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Posted December 17, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Judge sets trial in case over Edinburg school bonds

By Alex Bridges

A case contesting the financing for the Edinburg School renovation project goes to trial next month.

Toms Brook resident Mark W. Prince filed a motion for judgment on Nov. 26 in Shenandoah County Circuit Court in which he asks a judge to declare the bonds authorized by the Board of Supervisors invalid.

Judge Dennis L. Hupp on Thursday set the case for trial Jan. 31. Hupp, citing state code, denied Prince's request for a jury trial. In Hupp's order setting the trial date, the judge notes the court will address the complaint and the defendant's responding documents.

Supervisors voted 5-1 on Oct. 23 to pass a resolution authorizing the issuance of the more than $4 million in bonds to pay for the renovation of the old Edinburg School and the historic courthouse. The board took similar action Oct. 9. Supervisor Richard "Dick" Neese cast the dissenting vote and questioned whether the county should borrow the money needed for the project.

Charterhouse Schools entered a lease agreement to use part of the Edinburg School to provide educational services to some students with special needs from in and around the county. The agreement allows Charterhouse to opt out after one year. Officials have said that the rent charged to Charterhouse will go to pay off the debt from the bonds.

Prince contests the validity of the bonds, any taxes levied to pay off the debt, and charges for the services and facilities in connection with the "supposed revenue-producing undertaking. Prince also contests the validity of the pledge of the revenues of the undertaking.

Prince claims the bonds violate state code in that they include revenue from the Shenandoah County Department of Parks and Recreation. The bonds also violate the state code because Charterhouse Schools, the main entity responsible for generating the revenue earmarked to pay off the bonds, can opt out of the lease, according to Prince.

He also claims that the defendants did not include the cost of insurance when calculating whether the rent would cover the debt.

County Attorney J. Jay Litten filed motions on Nov. 30, including a demurrer that says the complaint fails to state a claim on which the court can grant relief.

Litten also sought an expedited hearing date and cited state code that "encourages the Court to enter such orders as will enable it 'to try and determine the proceeding and to render a final decree with the least possible delay.'"

Litten states in a separate filing that Prince missed the 30-day window to contest the bond issuance.

Prince claims he was unaware of the Oct. 9 resolution and makes an argument as to the timing of his filing. The plaintiff states he asked for information on the first authorization on Oct. 31. Prince states the defendant's response the next day did not mention the Oct. 9 resolution. Prince indicates he first learned of the Oct. 9 action on Nov. 22. The plaintiff claims the defendant violated the Virginia Freedom of Information Act by failing to respond accurately to his request by Nov. 7.

Prince claims the defendant "obstructed the filing of this action" and cites FOIA when he states the time during the alleged obstruction should not count toward the 30-day window.

Litten refutes this claim and responds to state the board "took not affirmative steps to prevent plaintiff from filing this contest."

The attorney also asked the court to impose sanctions against Prince in an amount not to exceed the legal fees incurred by the board.

"The Complaint has no reasonable chance of success, and therefore was neither well grounded in existing law nor by a good-faith argument for a change in the law," Litten states.

The attorney adds that the complaint was intended as a substitute for another complaint filed by Prince under seal on Nov. 21.

"This pattern of behavior not only increases the Board's expense and inconvenience, it also speaks to the time the plaintiff spent preparing the complaint," Litten states.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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