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March 29, 2018 · OPINION

Town’s proposed recreation spending raises questions

Photo/City of Kennesaw
Warrenton’s draft capital improvements program includes $1 million for a “splash pad,” such as this one in Kennesaw, Ga.
By Tony Tedeschi
Warrenton

We’ve seen this before: Reckless spending of taxpayer money for luxury items while running huge deficits as safety and infrastructure projects remain behind schedule.

Prior Warrenton Town Councils brought us the $23.5-million WARF, the failed million-dollar Mosby Museum, the largest single tax increase ever in town (the meals tax) and a burden shifted to the backs of Warrenton businesses, which provide and collect more than 50 percent of the town’s revenue — one of the highest rates in Virginia.

Just a decade ago, approximately $11 million was siphoned from the water and sewer reserves to be used as a downpayment on the WARF. Those actions caused the town to borrow $5 million two years ago to repair our failing water system — the consultant said we were at a “crisis” point — and then raise rates more than 50 percent to properly balance this enterprise fund. Now, another $8 million was just borrowed by the town to pay for our leaking, crumbling sewer system that we’ve known about since before the WARF was built.

Imagine if the diverted $11 million had been invested in our infrastructure and we instead built the $7-million WARF, as originally planned. We’d have no debt on the WARF, on our water system or on our sewer system.

On top of the $11 million diverted from infrastructure, another $10 million was borrowed to build the WARF — a debt we will endure for years to come. That debt service costs us taxpayers approximately $635,000 a year! Couple that with almost $800,000 a year that Parks and Recreation is losing, and you now have a loss/tax burden of more than $1.4 million a year and growing with no end in sight!

To put these in perspective, our town real estate taxes only bring in $1.28 million. Our tax rate is 5 cents per $100 assessed value. You would have to more than double the tax rate to stop the bleeding of Parks and Rec! And that burden is increasing at a rate of more than 11 percent a year. Who’s going to stop this madness?

Wait, there’s more! It gets worse.

This year’s draft CIP (capital improvements program — at bottom of letter) for Parks and Rec is asking for $2.3 million in new spending, mostly on luxury items, including a $1-million splash pad! Seriously. And all of it is currently shoved in this year’s budget, meaning that if the town received no grants for any of it, you and I are on the hook to pay for all of it. On top of that, there is no estimate on how much we will have to pay in expenses to maintain or operate most of these projects.

Why are the parks department and a town council committee promoting so many expenditures when we haven’t even completed those started years ago, like the Timber Fence Trail? How about the suggested expenditures that didn’t make the list, like an archery range, mini golf, zip lines and using the drinking water reservoir as a recreation center? If this keeps up, they’ll have to raise the meals tax, the property taxes and every other tax the government can get its hands on. Responsible government starts with responsible spending. This isn’t it.

One council member recently tried to justify the splash pad by saying the town would charge $3 admission, and that the payback would be 22-1/2 years. Sound like a good business decision to you? Think it won’t break down or be completely dead during that time? Where is the benefit to our poorer residents who have to pay for everything they use at the WARF already, except the playground and skate park? Do you know that a splash pad is already proffered at the Walker Drive project? The developers are paying for it and you will get to use it for free.

The town is using about $1.5 million out of our savings to pay for the shortages this year. Next week, you’ll see how much more is getting pulled out when the town releases the proposed 2019 budget. While much other recent savings were spent replacing rusted out Public Works vehicles and outdated police cars, eventually the cash reserves are going to run out and the town will have to go back to the taxpayers for more money. We have to be responsible with our spending now. If we do not make changes soon, we are going to run most of our seniors living on fixed incomes right out of town.

What can WE do? First, stop spending on unnecessary items until we balance our budget. Second, read the current budget and then, next week, begin reviewing the proposed 2019 budget due out April 2. Demand that our government be fiscally responsible. Those adding to our bulging parks and recreation budget while spending taxpayer money like drunken sailors should be ousted from their committees and their public office. We cannot afford them.

The time has come for real transparent, taxpayer-first leadership. It doesn’t matter if the Parks and Rec committee is irresponsible or if the town manager’s proposed budget is not credible as long as town council members step up and put a stop to it.

