Year in Review: Area counties kept busy in 2014

Shenandoah County Fire and Rescue training chief Bill Streett tapes off the scene of the Shenandoah County Farm fire. Rich Cooley/Daily file

Shenandoah and Warren County leaders took up some major local issues in 2014.

Elected leaders in both counties voted in the spring to increase real estate tax rates to cover projected revenue shortfalls in their fiscal 2015 budgets. Each board raised taxes for different reasons. In Shenandoah County, the increase was needed to raise enough money to cover the School Board’s spending request. Warren County supervisors raised taxes to cover the cost for the Sheriff’s Office to replace deputies lost with the opening of the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail.

The counties also faced their own unique issues. Shenandoah County’s Board of Supervisors began 2014 with two new members, Cindy Bailey and Marsha Shruntz.

In early February, Shenandoah County supervisors rejected a proposal from People Inc. to build low-income, senior housing on a vacant lot on the former Woodstock School property. The project did not include any reuse of the school building. Vocal opponents of the proposal said such a project would leave the vacant school building susceptible to degradation and vandalism.

In mid March, Shenandoah County lost its historic Alms House to a fire. The blaze destroyed the building used at the time by the Shenandoah Alliance for Shelter to house homeless people and families. County officials made an effort to at least memorialize the site and the Alms House’s contribution to local history as a place for the poor and homeless community.

Throughout the year, Shenandoah County officials and supervisors continued working with membership in the Toms Brook Volunteer Fire Department to reach a deal on how to improve living quarters for paid firefighters. After much discussion about the issue among the parties, both in public meetings and in private within the department membership, the Board of Supervisors failed to approve an agreement with the volunteer organization. The volunteers rejected an alternative offered by the county and asked that paid firefighters leave the department station and remove their equipment. The county reassigned the paid firefighters.

In November, the Board of Supervisors accepted a gift of land with a building in Woodstock from the Sheriff’s Office. Once used as the location for an undercover operation in conjunction with federal law enforcement agents, the sheriff is considering the property as a possible site for a new headquarters.

Shenandoah County also saw changes in its government office staff. Longtime Budget Manager Garland Miller Jr. left in the spring and was later replaced by Mandy Belyea, who took on the role of finance director. Belyea previously worked for Woodstock as its finance director. The county also hired New Market Town Manager Evan Vass as the assistant county administrator. County Planner Patrick Felling recently switched from the Office of Community Development to take over as the new director of solid waste.

In Warren County, officials and leaders spent most of the year dealing with how to regulate short-term tourist rentals. Tareq Salahi had been renting out a home he owns in the county to tourists, but did not have a permit. Salahi failed to receive the Board of Supervisors’ blessing for a permit after neighbors protested his request. The issue spurred more than a dozen property owners to file for permits. After some were approved and others denied, supervisors sent the relatively new regulation back to the Planning and Zoning Department and the Planning Commission worked on revising the ordinance. Supervisors adopted the revised ordinance by the end of the year and the Planning Commission has resumed its work on considering rental permits.

Warren County and Front Royal leaders saw the completion of an effort to add more than 600 acres of undeveloped land in the county to the town. The Front Royal Limited Partnership seeks to annex the area into the town with the intention of developing the land in the future.

Also during 2014, Warren County leaders saw a number of major transportation improvement projects move forward or reach completion. The county celebrated the long-awaited completion of the new bridge on Indian Hollow Road. The state project replaces the single-lane, low-water bridge with a raised crossing. The county also recently celebrated the completion of a project to improve a section of Old Oak Lane in the Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District as part of an ongoing process to shift many of the rural routes into the state maintenance system.

Warren County also saw movement with VDOT’s proposed replacement of the troubled bridge on Morgan Ford Road. VDOT plans to build a two-lane, raised bridge at the crossing. However, the design approval process hit some bumps when opponents presented an alternative, scaled-back proposal. VDOT recently set a public hearing on the proposed design for early February, indicating that various agencies reviewing the proposed project had finished their work in the approval process.

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