Short-term rentals dominate county public hearings; redistricting, property sale approved – Royal Examiner
At times, it felt like a 3-way “Cage Match” of the pro wrestling variety, but with only one side having access to the ringside microphone – for the most part – and one having been banned from the venue before the match began. “The Match” was Front Royal City Council’s review of Memoranda of Understanding (MOAs) with Warren County on, first, a working session discussion of joint tourism efforts involving a third party, initially the Joint Tourism Committee and eventually a 501 c6 destination marketing organization (DMO) known as “Discover Front Royal”; and second, the special meeting discussion – to use another sports analogy – the handover of departmental responsibility for building inspections within city limits and clearance back to the county from which the city l took on January 3 of this year.
But problems with fees exceeding county levels quickly angered county builders, who indicated they might stop taking jobs in town over what they saw as exorbitant fees, sending the board at the drawing board.
These fee levels were the result of the council’s decision to make the department self-sufficient through fees, unlike what Warren County does, apparently like the majority of municipalities in the Commonwealth of Virginia. What Warren and others have chosen to do is subsidize this departmental budget in part from general taxpayer revenues because of the positive community-wide economic impact of new construction on expansion. of a community’s residential and commercial tax base.
Seven local builders patiently attended the 7:00 p.m. working session and a one-and-three-quarter hour closed meeting convened at the end of the 8:30 p.m. working session.
So if the builders could have spoiled an action when the special topic meeting was held at 10:15 p.m., they might have been forgiven when the “cage match” resumed in an open meeting. .
But they were quietly polite as they listened to council members criticize county officials, particularly County Administrator Ed Daley and Acting County Attorney Jason Ham, for the late delivery after 5 p.m. an adjusted memorandum of understanding of the one board that apparently agreed. at the March 3 city-county liaison meeting.
This late delivery of a post-MOA liaison committee meeting led to speculation of nefarious motives, possibly even sabotaging a joint municipal solution to the council’s self-created building enabling the predicament. The main issue for the council was the inclusion of a 5-year minimum on how long the county building department would maintain the licensing and inspection function in the city. The Board felt that a circumvention of what was initially a 10-year minimum period offered in the county’s draft MOU, then reduced to five years, and finally 60 days notice with no minimum period before this 60-day notice cannot be adopted, had been reached during the four-hour meeting of the liaison committee on March 3.
However, the 5-year minimum was part of the draft MOA language presented to the board on Monday evening. Consequently, much subsequent discussion centered on the City maintaining its own service, while subsidizing 50% of existing charges through general taxpayer revenues to ease the financial burden on builders and their customers.
But ultimately, the board unanimously approved a motion to defer the draft memorandum of understanding on the county taking over the licensing function with no minimum delay other than the city’s 60-day notice stating that it was withdrawing from the memorandum of understanding to reinstate its own construction department. . This decision was not preceded by a lengthy debate over whether the board should continue to play “political ping-pong” with the county over MOA terms. Some members of the council even wondered if the county’s elected officials were aware of the project which had been sent to them on Monday by the county administrator.
Questions asked to builders
As the discussion evolved into a motion to return a signed memorandum of understanding to the county with the removal of the five-year minimum period, two builders were credited for their comments. First, Chris Ramsey rose to ask about the agenda for the aforementioned 1.5 hour closed session. After acknowledging the presence of a lawyer, Mr Lloyd, on the council, Ramsey questioned the legality of the discussions which took place behind closed doors to the public and the media. “There’s an awful lot of discussion here that should never have happened in this closed session,” Ramsey speculated about the apparent overlap of closed and open session topics related to the Department of Health’s situation. building.
City Manager Steven Hicks responded that the closed session discussion revolved around staffing issues related to the evolving building service, among other things, and that would become apparent as the open session discussion progressed. However, as one builder observed after the meeting, it does not appear that clarity became apparent during the discussion that led to unanimous approval of the MOA’s return to the county without the minimum five-year benchmark.
The closed motion in question forwarded to the Royal Examiner by city staff the following day – it was not in the packet copied from the city’s website earlier in the day – cited staff matters “specific to the performance of the City Manager in his role as Interim Building Code Officer” among other current vacancies within a department or commission.
Following Ramsey’s observation of the apparent overlap of closed/open session agenda topics, Warren County Builders Association President George Cline was recognized at the suggestion of Councilor Lloyd . Cline was highly critical of the city’s process by creating its own department without any communication with the building community or its county association. On Monday, he questioned the council’s criticism of county staff returning an adjusted MOA. Noting the council’s critical discussion of the county drawing the city into a two-way MOA ‘ping-pong’, Cline said, “Quite frankly, the county is doing the exact same thing you’ve all been doing – if you will really watch ping pong.
“I say that because on Friday someone here sent another deal to the county. Who did that?” Cline asked. As Lloyd began to respond with a palm-up gesture, Hicks replied, “I did. This was part of the package I sent to the council to show them what’s in the package.
“That deal you sent on Friday was a year old. It’s not that deal,” Cline replied, seemingly waving the MOA with the minimum five-year time frame found in the agenda file, presumably the one received. by Hicks after 5 p.m. that afternoon that had raised such anger among some council members, including Amber Morris.
“Well, I don’t know what you have there. I know what we sent to the county, the same program that was sent,” Hicks said. When Morris noted that she hadn’t seen a draft memorandum of understanding with a minimum one-year deadline, Cline told the board, “I can probably get it to you tomorrow.
An attempt to verify the production of this version of a draft memorandum of understanding received by the county was still pending publication.
Mayor Holloway and Vice Mayor Cockrell both attended the meeting remotely, giving council a full complement of members for the special meeting and business session. Comments indicated that the absences were due to illness.
Drug court funding debate
In addition to back and forth with builders over issues surrounding the in-town permitting process and addressing these issues, and general dissatisfaction with the development of the Joint Tourism MOA, there have been internal discussions – verbal of course – on funding a $40,000 share of a $120,000 three-pronged grant (Town-County-Valley Health) to support the establishment of a local drug rehabilitation-focused court helping Opioid addicts, in particular, get out of the drug recidivism lifestyle.
This internal “Battle Royal” featured Scott Lloyd on the “not another well-intentioned government social safety net program draining hard-earned taxpayers’ money” on one side; and Letasha Thompson, Gary Gillespie, among others on the “we have a serious and too often fatal drug problem in this community that requires a unified response with a higher success rate than traditional court prosecution, sentencing, jail and prison (12% to 15%). The nearby Winchester/Frederick County drug court success rate of 37%, removed from the downward spiral of drug addiction, has been cited as a model for a local drug court that a joint city-county committee been studying for some time.
In the end, even Lloyd seemed to pull himself together somewhat, calling his colleagues’ advocacy “well-researched” and the drug court program perhaps an exception to the kind of government-supervised social safety net programs that he started by vilifying.
See these and other discussions, including some proposed upward adjustments to the city’s sewer service rates, and the future of the city’s water service expansion in the County’s North Corridor, in the city video.
Special Meeting – March 14, 2022
Municipal council meeting – March 14, 2022
On that last note, it seemed that the resurrection of discussion of a city annexation of some county lands in the northern corridor of Route 340/522 might be on the horizon.
Drug treatment court in Warren County may soon be a reality
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