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Council no closer to resolution on Riverwood sale; a tale of two meetings

Related Apartment Preservation (RAP) is the entity that is trying to purchase The Riverwood Housing Development, a federally subsidized housing development that must remain as such until 2036 due to the Deed of Trust. Related began the process of contacting the Town and seeking their approval of the project as far back as July.  Initially, Related contacted the Town for its approval because of the mode of financing they are trying to use – state issued tax exempt bonds.  To use this form of financing, the purchasers must have “the blessing” of the Town Council.  According to Related's representative, Richard Hurlbert, this is the way their company prefers to do business; this way the community is kept in the loop and the purchaser is aware of any concerns that the community has with the property.  However, perhaps there has been a misunderstanding on the Town Council concerning the necessity of their blessing.
 


In a bold move last Wednesday by Colonial Beach Town Council three resolutions regarding Riverwood Apartments in Colonial Beach were put in a state of suspended animation.
After the meeting was called to order; Mayor Rummage made a motion to approve the first Resolution 89-08. When no one came forward to second the motion, the Mayor called a ten minute recess. Then Rummage walked into the back room.
While some members of Council sat thumbing through papers, others sat back in their chairs waiting. After roughly two minutes Rummage returned to his chair. A few more moments of awkward silence followed, then Vice Mayor Trish King asked the Mayor if they could come out of recess.
Rummage asked, “What is the purpose of coming back into session at this point?”
To which King responded, “So we can move on with the agenda for this evening.”
Mayor Rummage said, “Well, we tried 89-08 and we didn’t get it before us, shall we try 93-08? Do I hear a motion?”
Vice Mayor Trish King responded, “I’ll make a motion for 93-08.”
 Rummage called for a second. A second was heard. Council member Sparky Ridgely asked for clarification on the motion asking, “Is this to accept it?” One member said, “No this is to put it on the table.”
To which Rummage replied, “No no this is for acceptance.” The original second was withdrawn.
Mayor Rummage announced, “93-08 is not before us therefore it can not be discussed.”
There was discussion as to whether the resolutions had failed. Town Attorney Erard stated that no action had been taken. Mayor Rummage said, “It’s a continuing resolution… It can be brought up at anytime… I would guess that it would be the parliamentary recommendation.”
That took care of two of the motions regarding Riverwood.
Then King began to make a motion on the last resolution but was cut off in mid sentence by the Mayor, clarifying that it was a motion to approve. When no second was heard Mayor Rummage adjourned the meeting.
That took care of all three motions regarding Riverwood.
The meeting was a continuation of a public hearing held over from a rainy Thursday December 10th. At the beginning of that meeting, tokens of gratitude where handed out to citizens giving much of the public attendees reason to leave early.
The hearing on Riverwood heard no opposition nor support from residents but a heated discussion ensued between members of council and Mayor Rummage leaving Richard Hurlbert Jr. attorney for Related Apartment Preservation LLC standing at the podium for over an hour.
For several months Related Apartment Preservation LLC has been under contract to purchase Riverwood apartment from the current owners Riverwood Limited Partnership and have been negotiating with the Town Council.
The prospective buyer (Related Apartment Preservation LLC) is seeking to acquire a $4,200,000.00 bond from Harrisonburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority for the purpose of purchasing and improving Riverwood Apartments. In order to be approved for the Bond the Colonial Beach Town Council must adopt a resolution Res. #88-08 declaring the need for a Bond to be issued and their approval.
