Punkin Lee, President of the Middleburg Business & Professional Association appeared before Town Council at its regular monthly meeting on May 12 to plead for free parking and present mock-ups for signs announcing the policy she and Middleburg’s business community were asking Council to approve.

The negative effects of the construction projects that touch the entire length of Middleburg’s central business district have, by all accounts, have touched every business in town and for some, have resulted in devastating effects on shopping.

The MBPA insisted that doing away with fees and parking tickets linked to the few spaces that remain available to shoppers would help.

Lee brought with her mock-ups signs announcing and promoting free parking developed by Middleburg Eccentric Editor DeeDee Hubbard, and now in place at both the east and west entrances to town on Route 50.

The signs feature a Jack Russell Terrier in work clothes sporting the Middleburg Fox logo on his hard hat.  Lee suggested the design could also be used on shopping bags, bumper stickers, t-shirts and other ways.

When Council member Kathy Jo Shea questioned whether the MBPA was asking for free parking throughout the town, Lee confirmed she was.

Council Member Bundles Murdock observed that she thought free parking was “a good idea,” but noted a long-standing concern “how some merchants would park in front of their stores for the entire day.

Vice Mayor Darlene Kirk agreed, noting that she, too,  had reservations about offering free parking as the business owners have abused this in the past.”

Mayor Betsy Davis pointed out that the issues raised by Kirk and Murdock were why  “ . . . Council agreed to only offer free parking in the public parking lots.”  She too worried that “ . . . if the Town offered free parking that the parking spaces that were available would have people parked there all day and would not turn over.”

Lee noted that people currently parked in the spaces all day even with the meters.

Council member Shea observed that “everyone needed to park somewhere and advised that there were not enough spaces when entire blocks were marked off.  She then suggested that “parking limits be enforced AFTER the construction ended.”

When Council member Mark Snyder asked how long VDOT would be “working on the roads and closing sections of the town,” Town Administrator Martha Semmes replied that the “estimated completion date was the end of October.”

If the work is not finished by the time specified in the contract, Semmes observed that substantial “liquidated damages were imposed on the contractor.”

Weather permitting, she continued, the first phase of construction would be done on or about the week of May 19-24, at which time. The Plains Road and Pickering Street could be re-opened..

Council member Snyder encouraged Council “to consider eliminating the parking fees as parking was hard to find and the stores were suffering.”

He then suggested parking be free at any meter for four hours, with enforcement provided by the Police Department “chalking” tires.  In his view, four hours was plenty of time for someone to shop, and urged council to make the regulations “as flexible as possible.”

Mayor Davis and the Council agreed.

Until further notice parking is now free in Middleburg for up to four hours in designated spaces.

Public Hearings

As required before passing legislation on certain topics, Council held three short “public hearings” on May 12 to gage public opinion on:  1.  A new ordinance instituting changes in the Town’s Utility Rates;  2. Middleburg’s Real Estate Tax rates; and 3. The Town’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2017.

No one spoke at any of them.

Immediately after the hearings Council:

1. Raised Middleburg’s sewer rates by five percent (5%), and left its water rates unchanged.  The average water and sewer customer, according to Council Member Mark Snyder, could thus expect  “just over a two and a half percent (2.5%) increase in the overall bill.”

2. Council ordered Town Staff to produce two draft budgets, one based on a Real Estate Tax Rate of seventeen cents per one hundred dollars of assessed value, and one based on  sixteen and a half cents.

Council member Kathy Jo Shea requested that, with the draft budgets,  the Town Administrator provide “a list of projects that she knew were needed” and would have to be paid for. She made clear she was “not saying the staff should come up with projects, only that it should identify the things that needed to be replaced.”

Happy Water Customers

Council member Trowbridge Littleton reported that he had heard residents,on east end of Middleburg, long suffering from low water pressure, “ . . .  did not know what to do with all the water they had as a result of the water line replacement project.”

He had heard, he said,  “many positive comments.” One resident reportedly complained, jokingly, that “she now had so much pressure that she needed to replace her washers.”

Software Security

Middleburg’s Town Treasurer,  Ashley Bott,  reported that she had been working with the Town’s IT consultant on software security issues and that Council could soon expect a report outlining suggestions for improving same.

It was clear, she noted, the Town needs stronger passwords and that, in the view of her consultant,  Middleburg’s  “data and server could be encrypted without issues.”

Police Report

Police Lieutenant Mike Prince reported that Middleburg’s Drug Takeback Day had been “very successful” and that the Town’s  “Go Green” committee had also “collected a lot of batteries that day.”

Middleburg’s Police Officers, he noted, have also “increased their patrols in the residential areas in order to try to tame the issues associated with the construction detour.”

The number of summonses issued have increased dramatically, he said,  describing the number of traffic and related violations as “unreal.”

Much of the speeding, he thought, was “due to commuters who were trying to avoid the construction zone.”

Interim Appointment to Town Council

Due to the resignation of Town Council Member Erik Scheps, Town Council must make an interim appointment to fill his seat until a special election can be held in November.

At Town Council’s last April work session Mayor Betsy Davis raised the issue of “whether the Council was going to hold a closed session” to consider the matter.

According to Town Clerk Rhonda North’s work session minutes Council, at that time, had “received two applications for the interim Town Council position, one of which was an individual known to the Council.”

The person “known” to Council was later revealed to be former Council Member Kathy Jo Shea, who had declined to run for another term.

Shea noted that she would be willing to help “as long as the appointment did not last past November.”

North then suggested that “if the Council wanted to bring the individual who was not known to them in for an interview during the [May}work session, this could be arranged.”

Mayor Davis then suggested that “prior to the start of the May work session, the Council come early so they could meet and talk with the applicant,” noting that  “during the meeting, the Council could have a closed session for more discussion.”

Council Member Mark Snyder urged that the discussions, instead, be held in a session open to the public and press. “All the others disagreed,” he told the Eccentric, “saying they want a closed session so they are able to discuss frankly without embarrassing the “candidates.”

In Snyder’s view, a closed session was “ . . . not necessary when discussing a POLITICAL appointment (unlike volunteer positions on a committee).

Virginia Law does not require such discussions be closed, but permits it.

Both Mayor Betsy Davis and Town Administrator Semmes made the case for a closed session by asserting the appointment’s similarity to day to day personnel decisions and, thus, all the reasons day to day personnel decisions are discussed in private.

Snyder agreed that Middleburg’s traditional sense of “courtesy” and an unbroken record of discussing “personnel” matters in private came into play.

Town Council, in any case,  agreed to hold a session closed to the public and press in May to discuss candidates and vote on the interim appointment.

At press time Council had not made public the name of the “individual unknown to the Council” and a “closed session, ” labeled “Personnel/Appointment to Town Council,” has been scheduled  forThursday, May 26, between 5:30 and 6:00 PM.