REC Receives Distinguished United Way Award

Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC) was awarded the 2010 Rappahannock United Way Chairman’s Award of Excellence for Employee Education and Volunteerism. The Cooperative received this honor recently at the Rappahannock United Way 2010 campaign celebration awards luncheon.

Pictured left to right: Kotonya Rollins, REC's Bowling Green district United Way campaign chair, Janel Donohue, Rappahannock United Way president, and Linda Brooks, REC's Fredericksburg office campaign chair - Photo courtesy REC

Patricia Wolfrey, director of resource development for the Rappahannock United Way said, “How can we say enough about the volunteer efforts of REC. Not only did the campaign chairs at the Cooperative lead an impressive financial campaign, they also made certain it was fun and informative for their employees.”

REC prides itself on caring for the communities it serves. Taking this Cooperative principle very seriously, employees are encouraged to become active volunteers in United Way fundraising campaigns and Day of Caring events throughout its 22 county service territory. To benefit the 2010 Rappahannock United Way campaign employees contributed over $24,000 in donations.

Wolfrey added, “United Way staff members were called in to speak during REC staff meetings to not only talk about the annual campaign but to also talk about the many services available to the community. REC covers a broad geographic area of our community and it is helpful for employees to know when a referral might be in order.”

In addition to earning this distinguished award, REC is also part of a select group of high performance businesses who take on the challenge to “jump start” the annual campaign by becoming a Pacesetter. Since 1994, REC has served as a Pacesetter company helping to set the standard for leadership and community support by starting their campaign in August.

Employees in REC’s Culpeper district participate in the annual Piedmont United Way campaign. REC’s employees in its new Blue Ridge district participate with the Front Royal/Warren United Way and the Blue Ridge United Way.

Obituary for Grover Buracker

Grover Elwood Buracker, 65, of White Post, died Thursday, March 3, 2011 at his home.

He was born January 26, 1946 in Augusta, VA; the son of Grover Wilson Buracker and Virgie Calhoun Buracker. He retired from the Frederick County Landfill. He was a member of Stephens City Mennonite Church.

He married Judy K. Buracker on August 15, 1965 in Hagerstown, MD.

Along with his wife, he is survived by his sons, Grover Eric Buracker of White Post, James Derek Buracker of White Post and Jack William Miller of Bluffton, SC; his brothers, Lynwood Buracker and Jerry Buracker; his sisters, Audrey See, Groveen Neff, Nancy Vaughn, Doris Clark and Brenda Pack.

A funeral service will be held on Saturday, March 5, 2011 at 2:00 p.m. at Jones Funeral Home Chapel in Stephens City with Rev. Al Huyard and Rev. Glen Horst officiating. Interment will be in Fairview Church Cemetery.

Pall bearers will be Chris See, Alan See, Jeff Neff, Todd Neff, Joey Neff and Jay Neff. An honorary pallbearer will be Thomas Buracker.

The family will receive friends on Friday evening from 7-9 p.m. at the funeral home.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation, 811 W. Evergreen Ave, Suite 303, Chicago, IL 60642.

Fire Destroys Home on Old Ferry Lane

An early morning fire Sunday has destroyed a home in Clarke County. Firefighters responded to a residence at 490 Old Ferry Lane at approximately 3:30AM March 6, 2011.   Crews from   Blue Ridge, Boyce,   Enders,   Mount Weather, Loudoun County and Jefferson County, W.Va. all responded to the scene. Firefighters worked the blaze throughout the morning in torrential rain but were not able to save the structure. Clarke County fire officials said the the home was a complete loss. There were no injuries.


Salvation Army Requests 22 New Houses

The 400-acre Salvation Army tract, once a potential site for the new Clarke County High School but later rejected in favor of the school’s current Main Street location, is now in the planning stages for a major sub-division. The proposed development on what is currently a farm will stretch between Westwood Road and Triple J Road and could include up to 22 new houses.

H. Robert Showers, attorney for the Salvation Army has requested approval for a 22-lot subdivision. The property, located at 642 Westwood Road in the Longmarsh Magisterial District, is zoned Agricultural Open Space Conservation (AOC).

“The reason that the property contains so many dwelling rights is because it was assembled from seven separate tracts” Clarke County Zoning Administrator Jessie Russell told the county planning commissioners on Friday. “The drainfields and wells on the site are already approved” Russell noted. “Some well locations had to be shifted due to proximity to property lines and agricultural areas. Virginia Department of Transportation has approved the access points to the property which also includes from Triple J Road.”

