Strategy Session Tug of War

Grim pointed out that the residential portion of Vineyard Square (the John Chapman and Mark Nelis development on 21st Street) is 40 condos. “So we lost 39 availabilities, and that falls back to policy… that is 39 availabilities that we have lost. And that is approximately $2 million.”
– Council Member Kelli Grim

On February 22, the Purcellville Town Council held a second Special Financial Strategy Session meeting with their two consultants, David Rose of Davenport, and Eric Callocchia of Municipal and Financial Services Group. During the previous meeting, the Council asked the consultants to return with alternative scenarios, given the broad agreement that growth will not reduce the debt and utility rate burden.

However, the follow-up meeting was contentious, with the consultants backtracking on the assertion that you can’t grow out of debt, and pressing a familiar growth agenda. Members of the Town Council challenged the reversal, pressing the consultants to come up with innovative alternatives for reducing debt and utility rate burdens on citizens, by reducing costs and monetizing the Towns substantial assets.

This meeting was a follow-up with instructions from the Town Council to bring forward multiple concepts for utility rate structures and tiers, and debt finance and consolidation options to tackle the two large balloon payments due in 2020 and 2021. The previous Lazaro Town Council incurred, and then refinanced, most of its existing debt and repackaged it in restrictive nonprofit bonds.

The Town debt is currently just under $60 million. There are two types of debt: tax-supported debt consisting of the General Fund, and Parks and Recreation Fund, totaling $18.1 million; and the self-supported utility debt, consisting of the Water and Sewer Fund totaling $41.3 million. The current Town Council has not added to the debt, but instead has lowered it by well over $1 million.

The difference between the two debts is the tax-supported debt comes primarily from General Fund revenues, and the self-supporting utility debt comes from user fee rates and other charges.

Currently, the Fireman’s Field income is restricted by the nature of the nonprofit bonds and the way the current management contract is structured. If the debt is not refinanced, the other option is to change how the ball fields and the skating rink are managed. The Town could pay a firm a flat rate to manage the properties, allowing the Town to use the revenue for maintenance and debt reduction.

The recurring narrative of both consultants, along with Town Manager Rob Lohr, concentrated on growth as the primary means to paying down the Town debt. “You have a bunch of debt outstanding, no doubt about it,” said Rose.

Mayor Kwasi Fraser asked the consultants to consider a variety of operational efficiencies as part of a solution to manage the town’s high debt and utility rates.

Council Member Nedim Ogelman said, “So, you are saying if we grew a lot, that wouldn’t increase the infrastructure costs?” Rose replied, “We’ll talk about that later.” Ogelman continued, “I don’t think that you are necessarily capturing the whole variety of potential negative externalities … Did you look at other things, like cutting our government expenditures?” He pointed out that the Town has roughly 9,000 residents and, “maybe we are operating like a Town that serves 25,000 people instead of 9,000 people.” Ogelman was referring to a February statement made by Lohr who said he runs the Town as if it were a town of 25,000 residents.

Rose responded, “Whether you have one town manager or seven town managers, that wouldn’t have an impact on the Enterprise Fund.” Ogelman replied, “It will have an impact on the General Fund. But, these are all parts of our debt. Can we cut some of the expenses? Can we bring these costs down?”

“Let’s say you get additional houses, there are additional cars, there are additional other kinds of utilities that have to come in. There is additional wear and tear; there is additional stress on citizens, like traffic. You need additional staff to deal with the additional houses. I want to make sure that we are not looking at something as if there are no costs to it,” said Ogelman.

“The second thing I want to say is I am sensitive to this issue because there is a narrative politically in our town that tries to push the idea that there are no solutions other than significant additional growth … and I am not just willing to accept that on its face,” said Ogelman. Rose responded, “Maybe it does require one or two new policemen or another public works person, and those things have to be taken into account.”

Council Member Kelli Grim suggested using a portion of the Meals Tax to pay down the debt. “Two percent of the Meals Tax could be used for capital and maintenance, for example,” said Grim. Rose answered, “You don’t rob Peter to pay Paul.” However, Grim pointed out that the Lazaro Council used one percent of the Meals Tax to pay for legal fees.

Fraser echoed this point saying that the Meals Tax could be used for the General Fund and the Utility Fund as long as it does not create a deficit in another fund. “Right?” he asked. Rose confirmed that it can be used for any fund. But, for years Lohr had been saying that the funds could not be mixed.

“When you are talking about the Meals Tax and this is robbing Peter to pay Paul concept, what is the analogy for chargebacks? Is that also robbing Peter to pay Paul?” asked Ogelman. Rose said that he wasn’t “qualified enough to give an answer on that one.”

Chargebacks are a portion of expenditures, charged to different funds, for staff work, since staff members do multiple jobs in different departments. Since the Town has separate funds and they are supposed to be self-supporting, the Town bills that way. The Town currently charges each fund $500,000 (General and Sewer) for the chargebacks, which started in 20008.

Grim pointed out that the residential portion of Vineyard Square (the John Chapman and Mark Nelis development on 21st Street) is 40 condos. “So we lost 39 availabilities, and that falls back to policy… that is 39 availabilities that we have lost. And that is approximately $2 million. So if there is a policy that hurts us – there is a policy that allowed that.”

