Hello Middleburg! This article addresses a hodgepodge of issues. I included a few questions for you below. Please send the questions (and comments or complaints!) to you want me to address to the Eccentric.
Middleburg voters elected J. Kevin Daly, Trowbridge M. Littleton and Phillip M. Miller to council, along with Betsy Davis as Mayor on May 3. Please join me in congratulating them! Please also accept a big thank you from me to all who voted!
Council is still short a member, so we will appoint a temporary, fourth new member to serve until the seat goes onto the ballot in the November election. The member elected then will take office immediately. That term ends June 30, 2018 (May 2018 election).
Placing Middleburg council candidates on the November ballot with candidates for president and congress is not wise, in my opinion. Council candidates are non-partisan. The national offices on this ballot are highly partisan. Local candidates may thus get lost on the November ballot. However, the legislature determines the process to fill council vacancies.
Moreover, I certainly prefer election to appointment. Election officials in the Middleburg precinct must determine voters who live within Middleburg Town limits this November. Those voters are eligible for a ballot with the council election. Voters residing outside of Town will receive a ballot without the council election. This may add to the waiting time for voters in the November election in Middleburg. Please keep this in mind!
Do you disagree with me, and favor moving the Middleburg council elections onto the November ballot?
Middleburg’s water utility has made significant progress recently. We replaced the old water lines on Washington Street from the Plains Road east with a new 12-inch line. We included a new water line for eastern residences with excessively low water pressure. We also awarded an engineering study to design a replacement for the old west end pumping station near Windy Hill that is at the end of its useful life. This facility pumps wastewater from the gravity flowing sewer lines on the west side of Town over to the wastewater treatment plant in the east end. Council financed these improvements with a $1.5 million dollar low interest rate bond. I am not yet certain that the current bond will cover the estimated $500,000 for constructing the new pump station.
We have many other needs, but we must first determine funding before we can address them. Among these is a sorely needed project to replace out dated water lines in the Ridgeview neighborhood area. This work is overdue, but if we fund the replacements from available utility revenues, it will likely be about five years before the utility fund has the estimated $500,000 in hand to pay for it. The state sets up municipal utilities as enterprise funds. This means that it is fine to use surplus utility funds (from rates, etc.) to offset general fund expenses. However, our auditor frowns on funding utility expenses out of the general fund (mainly from taxes).
Do you think we should borrow that money by adding to the utility’s recent $1.5 million dollar bonded debt (increasing the bond to two million (or $2.5m) dollars), wait a few years until we can fund this from the utility revenue as one project or to fund five smaller projects in a series of work (likely to cost more)?
In our meeting on May 12, council heard reports of many business hardships due to the construction on Washington Street. The VDOT contract performing this work helped Middleburg install the new 12-inch water line before proceeding with the rest of the project. VDOT is now focusing on the streets, sidewalks and streetlights. Town staff assists with overall direction and coordination. The project affects merchants and shoppers alike by making driving and parking difficult. Businesses fear looking inaccessible. The project schedule runs through October, so this impact is hard for many. In an effort to address this issue, at least partially, council agreed to eliminate parking fees until the project ends in October.
Do you have other ideas council can use to help make this work more bearable?
Because Marshall Street and Stonewall Avenue now experience traffic bypassing construction, Middleburg Police increased traffic patrols. These patrols are mainly to reduce speeding and maintain safety. In my opinion, the Middleburg Police Department is doing a great job.
Do you disagree or have suggestions for improvement?
Your May water bill, if you live inside the Town, included the Annual Drinking Water Quality Report (mislabeled 2015) for 2016. The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) provides the format of this report and Middleburg complies with VDH requirements. I would like to make this report more useful and understandable. For example, I would like to see all actual reading levels, especially for lead (the report states that our water did not meet any action level for lead or copper). I want it to be more explicit and easier to read.
If you read this report, did you understand it? Do you have any suggestions to improve it?
Middleburg has contracted for a part-time Town Attorney for many years. Angela Plowman now holds this contract. The Town Attorney’s role is to advise council on matters relating to state law, contracts and other legal issues, including staffing and acquisitions. As such, Ms. Plowman represents the council directly and Middleburg indirectly. For example, she defends members of council and Town staff, in the event we may be vulnerable by our decisions or actions to challenges in court. However, a bigger role is advising us so that our decisions and actions are not likely to invite such challenges.
Do you have any questions regarding how Middleburg government functions, how to get involved or who to ask to address your issues?
Please send your questions, suggestions, comments or complaints to the Eccentric. I will address them in upcoming articles.