Salvation Army Tract Site Plan (Click to view the development plan for the Salvation Army tract)

Although the Salvation Army applied and gained approval of the site plan for the property over six years ago, no formal development proposal materialized until now, in part, due to the protracted negotiations with the county over the eventual selection of a different site for the new high school and due to the economic decline of the housing market.

In 2005, Clarke County received 221 new building permit requests. The number of building permit requests has steadily declined since then to only 19 new requests in 2010. The county received no building permit requests in February of this year.

Despite the fact that the site plan has received administrative approval, several planning commissioners expressed concern about whether the site should be required to meet the County’s recently adopted and more stringent storm water management and groundwater quality management guidelines.

“I think that a karst-study needs to be done now even though such a study wasn’t required when the application fees were paid” said Commissioner Robert Wade (Millwood). “I’m surprised that so many drainfields were approved. I would have expected a number of problems.”

Zoning Administrator Russell confirmed that even though many sinkholes are present on the property the building lots were approved with conventional septic systems rather than alternative septic management approaches recently approved by Virginia’s General Assembly.

Russell said that although the county’s consulting engineer firm, Chester Engineers, is reviewing stormwater management for the site, a formal storm water management plan is not required by law.

At least one planning commissioner appeared to question the county’s authority to request a karst study for the site given that approval for the site plan had already been given.

“Why are we requiring a karst plan” asked Chip Steinmetz (Berryville).

County Planning Administrator Chuck Johnston replied that even though approval for the plan was granted six years ago, the county still retained the right to review the plan under current planning guidelines.

Johnston said that after speaking with Clarke County’s attorney he believes that the Salvation Army application has not achieved a vested status.

“Because the developer waited so long to submit his plan it needs to be reviewed under our current regulations” Johnston said to Steinmetz. “A project is not vested until it has had some level of government review.”

Commissioner Steinmetz also noted that based on the site plan’s 9.3 acres of paved road surface, storm water management could be a problem.

“With that much road surface serving so many homes, storm water management needs to be looked at” Steinmetz said.

“Even if every one of the 23 homes was 4,000 square feet that would still be less than one percent of the total surface area of the property “ replied Planning Commission Chairman George Ohrstrom. “That’s still way under the threshold requirement for a storm water management plan.”

Interestingly, Lot 22, a 71-acre site included in the plan and once considered for the location of the new high school, is still shown as a “possible education site” per an agreement between the Salvation Army and the Clarke County School Board. The school board agreement precludes any building lots being designated within the 71-acre tract.

Lot sizes in the application range in size from two acres to three acres (14) to 114 acres (1).

“I agree, there’s a lot that needs to be reviewed and answered with this application” Jessie Russell said. “Once it has been approved the applicant will probably sell the property to another party that will develop it.”

Although no formal action was taken on Friday, the planning commissioners agreed to send the application to its sub-division subcommittee for further consideration.

Obituary for Donald L. Tavenner

Donald “Buck” Leroy Tavenner, 80, of Berryville, Virginia, died Saturday, March 5, 2011 at his residence.

Mr. Tavenner was born December 21, 1930 in Gainesville, Virginia, the son of Lester Leroy and Dorothy Comer Tavenner.

He was retired from a lifetime of farming.

He married Annie Mae Tavenner on June 3, 1953 in Herndon, Virginia.

Surviving with his wife are two sons, Donald L. Tavenner and his wife, Kathleen of Winchester, VA and David W. Tavenner and his wife, Carolyn of Berryville, VA; two daughters, Barbara A. Chapin and her life partner, Brian F. Valentine of Winchester, VA and Susan E. Braithwaite and her husband, Chris of Berryville, VA; eight grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

Three brothers and three sisters preceded him in death.

Funeral services will be held 11:00 A. M. Wednesday, March 9, 2011 at the Enders & Shirley Funeral Home Chapel, Berryville with Mr. R. K. Shirley III officiating. Burial will follow in Green Hill Cemetery, Berryville.

Pallbearers will be Chip Creel, Bobby Fox, Richard Tavenner, Jack Franklin, Tommy Carper, Ricky Tavenner and Gary Crim.

