Year in review: Voters spoke in 2013

By Alex Bridges

Contested races in local elections took the spotlight in 2013.

Voters in Shenandoah County picked vocal opponents of government spending for two seats on the Board of Supervisors.

Marsha Shruntz, a retired bus driver for Frederick County Public Schools, unseated longtime Supervisor Dennis Morris for the District 5 race. Shruntz spoke out against the board’s approval of spending millions of dollars on several capital projects that were well underway of construction. Morris, along with other supervisors, supported spending local money on projects such as the restoration of the Edinburg school, the historic county courthouse in Woodstock and the regional jail in Warren County. Morris had sought another term on the board.

In a three-way race for District 4, Cindy Bailey won the seat held by Supervisor Sharon Baroncelli, who chose not to seek re-election to another term. Bailey, a former member of the Republican Party, ran as an independent along with Shruntz when the local chapter did not nominate either candidate. Bailey fended off challengers Steven Shaffer and Emily Scott, representing the Republican and Democratic parties respectively. Bailey, a retired jail captain for the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office, opposed the board’s spending practices on large projects during the lingering, economic downturn, as well as their move to raise taxes.

Warren County Commissioner of the Revenue

Voters in Warren County picked Sherry Sours as the Commissioner of the Revenue to take the helm of the department after the untimely death of John Smedley Sr. Sours, appointed as the interim commissioner in 2012, ran against fellow employee, Roy Boyles and local businessman Mike McCool. Sours and Boyles, both longtime employees who worked with Smedley for years, ran as independents, while McCool represented the Republican Party.

Strasburg projects

Town Council and staff spent the year trying to find ways to reduce the cost of upgrades for the wastewater treatment plant after the lowest bid for the project exceeded the estimates. When Strasburg received an unsolicited proposal by a design-build team in the late spring, town leaders took another approach on the project by using the Virginia Public-Private Educational Facilities and Infrastructure Act to negotiate the design of the upgrades and a contract cost.

The results of this approach became apparent in December: An upgrade would cost approximately $24 million that also would include the construction of a new Public Works Department building.

Also in 2013, Strasburg leaders debated whether or not the town should build a water storage tower and where it should go.

Front Royal Town Charter debates

Front Royal Town Council put their faith in state legislators to make changes to the local charter that would allow the jurisdiction to move its elections from May to June. When the General Assembly went into session language in the proposed changes to the town’s charter as filed by Del. Michael Webert, one of the three delegates representing Front Royal, did not reflect what most members of council wanted. By the end of the session Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, who also represents the town, took action that led to legislators killing the proposed changes.

After the session, Town Council took a different direction and sought a judge’s approval of their request to move elections to November.

U.S. 340-522 Corridor

Tempers flared over whether the town should receive more tax revenue from businesses in the U.S. 340-522 North Corridor. Some members of Town Council wanted to revisit the issue and see if Front Royal should be collecting more money from the corridor businesses. A council member even broached the idea of the town annexing the corridor, an option he said Front Royal has under an agreement reached years ago with Warren County.

Leaders of both jurisdictions discussed the issue in the open and behind closed doors. Mayor Tim Darr and Board of Supervisors Chairman Archie Fox met several times to hash out options, but to no avail. The Board of Supervisors decided the county should hire a consulting firm to study the original agreement and any benefits seen by both jurisdictions. Town Council opted to hire an attorney who could look into the issue, including the possibility of annexation. The matter remained unresolved at the end of the year.

Shake-up of top government officials, leaders

Mount Jackson Town Manager Clark Draper resigned abruptly early in the year. Town Council appointed former Town Manager Charlie Moore to fill the position in the interim until they could find a permanent replacement. After months of searching, council picked former Strasburg Town Manager Kevin Fauber who had just worked similar positions in Elkton and Luray.

Douglas Walker, county administrator for Shenandoah County, resigned in February to take an assistant administrator position in Spotsylvania County. Walker stepped down after about three years leading Shenandoah County government. The Board of Supervisors hired a consulting firm to search for his replacement. After interviewing several applicants, the board chose longtime Assistant County Administrator Mary Beth Price to take the position permanently.

Popular town mayor dies

Just as Mount Jackson searched for a new chief administrator, the town lost popular Mayor Joseph “Joe” Williams, who served many terms in the seat. Williams died in late July after a brief illness. Williams’ death left Town Council with the task of finding an interim mayor. Council picked Michael Koontz, a First Bank employee and former member who served several terms in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Koontz did not state at the time whether he would run for the position in May. The term ends May 31.

RSW Regional Jail work

Construction of the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail on U.S 340-522 continued apace as the authority board worked on filling positions and setting salaries. Meanwhile, officials in Shenandoah County debated how local law enforcement agencies would handle transportation of arrestees to the regional jail. Several town managers and police chiefs voiced concern that the long drives and processing time at the jail would take officers away from their jurisdictions thus creating a safety issue. Shenandoah County supervisors and staff looked at options that included making changes to part of the current county jail in Woodstock.

Strasburg annexation

Strasburg and Shenandoah County worked together this year to finalize the town’s eventual annexation of an adjacent industrial park. Strasburg officially annexes the North Shenandoah Industrial and Business Park at the end of the year through an agreement reached with the county about 15 years ago. In the early planning stages, town leaders showed support for annexing only part of the park. However, Kimberly Murray, the town’s new economic development and planning manager, recommended Strasburg annex the entire park as allowed in the agreement. The town now will annex the entire park.

Annexation will allow the town to develop the park, bring industrial and business users, then collect the additional revenue generated through taxes. Even after the annexation is complete, town and county officials still must craft and approve the Joint Land-Use Plan for the park. The town also will create a master development plan that outlines Strasburg’s needs and wants for the park.

Shenandoah County tax hike

The Board of Supervisors approved higher tax rates in April — the second increase in two years. Supporters of the new rates said the county needed to increase the levy on real estate to cover the additional cost to cover higher retirement costs as mandated by the General Assembly. The board stopped short of approving a steeper increase in the real estate tax rate than originally proposed by County Administrator Douglas Walker. The administrator’s budget also approved by the board called for increased spending. Supervisor John “Dick” Neese cast the only vote against approving the resolution used to set the tax rate at 54 cents per $100 of the assessed value — an increase of 3 cents from the previous levy of 51 cents. The board did not approve a proposed, 35-cent increase in the personal property tax rate.