Part 4 of a series
Ron Frazier, who represents the Jackson District, was elected to the Rappahannock Board of Supervisors (BOS) 22 years ago. As the longest serving board member, he has an institutional knowledge others may not have, and often uses it to raise questions about procedures and policies debated at BOS meetings.
Charming, witty and friendly, he can also be, as some who attend board meetings may attest, a contentious participant who fights hard for his beliefs.
Although he grew up in Fairfax County, Frazier often visited friends and relatives in Rappahannock County, where his extended family has deep roots. His grandparents lived in what is now Shenandoah National Park and he claims “at last count” he has 52 first cousins.
Asked if they all lived in the area, he joked, “That’s a political secret.”
A machinist and electrician by trade, he worked building prototype parts for the aerospace industry in Northern Virginia and Maryland. Frazier took up residency in Rappahannock County in 1983 and started an electrician business in 1988. He is now retired.
Four Fraziers from Sperryville fought as sharpshooters on the Confederate side during the Civil War. Proud of this heritage, Frazier started participating in Civil War reenactments as a cavalry lieutenant in the Company A, Seventh Virginia Cavalry (the “Laurel Brigade”) of the Army of Virginia. He participated in reenactments at Gettysburg at least four times, as well as the battles of Cedar Creek, New Market and the first Manassas.
A member of the Rappahannock Republican Committee, he attends meetings of the Friends of Liberty, and is a self-described “constitutionalist” who believes in “clean and open” government that protects individual rights. He is fond of this quote from Revolutionary War hero Patrick Henry: “The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”
Here is his take on some of the issues facing the county:
Frazier believes getting new businesses to locate here is difficult.
“We just don’t have the population density to support new business. Just look at Clevenger’s corner down highway 211 in Culpeper County. They re-zoned it, put in some infrastructure and got all the permits but there have been few, if any, takers. Most of our businesses are home grown. I just can’t see a lot of growth here soon.”
As for increasing tourism he says, “I don’t know what to do here. If we support specific sites or uses, we do it at the expense of someone else. Tourism is important, but from a county revenue standpoint, it’s a small part of our budget.
“Businesses need to get together to pool their resources and do something for themselves. Facilitating improvements in our communications infrastructure, including broadband may help the local economy. Businesses and residents all need connectivity they can rely on. Since we are going to build a radio tower to improve public safety services, maybe there is some way we can use it for broadband and it might bring in revenue, too.”
Frazier sees big ticket items on the horizon which will come at a high cost to the county, with a possible increase in the property tax rate. The proposed FY 2018 county budget doesn’t call for any new tax increases, “but that is because the budget doesn’t address anything,” he says.
“Many county buildings are in disrepair and need to be fixed, the radio pager system and tower, fire and rescue services, including paid EMS personnel, need to be addressed. This is going to cost a lot of money and we need long range planning to manage it.”
He raised the issue at a recent BOS budget meeting with his other colleagues taking note. Supervisor John Lesinski of the Hampton District, who serves with Frazier on a building repair task force, responded, “I hear the public saying you ought to be doing long range planning, and we should be. I think we are at the point where we can turn the corner and do that.”
Frazier wants to reconstitute the BOS Finance Committee to focus on long range financial planning. Frazier also believes the county could save money by discontinuing office space rentals for employees and constructing new office space.
“We are paying a lot in rent. It would be cheaper to build, we just have to do it,” he said.
A supporter of “zero-based budgeting,” a process whereby all expenditures must be justified annually with every government function analyzed for its needs and costs, he hopes such an approach will be used for FY 2019.
“We talked about it this year but it didn’t come to fruition,” he said. “Maybe we can do it next year. We need to start early in the budget process with this.”
Fire and Rescue
As a BOS representative to the county’s volunteer fire and rescue association, Frazier has been in the middle of negotiations to renew an operating agreement between the association and the county government. A key sticking point has been over language under which the county would fund operation and maintenance for the fire departments.
Frazier would like to see as much of the fire levy tax as possible go to the departments. The county attorney, Art Goff, wants conditions on full funding “within limits” of “prudent budgetary priorities and constraints.” Both men agree the law says annual funding must be at the county’s discretion.