The family will receive friends from 7:00 – 9:00 P. M. Tuesday evening at the funeral home.
Memorial contributions may be made to the John H. Enders Fire & Rescue Co., 9 S. Buckmarsh St., Berryville, VA 22611.

To view the obituary or send condolences online, please visit

Clarke County Could “See” New Cellphone Tower

Jefferson County, West Virginia may soon have a new cellphone tower. The good news is that the tower may improve cellphone reception for travelers on US 340 in the northern section of Clarke County. The bad news is that the tower will add yet another line-of-site obstruction into the county’s north-facing view shed.

A proposed cellphone tower would be located very near the Rainbow Club in Jefferson County, WV - Photo Edward Leonard

According to County planning administrator Chuck Johnston, the proposed 199-foot tower will be located about 200 yards north of the Clarke County – Jefferson County line on Rainbow Club Road. By adhering to a tower height of less than 200-feet the structure will not be required to exhibit a warning light.

In describing the tower proposal to the Clarke County Planning Commissioners on Friday, Johnston said that Clarke County has little influence over the new structure.

“The tower can be “administratively” approved by Jefferson County’s government” Johnston told the planners. Administrative approval effectively means that a particular land use is already included in the governing body’s comprehensive plan and, therefore, does not require a public hearing for approval.

The cellphone tower is being proposed by EBI Consulting of Burlington, Massachusetts. According to the company’s website EBI’s telecommunications business includes handling the licensing and siting of cellular communications towers for wireless companies and  tower erectors, including investigation of environmental, architectural, visual, and historical issues. “It’s been a very nice niche market for us” said Steve Kmiotek, EBI’s manager of environmental health and safety services. EBI Consulting’s clients include Cingular Wireless, U.S. Cellular, and Spectrum Resources Towers.

Both Johnston and Planning Commissioner Cliff Nelson (Russell) have visited the site which is located directly behind the Rainbow Club Bar on the west side of US 340 immediately after the West Virginia state line.

“The service building won’t be visible from Clarke County” Nelson said. “But the tower certainly will be.”


Volunteer Firefighter in Western Loudoun Arrested for Joy Ride in Fire Truck

A late night joy ride in a fire truck has resulted in the arrest of a volunteer firefighter in Hamilton, VA.

According to the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, on March 5, 2011 shortly after 2:00 AM, 27-year-old Sean Richard Swanson,   a volunteer firefighter with Co. 5 in Hamilton, was driving the company’s 1989 Pierce Lance pumper truck eastbound on Harmony Church Rd (Rt 704) near Canby Rd (Rt 662) at a high rate of speed.   As the Sheriff’s Deputy was heading toward the truck he was forced   to veer into the ditch to avoid a collision. The deputy turned around and stopped the vehicle at Woodburn Rd (Rt 769).

Swanson was given a series of field sobriety tests and then placed under arrest. He was transported to the Loudoun Adult Detention Center, where he was charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI) and Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle. Later in the afternoon he was released on his own recognizance.

There were four additional passengers in the fire truck, all of them identified as volunteers within the Loudoun Co. Fire-Rescue system. All four had been drinking. They were released to a sober driver. The truck was released to a supervisor from the fire company.

The incident remains under investigation. Deputies will consult with the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office to consider any additional charges.

Planning Commissioner Questions Double Tollgate Improvement Plans

As Clarke County’s planning staff reviews the potential for extending central water and sewer to commercially zoned properties near Double Tollgate, at least one county planning commissioner is expressing hesitation over spending taxpayer money to attract what he sees as low value businesses there.

Double Tollgate is located at the intersection of US 522 and US 340 in Clarke County, Virginia

“We’re talking about using $700K of federal money and a couple of hundred thousand of money from local taxpayers in order to support future development there” Clarke County Planning Commissioner Richard Thuss (Buckmarsh). “What I’d like to understand is just what the return on investment for the taxpayer is here. If it’s something like 50 years then I think that it’s a bad investment.”

A general estimate of the cost to provide water and sewer to Double Tollgate is $1.2M with approximately $500K coming from local funds.

Thuss’s comments were prompted in response to a review of Double Tollgate’s development infrastructure currently being performed by Clarke County’s planning department. The review and increased interest in Double Tollgate has been spurred, in part, by federal government job stimulus matching funds that could be available to extend water and sewer to the area.  The federal funding for infrastructure projects is currently available to communities like Clarke County through a competitive grant process that evaluates the number of new jobs that will be created by businesses that subsequently locate to newly created economic centers.

