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.