Grim was referring to managements recommendation of charging a single tap fee for the 40 condos, instead of separately metered taps for each of them. Lohr said, “We never really dealt with condominiums, same way with apartments. Condominiums are relatively new in western Loudoun.”

The growth scenario stuck throughout the whole meeting with Rose repeating that the Town has to grow. Ogelman said, “Of course, this all just assumes the closed system. That is to say your whole model is operating in the context of just water and sewer, not all other aspects of a town.” “Absolutely,” replied Callocchia.

“More houses bring additional service needs, and other infrastructure and capital improvement needs,” said Ogelman. “But so, the real challenge we are facing is not how to deal with this closed system that has capital improvement costs and has scale issues. To me, the real issue is how do you look at the costs and potential added revenue from the whole system, and how can we overcome the challenges of getting that potential revenue, and being able to invest it in our sewer and utility. That is the real challenge that we are facing,” said Ogelman.




Purcellville Town Council Meeting – January 10

Senior Campus Concept: Mayor Kwasi Fraser, Council Member Nedim Ogelman, and the Town Attorney met with the representatives of the Stupar property in January. The property is located at Maple and Hirst Road. The owners are interested in putting a senior citizen campus on the land, providing different entry points for seniors, to live, work, and play. Mayor Fraser said he encouraged the owners of the property to engage the community, and get feedback to see if there is support for the proposal to move forward.

Waste Water Solutions: Mayor Fraser also recently met with the Israeli firm Emefcy. The company has a turn-key waste water treatment modular solution, which may complement Purcellville’s state-of-the-art plant, Fraser noted. The firm has a way for the Town to “augment our capabilities at the pump level … [so] we can process the raw sewage before it gets to the plant … We see it as a potential way to increase our operational efficiencies.” Following the meeting, Fraser said that the Emefcy’s solution saves 90 percent of the energy used in wastewater treatment, and avoids energy-intensive pumping, which will mean energy savings for the Town. Fraser said that the Town will need to further evaluate a pilot program with Emefcy and the Department of Environmental Quality to determine the viability of this solution.

Staff Vacancies: At the January 10 Council meeting, the topic turned again to staff vacancies – notably, that of an assistant director of public works, a paralegal, and a part-time event specialist. (The Town already has one part-time event specialist.)

Council Member Kelli Grim said that it was long overdue to have an assistant director of public works. “Regarding the paralegal, we are paying as much to outside firms, currently, as our staff attorney… Are we attempting to do things that are not the Council’s priorities?”

Said Council Member Nedim Ogelman, “This is a town – judging from the election we just had – that is not looking to grow. A town where people do not want taxes to increase. And, we are a town that is trying to manage debt … This is a new Town Council that was brought in through an election where these values were expressed strongly. As a new Town Council [member], I don’t want … strategic decisions to be dictated by previous budgeting decisions.”

Ogelman said that he looked at some other towns in Virginia, and he found data that broke down staff by general functions. He looked at the Town of Warrenton, and noticed that the staff from 2006 to 2015 fluctuated very little, and is slightly smaller now. He noted that the public works, and water and sewer departments were intensive – 56 percent of staff was focused on that department. The public safety departments were significant, leaving other departments at 20 percent. “I would say if the public works, and water and sewer – if those were needs that we had in the past and we need to replenish, then that makes good sense to me.”

Mayor Fraser said he wanted to look at hiring as it relates to efficiency. “I look at things from an operational and process perspective. When I see a request, for example, for an assistant director of public works, my first thought would be – can we promote someone into that position and if the answer is no – I will say, `Why not?’ If we had a director functioning in that role for many years, someone should have been taught to replace that director.” Fraser pointed out that if the Town has to hire someone new, it has to spend resources on advertising and training. The new hire “can’t hit the ground running.”

In reference to these issues, Fraser also said he did not vote for the budget last year, because he wanted certain items in the budget, such as an operational audit. Also, he said, there were budgeted items he did not support.

An operational audit would have shown what the Town’s needs were “within the Town of Purcellville,” said Fraser. “Absent that, I trust staff. I trust your judgment. But, when we are requested to take the taxpayer’s money to pay for something, I need more than just trust to drive my decision. So, that’s where I am with several of the positions.”?Fraser said in a prior meeting he was made aware that some staff positions didn’t have descriptions of their functions. “Those are red flags for me. Let’s get our house in order, so I can understand where the needs are. We can then determine … if we need to hire for these positions. Right now, I am not convinced there is a need.”

At the January 24 Town Council meeting, Council voted against discussing the paralegal position for the third time, since a vote had already been taken and failed. The Council did vote to hire an assistant director of public works, and voted for a part-time events planner. (Mayor Fraser and Council Member Nedim Ogelman voted no, commenting that the position can be filled by volunteers).

Backup Sewer Policy: At the January 10 meeting, Council also moved forward to fix the Town sewer backup policy.

Most Virginia municipalities are only responsible for backups that occur in the main sewer pipes/system. The Town had been paying for backups from residences to the main, and is only one of two localities to do so. Consequently, Purcellville will be revising its policy so the Town is only responsible for backups that occur at the main.

