Thursday, March 31, 2016

When is something more than what is seems?

When Bob Lazaro and his propaganda machine is behind it. There has been far too much misinformation about Fireman's Field. Former Mayor, Bob Lazaro, wrote a Facebook note about Fireman's Field filled with distortions. He has since either removed or limited the access to the post. 

For ease, I have posted quotes from his post in red italics and my responses are listed after each one. 

It is crystal clear. On October 27, 2015, the Town Council voted 5-2 It is crystal clear. On October 27, 2015, the Town Council voted 5-2 (Patrick McConville II and Joan Lehr voting no) to begin the process of attempting to sell Fireman’s Field to the County. No public input whatsoever was received on the proposal.
There is no requirement to hold a public hearing for something that is merely being explored or discussed.  There was no action taken to actually sell the property, therefore no public input was required.  The discussions were held at a public meeting and reported on by the local papers.  The public could have responded by writing and coming before the council in October.  In this time, the council has gotten no emails against this proposal and most importantly we received no communication of opposition from our former mayor who has decided to be publically defensive of it without any substantive action behind it.  

 In fact, the Town’s own Parks & Recreation Advisory Board was not even made aware of the proposal until after the fact.
The Town Council is tasked with legislative authority.  Our responsibility and authority involve the following:  Legislating for the town, setting and interpreting the governing rules and delegating those powers. Transacting the town’s business, conducting the town’s intergovernmental affairs, protecting the town’s welfare and its citizens, providing community leadership.
Directly from the Purcellville Town Code, the following are the powers and duties of the Park and Recreation Advisory Board:
Sec26-34. - Powers and duties.
The parks and recreation advisory board shall have the following powers and duties:
(1) Adopt rules governing the conduct of its business and meetings.
(2) Make general policy recommendations to the public works committee regarding park development and recreation opportunities.
(3) Identify and pursue grant funding for park and recreation purposes.
(4) Review proposed annual budgets for town expenditures related to parks and recreation development and make budgetary recommendations to the public works committee.
(5) Recommend policies for the expansion of the town park system and the provision of an array of active and passive recreation opportunities.
         (6) Help identify possible improvements to community services, both public and                      private, which enhance the residential and business community

The Parks and Recreation Board is NOT tasked with managing the debt service of our recreational facilities.  They are not tasked with making sound financial decisions on behalf of the citizens. The P&R Board did not increase town taxes a few years ago by 17% with a Fireman’s Field tax. Our town code does not dictate that any financial decisions made by the council should be put forth to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. They report to the council, not the other way around.

Perhaps in hindsight, we should have provided the P&R Board with a summary and kept them more apprised. Regardless, I have my druthers that if there was a different Mayor seated that this would have never been made an issue. 

 With 88% of residents approving of the improvements to the facility (according to the last Town survey) it absolutely makes no sense.

This statement is disingenuous. In the 2015 Survey, residents were not asked if they were satisfied with all of the upgrades and debt service, tax increase, and additional funding to constantly rehabilitate the facility.  The question was if they were satisfired with the parking accommodations and improvements.  From the survey, "Overall Citizens are 88% satisfied with the parking accommodations/improvemnts at Fireman's Field."  It was a misleading question and poorly phrased.
Creating fiscal sustainability should drive our decisions and not just emotions.  Everyone agrees that Fireman's Field is a treasure and no one on this council and in this community earnestly believes that this council would take action that will put it in peril.  

Let me be clear; at no time should the Town ever relinquish local control of Fireman’s Field.
We have already relinquished control.  The County leases the field and manages the schedule and most every aspect of the facility.  We have an outside contractor who manages the skating rink. Both are great stewards of the property and the arrangement, at this time,  is the most sustainable option we have.  
Why would we put the facility in the control of the Board of Supervisors where Purcellville residents have only 1 District representative out of a body of 9? 
There are numerous facilities in Loudoun County that are located within the various towns that are owned and operated by the county.  A revenue sharing arrangement with VDOT dictates we allow control of our roads to be governed by an outside agency. 

Municipalities chose what is economically viable and what isn’t. Often, it is based on economy of scale. 
It is no different than your personal finances.  You either can afford the car of your dreams, or you can't.

Council member Lehr feels that our debt is rational and acceptable, stating at a meeting that it reflects the average household's debt.  According to her statement of financial interest, her personal debt is tens of thousands more than my own and what personal finance managers would likely recommend for a household, even if she made double the average household income in Purcellville. Perhaps the people of Purcellville should look more closely at the financial acumen of those who govern them.   

 Purcellville was fortunate for several decades as the property was owned by our Volunteer Fire Department who were very good stewards. The Department, however, in the long run realized the future of the property would be better off in other hands as the Department worked to meet its own organizational goals.

According to the August 2009 issue of the Virginia Municipal League Magazine, the Fire Department could no longer afford it. “Maintaining the property, however, became more expensive and time-consuming…..Looking after the property not only was proving expensive, it was cutting into the volunteer fire department’s primary mission –  providing fire services and rescue assistance for a large portion of western Loudoun County.”
This Washington Post article also confirms that increasing cost on an aging facility was a factor: "The fire department decided to sell the 12.5 acre property because it could no longer afford the upkeep....and the building needed constant work. One year....the department had to pay $240,000 for a new roof." 