“The goal of the federal money that would finance the project is employment” Clarke County Planning Administrator Chuck Johnston told the planning commissioners on Friday. “The amount of money that we could receive is based on the amount of jobs that the property developers believe the development plan will create.”

Double Tollgate is an unincorporated community in Clarke County, Virginia and is located at the intersection Front Royal Pike (US Route 522) and  Lord Fairfax Highway (US ROute 340). Clarke County’s planning staff is currently reviewing the option of extending water and sewer conveyance lines from the Virginia Department of Correction Detention Center located near White Post, Virginia.

County planning staff told the planning commissioners that Detention Center officials are open to considering allowing use of the facility’s 33,000 gallon sewage treatment plant. Due to reductions in the number of inmates housed at the White Post Detention Center, the treatment plant there currently processes only 11,000 gallons of sewage per day.

“Sewer and water service is a necessary cost of developing this area” Johnston said. “The planning process that we are now involved in will identify the costs of doing this.”

Thuss told Johnston and the other planning commissioners that he wasn’t against increased development in the Double Tollgate area but he does have concerns about the economic wisdom of spending taxpayer money to attract, what Thuss says, is marginal commercial activity.

“What I see coming from this are businesses that don’t bring in much revenue and employ only low wage employees. I just can’t see spending our money to support this kind of development” Thuss said. “If you were to tell me that we are going to bring in high-tech businesses and modern office buildings that would be one thing. But we have so many restrictions in this county that prevent high-tech businesses that I believe the only thing that you will get there is low-value commercial use.”

“The conveyance line would be sized to serve the entire 70 acres of commercial property there” Johnston said. “The Board of Supervisors is not interested in creating a free ride for any of the property owners there.”

“My point is that by accepting the federal grant money we will be making a conscious choice as a county to develop that area” Thuss said. “I would like to make sure that the value generated from the development is more than the cost of developing it.”

Johnston said that the results of the Double Tollgate planning review will be delivered to the Clarke County Board of Supervisors on March 15 and the Supervisors will then make a decision on whether or not to proceed with a grant request.

In June, 2010 Clarke County Supervisors approved land use zoning changes for the Double Tollgate area to accommodate a 20 megawatt solar power facility being considered by Cornerstone Power Development of Chicago, Illinois. Cornerstone has floated plans to place its facility on Monty Gibson’s 145-acre farm just north of Route 340 and east of Route 522 near the existing Double Tollgate power substation. To date, Cornerstone has yet to offer formal plans for actual construction of the facility.

The deadline for Clarke County’s federal grant application is March 15th.



Suspect Arrested in East Coast Rapist Case Has Ties to Clarke County

A man believed to be responsible for a series of sexual assaults and attempted sexual assaults that occurred between January 1997 and October 2009 has been arrested in New Haven, Connecticut. 39 year old Aaron Hajjmalik Thomas is in custody and is being questioned in connection with the case that has been dubbed the “East Coast Serial Rapist.” All of the assaults are believed to have been committed by the same suspect after linking DNA evidence collected at the crime scenes.

First Sgt. Kim Chin of the Prince William County Police said   the suspect was arrested Friday in Connecticut and that he was found through a combination of investigative work and a tip called into Crime Solvers.

The suspect was apprehended by U.S. Marshals on a warrant issued from Prince William County. Authorities said Aaron Thomas was taken into custody in New Haven at his home without incident by the Fugitive Task Force.

Early this week, law enforcement launched a massive media campaign, posting composite sketches of the suspect on digital billboards throughout the Northeast. A website was also launched with detailed information about the crimes in an attempt to generate a break in the case.

Thomas was arrested in Connecticut, but has ties to Virginia and Maryland. Authorities say he attended a Prince George’s County high school and regularly visits family in Clarke County, VA.

Aaron Thomas was cited for numerous traffic violations in Clarke County in 2005 for infractions ranging from no registration to improper equipment. Authorities believe he may have been employed as a truck driver at the time. Further traffic violations recorded in Fairfax County District Court document the suspect having lived in Woodbridge VA.,   Berryville VA., and New Haven CT.

Prince William County Police and other agencies involved in the investigation have scheduled a press conference for Saturday morning.