Although the Bond would not require repayment, the Council members have many concerns about the three resolutions pertaining to Riverwood.
At the core of the matter is resolution #93-08 which comprises an agreement between the town and the current owners of Riverwood apartments to provide greater access to the property by Colonial Beach Police and provisions for the current owners to pay a salary of $40,000.00 for an officer to patrol the premises.
The agreement is for a period of 3 years and would be carried over to the Prospective buyers. Members of the council are finding it difficult make a decision that would only temporarily handle the situation and result in a new problem for the Council in three years.
 During these discussions some have mistaken the scope of Beach Police powers over the 83-unit complex. Mayor Rummage had expressed in the December 10th meeting his concerns that if the Resolution did not pass, Riverwood would become a “Federal Island”. Some members seemed worried that C.B. Police would not be able to enforce the law.  “The Resolution would only make access easier in certain situations but is not needed for Beach police to carry out their lawful duties.” states Councilman Ridgely.
The third and last resolution involved is #89-08 which sets out an agreement that ensures that certain improvements will be conducted by the new owners as well as various actions that would call for a “zero tolerance” policy to be enforced with respect to criminal conduct and unlawful behavior by tenants.
According to Vice Mayor Trish King, many of the improvements outlined by the prospective buyer are already required by law from the HUD manual.    
The big argument during the December 10th meeting was, “These agreements have “no teeth” with no legal recourse.”
 Hurlbert, the attorney for the prospective buyers, argues that these Resolutions are binding contracts and the Town has legal recourse through the laws concerning Breach of Contract.
Councilman Sparky Ridgely stated he doesn’t want to enter into a contract on the basis that they would have to seek legal action through the court that would take time and tax payers’ money.
Ridgely’s concerns echo that of other members of council by saying, “they were assured certain security improvements to the tune of $18,000.00 per unit by the prospective buyers only to be told later that those improvements where contingent on the buildings being “sound”, that they didn’t have to make any major improvements.”
 After the meeting Mayor Rummage had this to say, “We have a number of people here that just absolutely, I think, it's not that they don’t want to do anything for Riverwood, I think they’re very upset that we have a disproportionate amount of subsidized housing in this town. But they’re here and that’s a problem and we should address that. I’ve got a number of people who have contacted me who live out there who are really looking forward to having a change. And we could have made a difference with these resolutions. But now we’ll have to use a different approach.” Rummage is particularly concerned about the elderly residents of Riverwood.
When asked if the failure of these resolutions could lead to displacement of any residents, he assured The Journal that the residents have no reason to worry about that. Rummage is confident that the sale of Riverwood will go through. He reassured that if the sale did not go through and the current owners abandoned the property, HUD would take over but Rummage does not see any evidence of that happening.
When asked if the resolutions were still on the table or if they were null and void, Mayor Rummage responded, “They could be reconsidered. Right now they are null and void. See, in order to get any one of them before the council there has to be a motion and a second then that brings it before us. Then we debate it, discuss it, then we either defeat it or pass it.”
By this response and the Mayor's insistence during the meeting for motions “to pass” the resolutions, it brings up the question of whether or not there was a procedural misunderstanding between the Mayor and members of council.

