‘Dark skies’ idea to be aired next month

The Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors decided last week to advertise a public forum, to be a part of its 7 p.m. monthly session on Oct. 5, inviting citizen input on its notion to regulate residential lighting and thus further align the county with a global “dark skies” movement.

The revived proposal, brought before the board by Stonewall-Hawthorne supervisor Chris Parrish in August (and met with immediate skepticism by Jackson district representative Ron Frazier), would regulate new residential lighting among the counties that border Shenandoah National Park, a tourism-focused effort that would need regional support and would be pursued in Richmond, which doesn’t now allow local jurisdictions to regulate residential lighting.

The county already regulates commercial lighting, primarily to insure that new outdoor light installations are “down-pointing.” The new initiative would require a cooperative effort on the part of counties that border the park; the Oct. 5 forum is a first step to determine if Rappahannock County’s own citizens are in favor of starting what could be a multi-year effort.

“You’re a long way from getting a dark skies ordinance,” said County Attorney Peter Luke, who drafted the public notice. “But this [forum] is to see what the public sentiment is.”

GIS, fire and rescue and finance issues

In other action at the board’s holiday-delayed monthly meeting last Wednesday (Sept. 9), the supervisors agreed to allow Deputy County Administrator Debbie Keyser to investigate the real-world cost of a Geographic Information System (GIS), which digitizes mapping of the county’s land and properties and makes assessments, 911 address coordination and other map-related functions more accurate and accessible.

Keyser said the research would take several months, and the goal would be a possible proposal by January or February, in time for the county’s annual budgeting process.

The board also agreed to Keyser’s request that the supervisors postpone any action on this summer’s JLN Associates study of the county’s volunteer fire and rescue operations until November, or possibly December. By that time, she said, the county’s fire and rescue association will have created a formal strategic plan based on the recommendations.

The board unanimously passed a resolution to create a finance committee, composed of two supervisors and county staff, that would look into the county’s budget, expenses and revenue, in depth before the budget reaches the supervisors and public each year.

“I think it’s hard for you sometimes, as a governing body, to consider both the ‘policy item’ and the ‘money item’ at the same time, as a five-member board that meets once a month,” County Administrator John McCarthy told the board.

The finance committee would mostly consider initiatives and upcoming costs during the first half of the fiscal year (July through December), McCarthy said, with the goal of presenting more informed and strategic funding proposals (or budget-reduction proposals) to the full board of supervisors before the annual budgeting process begins in earnest in January.

Under a “Broadband” agenda item, McCarthy reported to the board that AT&T is “quietly conducting” a pilot program in Rappahannock County, through its transmission facility in Chester Gap, among an unknown number of county residents and businesses. The experimental program, which McCarthy said AT&T would evaluate in hopes that it could be introduced nationwide, provides high-speed internet access via a special antenna mounted at the customer’s home or business.

Speeds are said to be equivalent or faster than the wireless broadband services now offered in parts of Rappahannock by Piedmont Broadband and Virginia Broadband, as well as “some of the DSL services now offered here,” McCarthy said.