By Sally Voth -- email@example.com
WOODSTOCK -- A large crowd packed into Peter Muhlenberg Middle School Tuesday night for a public hearing on the proposed fiscal 2013 budget.
Residents passionately addressed the Board of Supervisors on the controversial regional jail project and spending for Shenandoah County Public Schools, with a few also discussing funding for fire and rescue.
The supervisors have advertised a 6-cents real-estate tax hike to balance the budget. That would bring the tax rate to 53 cents per $100 of assessed value. However, the county won't have to make payments on the regional jail for several years.
Among the chief opponents of the jail is Sheriff Timothy C. Carter. Former Chief Jailer Cindy Bailey has been vocal in her opposition.
The School Board is asking for $23 million in local funding, about 10 percent more than what the schools are getting from the county this year.
Edinburg resident John Riffee was the first speaker to take the microphone.
"People do not want a regional jail," he said. "We do not need it."
Riffee referenced comments District 4 Supervisor Sharon Baroncelli made last week about the majority of residents supporting the RSW Regional Jail, which is estimated to cost about $89 million, with the state paying about 45 percent of eligible construction costs.
Base construction bids came in last week, and ranged from about $55.7 million to $61.5 million.
"If Ms. Baroncelli could have everybody stand up who wants a regional jail -- who wants it?" Riffee asked the crowd.
Riffee said the supervisors haven't taken Carter's advice, and have "besmirched his reputation," but was cut off by Supervisors Chairman Conrad Helsley.
He was followed by Bailey, who sparred with Baroncelli during a town hall meeting last week. She mentioned Baroncelli's assertion that the current Board of Supervisors inherited disintegrating buildings and now have to act.
Bailey said the board didn't maintain the buildings because they had always planned to replace them whether residents supported that plan or not.
She brought up the county's roughly $20 million in capital projects in addition to the jail: a new county courthouse, a new health and human services building, and the purchase of land for new schools.
"Why a new jail now?" Bailey asked. "There is no mandate, nor has there ever been a mandate from the state to replace the current jail in Shenandoah County.
"You have not been transparent with your constituents and taxpayers. You have broken yet another promise, even though keeping that promise would assure the least expensive option -- we keep the jail we already own for now."
She reminded the supervisors that when they agreed to join the regional jail authority, they said they'd not go through with the project if the state didn't chip in half the construction costs.
When the supervisors approved the creation of a regional jail authority and an accompanying agreement in September 2009, Baroncelli said if the state didn't pay the 50 percent, the three counties would "go back to the table."
Last week, Ted Cole, of Davenport and Co. LLC, told the panel the state reimburses 50 percent of eligible costs, and some costs aren't considered eligible. That is why the state's share of construction costs is about 45 percent, he said.
Maurertown resident William Miller said county government and employees were wasting public funds. He accused paid firefighters of driving several fire trucks to local restaurants every morning.
"Every evening, down here at this government center, they're lit up like the Taj Mahal," he said. "You would think they're running 24-hour gambling with all the lights," he said. "Look at cutting expenses, don't just automatically reach out in my pocket to get another 13 percent from me."
He said the increase would lead to more foreclosures, which would cut the tax base.
New Market resident Mark Capozella also took the board to task over the regional jail.
"This is what you all want for your legacy?" he asked. "You're elected officials. You work for me. Last week, I was at a meeting and was told everybody in this county was for this jail. Well, we took 400-plus signatures at the door...they don't want the jail. You were our elected officials. I have no idea whether you're ever going to be elected again."
Toms Brook resident Ken Cruise asked the crowd if they were in the minority, and was answered with a chorus of nos.
"We are not, and we're not being listened to by the board," he said. "I think Sheriff Carter is our go-to guy. He's being ignored and in many cases being disrespected."
One individual did speak in favor of building the jail, though -- former Shenandoah County Jail Chief Jailer Charles Dellinger.
"I'm probably not going to get any applause here, but I don't care," he said. "People getting disrespect are you guys. I can't believe one person's caused all this, but that's what it boils down to. I think you made the right decisions."
Tuesday's youngest speaker was Jacob French.
"If it takes a 12-year-old kid to come up here and tell you we don't need a new jail and we need better education, then that's pretty sad. Here I am, an A, B student in my school, and I have to come up to," he said, pausing to count aloud, "nine people just to say we don't need this new jail. Bye."
Teacher Melissa Mumaw was one of many teachers and parents to urge the supervisors to grant the School Board's budget request.
"We have a small quality, dedicated system and we continue to work above and beyond with exponentially decreasing funds and increased responsibilities," she said. "Good enough is not just good enough for our kids.
"The budget that is on the table has not been cut to the bone; it's been cut to the marrow. If education is not funded, we will need to look at bigger jails."
Woodstock resident Katie Freakley urged the county to look at the bigger picture and the lasting impact of the board's decisions.
"No one is going to want to live and work in Shenandoah County with a sub-par school system," she said. "When is doing enough to just get by ever the right thing to do?"