Friday, March 27, 2015

Council Comments from March 24, 2015

I have made my Public Comments from the March 24th, 2015 Town Council Meeting available via Scribd.  Included was my response to the most recent editorial in the Purcellville Gazette.

This meeting included a presentation from the International Mountain Bike Association which can be viewed also via Scribd.  I believe in open dialogue about economic opportunities in Purcellville. Members of staff and town council will only consider those which will not destroy the natural environment and can be done in the least impactful manner to the environment and the neighboring property owners.

Brad Quinn, from the Purcellville Volunteer Fire Department, also gave a presentation on the operations and funding of our local Fire Department.  80% of all Purcellville residents do not know that our fire department is a volunteer organization with 120+ volunteers.   Members of our community volunteer their time and energy to provide fire services which saves close to a million dollars a year in operational costs to taxpayers.  When you get their envelope in the mail, please consider making a donation or do so at this link.  

The weather in Purcellville for Spring Break is looking pleasant.  Enjoy your travels and time off from school or work.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Letter to the Editor - Leesburg Today

It is nice to see a supportive letter to the editor in the Leesburg Today.  It has become clear during my short time in office that some will try and exploit anything, no matter how innocuous, in an effort to destroy efforts at good governance.  Since the complaint was lodged during our council meeting, several of my other colleagues have participated in similar email exchanges between council members with nary a corrective refrain given. The hypocrisy is quite palatable
I have been accused have having an "agenda."  If representing the people and doing what is right and just is an agenda,  then so be it.  Just because I am unwilling to go along with the past established political culture in Purcellville doesn't mean I have an agenda.  As an elected official there are certain expectations and practices that are acceptable and not acceptable, and I am simply doing the job I was elected to do.    
"The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any" -Alice Walker
I encourage the public to be more active and involved in their local government.  That involvement is what keeps the power balance in check and holds those who hold elected office accountable.  

Dear Editor: 
Want to know a surefire way to keep residents from coming back to town council meetings? Adopt Purcellville Council member Doug McCollum's proposal to reduce e-mails between council members.

Rather than hash out some details before the next meeting, residents would be stuck listening to hours and hours of debate and questions. You would have far less transparency, because there's a good chance no one would show up.

Furthermore, Council member Karen Jimmerson is correct in noting that those interested in transparency should be happy to know that there is a "paper trail" of conversations between council members. "Transparency" does not mean "we need to know every last detail of what ever member of the council is thinking." "Transparency" means making the most relevant information open and readily available to the public. It seems to me that the Purcellville Council is far more transparent than a certain potential U.S. presidential candidate, and that's something the council should be proud of.
Joe Luppino-Esposito, Round Hill

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Recap of the March 10, 2015 Council Meeting

Our evening started off with Boy Scout Troop 743 leading our meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance.  The Troop stayed to watch the proceedings as they seek to gain a merit badge based on civic engagement.  As everyone recited the pledge, it brought me great joy and pride hearing the many voices filling our Town Hall and seeing the process of government being open to all who came to take part.  

The council chambers were quite full last night as speakers came to give their comments on items on our agenda.  

First up was Chuck Izzo, owner and operator of Appalachian Outdoor Readiness & Essentials  who gave a presentation on how the Town could benefit by becoming an Appalachian Trail Community.™  The program is designed to recognize communities that promote and protect the Appalachian Trail (A.T.).  Towns, counties, and communities along the A.T.’s corridor are considered assets by all that use the A.T. and many of these towns act as good friends and neighbors to the Trail. The program serves to assist communities with sustainable economic development through tourism and outdoor recreation, while preserving and protecting the A.T.  Participation has no economic cost to the town but could provide many great returns for increased tax revenue with an increase in visitors.  

Friends of the Watershed made a presentation about their desire to open the 1,200 acres of Town property surrounding the reservoir to outdoor recreation.  Many residents and supporters spoke in support and the owners who abut the watershed property spoke in opposition.  It is clear that the group does not wish to create hardship for the surrounding property owners and ultimately this is about opening a constructive dialogue and working with every stakeholder to come to a consensus everyone can be happy with. The pros and the cons will be balanced and hopefully a workable solution can be reached in the future. 

Last night our Council Meeting included an item on our agenda that caused me enormous concern. We were tasked with deciding whether to approve a text amendment to add a zoning use back into the CM-1 district, which would allow the Valley Energy propane company located on Hirst Road to expand their business by bringing their use back into conformance.  Every member of council expressed their desire to allow Valley Energy the opportunity to expand, however myself and the mayor believed that a different route should be sought in order to adhere to the comprehensive plan and preserve the integrity of the town and its zoning.  Here are my council comments that I read during my speaking time.  

The purpose of my substitute motion was to change the zoning in the CM-1 district where Valley Energy is located since this location is more suitable for M-1 uses and ultimately my wish was to combine or collapse the district to bring all current uses into conformity if that zoning was to take any business out of conformity (which was a concern that Councilmember Lehr expressed).  Essentially it was an attempt to accomplish the same thing for Valley Energy but without changing the zoning in areas where it is clearly not a desirable use to have a large propane/petroleum distribution center on Hirst Rd east of Hatcher or Maple Ave.   Several council members argued that safety was no real concern indicating that the safety rate is quite high.  I feel that the worst case scenario should be considered since this involves a highly explosive gas and and allowing this use so close to residential homes is against the plan's directive "to minimize serious adverse effect within or beyond the limits of the district."  From the discussion, which can be listened to on the Town's Website, it became clear that our Comprehensive plan lacks clear definition which explains why several interpreted the text amendment to be contrary to our Comprehensive Plan while others did not.   

