GUEST EDITORIAL: Prisons vs. Prosperity

May 11, 2015

We understand that two Northampton Supervisors recently lamented in a public meeting the county’s decision back in the mid-1990s not to allow a state prison to be built here. What’s happened to the counties which were included in the state’s prison building boom over the last 30 years? Did the promises of jobs, economic development and state-provided benefits meet expectations? Not so much.

And not for many rural counties. Localities were looking at prisons as economic engines back then, and Northampton County’s refusal to take the bait in 1993 was considered Wise County’s windfall. By the middle of the decade Wise county had not one, but two so-called “Super Max” prisons. Greensville, Buchanan and Mecklenberg Counties, all rural, had one state prison each, and the correctional system was often the largest employer in the county.

Then the prison population started to fall off – court imposed sentences became shorter, the crime rate fell and in the midst of lawsuits against the Commonwealth for unacceptable treatment of inmates, other states took back their farmed-out prisoners.

Former Governor McDonnell closed the Mecklenburg prison, nearly bankrupting the town of Boydton. The town relied heavily on the prison’s sewage payments to support their town budget, and was left with a $1.4 million debt for sewer lines to the prison. One of the Wise County prisons was downgraded, causing layoffs and long-term unemployment. The state prison in Pittsylvania County closed less than 10 years after it was built, and a brand new facility in Grayson County has never opened. [Read more…]

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GUEST EDITORAL: Balance Northampton Budget

CITIZENS FOR A BETTER EASTERN SHORE

April 6, 2015

Budgets work best when the dollars coming in are equal to — or even better, are a little bit more — than the dollars going out. Spend only what you’ve planned to spend, except for real emergencies. Corporate finance people know this. Small business owners know this. Men and women running their household budgets know this. Even kids with weekly allowances know this. So, that should mean that our local governments ought to know this too – adopt the budget, know where every cent is going, and stick to it except for real emergencies. There absolutely cannot be off-budget, additional, “discretionary” spending by county administration without scrutiny and approval of the governing body.

State and local governments are usually faced with more requests for funds than there is revenue coming in – and Northampton County is no exception. The preliminary budget showed Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 revenues at $24.8 million and requests for funding for county operations and debt at $27.6 million – a shortfall of $2.8 million. The county budget is separate from the school budget, which was proposed at $20.3 million.

This equals the grand total of close to $48 million to run a county of 12,125 people, a county with a shrinking population and a declining school enrollment. If all the new funding requests had been adopted, an alarmingly large tax increase would have followed.

It wasn’t only more funding increases that caused the shortfall. Decreased revenues are likely for both county and school budgets as state-level budget-balancing transfers more required expenditures from state to local governments. Locally, lower real estate property tax revenues may occur if property values decline. And sales and personal property tax revenues may also decline below projections as families juggle their own household budgets. [Read more…]

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GUEST EDITORIAL: Withdraw the Proposed Rezoning

By DONNA BOZZA
Executive Director
Citizens for a Better Eastern Shore

November 10, 2014

Some 140 citizens gathered last Thursday at the Northampton Community Forum in Eastville to hear an explanation of the proposed countywide rezoning and some of the changes versus our current zoning. Volunteering their time and expertise, the panel included several trained, experienced Virginia State certified citizen Planning Commissioners, a scientist and Director at the University of Virginia’s Coastal Research Center, and a real estate broker of 40 years.

As co-sponsor of the event with Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper, Citizens for a Better Eastern Shore was encouraged by the large attendance. Clearly there is a thirst for additional information about the proposed zoning.  The lack of knowledge, confusion, and alarm residents expressed concerning the new zoning proposed is another indication that the county has not done an adequate job explaining the changes proposed. [Read more…]

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GUEST EDITORIAL: No Town Halls, No Dialogue

cbes200By JOHN ORDEMAN
Citizens for a Better Eastern Shore

September 8, 2014

The ShoreLine editorial board announced several months ago that we have begun a campaign to get county Supervisors to hold occasional Town Hall meetings with their constituents, a practice that would give the people who elected them an opportunity to engage in meaningful discussion with their representatives and enable the Supervisors to be more responsive to the will of the electorate.

All of the Northampton Supervisors responded to a query from ShoreLine asking whether they would schedule meetings with their constituents.

