By WAYNE CREED
Cape Charles Wave
March 2, 2015
With more snow and colder temperatures looming, the Northampton Board of Supervisors met February 23 to conduct a joint meeting with the Northampton County School Board to discuss the FY 2016 Requested Budget. A joint meeting with the Planning Commission, along with the Town of Nassawaddox, was also conducted. At the forefront once again was the need to raise salaries for County teachers and staff. The School Board is looking for a 1.5% increase, on top of the step increase from last year. Superintendent Charlie Lawrence, pointed out that even as there was a 1.5% increase last year, the 1.5 % increase in healthcare completely wiped it out.
In all, of the $19.8 million the school board is requesting, over $8.5 million is to be funded locally. This is a $500,000 increase from last year. Lawrence pointed out that back in 2008-2009 the budget was $8.4 million, which adjusting for inflation would be $9.3 million today. “It just goes to show how far we have fallen behind,” he said.
Lawrence observed that “25 years is considered a generation. Twenty-two years ago, Northampton had high achieving schools. Fast forward and we now have just one school clinging to accreditation. I know it’s a lot of money and it won’t solve all our problems. The citizens of Northampton County deserve better or average schools. The students of Northampton, economically . . . we cannot afford to have average or better schools.
“During your last meeting, I was told that the morale of our teachers was low. That is just not true. Look, the men and woman of our county schools come to work each day and toil before and after school, doing all they can to move this division forward. Are they frustrated and feel that they need better working conditions? Yes. In the end, it is the taxpayers and children that deserve better schools,” he declared.
Even as Lawrence emphasized the need for the budget increase, he also spoke to important parts of the budget that would have to be dropped, like much needed repairs to schools (such as painting the bathrooms at Kiptopeke, which have never been painted), a teacher of alternative education, additional math and science teachers (even as we expect our children to compete globally on a technological scale, due to staffing constraints, we cannot offer a full year of science in 4th and 5th grade, and the math classrooms are still considered overcrowded).
From a Financial and Operations perspective, Director of Finance E. Brook Thomas offered an elegant presentation which provided a granular level insight into the issues and challenges of the operations budget. Of note, 65% of the budget goes to instruction, and breaking it down further, 78% goes toward salaries and benefits. This is critical because, as the Board looks to make cuts, “it is very difficult since you would be cutting people whose lives are dedicated to serving children,” Thomas said. [Read more…]
COMPILED FROM NEWS SOURCES
February 27, 2014
When PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) workers removed a Parksley child’s pet from the porch of her home on October 18, 2014, and euthanized the dog the next day, the news travelled around the world. It was certainly the biggest story of the year coming out of Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
But perhaps the most surprising element of the story was that PETA, a large, international organization, gave no response whatsoever. Even as citizens groups demonstrated in Accomack County against Commonwealth’s Attorney Gary Agar for his refusal to press charges, PETA remained mum. Only now, more than four months later, has PETA broken its silence and offered an explanation for what happened.
Although Parksley falls outside the Wave’s area of news coverage, the story is so remarkable that we are reprinting portions of an interview with a PETA spokesperson appearing in today’s Virginian-Pilot. Tim Eberly reports from Norfolk that just as a state investigation “is about to become public record, [PETA] is breaking its silence on the bizarre ordeal. It’s our fault, the agency acknowledges. We’re very sorry. And we’ll do whatever it takes to keep it from happening again.” [Read more…]
By WAYNE CREED
Cape Charles Wave
February 23, 2015
With sidewalks frozen and iced over, temperatures dipping into the teens, and winds gusting to 30 knots, the Cape Charles Town Council put on their parkas and braved the elements to conduct the February 18 Regular Meeting at the Civic Center. With normal walkway entrances flooded and crusted over with a thin layer of ice, Chief Pruitt and Jeb Brady had to be on hand to help attendees traverse a makeshift path through the snowbank up to the sidewalk.
Mayor Proto called the meeting to order, and as first order of business, requested a motion to amend the agenda, tabling discussion and vote on the Manhole Rehabilitation Project, and substituting the purchase of property on Mason Avenue. The motion was approved by unanimous vote.
Several items were set to be addressed as new business, but because bids for the manhole project only came in that afternoon, the Town did not have adequate time to review them, and thus produce an accurate number of just how much the work was going to cost. Given this uncertainty, items such as Harbor for the Arts Festival Marketing, Tourism Map, Pine Street Lot Trash Management area, and Beach Swimming Area Safety Measures (Buoys, markers, signage) were put on hold. Council did approve $11,000 for Compensation Study Implementation (due March 1), $10,000 for Leased Parking Area improvements, and then began the discussion of using $70,000 to purchase a lot that currently is part of Patrick Hand’s Strawberry Street Plaza.
When Mr. Hand purchased the old Be-Lo market, he acquired both sets of parking lots that for so many years accommodated overflow for Palace Theatre and Stage Door Gallery events as well as providing convenient access to Mason Avenue restaurants and shops such as Breezes Day Spa, Sea Glass and Stories, Drizzles, and the Cape Charles Coffee House. Purchasing the lot from Mr. Hand, which could be converted into parking, seemed like a definitive win for the Town, destined for a quick, unanimous vote. Instead, Councilman Steve Bennett attacked the logic and timing of the motion. “Strawberry Street is just not important. I don’t think it is a wise investment of taxpayer dollars,” he said. Councilwoman Joan Natali countered, “But we need this to secure parking.”
