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Questions linger after HELP Center forum

Nearly two weeks after Project FAITH held what was labeled an open community forum on July 11, more questions still linger about the proposed project.  

It was a curious forum, with no questions allowed from the audience, though, there were questions submitted in writing and pre-screened during the forum.

In fact, slides displayed during the meeting posed a set of questions and also displayed answers.

However, many of the answers, along with many of the statements in several of the slides, were at odds with what has been stated as factual in the recent past by the non-profit company’s executive director, Froncé Wardlaw.

 

 

COUNTY AWAITING ANSWERS
Also, a request for documents from the county has not yet yielded any reply from Project FAITH to its July 1 letter asking for numerous financial documents on the project and other information.

County attorney Eric Gregory had requested a “detailed report specifying Project FAITH’s plan to comply with the terms of the Deed and Agreement, including financing and construction timelines” in regard to the proposed HELP Center.

Among other information, the letter also specifically stated that the county wants the report to include explanations on “how Project FAITH intends to proceed with the project, with particular regard to (1) financing; (2) construction planning and administration, including timelines consistent with the terms of the Deed and Agreement; (3) prospective tenants; and, (4) a revised Operations Plan.”

PROJECT COST CHANGED
Wardlaw has maintained for more than a year that the project budget for the HELP Center was $8.4 million.

That detailed information was distributed again earlier this year at a meeting of the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 5, and appended to what she called an annual report, that had been due by the end of December 2012.
The document from Wardlaw contained a project budget for the proposed HELP Center with amounts for both “sources” and “uses” both adding up to a total of $8,401,000.

But, according to the July 11 slide presentation, the project cost is currently being stated as $2 million less, at $6,400,000. The slides note that the sources of funding will be “public grants and private financing.”

It is unclear where New Market tax credits fit into that financing picture, or whether they are part of what is being called private financing. The project budget had indicated that $1,720,000 would come from that source, with a parenthetical note saying “assumes $5,800,000 allocation.”

The funding picture was not filled in at the forum.

Wardlaw told Supervisors at the Feb. 5 meeting, “All funding will be in place by June 2013 with the exception of the CDBG funding.”

That’s because the county was informed on July 1 that the project did not make the cut for $700,000 from CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) funding.

The state said that with 35 competitive grant applications received, 11 were offered funding, which received 785 or more points out of a possible 1,000. The HELP Center project had received 710 points.

Yet, the July 11 slides note that “Funding could happen before the end of 2013. There is no need to reapply.”

SERVICE PROVIDERS
For nearly three years, Wardlaw has maintained that nine service providers are to be housed in the facility, saying they would include the King George Department of Social Services, a Free Clinic to serve medically uninsured county residents, State Probation and Parole District 21 - Compliance and Prison Reentry Programs, Virginia Cares – Supportive Services/ Prison Reentry Programs, Rappahannock Community College, Rappahannock Goodwill Industries, New Horizons Café, Opening Doors Learning Center – offering child care services for low-to-moderate income adults and households, and the King George Department of Health and Virginia Extension Office.

The federal application for the latest failed CDBG grant also numbers nine, though it generously included Rappahannock Community College, whose officials have disassociated RCC with the HELP Center project since early June, when an altered letter from its president turned up being distributed by Wardlaw. (See related article elsewhere in this issue.)

In addition, the King George Health Department will not be a tenant in the near term, since that department signed a 10-year lease elsewhere in the county earlier this year.

The federal application also substituted one of the above two prison re-entry programs with a service provider listed as Fredericksburg Area HIV/AIDS Support Services (FAHASS).

The Project FAITH slides also indicate that the number of service providers would be nine. But they are vague about naming them, stating instead, “Negotiations with prospective center residents are on-going and in process.”

SERVICE AREA
The July 11 slides include a map of the Northern Neck and they also state that the projected service area includes King George, Westmoreland, Caroline, “and the surrounding Northern Neck region.”

The service area is presumed to include Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania and Stafford, as those localities are also included in the Probation & Parole District 21.

The slides address a claim that the center would “attract low income people” to the county to be able to access the service providers.

The slides address that issue by stating, “No. Currently some KGC residents attend Germanna College, but they do not relocate to Fredericksburg. Anyone using the services at the Center from the service area would unlikely relocate to KGC.”

AMENDED SITE PLANS SUBMITTED
Over a month after the Planning Commission provided approval for a site plan for the HELP Center on June 11, Project FAITH this week on July 22 submitted a substitute set of site plans for the proposal.

It has yet to be signed off on by the county, though that could take place within the next week.

It will occur after both the Service Authority and the Virginia Department of Transportation first sign off on the new set of plans to ensure that technical changes required by both agencies during their reviews have been included. It is common for technical changes to be made to the site plan following review and approval by the Planning Commission, without changes to the square footage or the footprint of the building.

But the late submission is problematical in this case with footings required to be poured for all buildings by next week on Aug. 1.

BUILDING PERMIT PRELIMINARIES
Information for obtaining two building permits for the project was submitted to the county’s office of Community Development on July 9 with two buildings on each plan. County staff tells applicants that such a review can take between 30 to 45 days.

According to communications between Travis Quesenberry, county administrator, and Community Development staff, the submission appears to have several items missing, which could mean a lengthy comment letter as part of the review.

Phyllis Cook

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