Linda Farneth

CB welcomes Vadar, new K-9 dog

Council member Burkett Lyburn cautioned that Vadar, Colonial Beach’s new four-legged officer is "very mean."
Although Vadar picked up on Lyburn’s fear by growling at him, his handler, Patrolman Brown showed expert control allowing Lyburn and Chief Hawkins to pose with them.
Vadar is a Patrol Utility Dog trained for handler protection and finding suspects. He is utilized for tracking suspects, searching buildings and article searching. If a person robs a bank, Vadar can not only track the suspect, but can find items dropped by the suspect along the way, such as a gun, money or article of clothing.
Vadar is trained to pick up various scents from a suspect such as human odor, perfume or alcohol. He is capable of clearing a building, meaning he can detect and indicate if a suspect is in a building or not. He has been trained to overcome obstacles that a suspect may maneuver through while running from the law.
“Vadar’s handler, Patrolman Everett Brown was chosen because he is young and in top physical shape which is required to keep up with K-9 Vadar.” said Chief Hawkins.
Brown trained right along with Vadar for 14 long weeks and they are now a working team with the Colonial Beach Police Department. A week before on Friday the 12th Vadar and Brown where called upon to track a suspect for Breaking and Entering but unfortunately the trail was over 4 hours old and the scent was too faint to track.
Vadar would not be used for tracking lost children or Alzheimer’s patients because he is trained to be aggressive. Different dogs are trained for different uses. Vadar lives with Brown but does not interact with any other members of the family. This is necessary to keep Vadar focused on his training to be aggressive in the pursuit of suspects.