Council Member Kelli Grim said that she strongly supports changing the policy, and would like to put that information in Town water bills. Mayor Fraser said that it is important to do outreach, and inform the citizens of this change. Making this policy change will save the Town at least $100,000 over a ten-year period.

Town Manager Evaluations: For the first time in 23 years, a formal written process has been developed for the town manager annual evaluation. The process began January 31 with the Town Manager’s Annual Report. All council members will complete their evaluations, and conclude the process in a closed meeting with the town manager by mid-March.




Purcellville Town Council Meeting, December Wrap-up

The Purcellville Town Council addressed several important topics in its December proceedings.

Mary’s House of Hope

The Council unanimously approved the sale of the Mary’s House of Hope property.

Mary’s House of Hope is operated by the Good Shepherd Alliance, which has for nine years provided temporary housing for women and children. The Town is selling the property for $300,000. The Good Shepherd Alliance, over the years, has paid for substantial renovations to this formerly abandoned property.

Said Council Member Kelli Grim, “This property was planned to be torn down. Previous Council Member Nick Pelchar and others helped to move it forward to be used for a good cause. This has been functioning in the same use for more than eight years. I do think we are moving in a positive direction.”

Mayor Kwasi Fraser said, “I see this as a dormant asset that we are now waking up … now we will be receiving revenue from it. But, more importantly we will be receiving a cash flow for the benefit of our citizens. So, I see this as a good thing.”

Makersmiths

At long last … the Town will be renting out its former maintenance facility, which has been unused for over 5 years, to the Makersmiths.

The property is located at 785 and 787 South 20th Street. Makersmiths is a popular and dynamic non-profit organization that encourages innovation and invention. The lease, which will hopefully be signed sometime in January, is proposed for 4 years with an option to purchase at a later date. Makersmiths will also make significant improvements to the property annually.

Purcellville Town Wells

Mayor Fraser began this discussion with comments to correct two identical articles that appeared in two local newspapers about Purcellville’s wells. “As I drink a bottle of Deer Park Water, I look at the cover of it and there is a deer on a mountain. That deer is beautiful, he is in a green pasture and it’s a great marketing tool.” But, continued Fraser, “ … that deer could be a source of E.coli. I say this because there were two articles … [stating] that our Hirst well is [raw source water] contaminated with E.coli. That is true, but the context in which the articles were presented was as if Purcellville has one single point of failure. The well that is contaminated with E.coli is the first source before it gets downstream into the drinking water. So, I believe that there should have been due diligence in presenting those articles to say that we have multiple controls in place to prevent your drinking water from getting E.coli.”

Fraser continued, “The test was done when there was a major rainfall and that is one reason why the test can show positive for E.coli. So, I would like to work with staff to present the true picture so our citizens will know that raw water can be tested for E.coli – but we have a pre-chlorination process that should kill E.coli. If that does not work then we do have a filter, and post application of chlorine which will eradicate any E.coli.”

Expanded Recreational Options

The Town’s Parks and Recreation Committee has been working on expanding recreational options for Town residents in a cost-effective manner – looking at grants and outside funding sources.

They have been exploring a pump track, which is a bicycle style park with looping trails of rollers and berms.

The track would take about one and a half to two months to build and would be built on unused Town property on South 20th Street. Council Member Karen Jimmerson said that she would like to honor Robert Harrington by possibly naming the park after him. Harrington tried several years ago to get biking out in the Purcellville area – and December marks one year of his passing. Council Member Nedim Ogelman said that kids need something to do, and this kind of project would reflect the desire of the community.

Request for A Paralegal

The Town Council voted against funding a new position for a paralegal.

Said Council Member Ogelman, “Just looking at and comparing 15 different towns and cities that have more than 8,000 citizens – and what I see out of that analytically is only five of them – one third of them have a paralegal and all of those that said they have a paralegal were towns or cities with at least 15,000 people. Some of them much bigger – like Leesburg with a population of 47,773 or Charlottesville. None of the towns [of] our size – 8,000 to even 15,000 – had a paralegal. But, it begs the question, then, to find out how we produce a bigger demand than these places. We need to work within our means.” He continued, “The towns that have paralegals are big towns or cities where they run school systems and fire departments.”

Town Manager Rob Lohr said, “We are an 8,000-community operating as if we are 25,000. He pointed out that Purcellville is more like Leesburg and Herndon. “When you look at the services and programs, and the committees, commissions and boards, and the budget and the facilities that we operate, we are definitely a lot more like … Leesburg and Herndon …”

Ogelman then said, “Good governance is having an administration and governance that is commiserate to the value, size and scope of the community that it is serving, not bigger, not smaller. He pointed out that Leesburg has a population of 47,773 people. Ogelman mentioned that Leesburg with a budget of $94 million spends six percent of its budget on legal, and Purcellville with a budget of $21 million spends 10 percent on legal.

Council Member Ryan Cool pointed out that the Town incurred a lot of legal expenses during Purcellville’s growth period. “What is causing the need to have so much legal demand now,” he asked. Lohr responded that the town generates a lot of work. “We always want to go much larger, there is an expectation.”

