- Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 March 2011 15:20
- Published on Wednesday, 30 March 2011 15:20
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The Westmoreland County Citizens Association met this Monday night at the Montross firehouse and announced plans to elect new officers on April 25. The session will begin at 7 p.m.
An unusually large number of county residents attended the March 28 proceeding. Founding WCCA President Kennon Morris led in discussions of the county’s proposed judicial center, school division funding needs and the latest round
of activities on the O’Gara training site.
Morris delivered an update that detailed county government’s most recent judicial center plans. He and others estimated that a new three-story courthouse will cost county taxpayers between $10 million and $12 million.
Morris and others questioned the wisdom of the supervisors’ recent decision to release $200,000 for the purpose of preparations that will enable the project to be put out for competitive contractor bids. The board’s willingness to rely on a single consulting architect was similarly criticized and County Administrator Norm Risavi became the subject of most of the criticism that was entertained.
Morris and others faulted the current Board of Supervisors for relying too heavily on the local government’s chief executive officer. On repeated occasions it was suggested that the best remedy is election of five new supervisors in November 2011. Residents were told to be prepared to address the Board of Supervisors at 6 p.m. on the evening of April 11, when the board is expected to receive public comment on the proposed judicial center. The meeting will be held in A.T. Johnson auditorium.
Risavi similarly became the centerpiece of the association’s discussion of the county school division’s 2011-2012 funding request. At-large School Board member Rosemary Mahan was in attendance and fielded questions from county residents.
Morris explained that the budget proposed by the Westmoreland School Board calls for a 32 percent increase in local funding. The $2,621,166 increase in contributions from county taxpayers would be used to offset federal stimulus monies that are no longer available to support the local school division.
Having attended the March 7 joint meeting of the School Board and the Board of Supervisors, Morris recalled what he characterized as the two boards’ lack of trust.
“It’s pretty clear that the School Board and the Board of Supervisors don’t trust one another,” he advised.
Mahan placed the blame squarely on County Administrator Norm Risavi. “He is right in the middle of it again,” the at-large representative told the county residents.
Mahan faulted Risavi for holding a recent meeting with the school principals.
“[District 2 School Board member] Edie Hutt intervened and crashed their party,” she explained, adding that Risavi additionally attempted to arrange a smaller meeting on the division’s budget request, which the administrator, superintendent and respective board chairmen and vice chairs would be invited to attend. Such an arrangement and exclusion was unacceptable, she said. The County School Board opted not to allow its officers to participate and requested a second joint meeting of the two Westmoreland County boards.
Mahan told residents there is urgency in the School Board’s need to know how much support the schools will receive from the locality. April 15 is the deadline for issuing continuing contracts and/or layoff notices to school employees, she explained. The School Board member additionally made it known that employees are looking for other jobs because pay scale adjustments have not occurred during the past three years.
As the hour-long discussion unfolded, the supervisors were criticized for purportedly allowing their county administrator to micromanage school funding issues. Risavi was blamed for not having a new high school as readily as he had previously been blamed for apparent plans to build the most costly courthouse in the immediate region.
The final discussion topic was O’Gara activity and Morris advised that “O’Gara is going strong and has applied for two more shooting ranges, a look-out tower and a demolition site. He faulted recently discovered 2010 O’Gara site plan amendments that extend shooting range operations to two hours after sunset and make occasional weekend and night activities an option.
The Journal spoke to Zoning Administrator Robert Fink earlier on Monday and Fink acknowledged the last year’s site plan amendments and O’Gara’s recent submission of the site plan materials and companion applications referenced by Morris.
“O’Gara is also going to build a 50-room dorm,” Morris related. He recalled three supervisors’ statements to WCCA detailing an expectation that O’Gara will purchase the county’s unoccupied industrial shell building.
“Those supervisors told us they backed O’Gara because they thought O’Gara was going to buy the shell building. They’re never going to buy it,” he opined.