longtime supervisor Charles K. “Pete” Estes of Sperryville, who worked tirelessly for years to have the bridge replaced.

It also approved a resolution recommending Aaron Mountain Road as a candidate for the state’s Rural Rustic Road designation. McCarthy said the designation allows the state to repave an appropriate country road without having to meet right-of-way and other conditions normally imposed on such projects, thus greatly reducing the cost of paving. The road is included in VDOT’s six-year secondary road plan – a plan funded by the state this year at levels that are a fraction of earlier years’ secondary-road budgets.

“We’ll take whatever we can get, or save,” McCarthy said.

Assessments and rates

McCarthy was also authorized by the supervisors to pursue negotiations, along with a consortium of jurisdictions that include Warren, Page, Shenandoah and Clark counties, with the property assessment firm Wingate Appraisal Service. Wingate conducted the county’s last property reassessment – a process the county is required to undergo again by fiscal year 2016. Because it has the lowest number of parcels among the participating counties, McCarthy said, Rappahannock’s per parcel rate quoted by Wingate is $19; if the supervisors decided to do the reassessment a year earlier, in fiscal year 2015, the rate would be $20, McCarthy said.

Supervisors also heard a regional jail progress report from the county administrator, who serves on the board of the Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren Regional Jail Authority – which has begun construction of a regional jail facility north of Front Royal that, by 2014, will be used by all three counties to house prisoners.

Storm updates and speeders

Carol Johnson, filling in for superintendent Aldridge Boone, told the board the the elementary and high school suffered no structural damage during last Friday’s storms – although the high school remained without power as of Tuesday morning. Summer school classes had been moved temporarily to the elementary school, Johnson said, plus the school division was without email until power could be restored, and she said anyone who needed to contact the schools should call the elementary school or the school board offices.

Heating/air-conditioning and window replacement projects at the high school had to be postponed Monday, McCarthy added, when the contractor showed up to begin work Monday and the power was still out at the high school. Since the contractor already intended not to work on Wednesday, Independence Day, McCarthy said it was decided it would be more cost-effective to not hire a hire a generator for Tuesday’s work, in the hope that power would be restored by Thursday or Friday.

McCarthy also reported that, while there were substantial personal and property losses in the county in the storm, there were no serious injuries in the county, and no complete housing losses. The county’s (largely Sprint-powered) cell system went down several times during the storm and the ensuing weekend, but the 911/emergency communications system remained operating.

Thanks to the presence of Sheriff Connie Smith and her deputies at the Amissville Fire and Rescue carnival Friday, the carnival was safely shut down and remaining attendees were able to leave without injury or incident.

“The takeaway,” McCarthy said, “everyone did their jobs responsibility. And we mostly dodged a bullet, though there was a lot of substantial property and power losses.”

During the public comment period, county resident Reid Folsom stood to report to the supervisors that he and his wife were impressed with the strength of the Castleton Festival Theatre – a steel-supported fabric building first put up for last year’s annual summer music festival. During Friday’s storm, Folsom said, “the building held up pretty good – and though I was not happy at first with a tent, in fact you should rest more comfortable knowing that this fabric building can take a blowing.”

Folsom said the Castleton organizers and support staff should also be congratulated for entertaining the audience after the “Barber of Seville” performance was interrupted by a power outage. He also commended the work done by festival logistics manager Terry Robey (who is also the Castleton Volunteer Fire and Rescue chief) and his staff, whom many of the homeward-bound festival attendees followed on the winding route back to U.S. 211, as a tractor and utility vehicle pushed and cut trees, limbs and storm debris from Castleton View Road and Viewtown Road.

“We heard from several out-of-town visitors,” Folsom said, “who told us for them, the evening went from a frightening experience to being a novel experience.”

Roger Piantadosi
About Roger Piantadosi 544 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.