Ironically, Mr. Lazaro led the preservation and purchase of the old Purcellville Baptist Church that was known by all to be decaying and in desperate need of reapirs the church could not afford.  The Town took on the liability and paid three time the assessed value for the building and to date has sunk in excess of $8,000,000 into the project. This year, the town is spending more than $100,000 to replace and fix a critical HVAC system and more than $50,000 to replace the cupola.  Loudoun County representatives made a recommendation against the purchase of the building. 
The Town purchased the property for $1.7 million (1/2 of its value) from the Department with a 0% loan for 20 years (the Department did not want the cash all upfront).
Further, the Department with the consent of the Town placed a scenic easement on the property which protects it from development. A good deal all the way around for all parties.
The Fire Department placed the property in Conservation Easement to get the monetary benefit before it was sold to the town.  Selling it to the Town below assessment was made possible by the amount earned by placing it into Conservation Easement before it's sale to the town.
Fireman’s Field is a great model of a public, public, private, private partnership. The Town owns the facility, a private sector vendor runs the Tabernacle returning $50,000 per year to the Town…

Fact: The annual lease to the Purcellville Teen Center is $31,200 and far below the annual cost to keep and maintain the facility.  The lease amount had to be lowered because the tax-exempt bond that was used to finance this property limits the amount that the town can receive in revenue from private entities and that was discovered during a review of the lease process this past year.  The Bond structure does not restrict the amount the Town may charge a governmental entity, such as the County.    

...the County maintains the main playing field at no charge to the Town and volunteers maintain both Haske Field and the tot playing field. A total win-win-win-win.
The County earns income from the various entities they allow to use the field.  They don't charge a fee to the town because they lease the field for zero dollars. 

Fireman’s Field is not only an important historical and recreational asset to our community (literally tens of thousands of children have played on the fields over the decades), but a critical economic development one as well. When you take into consideration the number of visitors to the Bush Tabernacle, plus the special events and the sporting events 75,000+ visitors annually use the facility. 
When this town council was tasked with our first budget, it became clear that many of the events that Mr. Lazaro started, albeit great for tourism and community events in Purcellville, cost the town far more than the benefits touted by Mr. Lazaro.  The Purcellville Wine and Food Festival was costing the town in excess of $50,000 to run and the tax revenue and a study showed that visitors were not having much of an impact on the businesses in town.  If our town had little debt, no traffic issues, a police force (that at the time had no updated tasers and upgraded technology) and public works department that had no needs, sure, spend the money on some fun town events.  This town council decided to prioritize the people of this town and respect their hard-earned tax money, taxes that are used to fund the town. 

Despite the rhetoric by some, the Town’s finance are very strong with more than $5 million in the Town’s Rainy Day Fund (undesignated reserve) and a Triple A bond rating. Purcellville is the smallest government in Virginia to achieve that result. While of course there are always challenges, the Town is well positioned.
Here is where Mr.Lazaro (and Council member Lehr) needs an economic lesson. The Town has $60 Million in debt obligations.  With an estimated population of eight thousand, that is $7,500 debt per person. In 2012, the national average for local government debt was $5,137 per person.  Purcellville’s is 32% higher than the national average. Should we dismiss this amount?  I personally don't believe so. If we ignore it, how can we possibly lower the tax burden on our residents?    

When debt is used in excess, it steals from our future since it has to be repaid.  A dollar borrowed today requires that a dollar plus interest be repaid in the future.  This reduces the amount of money available for future spending.  If the amount of the debt accumulated is significant and the period of accumulation is long, the required debt payments will have a negative impact on economic growth.

As a member of the Town Council and then as Mayor I took hundreds of votes and hold myself accountable for each and every one. Not once did I pawn an idea off after voting for it as a staff proposal.
 The Town Council was presented with a staff report in October 2015 (page 195) outlining the concerns about the facility and the continuing high expenses for its upkeep. From the report:  “Over the last nine years, the Town has put over $5,378,972 into the facility and complex and that does not count the County’s grant funding of $658,485. The Town’s existing outstanding debt service is $3,630,864 with annual debt service of the facilities running at approximately $286,000."  The County leases the facility for no cost.

Because of the age of the facility and the challenges of operating a heavily used recreational project, the Town will be facing large capital expenditures on a frequent basis and that could put additional fiscal strain on the Town. At this point, the public, Town Council, staff and County have discussed multiple options on how to best move forward to ensure that this gem of our community is preserved for public use and recreational opportunities for years to come. While there are many different options and solutions, the Town has received suggestions on the following alternatives that Council should review and  provide input and direction to staff as we begin the upcoming preparation of next fiscal year’s budget.” 

Let it be noted that Council member Packard made the motion and of the five who voted, Council member Packard and Nave voted in favor of it, both who were candidates Mr. Lazaro supported in their elections and during their tenures. 

 No surprise some of the loudest noise criticizing Sam is coming from folks who don’t even live in Town -- respectfully, please butt out.
Ironically, most of the praise for Mr. Chapman is from those who do not live in town, nor in Purcellville.  I am disgusted that candidates and others are trying to make this a campaign issue with the May elections coming up.  It is sad that they are trying to use false pretenses to drum up support. This didn't work in 2014 and I hope the people don't fall for it in 2016.  
A private citizen is promoting this sticker online. 

“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters” ― Albert Einstein