‘It’s been a long road for the county’s vision document’
The jam-packed agenda for Monday’s regular meeting of the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors included two public hearings, a COVID-19 presentation from the Virginia Department of Health, a review of the county’s financial audit, and last but certainly not least the unanimous adoption of the 2020 Comprehensive Plan, a vision document that will guide the county’s future land use planning.
“Yay,” said Stonewall-Hawthorne representative Chris Parrish, raising a jubilant fist.
“Thanks, everybody,” said Vice-Chair Debbie Donehey.
The comprehensive plan arrived in its current form after countless revisions by the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors over the course of the past year. In the eleventh hour before its approval Hampton Supervisor Keir Whitson walked the Board through a painstaking two-hour review of his last-minute line edits in a true show of dotting I’s and crossing T’s.
Left out of the plan were the village maps that drew widespread opposition from county residents concerned about the potential consequences of delineating boundaries around Rappahannock’s five village districts.
The 2020 plan is dedicated in memory of the late Phil Irwin, founder of the Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection (RLEP), after his passing only a week ago.
Saluting Irwin’s “unwavering voice for the protection of Rappahannock County's land and beauty,” the Comprehensive Plan’s opening page reads: “Thanks to Phil's decades of advocacy and hard work, Rappahannock County remains, in his words, ‘incomparably different.’”
Here’s what else you missed at Monday’s BOS meeting:
Bonuses for law enforcement
Following a public hearing, the Board decided not to pay out holiday bonuses only to the county’s 22 full-time and 4 part-time law enforcement officers to the tune of $8,612.02.
The Virginia General Assembly adopted a budget this year which included $500 bonuses for sworn law enforcement officers, of which there are eight in Rappahannock. The funds from the General Assembly will offset the county’s expense, reducing the total out-of-pocket cost to the local government by half.
Vice Chair Debbie Donehey moved to pass a resolution establishing the Rappahannock County Broadband Authority. The motion was seconded by supervisor Keir Whitson. Before the vote, Parrish raised the issue that he is the owner of a property “that a broadband company is looking at for a site.”
“To avoid conflict of interest I’m thinking I probably should not be on this [authority],” Parrish said.
County Administrator Garrey Curry explained that the resolution requires each of the supervisors to act as representatives on the authority at first but that Mr. Parrish could, “as a very first action, resign,” adding that doing so would “be fine from a conflict of interest perspective … [but] you can’t abstain from the vote.”
Addressing some public resistance to the authority, Chair Smith said this action would help save county residents money, “because until we go through these formalities, we don’t really have a way to access those [state] monies [available for rural broadband projects].”
The resolution passed unanimously.
‘Thawing’ frozen funds
The Board voted unanimously to thaw funds for the sheriff’s department and public schools that had been frozen at the beginning of the pandemic.
Rappahannock County Sheriff Connie Compton made a request that the Board thaw the $70,000 budgeted for vehicles and make the funds available for use “because she recently had two vehicles totaled (vehicle collision and deer collision).”
The Rappahannock County School Board requested that a frozen $185,000 allocated to the schools in the county budget be thawed.
Supervisors released $60,000 of the $185,000 request in order to cover holiday bonuses and staff raises with the promise that the conversation could be revisited in the near future.
North Poes bridge
VDOT Residency Engineer Mark Nesbit requested input from the Board of Supervisors regarding the design of the replacement for the bridge over the Jordan River on North Poes Road.
Wakefield resident Julie Bolthouse voiced her concern the bridge had not been deemed eligible for historic preservation. Bolthouse argued that the bridge is older than its 1935 designation because it was built by the Cambria Iron Company, which was acquired in 1916 and, according to Bolthouse, “did not build any structures after 1919.”
VDOT plans to replace “the existing steel truss with a new prefabricated steel truss superstructure” and widen the bridge by about a foot.
Paid Fire & EMS
The Board will hold a public hearing on Jan. 4, 2021 to consider amendments relating to the “establishment of the fire and rescue/EMS tax levy as authorized by the Code of Virginia and enable the
use of fire and rescue/EMS levy funds to be used to pay for fire and emergency medical services operations including personnel.”
The full text of the proposed amendments is available for public inspection at the County Administrator’s office and on the county’s BoardDocs website.
Aldrich appointed to RCRFA
The Board voted 4-1 to appoint Jennifer Aldrich to the Rappahannock County Recreational Facilities Authority to fill Steph Ridder’s vacant position. Chair Smith cast the dissenting vote.
