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Posted June 26, 2012 | 12 Comments
Foes, supervisors trade barbs on jail issue
By Alex Bridges -- email@example.com
WOODSTOCK -- Foes of the regional jail and other high-cost projects gave the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors an earful Tuesday.
But supervisors fired back at the opponents, accusing them of giving "misleading" and "false" information to residents to bolster their arguments.
"Please. Please get out of this jail, because it's going to cost us a lot of money," said Strasburg resident Phillip Hunt at the public comment time toward the end of the supervisors' meeting.
Hunt criticized supervisors for claiming they could not pull out of the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail Authority when, in fact, Page County had done so previously. Hunt said Sheriff Timothy Carter has refuted the need for the regional jail. Hunt questioned supervisors' credentials for approving a project that goes against the sheriff's opinion.
Other speakers who said they opposed the jail project also criticized the supervisors for the authority's action last week to seek legal recourse against vocal opponents who sought to delay the sale of the bonds for the facility.
However, Supervisor Chairman Conrad A. Helsley defended himself and the jail authority board for its actions, including the request of its attorney to seek legal action if any is available. Helsley several times had to hammer down the gavel when vocal jail opponent Cindy Bailey stood up and asked supervisors to tell the audience the exact cost of the project. Helsley warned Bailey he would have her removed from the room if she made another outburst. He did not answer her question.
Helsley did calculate the amount the efforts by opponents cost the authority by the delay of the bond sale as $1.75 million over the life of the loan.
"There's nothing wrong with free speech but let's not mislead people," Supervisor David Ferguson said.
Supervisor Sharon Baroncelli warned opponents spreading misinformation has consequences.
"You are hurting people," Baroncelli said. "You are hurting organizations. You are hurting business prospects and the economy."
"I don't appreciate personal attacks and I think there were a lot of personal attacks against this board," Helsley said.
While longtime vocal opponents Bailey and Mark Prince spoke at the meeting against the jail project, other residents joined them in expressing concern about the debt the county taxpayers would face. Speakers also criticized the jail authority board, whose membership includes supervisors, for voting to seek legal action against opponents of the project who sought to delay the bond sale earlier this month.
Not all speakers criticized supervisors or the project.
"I don't have any problem paying for the jail because I know we need it," said Charles Dellinger, noting the county jail remains overcrowded and regional facilities are more efficient when housing inmates.
Edinburg resident Frank Bennett chastized Prince for making comments about Adolf Hitler and fascism.
"I've heard a lot of things this evening that are said to incite anger," Bennett said, asking later that he would rather see an independent party produce information on the jail project.
A handful of the vocal opponents of the projects stood outside the government center before the supervisors' meeting to distribute flyers of information to people coming to the board's regular session.
Opponents also spoke to the Daily before the meeting. New Market resident Mark Capozzella said he feared the county government would keep borrowing large sums of money to cover projects and impose higher taxes to pay for the debt, eventually forcing people off land they could no longer afford. Capozzella moved to Shenandoah County after he experienced a similar situation in Bethesda, Md., which forced him to leave.
Capozzella remained critical of the county's recent moves to borrow money for controversial projects.
Prince and other opponents accuse supervisors as well as the authority board of infringing on their rights to speak out and express grievances they have regarding the project. The authority board last week asked its attorney to look into any legal recourse the entity may have against the opponents who sought to delay the sale this month of $32 million in bonds through the Virginia Resource Authority.
Prince also accuses some members of the board of supervisors of "lying" and distributed information ahead of the meeting. Prince noted this has taken place over the course of years yet no one on the board has admonished anyone.
"So in essence they're condoning everything that has gone wrong," Prince said before the meeting. "Now they're suing us."
Prince noted the suit should be directed at him since he started the protest against the jail project seven years ago.
"I'm not afraid of them one iota," Prince added.
Cindy Bailey, also an opponent of the regional jail and other high-debt projects, has expressed worry the county would need to raise its real estate tax rates to pay for the loans and the ongoing operating costs of the new facilities which she claims are not needed.
"Until now, this board has been re-elected on promises not to raise taxes even though they are building unnecessarily during the worst recession in 80 years," Bailey said in a written statement. "The county's supervisors have once again broken their promise to the citizens of Shenandoah County and had to raise taxes this year. They will have to raise taxes every year for the rest of our lives and many generations to come."
Some of the same people opposed to the jail set up a table outside the government center and asked for residents' input on whether the county should impose term limits for members on the board of supervisors and other elected offices. The group collected the input by way of petitions. Organizers said they don't have plans yet to seek a recall election for the board of supervisors. They first wish to see the community's feelings on term limits.
Also at the meeting supervisors