Councilman Frank Wendell then addressed the Council. “How can visitors access the town without parking? Here, Council seems happy to pay hundreds of thousands to run a pipe (PSA) out to the highway to promote investment there, yet turns a blind eye to the consumers and shops on Mason Avenue.” [Read more…]
By WAYNE CREED
Cape Charles Wave
February 16, 2015
With temperatures dipping into the low 30s, and with whipping winds over 40 knots, many folks still braved the harsh elements to attend the February 10 Regular Meeting of the Northampton Board of Supervisors. The room was close to capacity, with the entire back section filled with educators and others that support the mission of our county schools. This evening would introduce the year’s budget request from all aspects of county government; those who came to support schools were there to send a message to the Board. Most were wearing translucent blue ribbons, meant to symbolize unity and support for our teachers, as well as invoking a message of transparency in the coming budget process.
During the citizen information period, Occohonack math teacher Justin Wheeler (also Northampton president of local NEA), passionately addressed the BOS, saying that even as teachers work in a field that will have the most impact socially and fiscally (work that many consider the most vital to the County’s future), they are hardly compensated in a way that matches their contributions.
Wheeler freely offered his own pay stub, and ran down his monthly expenses. After tallying them up, his budget was not balanced. In order to make ends meet, he has to work a second job (most teachers find themselves in the same position).
Wheeler went on to say, “Even as our workload is up, a testament to our dedication is that our schools in Northampton are now accredited.”
Leslie James, 4th and 5th grade science teacher at Occohonack, pleaded with the Board to hire another science teacher, which would relieve some of the pressure caused by teaching to the SOLs, and would allow them to truly focus on the subject matter.
Etta Robbins, a 40 year veteran of our schools, requested that the BOS do what they can to replace the high school and the middle school. “We can’t compete with other areas like Northern Virginia and Virginia Beach” until we upgrade our facilities. She, like most educators in the room, also urged the board to raise teacher salaries: “We need to find a way to keep our teachers here. Just last year, we lost four of our best teachers.”
Discussion then turned to the proposed county zoning, and a critique of the county’s “Citizen Information Paper.” Ken Dufty of Exmore attacked the paper, saying, “It fails miserably” in helping citizens really understand what the intentions of the new zoning really are, and in fact, “misleads and misinforms.” Dufty took issue with the proposed uses and the way they were portrayed in the paper. Even as the paper listed more innocuous uses, such as “art studios, kennels, schools,” a closer look at the actual “Draft Proposal” document revealed things such as “prisons, dredge spoil sites, mining excavation sources,” which Dufty called “a blatant attempt to mislead.” Dufty also criticized the removal of the Town Edge District, stating that once most of the Town Edge went back to agriculture, it would open the county up to a number of invasive uses (that he mentioned above). [Read more…]
By WAYNE CREED
Cape Charles Wave
February 16, 2015
Historically, the towns of the Eastern Shore have been thought to be at risk from flooding. Flood insurance has always been scarce, and in the 1920s, since it was deemed unprofitable, the insurance industry basically dropped flood insurance (even when it was available, it was too high to attract customers that lived in flood plains).
In the 1960s, Congress began to feel that the way the country was dealing with natural disasters such as floods was expensive and inefficient. They felt that Federal flood programs were funded by all taxpayers, but only benefitted those that lived in flood plains, and who, even after experiencing disaster, would continue to live and build there. In 1968, Congress passed the National Flood Insurance Act which sought to move the costs of flood losses from taxpayers to the actual property owners that lived in flood plains.
The method chosen was to provide flood insurance premiums to flood plain residents. Congress attempted to try and influence development away from risky flood hazard areas, and required that new buildings be built to minimize flood damage.The Federal Insurance Administration (which at that time was in the Department of Housing and Urban Development) was in charge of the program.
Still, participation was weak, and few communities joined the program. In 1972, when hurricane Agnes ravaged the east coast, it was discovered that only 100,000 homes had the insurance. This led to the Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973, which required that buildings located in identified flood hazard areas must have “flood insurance coverage as a condition of federal aid or loans from federally insured banks and savings and loans and as a condition for receiving federal disaster.” This worked, as more than 2 million polices soon went into effect.
In 1979, the Federal Emergency Management Agency took over the program. FEMA created a floodplain map and developed flood hazard data allowing areas to use them as a structural basis for regulating construction in areas that are prone to flooding. The first version was called the Flood Hazard Boundary Map. However, most places had their FHBM replaced by a Flood Insurance Rate Map, which usually has flood elevations and other flood hazard data.