“I agree that their funding is subject to annual appropriations,” said Frazier. “Why can’t we say it in one sentence? Art Goff wants to put in all this ‘mumbo jumbo’ that the county strives to support fire and rescue. To me that means they can’t count on it.”
Goff responded that the law is clear that any future obligations, in this case funding for the departments, are subject to future appropriations.
“When it comes to funding, the fire departments aren’t any different from other departments, like the sheriff’s office, that receive funding,” said Goff. “We all want to see the departments get as much funding as they need, but the board of supervisors must decide on funding levels year to year.”
Frazier also expressed concern that the FY 2018 budget transferred all the $380,000 in excess funds from the fire levy tax to pay for upgrades to the radio paging system and new communications tower.
At a May 8th budget meeting, he stated that the transfer might be in violation of state law since the funds were going to be used for capital expenses by fire/emergency services, the sheriff’s department and the school system.
“Without a controlling legal opinion, we are running in the dark here,” he said.
Vice Chair Chris Parrish of the Stonewall-Hawthorne District responded, “The money in the fire levy came from the taxpayers and it is directly related to operation and maintenance of public safety.”
Parrish cited a letter prepared by Goff which stated: “It is my opinion . . . levy funds may be used to purchase a radio system and individual radios used in firefighting and EMS service delivery.”
Goff prepared the letter to seek an advisory opinion from Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, but, once he completed his research, he concluded the law was clear and the letter was not necessary.
Without the $380,000 transfer from the fire levy fund to the general fund, the county would have had to cut other programs, take on debt, or raise taxes. The transfer was included in the final draft FY 2018 budget that is expected to be voted on at the June 5th BOS meeting.
Frazier generally supports the County’s Comprehensive Plan but feels it needs to be updated to reflect changes in land use and acreage lot size. He supports Rappahannock’s 25-acre zoning requirement, but says it is often misunderstood.
“People who own a lot of acreage think that when they sell their land it has to be in 25-acre lots,” he said. “That’s not always the case. For example, if they have a 100-acre farm, they can sell off three five-acre lots, leaving an 85-acre farm. This allows for ‘clustering’ of homes on smaller lots while keeping working farms intact. If the 100-acre farm is split into four 25-acre lots, those lots are not really large enough to sustain a profitable farm.”
Board of Supervisors
Frazier has strong views about adhering to rules and procedure. Citing his examples of improperly noticed meetings, agenda modifications, and poor oversight of county employees, he recently charged that 14 sets of minutes from various meetings, dating to October 2016, have not been submitted to the BOS for approval.
Frazier regards the BOS as “too lax” in the way it operates.
“The rules are in place, they are just not following them,” he said. “That’s what led to this whole mess we are in with FOIA and everything else. The supervisors won’t read the statutes, that’s basically our job description. You have to make them do it by dragging them around kicking and screaming. I don’t know everything, but what little I do know, I got from either experience or reading and brushing up on the code sections, and they don’t do anything.”
He believes there was too much reliance on former Rappahannock County Administrator John McCarthy.
“It was a staff-run county. The supervisors, the planning commission, the BZA (Board of Zoning Appeals) all got so lazy they let John do everything, and then it got to the point where John exceeded his authority in a lot of areas,” he said.
“For example, every time you get a building permit you need a zoning permit, except for something indoors. John didn’t do that. A lot of things weren’t done by the book but nobody was getting mad about it. When I brought that up a year ago, I was the bad guy and now they are throwing John under the bus.”
Frazier believes things will improve “when all of us sit down and study what our job descriptions are,” he said. “It shouldn’t be just one or two persons; it shouldn’t only be the county administrator strictly following the letter of the law. But, you have a county administrator, a county attorney, a chairman, vice chairman and three supervisors and none of them seem to be paying close attention.”
When describing some confusion over the agenda at a recent meeting, he softened a bit and said, “No one was really at fault. We were all at fault, I guess, because we weren’t paying attention.”
Frazier, the longest serving elected politician in the county, has a quote from humorist Don Marquis as a tag line on his emails: “Did you ever notice that when a politician does get an idea he usually gets it all wrong?”
When asked if that applied to him, he laughed and said, “Every now and then, we get it wrong.”