“This is a band new council,” pointed out Council Member Grim. “[We] did not approve this enhancement. “We are not in a growth spirt.” Grim said that the Town is currently paying the same dollar amount to outside law firms as the Town is paying for its in-house attorney – approximately $250,000 for both. Looking at a list of 55 items from the town attorney, Grim said, “What I see is no priority – [ for example] drafting a false alarm ordinance for the police – you don’t have to reinvent the wheel because there are 50 other towns that have that type of ordinance already in place.” She continued, “We do need to look at the priorities on this list because it might not fit with the priorities of this council.”

“This is an opportunity to run a leaner ship,” said Mayor Fraser.




Purcellville October Town Council Meetings

Town Council Meeting October 11
Zoning Text Amendment:

In early October, the Purcellville Town Council voted to send zoning text amendments to the Planning Commission for review. The motion, initiated by Council Member Kelli Grim passed 5-2 with Council Members Doug McCollum and Chris Bledsoe voting no. The zoning text aments include the following:
Change the zoning ordinance back to lower the maximum building heights allowed in the C-4 District. This includes 21st Street, Hatcher and parts of Main Street – the Downtown Central Commercial District. In 2008, the Lazaro Council raised the building heights allowed in this district from 35 ft. to 65 ft. – six stories – based on the advocacy of developers John Chapman and Mark Nelis and the Vineyard Square development. This review, if passed, would keep building heights in line with the original purpose of the district.

Change the ordinance to add tree preservation requirements on non-residential properties, and to increase the required tree and vegetative plantings within the stream and creek buffer.

Added screening and buffering requirements – this would provide buffers and screening between commercial and residential properties to minimize harmful impacts.

Change the ordinance to add civil financial penalties for violations to the zoning ordinance related to signage, landscaping, starting a building project without a permit, outside storage of vehicles on commercial property to name a few.

Grim, who is also the council liaison to the planning commission, said that the review was based on the Comprehensive Plan and issues that had been on the Planning Commission priority list for quite some time. Grim pointed out that Catoctin Corner (Main Street and 287) was a perfect example, noting that if there had been an updated zoning text amendment at that time, some mature trees could have been saved. She noted that the residents have expressed their concern about these issues. “At the time in 2008 when the changes occurred, they were in direct conflict with the Comprehensive Plan.”
Council Member Nedim Ogelman said, “As members of the Town Council what we do is we express and represent the values of our citizens. This is a value that has been expressed by the citizens of the town and by the Planning Commission – we are saying yes we want you to pursue these things.”

Other Topics:
The Council voted unanimously not to raise the business tax rates for the next year.
The Town Council also voted to pass the sports grant funding program, supports sports organizations and provides $5,200 in funding. Started in 2008, this has been managed by the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board to help various teams from around Loudoun County came to the Town Council asking for money. Said Grim, “We want to help first and foremost the children in our community.” Council Member Karen Jimmerson said, “I would like to see it go to kids who can’t afford to play sports – so that they can and that they are residents of Town because it is their tax money.” She continued, “My biggest problem with this is that it doesn’t go to the kids who need it. Most of the teams that have gotten the money in prior years have not been Purcellville based teams – they are from all over.”

Town Council Meeting October 25
Local Control Over Annexations

Council Member Nedim Ogelman raised the issue of two resolutions passed by a majority on previous council.

One resolution considers the annexation wishes of Loudoun County land owners as a part of Purcellville’s Comprehensive Plan Review.

The other resolution requests that the County Board of Supervisors collaborate with the Town to consider the annexation proposal from Pleasants Kline – Purcellville Crossroads.

Ogelman said he would like to revise part of the first resolution and repeal the second resolution. Ogelman said he wants to take action on these resolutions because they do not represent the values that most Purcellville citizens expressed during the election. All of the newly-elected members of the Town Council campaigned on not expanding Purcellville’s boarders, unless there was widespread citizen demand. These two resolutions as written don’t “reflect what we’re doing and why we are having a Comprehensive Plan,” said Ogelman.

Town staff has been using the two resolutions as a guide to the Planning Commission during the review.




Purcellville Town Council Schedules Meetings on Comprehensive Plan

The Purcellville Town Council has scheduled special meetings for the purpose of discussing and considering, but taking no action on, the town’s Comprehensive Plan. 

On October 13, there will be a meeting at 7:00 p.m. in the Town Hall. On October 20, there will be a meeting at 7:00 p.m. in the Town Hall.

On October 27, there will be a meeting at 7:00 p.m. in the Town Hall. On November 5, there will be a meeting from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. in the Town Hall and then from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. in the Town Hall.




Purcellville Strategic Planning Session Brainstorms on Town’s Vision

The Purcellville Town Council held its annual strategic planning session September  9-10 at the Purcellville Train Station. The sessions, taking place on Friday from 12:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., and Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., were moderated on Saturday by Mike Chandler.
Sessions with department heads started with Administration/IT, Town Attorney, Finance, Community Development, Public Works, and the Police Department. The council also met with the chairs of the Planning Commission, the Board of Architectural Review, the Purcellville Economic Development Advisory Committee, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, and the Arts Council.

