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Posted January 8, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Shenandoah County earns high grade for transparency

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK - A government watchdog group gave Shenandoah County the highest grade for any locality in the region for making its budget available on the Internet.

The Virginia Coalition for Open Government recently released a report titled "How Many Clicks Does It Take to Get to Your Budget?"

In Shenandoah County's case it takes one click.

Counties and cities received grades of A plus to F. The study did not include towns. Shenandoah County received the only "A" in the valley. Other localities in the region received the following grades: Clarke County, D; Frederick County, B; Page County, C; Rappahannock County, D; Warren County, B; Winchester, B.

The Board of Supervisors heard about the report's findings at its meeting Tuesday. Supervisor Sharon Baroncelli lauded Budget Manager Garland Miller and staff for their efforts to make the fiscal document accessible to the public.

"You should be very proud of this recognition by this organization," Baroncelli said.

Board Chairman Conrad Helsley noted that Miller and staff conduct the budget work with limited personnel. Helsley said the high grade "speaks very highly" of Miller and the finance staff as well as County Administrator Doug Walker.

A visitor to Shenandoah County's website - shenandoahcountyva.us - can find the current fiscal budget under Quick Links and, with one click, can download the document. But as Megan Rhyne, executive director of the nonprofit coalition explained, the grading goes beyond the clicks.

In addition to the number of clicks, the organization surveyed localities on the ease of finding and following each click to the budget, according to Rhyne. The study looked at whether a visitor could find the budget on a home page search box or a site map. The organization examined whether the locality offered the budget in one comparative document, in sections or both. It also looked at the formats and whether one could search the document by keyword.

The coalition also sought the availability of past budgets. The study involved searching for context, explanations and summaries in budget. The group took note of other information made available in the searches, such as explanations of the budget process, the calendar, citizen input and whether the locality offers free copies of the documents on CDs.

Once the coalition gathered the information, it asked 10 questions of each site and, based on the answers, graded the localities.

Also at the meeting:

Supervisors voted 5-1 to appoint former County Administrator Vince Poling to the Industrial Development Authority. The board took the matter off its consent agenda for a separate vote at Baroncelli's request. Baroncelli voted against the appointment.

She said she was hoping to "see our IDA become and EDA at one point and with emphasis on economic development."

"I thank Mr. Poling for his service in the past, but I would have liked to have seen someone else on the IDA," Baroncelli added.

Vice Chairman Dennis Morris lauded the efforts of several county staff members, including Community Development Director Brandon Davis, Fire Marshal David Ferguson, Senior Inspector Tim Ferguson and Building Official Mike Dellinger. They spent part of New Year's Eve making sure the Toms Brook School renovation project met certain inspections deadlines.

"These gentlemen went above and beyond the call of duty to make this thing happen," Morris told the board. "We got the approval that we needed on New Year's Eve thanks to these gentlemen and I can't say enough about how dedicated they were through the process."

At one point in late December, the project required a piece of equipment to ensure that fire alarms worked in the facility, Morris explained. Calls were made and the equipment was shipped to the staff on New Year's Eve, he said.

Helsley commended Morris and Toms Brook Mayor Phil Fauber for their involvement in the project. Fauber and Morris visited the site often, Helsley noted.

People Inc. is working with the county and the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission to renovate the former school into housing for low-income residents. The open house for the project is scheduled for Sunday.

No one spoke at a public hearing held on an application to the Virginia Department of Transportation for funding under the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century and the Transportation Alternatives Program. The application seeks $1 million in funding on behalf of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation for battlefield identification, interpretation, rehabilitation, and to build trails along historic transportation corridors and facilities. The foundation plans to pay the required local match of $200,000.

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


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