Aldrich has been a resident of the county for 15 years and has served on the board of the Headwaters Foundation and is the Chair of the Piedmont Environmental Council’s Krebser Fund.
Chair questions COVID-19 response
Dr. Wade Kartchner joined the supervisors via Zoom to discuss the increasing rates of COVID-19 transmission in the Rappahannock-Rapidan regional health district.
“We’re seeing more and more community spread,” the health director said. “We want to remind everyone to help us. … COVID doesn’t care that we’re tired. We can do something to mitigate the spread.”
Following Kartchner’s update, Chair Smith made a motion to lift the county’s declaration of emergency, citing Rappahannock’s comparably low case count. “I don’t see why we have a state of emergency,” Smith said.
Frazier seconded the motion, adding, “based on the numbers … it might be the proper time to adjust the county’s state of emergency.”
Still Kartchner warned that “the per capita rate [in Rappahannock] is higher than Madison County and some weeks it approaches other counties throughout the state,” he said. “Sometimes the raw numbers can be deceiving.”
Parrish and Whitson opposed the idea of lifting the county’s emergency declaration. “I don’t see how the state of emergency is slowing us down,” Parrish said. “I don’t see how it changes anything … I fail to see the disadvantage of being in a state of emergency.”
“Let’s put it on the agenda next time, if you’d like,” Parrish said.
But Whitson did not like that idea, either. “We’re at a potentially difficult time with this pandemic,” he said. “Things have gotten worse, not better. And any time we write one of these resolutions it draws a crowd and I don’t think this is the time.”
In a roll call vote, the motion failed 0-5.
County finance audit
CPA Josh Roller presented the findings of the county’s comprehensive annual financial audit for the 2020 fiscal year and noted that the county is in much better shape since Debbie Knick began her tenure as county treasurer.
MARCUS alert revote
Jim LaGraffe, executive director of the Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services Board, presented information yesterday regarding the Marcus Alert legislation signed by the governor last month.
On behalf of the RRCSB LaGraffe was asking for the county’s endorsement to become the Region One administrator of the MARCUS (Mental health Awareness Response and Community Understanding Services) pilot program. LaGraffe made it clear that at this time he was looking for “moral support, not financial support.”
The program is named after Marcus-David Peters, a Black 24-year-old high school teacher who, in the midst of a mental health crisis in May 2018, was shot and killed by a police officer in Richmond. The Virginia Commonwealth University graduate was naked and unarmed at the time.
The “Marcus Alert System” arose from a petition started by Peters’s family, who were demanding “concrete solutions to policing that brutalizes Black and Brown bodies and unjustly destroys lives.”
The Marcus legislation will take several years to fully implement but is designed to improve community policing and will pair law enforcement officers with licensed behavioral health specialists for crisis response.
The resolution to support RRCSB’s efforts passed 3-1-1. Ron Frazier cast the dissenting vote and Christine Smith abstained. On Tuesday Frazier sent an email to his colleagues informing them that in retrospect the vote had been illegal. “The ‘Marcus Alert’ item was an addendum item and therefore required unanimous consent from the Board as an action item,” Frazier wrote. The county administrator responded, “you are absolutely correct.”
RCPS Massage Chairs?
During the afternoon public comment period, Deak Deakins asked RCPS Superintendent Shannon Grimsley to “provide an explanation why school buses are running their routes with empty buses and why there are massage chairs at the schools.”
Chair Smith said she, too, had “heard about these massage chairs” and asked, “are there, in fact, massage chairs at the school, and if so how in the world did they get financed and what is going on please?”
Dr. Grimsley said that private funds donated to the school for staff wellness covered 100% of the cost. “Those funds are monitored by a teacher advisory committee and Commit To Be Fit,” Grimsley said. “So, yes, we do have a couple of massage chairs that were, at very discounted rates, purchased through those funds that were donated … but no public dollars of course were spent for that.”
Smith clarified that no CARES Act money and no taxpayer dollars went towards the massage chairs. “That is correct,” Grimsley said. The school board also had no involvement in the purchase.
As for the allegedly empty buses, Grimsley explained: “As you know we are operating on half capacity most days and trying to distance students even on school buses … [but] I don’t have any school buses run with less than eight [students],” Grimsley said.
“However if there’s a certain part of a run where a couple of kids are absent you likely will see very few students … [or] the bus could be on a return trip or delivering meals, in which case no students are on board but a lot of food is."