The strategic meeting set the tone for greater transparency and citizen engagement in local government. Other highlights included:

Broadband: Broadband strategy was discussed, with Vice Mayor Karen Jimmerson in favor of finding ways to advance high speed internet for the Town of Purcellville. Jimmerson said she also wants to explore how the town could better serve small businesses and facilitate the process of opening small businesses. She said she favors developing a process to engage residents when they move into town.

Schools: Strengthening schools with a homework club, and collecting school supplies for kids at drop off places, such as Shamrock Music Shoppe, the Re-Love It consignment shop, and the town hall were also a topics of interest, discussed by Jimmerson.

Personal Property Taxes: Council Member Ryan Cool said he wants to look at ways to minimize personal property taxes, a burden for town residents. He also said he wants the town to do a better job of providing information to citizens.

Zoning: Council Member Kelli Grim said she will be re-evaluating recent zoning-use changes to determine if they are in alignment with the Comprehensive Plan.

Commercial Property Vacancies: Council Member Chris Bledsoe, along with the Economic Advisory Committee, will be studying ways to fill the vacancies for commercial properties, while talking to business owners. EDAC will work with the Woodgrove High School and Loudoun Valley High School marketing departments to find creative ways to address the commercial vacancies in the Town of Purcellville.

Citizen Engagement: Council Member Nedim Ogelman said he wants to create a mechanism for more citizen engagement and transparency, and also – along with other council members – said he wants to implement OpenGov. Council Member Doug McCollum suggested that the Town Council have regular meetings with citizens.

Lower Water/Sewer Rates: Mayor Kwasi Fraser said he will continue to try to find ways to lower the town’s water and sewer rates, including but not limited to, increased bulk water sales, water reclamation, and using a portion of the meals tax to cover the inherited waste water treatment debt. “This council is eager to move forward with the many potential solutions to the issues we face,” he said, adding that he is looking at ways to maximize the value of town assets such as the 198-acre Aberdeen property – 180 acres of which is unused.

Community Services: Council Member Kelli Grim said she wants to collaborate with nearby towns, and share information and resources. She is working with Loudoun Cares to establish Purcellville Cares. This would give essential services to families in need. “Partnering with Loudoun Cares and our charitable organizations to identify needs of our local residents, and provide assistance to families and senior citizens is essential to our community,” said Grim. Grim said she wants to live-stream town meetings, and make them available to the public on the town’s website. Financial policies of the town have to be reviewed, she stressed.

Transportation: Many council members stressed the importance of making the Rt. 7/Rt. 690 interchange a top priority, as well as bike trails and improved pedestrian mobility throughout the town.




Purcellville Town Council Meetings – September

By Valerie Cury
The newly elected members of the Purcellville Town Council wasted no time moving forward on more open government measures and transparency measures during the month of September.

Transparency Software
The town council voted to approved the purchase of OpenGov, a financial transparency software used by many localities in Virginia.

With the easy-to-use, collaborative, OpenGov software, citizens will be able to see how every dollar is spent. This system gives the residents the opportunity to view data, analyze charts and also track information other than budgets. Said Council Member Nedim Ogelman, “Citizens will come up with creative ideas based on looking at things and actually find savings.” Mayor Fraser said, “It is an investment in trust.”

The town will pay $26,932.50 for the software, over a three-year period.

Town Audit
Council also discussed doing an efficiency audit, with three different kinds of audits laid out by staff. One would be organized by the employees of each department, another would be run by staff and a commission of citizens and the third would be conducted by an outside firm.

Council Member Nedim Ogelman said, “The one word that stands out to me is independent. It has to be independent of us. I think we need to embrace and look for opportunities of improvement.”

Said Council Member Chris Bledsoe, “There is a lot of value to having an independent set of eyes on it.”

Mayor Fraser said, “The goal is to first establish a base line, and provide the entity with what the current state is and what … your major challenges [are] and how you can get to a future state. So all I am hearing from our council members is a need for us to improve. There is always room for improvement.” He continued, “From a board prospective, at least sitting as your mayor, I don’t want to be surprised again by a $400,000-dollar software. And, I don’t know what the next surprise would be. From my prospective we need to get someone that is independent, and it will be councils’ decision – it will not be the [town’s] CEO Rob Lohr’s decision. This council needs to decide if it will be an end-to-end operational audit with all of our departments, or just finance – because that’s where the buck stops.”

Real Parties In Interest
The town council moved forward with the Real Parties In Interest legislation, which requires land development applicants to disclose a list of firms, individuals and organizations – everyone – with an interest in a project. Council Member Kelli Grim has been trying to get council to pass this for over 5 years. However, it was not supported by a majority of previous councils, because it lacked support of the Purcellville Business Association – at the time PBA board member developer John Chapman said he did not want anyone to know who his investors were. RPI would require a zoning ordinance amendment, going to the Planning Commission and then Town Council.

POLCO
Council Member Nedim Ogelman has been working with staff to implement what is known as POLCO – a civic-engagement platform connecting citizens and their local governments.

With POLCO, the company takes the voter roll and ensures that only verified addresses are used in town citizen involvement processes. It prevents users from creating multiple accounts and voting multiple times. “Real-time questions would be asked and the citizens would answer yes or no,” said Ogelman. “The beauty of this kind of work is … the things coming up – you have real-time feedback or close to real-time. The biggest issue is introducing it to citizens and making sure they are comfortable using it.” The monthly cost of POLCO is $100.
Live Streaming Of Meetings

Council Member Kelli Grim is working to implement live streaming of town meetings. The town already has camera equipment in the council chambers, but to date, it has not been used.