Linda Farneth

CB Hearing on water and sewer rates scheduled

On November 26, 2008 Draft 1 of the Recommendation on Water/Sewer Rates for the Town of Colonial Beach was released to the Colonial Beach Town Council for their perusal and suggestions.  The draft proposal is the creation of a study group comprised of Council Members Karen Payne and Sparky Ridgely, Acting Town Manager Val Foulds, Chief Financial Officer Joan Grant and Director of Public Works Rob Murphy.  
The group was formed at the request of Mayor Rummage to examine the many issues surrounding a potential increase in residential water/sewer fees and to hopefully find a way to work out a gentler and more community friendly increase than the original proposal of 41%.    The group was also charged with looking into and resolving the issues surrounding non-working, absent or unread meters at local businesses as the town had a substantial amount in delinquent business accounts as well as discrepancies in who was being read and who was not.
The draft recommendation looks at five areas that impact fees:  Wastewater Treatment Plant Improvements, Water System/Infiltration/Water Line Replacement, Capital Improvement Fund, Increased Costs and Reduced Revenue on Connection Fees.  According to the draft document, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is funding the improvements to the Wastewater Treatment Plant “through a $6,086,322.00 grant and a $2,671,606.00 loan with a 20 year amortization at 0% interest.”  The town will not have to make a payment until January of 2010 which should equal $66,790.00.  There will be two installments due each year for a combined total of $133,580.00.
With regard to the Water System/Infiltration/Water Line Replacements or Water System and I&I Improvements, the document recounts how Long & Associates Environmental Services Inc. did a 2008 study in the town that estimated 133 million gallons of rain and/or groundwater is being processed by the town each year.  “This is costing the Town approximately $438,000.00 per year in unnecessary influent being processed”.  The report calls for the replacement of the Town's water infrastructure to the tune of an estimated cost of $4,229,190.00.  The annual payments for this aspect of the Town's water/sewer needs is indicated to be $100,000.
With regard to Capital Improvements, the document states “the Town must develop a Capital Improvement funding plan which carries over each year.”  The purpose of this fund will be to cover the cost of rehabilitation and infrastructure needs.  These funds will be kept separate from the General Fund accounts and are estimated to be $100,000 annually.
Increased Costs is the portion of the draft plan that addresses that fact that water/sewer rates “have not been increased in 14 years and have not kept pace with inflation and increased regulatory costs.  Inflation has risen 37.2% since the last user fee rate increase, and 9.17% since the last connection fee increase”, the document states.  To actually keep pace with inflation, the draft proposal states that residential user fees should be raised to $822 from the current $600 per year, but before everyone goes nuts – read on.  
Reduced Revenue on Connection Fees touches upon the fact that with the “poor economy and reduction in new construction” that the projected amount expected from connection fees has fallen short of the mark.  The current budget estimated 80 connections at $6,000 per connection for a total projected revenue of $480,000.00, but in actuality the real number of connections is more along the lines of 60, a difference of 20 connections, which provides revenue equal to $360,000 creating a deficit of $120,000 in expected revenue.  Taking all of those facets of water/sewer into consideration adds up to a “minimum estimated revenue increase” of $597,580.00 annually.
The recommendation that is put forth in the proposal after examining all of the above information, which is based on 2400 residential connections, does not place the whole burden for this $597,580 on the shoulders of the tax payers.  In fact, it does not even call for a rate increase that equates to the inflation that has taken place ($822 from the current $600).  Rather, the suggestion is for the Town to implement a 20% increase which takes the new yearly total for water/sewer for residential accounts from $600 to $720.  In more precise terms that breaks down to the annual residential water bill increasing from $141 to $169; sewer bills go up from $459 to $550 per year.  This change, is expected to bring about an increase in revenue of $288,000.00.
Another part of the proposal deals with a suggested increase in connection fees.  Currently the Town charges $2,000 for a water connection.  It is suggested in the proposal that the Town change the current fees to $3,200 through June 30, 3009 and then initiate another increase to $4,500.  With respect to sewer connections, the current fee is $4,000.  Again, the proposal suggests an increase now to $6,400 to remain in effect through June 30, 2009 followed by another increase as of July 1, 2009 to $7,500.  These increases would, in effect, double the current total combined water/sewer connection fees of $6,000 and take them to $12,000.  It is expected that this change would provide additional revenue equal to $360,000 for the fiscal year 09-10.  Council Member Karen Payne says that this $12,000 fee is “in-line and on the low side of what other localities are charging.”
Now how about those commercial users?  Well, they have not been forgotten; they too are included in the proposal and a 20% rate increase is suggested for them as well; all 92 accounts.  This increase would affect all commercial users whether they are billed at a standard rate because of low usage or receive a bill with a per gallon charge.  It is expected that a 20% increase for the commercial accounts would provide added revenue in the amount of $11,040.00.
As for the delinquent commercial accounts, missing, broken or unread meter problems, Payne says, “Public works has replaced all the missing and not working business meters.”  Payne also assured the community that, “All meters for businesses are being read now” and that due to “better coordination between public works and the treasurer's office” meter readings would no longer fall through the cracks.  
The Town's Chief Financial Officer Joan Grant concurs with Payne that “to the best of her knowledge all the meters are installed”.  Grant says that there is a new revised up-to-date list; “a complete list of all businesses”.  “The expectation”, she continued, “is to get a meter reading and if we don't get that to ask where it is and send someone to go get it”.  Grant did want to point out that some businesses do get charged a flat rate because of low usage.  “The meter”, she said, “only kicks in when they go over the allotted amount”.  Grant confirmed that even if a business ends up being charged a flat rate for a few consecutive months, that the meter is still read; the assumption is not made that since they haven't gone over they never will.  Director of Public Works, Rob Murphy, confirms that the meters have been replaced, but cautioned that it is an ongoing project.  “As a result of this last reading” said Murphy, “one, two, three work orders have been generated to double check the meters.”  Murphy also confirmed that the Town has picked up the cost of replacing, repairing and installing any missing meters.  Public works expects to work on the 3/4” meters regularly and includes keeping a surplus of them on hand in their budget, but this year, two 2” meters had to be replaced, which was not expected, and each of those cost $800.  Murphy said, “It hurt a little, but we'll be alright”.
The Public Hearing on the new Water/Sewer Rates is scheduled for January 8, 2009 at 7:00 p.m.
Anne Congdon