Granville Hogg, who has been holding Town Hall meetings ever since he joined the Board of Supervisors in January, wrote: “I have always thought Ron Wolff [the Accomack Supervisor who holds monthly public meetings] did a great job by meeting with his constituents. I decided it would be good for me to adopt a similar policy so long as residents were interested in what was happening. I would try to keep them informed and listen to what they thought was important. At those meetings I would exchange information with constituents. If there was disagreement, why did they disagree and what information were they relying on? In some cases, they had better information than I possessed; hence, I took that information into consideration for future decisions.”

Hogg’s statement is an excellent summary of what can be accomplished at Town Hall meetings, and it is remarkable that Hogg’s colleagues will not follow his example and give their constituents the opportunity to exchange information and debate issues with them.

Larry LeMond’s response to the query was, “I thought about holding a town hall meeting last year, but never got around to it. But I do think it is a good idea and I plan to hold one or two this year – probably the first one will be in July or August.”

Rick Hubbard wrote, “I will give your idea some consideration and look into possibly doing it sometime.”

Larry Trala sent word through Janice Williams that “he has no problem or objection to having constituent meetings.”

Oliver Bennett replied, “No comment.”

None of the Supervisors, other than Hogg, has held a Town Hall meeting in spite of the fact that Northampton County is embroiled in the most contentious issue — the proposed overhaul of zoning regulations — that residents have had to deal with in recent memory. [Read more…]

EDITORIAL: Drop the Speed Limit to 45

A CAPE CHARLES WAVE EDITORIAL

July 21, 2014

How many more people have to die, how many more vehicles must be destroyed, how many more close calls must there be before VDOT awakes to the deadly danger of Route 13 north and south of the Cape Charles traffic light? If Route 13 is Virginia’s most dangerous highway, we will nominate the Cape Charles/Cheriton area as the most dangerous patch of it.

The traffic light itself is not the problem so much as the multiple turnoffs mostly south of the light. Two of our neighbors had their cars totaled in the past few years — one trying to cross the highway to get to the Corner Mart, the other a victim of someone pulling out from McDonald’s directly in front of her.

Last week we saw something new and scary: a full-size charter bus leaving McDonald’s was trying to turn left onto Route 13. Judging by the line of cars behind the bus, the driver had to wait a long time for a break in the traffic.

Why does the speed limit drop to 45 mph on the bypass around Exmore but not in the Cape Charles/Cheriton area? The danger here is arguably worse than in Exmore (which funds their entire Police budget from speeding tickets).

Our most recent heart-stopper (and the inspiration for this editorial) came from waiting in the left-hand lane on 13 to turn onto Stone Road. An 18-wheeler roared past at full speed only a few feet away, violently shaking our stopped van in the jet stream. We were literally “sitting ducks.” And as everyone knows, a 55 mph limit means it is your God-given right (and duty) to drive 60 — and this trucker was doing his duty.

At least we were encased in a two-ton van; pity the pedestrian who tries to navigate that death-trap. Earl Wayne Spady was hit by a truck last month while trying to cross Route 13 on foot at night. May he rest in peace. [Read more…]

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EDITORIAL: Time for a New Team

A CAPE CHARLES WAVE EDITORIAL

May 5, 2014

Although the ballot for Tuesday’s municipal elections in Cape Charles contains eight names, deciding whom to vote for is not as complicated as it might appear. There are really only two teams – the old team and the new team. All a voter has to decide is whether to keep the old team or elect the new team.

True, of the eight candidates, only two of them are running for re-election: Town Council members Chris Bannon and Joan Natali. They form half of the old team. The other half is composed of George Proto for mayor and Charles “Sambo” Brown for Council. But the only reason those two are running is because the Sullivans, Dora and Mike, decided not to run.

While it can be argued that Mr. Proto and Mr. Brown have very different styles from Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan, it is a certainty that neither of them would have run against the Sullivans. They are, in fact, Mayor Sullivan’s hand-picked successors.

The new team is a very different story: each of the four candidates is running because they are alarmed by the direction the old team is taking the town. Understanding that in a democracy the only sure way to effect change is at the ballot box, they are opposing the incumbents and their designated successors.