Zoning Ordinance Revisions
At the September 27 Town Council Meeting Grim asked the Town Council to move forward with zoning ordinances revisions:

Stream and Creek Buffer Zoning Text Amendments, which govern the construction of structures and parking adjacent to major stream areas. This would promote water quality and help preserve significant environmental resource areas. (The issue was previously brought before the Planning Commission by Commissioner Chip Paciulli.)

Building Height Limits in the C-4 District. This addresses 21st Street, part of Main Street and Hatcher Avenue – the Downtown Central Commercial District. In 2008, the Lazaro Council raised the building heights allowed in this district from 35 ft. to 65 ft. (or six stories), based on the advocacy of developers John Chapman and Mark Nelis.?This Sept. 27 effort would lower the height limit from six stories, and keep building heights in line with the purpose of the district, which states in part: “New buildings should be designed and constructed to be compatible with and in context with adjacent buildings.”

Limited Civil Penalties. This effort would provide for enforcement for violations ordinances relating to signage, landscaping, commencing a building project without a permit, offending noise and outside storage of vehicles on commercial property to name a few.

Screening And Buffering Requirements. This effort would provide for barriers, buffering and screening between commercial and residential properties to minimize harmful impacts.

Tree Clearing. This effort would require some mature trees to be preserved on commercial development properties.

The revisions were presented for consideration so the town council can direct the planning commission to weigh in before issues go to a public hearing and back to the town council for a public hearing and vote. “These are critical issues that need to be considered to preserve the quality of life and protect our small town charm,” said Grim.




Citizens’ Voices Defended at Joint Comp Plan Review

The Purcellville Planning Commission and Town Council held a joint meeting September 8 to discuss the Town’s Comprehensive Plan Review. The major points of discussion in the review revolved around issues of growth – specifically how broad the language should be and how far into the future should the town go.

A few planning commissioners want the Comp Plan to incorporate broad language – allowing for purposely flexible planning to allow expansion of the Town’s boundaries in the future. On the other side of the discussion, Town Council Member and Planning Commissioner Kelli Grim has argued that the residents of Purcellville do not want to grow outside the Town’s existing boundaries. Said Grim: “It is time that we focus on growth and development inside the boundaries of our beautiful small Town.” Senior Planner Daniel Galindo, expressed his preference of focusing the Comp Plan “25 years out” – presumably allowing for greater flexibility. But, Commissioner Tip Stinnette said that the citizens would be much better served focusing the larger portion of the plan on the next 10 years.

Mayor Kwasi Fraser said that he didn’t think it is wise or prudent to have a development plan all the way into 2034 or beyond. And, Stinnette agreed with this saying, “Part of our problem here is that we are trying to project what we are going to look like in 2040. And, to be completely honest with you none of us have a clue. The point being is if you look at Middleburg and the other Towns in Loudoun County, they have taken their planning documents – their Comp Plan – and have actually brought it in and said I want to build a plan with 10 year assumptions, and if those things change within five years, we will change it, we will redesign it.”

By law, the Comp Plan must be reviewed every five years, as the guiding document for whether or not the town pursues zoning use changes and annexations.

Stinnette continued, “Let’s just figure out how to get to 10 years from now. That is a foundational question, I personally say go with 10 years … and there are other people who say we ought to be looking out 25 years. Until we figure this out we are going to get this mixed vibe … I do think if we design a tight plan that basically says we are not in the business of growth and are not in the business of annexation we are looking at a 10-year horizon.”

The problem with envisioning a future for Purcellville to 2040 is that speculative assumptions about the far future end up shaping the plan for the next five years.

Adding to the discussion, Chair Theresa Stein said, “If you put up the hard boundary, you put up the wall, somebody has to wait a year to get the Comp Plan amended, then I don’t think we have done our job because we cut them off and an opportunity has been lost. And, what do you have, we do the Town a disservice if we say there is a line.”

Town Council Member Nedim Ogelman pointed out that it is not a matter of making a line or not, it’s a question of whether citizens or outside special interests are better positioned to influence the future of the town. Purcellville citizens have clearly expressed their desire to preserve “our small town.” The Comprehensive Plan should tightly and unambiguously reflect this prevailing sentiment. If a developer wants to deviate from this expressed will of the citizens, a Comprehensive Plan amendment is the most appropriate vehicle because it forces a more transparent process giving the citizens a chance to scrutinize, deliberate and decide whether or not they want to go in a different direction. A loosely worded Comprehensive Plan, continued Ogelman, would give outside special interests the room they want to change Purcellville against the expressed will of the citizens.




Purcellville Town Council Schedules Meetings on Comprehensive Plan

The Purcellville Town Council has scheduled special meetings for the purpose of discussing and considering, but taking no action on, the town’s Comprehensive Plan.

On September 22, there will be a meeting at 7:00 p.m. in the Town Hall. On September 24, there will be a meeting from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at the Carver Center. On September 24, there will be a meeting from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. at the Carter Center.