A town resident and business owner, the writer serves on Councilwoman Linda “Sunny” Reynolds’ re-election campaign committee. She and three other candidates seek the two at-large seats in the May 1 election.

Warrenton Draft CIP FY 2019-2024 by Fauquier Now on Scribd

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nonewtaxes · April 12, 2018 at 5:51 pm
Good ole lefty jimmy. when the facts confound and confuse and confront him he resorts to personal attacks.

local taxes up -I didn't vote for that person last election and will not next election such is a democracy

federal taxes down - thank you trump for that extra couple of hundred bucks a month
Jim Griffin · April 10, 2018 at 8:29 am
NNT:

How's your NoNewTaxes campaign going? Apparently, county taxes are up double digits. Can we credit you with the successful campaign?

You've been at it for years. Any success to report, or do you always blather and hide instead of lead constructively?
nonewtaxes · April 10, 2018 at 8:04 am
Not suggesting, relaying to you what a BOS member told to me. It does not mean that it has the right to do anything it wants. It still needs to operate within the parameters of the agreement. However, the BOS approached that telecom about expanding its broadband system and it refused. It told them it id not profitable.

Now since you have full faith and confidence in the BOS, at least for those issues on which you agree, then you are want to use the BOS as a hindrance to or solution to broadband. The BOS cannot magically wave a wand and change the two conditions of demographics and geography that stand in the way of broadband. Nor can the BOS wave a wand and create a new technology to overcome those two conditions.

Your reference to Finland is irrelevant and indicates either ignorance or desperation.

In fact, broadband, but not in the sense of this discussion, is available to all county residents via satellite. You just have to be willing to pay for it. So the issue is not accessible broadband.

When you begin to talk about non-financial returns from capital investments you openly acknowledge that it is no investment at all but an expense. It is an expense that will need to be funded by increase taxes on all residents though only a minority will benefit. Sounds like socialism.

Just so I can get maximum entertainment value out of this discussion I want to leave you with this. I know that it irritates you that people don't use their legal names when posting. Such is the nature of the internet. As a self proclaimed technologist JG you should know this and even embrace it. I reveal myself to you. My name is James Griffin.
Jim Griffin · April 10, 2018 at 6:51 am
NNT: Which telecom is that? Are you suggesting a telecom has general permission to dig as it likes, erect antennas at will? Which one is that?

Did you find out about that line item in the budget that raised your curiosity? What did you find? No report back? You ask lots of questions, but no answers from you.

You asked about population densities. Finland has half Fauquier's population density but almost a decade ago declared broadband at 100 mbps a basic human right and has delivered on the promise. We can, too.
nonewtaxes · April 10, 2018 at 12:10 am
The county has granted rights of way to a telecom company. That company, therefore, doesn't have the county as an obstacle. Why then doesn't it build out its broadband network?

Jim Griffin · April 9, 2018 at 1:11 pm
NNT: Obviously, anyone reviewing this thread knows there's what you claim I say, and then there's what I actually say.

Let's be clear: Public-private partnership. Yes, govt is an obstacle if you intend to dig on public/private property, or if you want to use the airvwaves, and rightly so on both accounts.

Investments have outcomes aside from monetary return. A library, first responders, schools, an airport and more -- all have returns, not all of them monetary, and not all directly so. Public citizens, private enterprise, govt offices -- all want more data infrastructure.

Your second paragraph is unclear, but again I suspect you want to ask a question to which you think you already know the answer. Silly game, that, especially when our county is unique in many ways, which include both high wealth and the assignment of a large percentage of land rights to govt.
nonewtaxes · April 9, 2018 at 12:43 pm
It aint an investment if it loses money and the geography and demographics dictate that it will lose money. Yet you say geography and demographics are not the issue. You say the government is the issue.

Please explain why cities where population density is greater has broadband but the county does not. After all. cities have government too.
Jim Griffin · April 9, 2018 at 11:15 am
Various types of bandwidth are available throughout the county, which include wireless, satellite and wired options, some reserved for business, others for home users. There are various tariffs filed for these systems with the state and county. Without question there is demand for data throughout the county.

Is there a $20 million line item for granting rights of way? If so, ask those who put it there why it is there. If it is not there, why are you asking?