The new team is Frank Wendell for mayor and Deborah Bender, David Gay, and Lynn Mitchell-Fields for Council. Each has his or her own ideas, but on the over-arching issues they agree: town spending is out of control, as are town utility bills. The town is borrowing like there is no tomorrow, and a number of full-time residents who work here for a living are moving out of town to avoid the extortive water bills and high taxes. [Read more…]

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EDITORIAL: Frank Wendell for Mayor

A CAPE CHARLES WAVE EDITORIAL

May 4, 2014

Cape Charles residents owe a metaphorical vote of thanks to every candidate running for election on Tuesday, because in most of the rest of Northampton County — Cheriton, Eastville, Nassawadox, and Belle Haven — candidates for mayor are unopposed. Only in Cape Charles and Exmore do voters have a choice.

Dora Sullivan also ran unopposed eight years ago when she was first elected mayor. So we see the contrast of this year’s political contest as a healthy sign of democracy in action. We’re also encouraged by the fact that both mayoral candidates are fine exemplars of Cape Charles – both are upstanding citizens willing to expend a great deal of time and effort in the name of public service.

We believe that either candidate for mayor would serve to the best of his ability, and would uphold the principles of honesty and fairness. That said, we cannot vote for both of them; we must make a choice. And we believe there are overwhelming reasons to vote Frank Wendell for mayor of Cape Charles.

1. Frank Wendell has a long, outstanding record of public service to this, his hometown. As a young man he served on Town Council for 12 years before “retiring” to devote more time to his business and family. Then, two years ago, outraged by the secret plans to divest the town’s school and auditorium, basketball court, and parkland, he returned to public service, winning a seat on Town Council.

2. Mr. Wendell has never shrunk from fighting the good fight. Almost 20 years ago he led the opposition to County plans to permit a maximum-security federal prison to be built nearby. Dickie Foster subsequently stated that if the prison had been constructed, he never would have built Bay Creek.

3. As a current Town Council member, Mr. Wendell was the only one to recognize the foolhardiness of encouraging commercial development on Route 13 by extending a sewer pipe from the town’s wastewater plant. Other Council members have admitted that Rayfield’s Pharmacy could go out of business if the town facilitates competition on the highway, but they want to go ahead anyway. They seem not to understand that while the town has no legal control over what happens on the highway, it has the power of the pipe.

4. Likewise, Mr. Wendell is the only Council member who understands the importance of negotiating with developers to ensure the town’s best interests. When a developer requested exemption from timely payment of utility fees and other town code requirements, only Mr. Wendell urged a quid pro quo in the form of negotiating for adequate downtown parking. [Read more…]

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EDITORIAL: Election Manipulation

 A CAPE CHARLES WAVE EDITORIAL

April 15, 2014

The photo at right of an anonymous poster outside the Post Office asks, “Will the Wave try to control the Town election?” But until now the Wave has been almost silent on the May 6 election for mayor and Town Council. When the eight candidates filed, we published an impartial story listing their names and brief bios. We intend to let the candidates tell their own stories, and invite them to write a few paragraphs on “Why I’m Running for Mayor” and “Why I’m Running for Town Council” to inform our several thousand readers.

But in this hotly contested election there are already signs (pun intended) of manipulation. And not for the first time – the November 2012 special election for a Town Council seat was shamelessly manipulated by the town power structure, taking advantage of the good name of Arts Enter as the “sponsor” of a candidates forum. In fact, assistant town manager Bob Panek masterminded that forum, and although his name did not even appear in the list of volunteers, like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain it was Panek who selected questions from the audience and decided to whom they would be asked. All the while, he displayed a sign in his yard for candidate Steve Bennett.

In this year’s election, Council incumbent Joan Natali was first off the line in blanketing the town with campaign signs, and no one complained. But later when opposition candidates David Gay, Deborah Bender, and Lynn Mitchell-Fields began matching the Natali signs with their own, the town took action, and most of the signs were confiscated by the Police Department under the excuse that they were not allowed in the right-of-way (even in front of private residences). Ironically, Natali was responsible for that town regulation, enacted in reaction to the “Community Center YES” signs of a previous battle.

Next comes the curious question of the “second” candidates forum sponsored by Cape Charles Rotary. Following the town staff’s manipulation of the previous forum mentioned above, the non-political Citizens for a Better Eastern Shore (CBES) agreed to host a forum for Cape Charles candidates. CBES has a long history of hosting candidate debates, and most recently held two forums for County Supervisors and School Board candidates in last November’s elections. At that time no one seemed concerned that a CBES forum might not be enough. [Read more…]

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