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Purcellville Town Council Meeting – January 10

February 2, 2017 by Blue Ridge Leader filed under Committees at a Glance, Government, News No Comments
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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.

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