The original proposal I saw a while back contemplated the renting of capacity, once deployed, to telecoms -- primarily telecoms want access to fiber, hence the emphasis on fiber infrastructure. IIRC, it was always anticipated the county would seek a return on any broadband investment made, which is why I suggested lots of dark (unused) fiber for leasing.
nonewtaxes · April 9, 2018 at 11:07 am
How is broadband not available to all in the county now?
Why would it cost the county $20 million to grant rights of way? If the county holds rights of way shouldn't it rent them telecoms and make some money?
Jim Griffin · April 8, 2018 at 11:17 pm
I've been clear and consistent: Companies don't jump into it alone. They need frequency allocations, rights of way and other elements only govt can provide. Public-private partnership needed.

I'm saying nothing different now than I've written about this for years. Attended a BOS meeting and spoke up, alongside Sheriff Mosier who offered his strong support.

Fauquier Now gives everyone an opportunity to comment just as you are doing now. If you attend a meeting and speak up they will cover that too. Definitely worth what we pay for it and then some; They also have competition, both direct and indirect.

Make your case publicly. It's a political process, as it should be in a democracy. Your voice can count; Attend meetings and organize voters. Perhaps people with agree with your comments and vote accordingly.

I disagree with you. I think data is as essential as voice telephone lines and should be treated accordingly, available to all. Our county should lead with infrastructure and do whatever it takes within reason to achieve this important goal.
nonewtaxes · April 8, 2018 at 10:22 pm
I thought you said government was an obstruction - too many rules and regulations. Now you're saying its a necessity.

On one hand the county raises taxes 11.7% and at the same time it grants, gives away money, to a broadband company to setup equipment on a tower. This is broadband at any price and will require consistent government subsidy that is raised by raising taxes yet again. When you sell in desperation you always sell cheap. Alternatively, when you buy in desperation you always pay too much. The BOS is desperate to give broadband to the masses. It would only be honest to tell the masses about the increase in taxes that will be needed.

It's a failure of Fauquier Now reporting that they only reported on the tower grant and the set up of broadband but not on the costs or what was actually set up with regards to bandwidth and data caps and monthly costs.
Jim Griffin · April 5, 2018 at 9:44 pm
Again, you deliberately ignore the point: Broadband requires public-private partnerships. Govt is inherently involved with roads, analog or digital, just as it is/was with telephone lines. It is not a traditional private open market. It is tariffed, regulated, subject to building a working relationship with many levels of govt for many good reasons.

You incorrectly surmise that if private companies are not now doing the job we need done then it simply is not worth doing. I disagree with you.

I support our local, state, federal govt working together with business to deploy the infrastructure we need for our citizens, for our government operations, and to attract the business infrastructure our tax base needs. To cite just one example, Sheriff Mosier extolled his support for county resources devoted to broadband deployment.

This requires proactive allocation of our resources. Soon enough television will require high-bandwidth and community radio becomes webcast. The telephone lines we required communication companies to build are now obviated by data lines.

I share your distaste for wastefully spending and am on record on these pages opposing parts of the budget. We should spend what is required to deliver data throughout the county.
nonewtaxes · April 5, 2018 at 9:23 pm
"My point is that there is not a market for telecom services because it is almost completely controlled by govt. We cannot then simply assume that if it were economically feasible, let alone profitable, that a private company would've done it, which is your point."

They be your words JG. How else would could they be understood except that government is in the way of broadband.?
Jim Griffin · April 5, 2018 at 8:47 am
NNT: I did not write what you falsely claim I wrote. What I wrote is sufficiently clear to stand on its own.

However, I will summarize for you: If we want better broadband in Fauquier County it will require public-private cooperation and partnerships. Neither our land nor our airwaves are open for the taking needed to expand wired or wireless access.
nonewtaxes · April 5, 2018 at 8:23 am
SO you are saying that government regulation prohibits broadband in the county and the way to solve that issue is for the government to expense $20 million dollars?

Jim Griffin · April 4, 2018 at 10:28 pm
As usual, a heavy regulatory environment makes competition difficult if not impossible. Consider the difficulty and expense of acquiring wireless spectrum allocated by govt, generally at auction. Antenna location in rural areas presents special challenges to wireless -- 5G requires an extraordinary quantity of tightly-spaced antennas, some properties requiring many antennas simply to maintain the 5G mesh.

