Year in Review: Counties marked milestones, dealt with spending needs
Shenandoah and Warren counties spent 2015 embarking on or completing major projects while also dealing with increased spending needs and taxes.
Warren County ended the year by cutting the ribbon on its new Health and Human Services Complex – the former 15th Street school building renovated to house the Department of Social Services and the Health Department. Officials with Front Royal, the county and the Economic Development Authority also broke ground on the long-awaited Leach Run Parkway project.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Richard Traczyk reflected on the year that kept the county busy.
“Last year has been impressive,” Traczyk said Monday. “The cooperation (that) the town and county working together has accomplished in the past year has been astounding.”
The supervisor noted the benefits of the two projects in the town limits.
“We worked together with the town to make sure all these things happen,” Traczyk said.
The EDA also helped draw IT Federal to the former Avtex Fibers site – an information technology firm expected to create hundreds of new jobs for the town and the county. Traczyk called this another monumental achievement for the area.
Other accomplishments occurred in Warren County in 2015:
• Beginning construction of the second middle school on land near the future Leach Run Parkway
• Gooney Creek Bridge replacement on U.S. 340 with an improved intersection at Poor House Road
• Making progress on the replacement of the U.S. 340-522 bridge over the South Fork of the Shenandoah River
• Renovating the government center to include security upgrades, carpeting and customer service counters in the Commissioner of Revenue and Treasurer’s offices and the installation of acoustic panels for the supervisors’ meeting room
• Completing the easement acquisition project for the Warren County Airport
• Constructing a kiss-and-ride facility on Freezeland Road for school buses
• Installing a traffic signal on U.S. 340-522 North at the McDonald’s/Hampton Inn entrance
• Implementing the EnerGov software for building inspections and county and town planning departments
• Making progress on the cost-sharing, road projects in Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District with the Virginia Department of Transportation
“So it’s been a very active year,” Traczyk said. “I think we’ve accomplished a great deal. Hopefully we can continue moving our community forward.”
Shenandoah County also had its share of accomplishments in 2015. Construction of a new cell for the landfill began this year. The county can expect to see the completion of the multi-million dollar project later in 2016. The county needed to create the new cell to extend the life of the landfill as it reached capacity. Earlier in the year the county worked with firms to keep an eye on the levels of chemicals and methane that seep from the landfill, mainly the closed cell, into the surrounding groundwater.
Shenandoah County also saw construction of improvements to dams at Bryce Resort move forward. While the project did not require local funding, officials touted the multi-million dollar initiative as a plus for the county.
Shenandoah County saw the completion of its real estate reassessment by the contracted appraisal firm. Countywide results varied among property owners who can contest the new values with the firm and, if desired, the Board of Equalization next year.
The county also assisted in major expansions for the Bowman Andros Products plant and the Route 11 Potato Chips facility both in Mount Jackson.
Shenandoah County also hired a firm to help determine the space needs of the Sheriff’s Office and to design a new headquarters for the agency.
Both counties also faced tough choices coming up with balanced budgets that met their fiscal needs. In Shenandoah County’s case, supervisors voted 4-2 to approve the fiscal 2016 budget of $109.01 million. Rather than increase the real estate tax rate to generate revenue needed to balance the budget, the board allocated money from the county’s savings to cover large expenses such as paying its share of the cost to run the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail. A majority of the supervisors agreed to use savings to partially fund the School Board’s spending request.
In Warren County, supervisors approved a $98.17 million budget that reflects an increase in the real estate tax rate. The board didn’t increase the rate as high as originally considered. Supervisors raised the tax rate to generate the revenue needed to cover the county’s share of the cost to run the regional jail and the construction of the new middle school.
Traczyk noted that the tax increases over the years helped Warren County build projects in its aggressive, capital improvement program since he’d held office. Traczyk said he expects the county will transition from building projects to maintaining the facilities it has. Whether this approach requires any tax increases remains uncertain.
“It’s just hard to say what will come but we been aggressive and I think the people have overwhelmingly supported what the board has done over the past few years,” Traczyk said. “There’s been very little resistance to tax increases and they’ve been minor.”
Warren County’s tax rate remains one of the lowest in the region, Traczyk said. The county also spends the least per capita among the surrounding jurisdictions, he added.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org