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Posted January 1, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Year in Review: Regional jail drew foes, kept officials busy

By Alex Bridges

Efforts to finance and start building the area's next regional jail kept government officials and elected leaders busy in 2012.

Opposition to the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail also gained momentum as foes in Shenandoah County spoke out against the $80 million project. Long-standing opponent Mark Prince continues to fight the financing of the project in court.

Construction on the facility began in early summer after the RSW Regional Jail Authority board approved a financing plan that involved borrowing the money for the project. The board anticipates the state will reimburse the authority for certain allowable expenses covering a large portion of the debt.

Boards of supervisors in each of the participating localities supported the authority's financing of the project. Opponents tried to stop or at least stall efforts by the jail board and the Virginia Resources Authority to buy bonds as planned in the spring. The VRA pulled the jail from a group of projects but then financed the project on its own. Some members of the jail board blamed the opponents for causing the delay that led to a higher interest rate on the debt.

The regional jail remains under construction with a scheduled opening date of July 2014.

Jail foes also opposed Edinburg School project

Another initiative in Shenandoah County also sparked opposition by a vocal minority. The county sought to borrow several million dollars to renovate both the Edinburg School and the historic courthouse. Opponents spoke out against the county borrowing the money for the project during a time of economic uncertainty.

Supporters of the project said the rent paid by Charterhouse Schools would cover the cost of repaying the debt. Opponents expressed fear that the lease agreement still lets the tenant opt out after only a year. Vocal opponent Cindy Bailey has said the school under Charterhouse would not serve all the special-needs pupils currently transported out of the county to other facilities.

Renovations to the Edinburg School are under way with an expected completion in time for the 2013 school year.

Both the Edinburg School and regional jail projects also spurred a movement in the county to unseat the board of supervisors. Foes of the projects and of spending by the county in general began a petition drive in the summer with the intent to depose the board and elect new leaders.

Town elections change council makeup

Voters stayed busy in 2012 with many heading to the polls in both May and November. Most of the region's towns held elections for council seats in May. Challengers unseated incumbents in a few of the town elections. New Market Mayor Larry Smith lost his re-election bid to Councilman Douglas Bradley. In what may be the last May election for Town Council in Front Royal, Councilmen Chris W. Holloway and Carson L. Lauder lost their re-election bids to former mayor Eugene R. Tewalt and former Councilman Bret W. Hrbek along with newcomer Daryl L. Funk. Thomas Conkey did not seek re-election.

Middletown Town Council sees shake-up

In March, Middletown Mayor Marshal J. "Mark" Brown and Councilmen Gilbert D. "Gil" Barrington and John Wesley Blaisdell Jr. resigned from their positions at a meeting in protest over behavior by fellow members. Each man levied heavy criticism against other council members, some identified by name, in their statements before leaving the meeting.

After Councilman Charles H. Harbaugh IV took on the role of mayor, council worked to fill three vacancies. In becoming mayor, Harbaugh earned the distinction of being the youngest mayor in the commonwealth.

A month later, a grand jury in Frederick County indicted Councilman Carl Heinz Bernhards Jr. on charges of tax fraud and failing to file income tax. Shortly after his indictment Bernhards resigned his council seat.

Council eventually filled Bernhards' seat and appointees were elected in general and special elections in November.

Front Royal annexation proposed

Warren County leaders in 2012 faced the prospect that Front Royal could bring more than 600 acres into town limits. The Front Royal Limited Partnership filed a request with the Commission on Local Government in September seeking to annex 604 acres of property in the county to the town.

Both the Board of Supervisors and Town Council discussed the proposal on several occasions and leaders showed general support for the request. Supervisors sought reassurance that any annexation would come with an agreement to protect the county's interests. Supervisors worried over whether the developer would seek to build hundreds of homes that could increase the need for services, such as schools, provided by the county.

Ongoing projects faced in Strasburg

Strasburg officials and Town Council tackled major capital projects and initiatives in 2012. Council and staff continued their work on the Downtown Streetscape Project to come up with a design aimed at helping to revitalize King Street. Council also backed the creation of an arts and tourism district in an effort to attract and keep certain kinds of businesses downtown.

While Strasburg saw work on a new water treatment plant reach completion, the town staff and council moved forward on a project to upgrade its wastewater treatment facility. But staff and council faced sticker shock when the cost to build the upgrades came in at $11 million more than the estimated $20 million. The fate of the project remained unknown at the end of 2012 as town council and staff sought to cut the cost.

Strasburg council also continues to debate where or if the town should build a new storage tower with money leftover from the water treatment plant project. A study identified the need for a tower and two possible locations but residents near both sites expressed opposition to having the storage tank in either area. The year ended with the town staff and council looking at using the money for other water system needs though the tower is identified as the most immediate priority.

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

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