There is one US 5G deployment thus far: Sacramento. Layers and layers of govt regulation surround the project:

http://bit.ly/2q6F2DC

Wired approaches similarly require rights of way and tariff issues. Combined with the increasing acknowledgment that data is critical infrastructure that requires security in both operation and construction, it is no wonder may municipal and county governments are involved with network deployment.

Better you should ask why they do come to Fauquier County. OVH located its data center here in Fauquier. We are adjacent to a global network access point. We want more data centers, and businesses of all kinds that rely on networks and data.

When they come, they need bandwidth, as do their employees. In the incentive package, we promised them bandwidth, and we'll need to do that repeatedly as we endeavor to attract business to locate here.

As network economies evolve in a regional area, they demand network services from municipalities. Makes sense. Fauquier is the midst of this current and needs to be pro-active instead of delayed and reactive down the line.
nonewtaxes · April 4, 2018 at 10:12 pm
So why don't telecoms come to Fauquier County?
Jim Griffin · April 2, 2018 at 7:56 am
There is not an *open* market for telecom so the actions of telecom companies to meet our needs and wants is not indicative of the feasibility of the project. There is plenty of demand. Supply -- in this case -- is negotiated with the govt as part of its franchise agreements with the state and county.
nonewtaxes · April 1, 2018 at 8:17 pm
If there is not a market for telecom, why is the county granting $20 million towards it?

Your opinion that demographics and geography do not allow for financially feasible broadband is a minority opinion not supported by facts. If those two factors are not issues for broadband, what are?
BJ · April 1, 2018 at 9:44 am
Have to mention all the "potable" water from the Town water system that was used for YEARS to water the soccer fields, and no one spoke up, or questioned that deal. Water park, dog park, might as well of let Disney put in that theme park long ago. When did everyone need to be "entertained" all the time? Get out a sprinkler, ride a bike, don't get a dog if it doesn't have a place to run, walk for exercise, do yoga at home, everyone wanting the life of the rich. We don't live in Town or have small children so all these "extras" are unnecessary as we see it, and we're tired of paying more taxes to support the lifestyles of the rich and famous (or bored and lazy).
Jim Griffin · March 30, 2018 at 8:39 am
My point is that there is not a market for telecom services because it is almost completely controlled by govt. We cannot then simply assume that if it were economically feasible, let alone profitable, that a private company would've done it, which is your point.

Demographics and geography are not determinant factors. Plenty of places with comprehensive bandwidth that have more adverse demographics and geography.

5G is an unusual approach. It will be interesting to see how it goes in this area, if it goes at all. For one thing, every antenna must be line of sight from the next antenna in the series.
nonewtaxes · March 30, 2018 at 8:35 am
JG,

I don't know what your point is about broadband regulation. My point is that broadband is not financially feasible in the county because of demographics and geography but the BOS wants to go forward anyways. Therefore, the county will be paying too much for too little. And by the time the plan get implemented the system will be out dated because of 5g.

Jim Griffin · March 29, 2018 at 6:56 pm
Tony: This report is worth at least $35,000, and the conclusions aren't even self-interested. If you were a real consultant you might've told us to buy more and better printing!

NNT: Telecom is heavily regulated, not entirely market-based. That's why the SCC and the County assign monopolistic franchises granting rights-of-way and heavily regulating pricing based on hearings that substitute a rate schedule for open pricing.

Good news: Better wireless is coming to compete in the form of 5G; The bad news is that it's going to require an extraordinary number of antennas. The 5G purveyors need extensive govt approval. Even the spectrum they use is granted (or taken away) by govt.
nonewtaxes · March 29, 2018 at 5:38 pm
Well aint that a shame. The WHARF might be a lesson but only if you learn from it. If a fitness place had a reasonable chance to turn a profit, a public company like Planet Fitness or the like, would have come to town and built it. That's what they do. They identify markets in which their product or service can make a profit. That's what they do.

The same can be said for the county's broadband plan. If it was financially feasible a public company would come in and build it. That's all they do. Instead, the county is "granting" money to companies to come and build it. They county is saying you come and build it, we will pay you to build it and then you charge us to use it. Sounds like financial prudence all over again.
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