On September 29, there will be a meeting from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. in the Town Hall. On October 6, there will be a meeting at 7:00 p.m. in the Town Hall. On October 13, there will be a meeting at 7:00 p.m. in the Town Hall. On October 20, there will be a meeting at 7:00 p.m. in the Town Hall.

On October 27, there will be a meeting at 7:00 p.m. in the Town Hall. On November 5, there will be a meeting from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. in the Town Hall. On November 5, there will be a meeting from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. in the Town Hall.




Purcellville Council Meeting and Work Session

By Nathaniel Stephens

The Purcellville town council meeting May 10 discussed three issues of important business: Awarding a contract for the creation of a promotional video for the town, deciding on ticket pricing and discounts for residents in the upcoming Wine and Food festival, and deciding how the council will address complaints brought against a council member by a citizen.

In a previous council meeting on April 26, the council was introduced to a company out of Rochester, New York. The company, CGI, has thirty years’ experience producing videos for over 3,000 municipalities in both the United States and Canada. They would produce seven promotional videos at no cost to the town and CGI would make its profit from selling advertising space around the video player, on the town’s new website set to roll out in June, to local businesses. Councilwoman Lehr upheld her belief about CGI’s advertising model stating she “had a problem with [the] advertising aspect of it” thinking it would aesthetically take away from the website and favor some businesses over others.

The majority on council did not think it best to choose CGI immediately, but instead opened competitive bidding to include other options. Ten options returned to the council on May 10: All of which required the town to pay something whether it be in staff time or actual funds. Estimated costs were ranging from $10,000 to $40,000 depending upon how many videos the town wanted made. The cheapest option outside CGI was Monroe Tech in Leesburg where the students would produce one video, free of charge, with town staff assistance; this however, would be experimental as Monroe Tech has never done anything like this before. Council Member Kelli Grim found the challenge a great opportunity for the Leesburg high school calling it a “wonderful option”.

Ultimately, CGI’s initial offer was too good to pass up.

So, the Purcellville town council voted six to one, with Council Member Lehr in the minority, to contract CGI for the town promotional video.

The next order of business covered the Purcellville Wine and Food festival. The town conducted a survey to find out how many of its residents participated in the local event and found that 70-75 percent of attendees come from outside Purcellville. In order to encourage local involvement, the council had been exploring a discount ticket option for residents that would cut the cost of attendance by half. The proposal would provide a discount code, and would be put with the June utility bill, and could be redeemed online beforehand or at the gate on the day of the event.

Staff did raised concerns about “bleed over” or having the discount code go public outside of town where nonresidents would benefit from the discount and so preferred the first option where tickets were reduced in price across the board for everyone. This option would then require less management from the town by reducing logistics at the gate and online.

The council majority did not see things that way. They liked the discount code option, “Our town citizens do pay towards this event and [as such] deserve a discount” said Vice-Mayor Patrick McConville. As the meeting agenda put it “there is no efficient way to ensure that only in-town residents are using the code”: The majority of council elected to have a discount code distributed to town residents in a vote of five to two.

Towards the end of the meeting, the council addressed the recent need for dealing with public complaints against a council member. The town attorney, Sally Hankins, drafted a description of possible processes which other localities across the country have used.

At the moment, the town is not obligated to handle complaints against a council member. Of the options provided to the council, the group was undecided on what approach would best satisfy the pressing desire for accountability. A third party option was suggested, at the added expense to the town budget, but some members, like Council Member Grim, were interested in a randomized Ad Hoc hearing where a mixture of councilmembers and citizens could oversee proceedings. The idea received bittersweet reception since it could have the possibility of becoming a drawn out and expensive process.

The council was undecided upon a proper course of action, thus they adjourned to deliberate further and to come to a decision at the next meeting on May 24.

May 24 Meeting
May 24 found the council with resolution. Upon further discussion they decided that any complaint should be made public for the next public meeting. Then the Council would decide on whether the complaint had merit and jurisdiction within the Council’s power to be handled.

As such, the Council would have the authority to decide on what decorum is appropriate for a member of Council.

Other material discussed was the lease renewal of the Purcellville police department. Currently located on Hirst Road. While the location is adequate for the police, Chief of Police Cynthia McAlister is requesting certain precautions taken with security which would include the addition of blast proof glass for the front of the building, keycard accessed doors, and numerous other renovations which require a cost of $35,000. The investment amount would be shared between the Town and Lowers Risk Group, the new owner of the building, with tax payers covering two-thirds of the cost over the course of the life of the lease.

Also, the council discussed the new budget for the upcoming fiscal year. This included discussions on the sale of town property, the bulk sale of water, and the possibility of growth versus rate hikes.

The Town of Purcellville is in the process of selling property, on 20th Street, to Mary’s House of Hope and plans to use the income from that sale to reduce utility cost at the benefit of the town’s citizens. Council Member Joan Lehr has been against the usage of the income from the sale to reduce taxes stating, “This is a onetime income that is supposed to go into onetime reserves for onetime expenses, it’s not to be used to lower taxes for a period of time.”

Mayor Kwasi Fraser retorted that “From a business perspective that would be a dangerous policy to have on paper.” Staff later clarified in the conversation that Council Member Lehr’s opinion was based on a guideline and not on a concrete fiscal policy.