Valley Energy stated at the March 10th Public Hearing that their operation fuels over 3,500 vehicles a month; primarily commercial vehicles/trucks (which, in my opinion likely does not include the larger propane trucks that re-fuel there for home delivery and the even larger tankers that bring fuel to the facility). This would add even more traffic through our small town if expanded. Agreeing to a zoning which will allow an increase in the business without any economic offset to the town or traffic impact study means town taxpayers will be burdened with the cost of road repairs. Heavy trucks damage roads much more than an average car; road damage from one 18-wheeler is equivalent to 9600 cars. The average gross vehicle weight of a midsize car is 3,400 lbs.   Listed below you will see Virginia's weight restrictions on hauling flammable liquids.  The average propane tank truck has a low gross vehicle weight of 33,000 lbs with an empty tank but can be quite large.   

Since this text application incurred no cost to the applicant, the taxpayers instead pay in the form of the many staff hours that are needed to procure and process this application and advertise it for public hearing (and of course the repairs to our roads).  If it comes to pass that the applicant does not expand but instead sells their business to a competing gas company simply because this zoning increases his value, the town can then only hope to benefit if the company eventually expands and this wasn't done merely to turn a profit and increase the return on investment that many developers have used to justify their zoning requests in the past.    

The previous zoning code that was deleted in 2008 included an 80,000 above ground storage limit and the new amendment has no such restriction. Valley Energy currently has two 30,000 gallon tanks and they wish to add another one, giving them 90,000 gallons in above ground storage.   In my opinion that was a major shortcoming and needs to be rectified by this town council immediately.   Taking action to put in reasonable restrictions that protect public health and the integrity of our zoning should not be controversial.   

With regards to the Directive for Zoning Use Changes, I inquired about whether all previous actions that have taken place thus far by the Planning Commission could be considered corrupted on the basis that there was never any motion made by the Town Council or the Planning Commission to initiate this direction.  Our legal council indicated that it did not. With that said, I have grave concern about the veracity of claims by planing commissioners that no zoning use changes are taking place with regards to the work they are doing.   I support eliminating uses no longer applicable in town, those that conflict with the comprehensive plan or that are duplicative in nature.   I voted to support the continued work so that all work thus far is not wasted or in vain, but I believe that zoning use changes being implemented before a thorough comprehensive plan review is premature and should not be put forth.   

It is inappropriate for business and land owners to ask the town at our meetings to include zoning that directly benefits them with no cost or impact that eliminates the town's ability to collect proffers. Hearing discussions in planning meetings about creating floating PDH districts that would allow mixed use zoning by-right while developers are coming before the town with plans reflecting those wishes is outrageous and deserves much scrutiny.  The proposed Zoning Uses Draft Review changes are beyond the pale in terms of proposing outright zoning changes that would severely impact this town and would strip the public of public input, in many cases, if these uses were approved. The planning commission's recommendations will be sent to the Town Council and we can chose to take action or not, however these developers count on the public not paying attention and by the time it reaches a public hearing I fear the brakes are all but near impossible to put on.   Unless residents become more engaged and involved, these developers will seek to continually circumvent a system that was designed to protect the average citizen. 

Purcellville is $60 Million dollars in debt. Our per capita debt is higher than some cities that have declared bankruptcy. If we continue on this course of giving everything away for free while taxpayers are left to pick up the bill, we will cease to exist.  Some have declared that if we don't grow we die. Clearly growth doesn't equate to economic gain considering the enormous growth that Purcellville had and our current debt.  Reckless decisions have costly consequences.  

Given everything that has been said so far in the press and beyond about myself and Mayor Fraser, it is obvious that discrediting attacks, whatever their motive, generally take place under heavy disguise. 
It is important to look at what others claim they are doing verses what they are really doing. It seems that the two meet a lot less often than one might think.  

As I have said before, I will always try and prove in a clear, logical manner my motives and point of view.  There are those who create distractions from the main points. They merely finger point to make sure the finger doesn't point back to them.  

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Teacher Pay In Loudoun County

There is a lot of chatter in Loudoun County these days about teacher salaries now that the School Board and the Board of Supervisors are discussing the next school year budget.  Many of my neighbors are teachers and I see every day the hard work and hours they put in. I often think of those teachers who made a difference in my life growing up.  We entrust these teachers to be with our kids 7 hours every day.  A teacher who can pay their bills, live close to work, and feels valued, in my opinion, creates better teachers who can concentrate on the task at hand instead of worrying about constantly keeping above the water line.  

What we must consider when we talk about teacher salary is inflation and how that erodes those salaries that some folks think are too high. A starting teacher salary in Loudoun County in 2000 was about $35K. With yearly step increases, that salary would be roughly $59K today. The buying power of that "increased" salary would be roughly $58K today, which means the teacher actually makes $1K less (sort of). This only includes average inflation and no other added salary erosion items such as increased cost for health care coverage. 

BUT: Teachers in Loudoun County did not receive their expected step increases on their salary for five years. So let's take that same teacher and give them a step increase for only 10 years and you end up with a salary of roughly $45.5K. The teacher who started with our school system in the year 2000 has a buying power that is $10.5K LESS today.  Let that sink in.  

It's no wonder that the turnover in teachers is so great, and no wonder that one of every three teachers who leave teaching within 10 years cites low pay as the reason. Most CEOs can articulate how employee turnover hurts the bottom line.  High turnover among teachers in public school classrooms undermines school stability, serves as an impediment to educational reform, and hurts student achievement, a study by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching finds. Investing in our teachers is investing in our children. 

"If an unfriendly power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war." ~1983 government study A Nation at Risk