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Posted May 31, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Regional jail board moves forward, hears opponents' concern

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- The board leading an effort to build the area's second regional jail moved forward on the project over concerns from a group of Shenandoah County residents.

The Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail Authority board voted on measures related to the funding of the project, including the adopting of a resolution to approve moving forward on a short-term, $32.8 million loan through SunTrust bank.

"That's the piece that pays off the state's share so once the facility's built, within six months, $32.8 million in notes at 2.6 percent will be paid off by the state's reimbursements," board Chairman Douglas Stanley explained after the meeting.

But Shenandoah County Sheriff Timothy C. Carter cast the only vote against the resolution. After the meeting Carter noted that, as he understood it, the board already took action at its April meeting to move forward with the SunTrust loan -- a measure the sheriff also voted against, along with resolution to borrow money through bond sales.

"To me it was nothing more than a repeat of last month's vote to borrow money for the project," Carter said, noting he participates in the process and doesn't try to derail the authority's regular business. "Because of my long-standing position [on the project] I didn't think it was proper to borrow that kind of money without knowing what the project was gonna cost and what the impact on Shenandoah County was gonna be so I voted in opposition."

The board asked Moseley Architects to move forward and study the feasibility of constructing a facility on the site that would treat wastewater generated by the jail. Front Royal officials had rejected a request by the authority to allow the facility to use the town's wastewater treatment plant to treat water from the jail's laundry operations comprised of rainwater collected from the jail roof.

Board members also heard from representatives with the Virginia Resource Authority regarding the sale of bonds needed to borrow money for the project. The VRA pulled the authority's bid for $45.36 million in bond proceeds from the sale held last week, which included $300 million in requests, such as $30 million in refinancing from Warren County.

The VRA re-approved the authority's funding resolution and board members signed the new documents after the meeting.

Executive Director Suzanne Long told the board that the VRA plans to seek the same amount in bonds in a separate sale next week.

"We had to segregate this one out because there was a lot of activity surrounding it," Long said after the meeting. "We needed ... time to assess the allegations being offered by the citizen group and in order to keep the rest of the pool on track, preserve the integrity of the rest of the finances, including one for Warren County, and then we worked very hard to figure out how to close simultaneously."

Opponents of the project spoke at the meeting. Stanley advised the board would hear comments but not answer questions posed by speakers during the period.

Cindy Bailey, retired captain of the Shenandoah County jail and an outspoken opponent of the project, asked several questions about the jail project, including why each locality's leaders sought bonds in different amounts through the VRA.

Rappahannock County leaders voted to borrow $65 million in long-term loans and $32 million in short-term loans; Shenandoah County, $89 million total; Warren County, $45 million long-term and $32.8 million short term. Bailey also asked the authority board to state the total cost of the project, including the interest on the loans, architectural fees and other needs.

Bailey also asked how much each of the localities are willing to pay for the project.

"The sky's the limit -- that's the way the taxpayers feel," Bailey said.

Marsha Shruntz, of Strasburg, asked Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors Chairman Conrad Helsley, County Administrator Douglas Walker and Carter to withdraw the county from the regional jail agreement. Shruntz said she and other county residents feel the board is not in compliance with state code regarding maximum use of competitive negotiations. The group also claims the authority is "awarding sole-source contract amendments for out-of-scope work."

Edinburg attorney Bradley Pollack questioned why the board sought to move quickly with borrowing money for the project.

"Any of you can abstain until everything is actually put on table and resolved," Pollack said.

The authority's attorney, Brendan Hefty, prompted by a question from Carter, told the board he saw no legal problems or constitutional issues preventing the board from moving forward on the matter. The board then unanimously approved an owners reporting contract of James R. Marstin and JRM Consulting LLC to serve as the authority's eyes and ears on the construction site making sure the work is going according to design.

The board also voted to move forward in negotiations with Hillis-Carnes Engineering Associates as the project's testing firm, which ranked highest among five companies that submitted bids for the role.

Stanley explained after the meeting, in response to the question about different bond amounts, that each locality's elected bodies approved bond resolutions at different times and none knew the exact cost of the project.

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