Council members at yearly mid-point marker

Here it is December already; the mid-way marking point in the year for Colonial Beach's new Mayor and Town Council.  The Journal took a few moments to catch up with the community's representatives and get their answers to the same three questions: 1) Do you feel that the Council is where it should be at this time; that it has met its goals; 2) What do you feel the three hot topics at the first work session for the New Year will be; and 3) What suggestions, if any, do you have towards filling the $100,000 hole in the budget?
Mayor Fred Rummage allowed that they, the Council, "haven't accomplished everything they wanted to do, but likes the progress that the group has made."
  Rummage continued, "I appreciate the cooperation that has developed among Council.  We don't have any Donnybrook here," he added.  When asked about the 2009 work session that has already been scheduled for December 30, the Mayor said he plans on talking with Council about that date.  He has concerns that people will be away for the holidays and therefore won't be able to attend the meeting.  However, he expects that "water rates and connection fees will be two of the hottest topics at the regular January meeting".  
For spot number three, the Mayor expects the budget to fill that niche.  "In light of the downturn of the economy," said the Mayor, "we need to find out how that has impacted our revenue."  As for the hole in the budget, Rummage says, "I am hoping that the cigarette tax will assist considerably. I will also be looking into expanding the bill to include other types of tobacco - non smoke tobacco as well as cigars".
Vice Mayor Trish King said she hadn't yet taken a moment to assess where the Council stood and review the past six months.  "Mayor Rummage coming on board and changing the assignments has taken some time to become accustomed to", she said.  King also referenced the departure of the Town's manager, Tim Kriewczel, and pointed out that they "have not gotten a firm answer from the Town's Chief Financial Officer, Joan Grant, as to what the town's income is.
 "I would have like to do more with economic development" and commented that "Land Studio has been the best thing happening.  The survey they did has given us the new light that people are interested in developing Colonial Avenue as opposed to the Boardwalk.  It gives us a whole new vision for Colonial Avenue".
For the first work session of 2009, King says, "Budget and economy will be number one.  Everything else will be dependent on that." The Vice Mayor expects the waste water treatment plant to hold the number two spot.  "Unfortunately", says King, "we are going to have to raise the rates, but the amount has not yet been ."
Hot topic number three?  King says, "Decisions about funding for the school."  When asked if she had a solution for the $100,000 budgetary hole, King replied, "Not yet."
Council Member David Coombes reflected that no financial reports concerning the town's income for the year had yet been given and also pronounced this Council "a better working Council than I've seen in a while".  Coombes acknowledged there were "some major hurdles before us and a lot of problems that aren't solved overnight; for instance, this whole police station thing."
  The Council Member touched briefly on the boat safety decal calling it, "the right decision for now.  Is it an accomplishment or not; I don't know," concluded Coombes.  "Financing is my biggest concern.  The tax on cigarettes will provide some revenue, but not enough.  Are we going to be ok in our second six months?" he posed rhetorically.  "We won't know until we get an analysis".  
The three hot topics Coombes expects to see in January are one: "a sound financial track.  If it means tightening our belts, then so be it".  
Coombes says that item, finances, is "the big one" and after that at the number two spot should come the question, "What are we going to do with our police department"?  
From that point on says the Coombes, "It's a toss up.  I don't want to prioritize".  
Coombes says there are only so many ways to fill the $100,000 hole in the budget and those are to "raise revenue, cut expenses or do both."  He expects to see some decision making done in both these categories over the next six months.
Council Member Sparky Ridgely felt the Council had "met the goals".  
Ridgley said that some things "are a work in progress.  Do I wish we could have gotten more done," mused Ridgely, "sure I do.  Am I pretty much satisfied?  I am."  
The Council Member expressed that he felt council had been wise in moving cautiously.  The hot topics that Ridgely expects to see in spots one, two and three are "economic development, the police station issue and developing more efficient use of resources.  "We have got to operate more efficiently," urged the Council Representative.
How does Ridgely foresee the $100,000 budget hole being filled?  "Well," he says, "we have already met with department heads and shared words of caution that just because a project shows it being funded in the budget doesn't make it so".  He hastens to clarify that he is not talking about cutting necessary services, just putting off projects that "don't have to be done today."
  Ridgely also shared that the Town currently has four vacancies in the Public Works Department; "one due to a tragedy."  The salaries and benefits for these four positions will be incorporated back into the budget.
Council Member Karen Payne said, "No, I don't think we are where we should be."  Payne said she wasn't pointing fingers at anyone and wasn't assigning blame, but said she felt, "This Council has been put in a hole because of previous Councils and the budget.
"I am very well aware of the $100,000 shortfall", said Payne, but does not have any one concrete idea with which to fill the hole.  "Cost cutting measures and tightening of belts", is what she forecasts.  Payne says the budget will be the hot topic for the new year and is of such importance that it should fill all three of the hot topic spots on the agenda for the new year.  "We need to look at the big picture", she said.
Council Representative Steve Kennedy replied, "No" he doesn't feel that Council is where it should be.  Kennedy said, "Personally speaking, I felt that the committee system worked better.  With this new system, we don't have that sharing of information.  I understand what the Mayor is trying to do; he wants everyone to specialize, but I lose something by not being involved with Karen Payne on water and sewer.  I used to serve on Economic Development and Administration and Finance and that provided a really good crossover of information amongst the various Council members who served on those two committees."  Kennedy said that he feels so strongly about this sharing of information that even though he has been assigned to Roads, he has kept up his involvement with economic development.  Kennedy also volunteered that, 'based on the fact that this Council has had some major issues to deal with that we have done well.  I think", he continued, "this Council has worked harder and put in longer hours than Councils in the past".
For the new year, Kennedy sees the three hot topics as one: "The budget and how we are going to meet the needs of the school: two, "Economic development - we need to get businesses into this town" and three: "You could toss a handful of bills up in the air there are so many things that need our attention."  
As for filling the $100,000 hole, Kennedy says that fellow Council Member Sparky Ridgely "has been working hard on the budget.
 "We have got to see what this cigarette tax will do.  We need to have a tracking device in place so we can see if our businesses are losing other retail sales as a result.  I don't think we should be doing something that will affect our business owners."
Council Member Burkett Lyburn could not be reached for comment.
 

Anne Congdon

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