By Susan Pietras-Smith
In what has now become the standard for Colonial Beach Town Council, the council stretched its work session across two days. For this to happen, the meeting has to be “paused” and later resumed. This is done to remain within the requirements of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The council that took their seats on January first have also proposed weekly work meetings, but have instead decided to only add meetings as needed.
Even with the extra time, the TC has failed to come to an agreement with the Westmoreland County Board of Supervisors (BOS) on the need for a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the county to cover erosion and sediment control (ESC) needs for the town. As of April 1, the town no longer has the ability to offer permits for building in town.
An erosion and sediment control plan has to be submitted, and then approved, by TC in order for building to continue in town. R. V’lent Lassiter, Principal Environmental Planner of the Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation, stated that the town does not have the authority to approve these plans. Until Town Council approves a program, all ESC plans have to be submitted to Westmoreland County. Virginia Soil and Water Conservation board staff have recommended that the town be given an extension until September 30.
Val Foulds, Town Manager, has addressed the issue multiple times over the past few months, but her efforts have been met by council indecision. In 2012 there was $55,000 set aside in the town’s budget for an employee to be hired to do the ESC work and approvals. This money was transferred over to help level fund the school budget.
The TC is unsure how long that the County will cover ESC for them. Larry Roberson, Supervisor for the Colonial Beach District, told the TC in February that they should request this as a permanent solution. He stated that town citizens pay county taxes and should take advantage of the services the county offers.
Foulds has stated that she is working diligently with the BOS and county administrator, Norm Risavi to get the MOU approved and in place. Until that time any building that disturbs more than 36 percent of the property or 2500 square feet of dirt will have to apply separately to the county for their ESC plan.
In other council business, the budget shortfall that the school is expecting was discussed. Superintendent Kathleen Beane stated that the federal and state funding is approximately $900,000 less than the previous year’s budget. The School Board set a budget with a shortfall of $395,000. Beane has asked for the TC to cover the amounts.
Mayor Mike Ham stated that an tax increase was likely to happen if the town wished to keep the schools open. A stated amount was an eight cent increase per $100. This would raise the average tax bill on a $250,000 house by $200. Other council members asked about the costs of combining Colonial Beach schools with Westmoreland County schools and whether a study on cost savings had ever been done.
According to Foulds, a study has never been done showing the amount of savings, if any, that would come from combining school systems. The discussion was cut short due to the time limitation of the first half of the work session. It was not discussed during the second session.
During the second session the council members spent much of the session discussing the former police building which for which an offer of $17,500 had been made. The building and property appraise for $230,000 as they stand. Jim Chiarello asked that the town look into hiring a seller’s agent for this and other town properties to establish a procedure for selling them.
No agreement was set on this issue, as the members seemed to talk in circles with no final destination. In fact, in the last minutes of the meeting, but prior to the official ending of the meeting, council member Gary Seeber got up and left.
The next regular Council Meeting is April 11 at the Town Center.