Effective May 18, 2015, the updated version of the FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps will be in place. Due to the updated maps, Cape Charles must adopt an updated Flood Plain Ordinance by March 2, 2015, and submit it to the FEMA Regional Office. For most of us living in Cape Charles, we have become very familiar FEMA flood insurance, and our own Flood Insurance Rate Map. [Read more…]
By WAYNE CREED
Cape Charles Wave
February 16, 2015
The Shore SPCA was founded in 1970, and began its mission here by providing the shelter used for Animal Control Operations. During the past decade, SPCAs around the state were re-evaluating their operations and returning to their roots by providing food, shelter, and medical care to homeless pets and attempting to find them homes. In 2005, the Shore SPCA Board decided to take on that mission and became a no-kill limited intake shelter. Currently, Shore SPCA shelters, treats, rehabilitates, and finds homes for household companion animals in hopes of reducing some of the burden on the Regional Animal Shelter in Accomack.
Although sheltering and adoption are a key function, the need for affordable spay/neuter services as a humane way to manage the overall population is also a big concern. According to Maureen Lawrence, president of the Shore SPCA, since 2008, “we have raised close to $95,000” which went toward a low cost spay/neuter program aimed at lower-income residents. Much of this came in the form of grants ($2,500) from Accomack and Northampton counties. These funds allowed them to qualify for a matching grant. Since then, they have been able to spay or neuter 375 dogs, 990 cats, as well as 502 feral cats. The cost for the surgeries was a low $25 for dogs, and $15 for cats.
As successful as this may sound, as many non-profit organizations will testify, funds from government and foundations have become very hard to come by. Things are beginning to look up, but due to the downturn of the last few years, funds for the spay/neuter program have become so low that the program has had to be temporarily suspended. Ms. Lawrence asserts, “Foundations are increasingly reluctant” to fund spay/neuter programs “without buy-in from the community” and unless they can show a means to sustain the program.
Ms. Lawrence remains optimistic, “We’ve asked Northampton for $3,500, and Accomack for $9,000.” The hope is to amass $12,500, hoping to get a matching grant.
It takes close to $25,000 per year to operate a program that services 500 animals. There has been some criticism that the SPCA has not been doing enough relative to gathering funds, as well as leveraging more from the volunteer community. Ms. Lawrence understands the criticism, and admits the last few years have been tough (not just for the SPCA), but adds that they are constantly re-evaluating the process. “The good news is we have a wonderful grant writer” that will be working hard to get the program back to where it was. [Read more…]
February marks the beginning of a special new partnership between the Rotary Club of Cape Charles and the Eastern Shore Boys and Girls Club. The Rotary Club will bring much-needed technology and career mentorship to local youth in order to provide the teens a jumpstart on successful careers. The first step is a grant of $4,000 to the local Boys and Girls Club.In addition to the grant, Cape Charles Rotary will conduct a Career Day for the Eastern Shore Boys and Girls Club at Occohannock Elementary School February 21 from 9:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. According to Kathy Custis, Executive Director of the Eastern Shore Boys and Girls Club, “This generous grant will be used to purchase computers in support of the upcoming Career Day and various other Boys and Girls Club programs. We are so grateful that this will be an ongoing relationship with the Cape Charles Rotary Club.” [Read more…]
CAPE CHARLES WAVE
February 9, 2015
An “Information Paper” by Northampton County Economic Development Director Charles McSwain is being fiercely challenged by the anti-rezoning group “Citizens for Open Government,” led by Exmore businessman Ken Dufty.
McSwain challenges “statements made in flyers over the past year” with a “point-by-point” response. Dufty, rising to the challenge, is refuting McSwain’s claims. The Wave reports the battle below, but readers looking for something shorter should CLICK for Wayne Creed’s report. A Letter to the Editor from Ken Dufty was received after both these reports were compiled. CLICK to read the letter.
McSWAIN CHARGES: Flyer says “Rezoning of nearly 3,000 acres of agricultural lands to residential and commercial use.” In fact, 3960 currently agriculturally zoned acres were redistricted to other uses more consistent with their actual current use or in the case of commercial property, their highest and best use consistent with adjacent existing uses and planned infrastructure. In addition, 4845 acres were rezoned from other uses to Agriculture. The net change in the proposed draft is an increase in agricultural district zoning by 885 acres of land. The flier statement is misleading. The County will have more agriculture district land.
DUFTY RESPONDS: While attempting to persuade that this statement is false or misleading, McSwain admits that the flyer underestimated the rezoning of agricultural lands that were redistricted to other uses. The McSwain paper states that in fact, 3960 currently agriculturally zoned acres were redistricted to other uses.However, the paper also states that other lands were rezoned to agricultural lands, making the net change 885 acres more agricultural land than previously districted. This criticism of the flyer is misplaced at best, and in reality misses our entire point regarding this rezoning. First, the majority of landowners who own ag land under the current zoning ordinance and who are proposed to be rezoned into residential or other uses, never petitioned the county for that rezoning classification. The redistricting of ag lands to a higher or best use without the request of the individual landowners is impermissible, and is akin to a taking, and the redistricting will potentially result in tax increases on the property owners who have had their lands reclassified without their consent. Also, our point in the flyer was that redistricting ag lands into other uses will allow residential density increases that were not envisioned or wanted by the landowners when they invested in their property. [Read more…]