The town has also been conducting a bulk sale of water for swimming pools. Currently the town has a 40,000-gallon cap on its bulk sale: Meaning the water facility has the capacity to create up to 40,000 gallons a day of surplus water. This would create an extra avenue for income to the town at little to no extra cost. Council Member Lehr was uncomfortable with the idea of the Town selling bulk water at rates below what local businesses pay for their water. However, the Mayor noted that this was a case of “Economics of scales” since the water does not travel through the existing infrastructure to make it to its end point. It’s a simple case of someone pulling up to fill at a facility. It was also pointed out at the meeting that the rate was significantly higher than the Town of Leesburg.

The budget vote was pushed to the next council meeting, June 14, as some members wanted to have more time to examine the budget.




Purcellville Comprehensive Plan Meeting Rescheduled

Saturday, February 6 – 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. at the Carver Center

The Town of Purcellville has rescheduled the comprehensive plan meetings from January 23 to February 6. 

Residents of the Town of Purcellville and all other interested persons are invited to express their opinions about Purcellville’s future and discuss updating the Town’s comprehensive plan at two public meetings being held by the Purcellville Planning Commission on Saturday, February 6 at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. at the Carver Center located at 200 Willie Palmer Way, Purcellville..  The meetings will be led by town staff and are expected to last approximately two hours each.  Both meetings will cover the same topics with a focus on discussing the opportunities and constraints the Town may face over the next 20 years.

A comprehensive plan is an official public document adopted by the Town that articulates the community’s vision for its future; it serves as a guide for decision-making and future development.  The Purcellville, Virginia 2025 Comprehensive Plan was adopted by the Town in December 2006, and while many changes have occurred in Purcellville since its adoption, the comprehensive plan has not been significantly updated during that time.  Because of this, Town Council has made updating the comprehensive plan a top priority in an effort to ensure that the plan’s goals and policies continue to accurately reflect the needs and desires of Purcellville residents.

In December 2015 the majority of the town council (Council Members Joan Lehr, Doug McCollum, Patrick McConville and Ben Packard) voted to pass sweeping zoning use changes. Mayor Fraser, Council Members Karen Jimmerson and John Nave voted against the zoning use changes. Dozens of citizens spoke at the public input sessions, public hearings and council meetings urging the council to wait until after the comprehensive plan review. Many of the changes enacted changed the purpose of some districts

These two meetings are the first in a series of community engagement meetings that the Town will hold in 2016 as it works to update the Town’s comprehensive plan.  The next meeting date is tentatively scheduled for March 19; the location has yet to be determined.




An Invitation from the Mayor: Let’s Plan Purcellville

By Mayor Kwasi Fraser
Purcellville’s current Comprehensive Plan has not been updated since December 19, 2006.  A review was completed in 2011, but that review was not thorough and did not involve significant citizen participation.  Currently, we are in the process of initiating our review and revision of the Comprehensive Plan, and I encourage all of our citizens to become engaged in this process.

Without a Comprehensive Plan, the canvas of zoning ordinance becomes an erasable white-board driven by short term decisions with little regard for the will of citizens or for careful analysis of intended and unintended consequences. With our significant financial investment in the Comprehensive Plan review and revision, we will have the expertise of professionals leading the efforts of our planning staff to carefully extract and document the long and short term visions of Purcellville from our citizens.  The result will be a guide, driven by the will of our citizens, for our zoning and development decisions. 

I invite all citizens to attend one of the two sessions scheduled for Saturday, February 6, at the Carver Center from 10:00 a.m. – noon and 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.  This is our opportunity as a community to create the vision of Purcellville’s future by gathering and assessing information, by identifying problems and possible solutions, and by taking action.




Paist Abruptly Resigns Purcellville Planning Commission

Position Again Filled By Council Member Doug McCollum

At the beginning of the October 15 Purcellville Planning Commission meeting, Chairman Gil Paist made a motion to put a vote for the election of a new chair and vice chair on the agenda for the evening.

Typically new appointments/changes to those serving on the commission are made on an annual basis at the body’s first meeting in the month of November.

Paist gave as a reason for the sudden action that he was not going to be able to attend that upcoming meeting. Commissioner Theresa Stein also said she would not be able to attend the November meeting, and this point was echoed by Planning Commission and town council liaison Doug McCollum, who said he would also probably not be able to attend.

The motion to set the vote for that evening passed 4–2–1 – with Commissioners Chip Paciulli, Paist , McCollum and Stein voting yes, commissioners Nedim Ogelman and EJ Van Istandal voting no, and commissioner Chris Bledsoe absent for the vote (due to a delayed flight).

Commissioner Ogelman was on record as saying that the vote for the election of a new chair and vice chair for the Planning Commission should take place at the regularly scheduled time in November.

At the end of the meeting Paist made a motion to nominate his predecessor, Town Council member and Council Liaison Doug McCollum, once again to the position of chair. Ogelman made a motion to nominate Commissioner Stein. She declined. A motion was then made by Commissioner Paciulli to make Stein Vice Chair, which she accepted. There was no vote as there were no other nominations.

At the end of the meeting Paist announced that he is resigning from the Planning Commission due to work and family obligations.