Cuts Dominate Budget Discussion But Some New Spending Creeps In

The Clarke County Supervisors sent a message that they are not through looking for cost savings in the evolving FY 2012 budget. On Thursday night the finance committee spent two hours combing through county spending and accounts in hopes of closing a $364K budget deficit in the coming year.

Indications from last night’s meeting imply that further cuts are likely, but at least one new spending initiative was offered; spending for a new county historic district designation.

The finance committee, comprised of Supervisors Michael Hobert (Berryville) and John Staelin (Millwood), Joint Administrative Services Director Tom Judge and County Administrator David Ash, convened for a two-hour “budget balance brainstorming” session. During the session, Judge presented budget reduction options that could provide up to $391K in immediate funding cuts and a possible $144K in savings related to the proposed combined senior center / park office project.

Other long-term, but less defined revenue generation options were also considered.

“We asked county staff to ‘think outside of the box’ to come up with ideas for reducing our $364K deficit” said Supervisor Staelin. “Just how realistic the proposals are, we don’t know. There’s no secret agenda here.”

Staelin pointed out that while the formal budget deficit is $364K, this year’s budget is being supplemented by $1.24M in “one-time” previously designated capital funding, bringing the true budget deficit to $1.6M.

“The danger here is that some of the capital funds are being used for the operating budget and it’s not clear where that money will come from next year” Staelin said.

Judge presented a methodic and well-researched set of budget alternatives aimed at improving not only the county’s budget bottom-line, but also on-going operational efficiency. “I’ve shown $391K of reductions on paper but not all of that will be achievable” Judge cautioned.

Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Options (Click to view options discussed at last night’s meeting.)

Of the immediate cost cutting ideas placed on the table last night, the largest target elimination of $274K for part-time staff used to supplement the county’s full-time workforce. Judge proposed that the county re-assign existing full-time staff on an “as needed” basis to cover the workload currently being performed by part-timers.

“Many of these positions were brought in to help during the time when the economy was strong and the county was very busy” Judge said. “Things are a lot slower now.”

While some of the part-time positions, like law enforcement assistance and swimming pool lifeguards, require specially trained staff and cannot be easily covered by other county staff members, other office and administrative functions could be covered with existing staff.

Just how much of the potential part-time saving can be achieved will fall to County Administrator David Ash who the committee directed to explore the cost-saving option with the county’s various operating teams.

Other budget saving options presented last night appeared to be straight-forward, like tapping funding accounts that have long remained dormant and using funds generated from sources outside of the county.

The committee recommended that interest balances generated from the animal shelter and parks department trust accounts be reviewed to see if the combined $31K can be used for general purposes. An additional $44K in leftover park construction funds is also under review.

A $35K balance from Trigon is also potentially available Judge said. “The money has been sitting in an account for a long time. It came to the county when Trigon formed a new mutual company because we were shareholders.”

Other budget improvement measures considered at last night’s meeting may prove more controversial or difficult to implement.

For example, Judge said that sheriff’s department deputies currently spend large amounts of time waiting in courtrooms on the day that a case is scheduled to be heard. Judge put forward the concept of using a lower-paid courtroom “spotter” who would notify a deputy by phone based on the case’s docket progress. In theory, this would allow higher-paid deputies to use their time in other areas and potentially reducing the daily manpower requirements of the sheriff’s department.

Judge also suggested that an emergency medical “fee-for-service” might be considered given that other nearby jurisdictions like Warren and Frederick Counties have implemented similar payment programs.

The committee also discussed elimination of cooking facilities at the new proposed Clarke County Senior Center, instead outsourcing meal service to a company like Sodexo, the Clarke County Public Schools meals provider.

An overall review of county service fees, based on a previous fee study that was not fully implemented, was also discussed.

Judge told the committee that one area that would not provide immediate cost savings, but that would reduce the county’s overall liabilities,is reduction of employee leave balances.

“We currently have about $1M compensated absence liability” Judge said. “If departments have the excess capacity, then directing people to take time off to reduce the liability would be a good thing to do at this time.”

Sale of county assets were also placed on the budget cutting table. County Administrator David Ash suggested that the county’s former library, a house on Main Street in Berryville that is now vacant, could be sold to generate revenue.

“This isn’t the right time to sell a property” Ash said referring to the depressed housing market. “But it is there and it is empty.”

Supervisors Hobert and Staelin agreed that the idea of selling the house, which includes five acres of property and carries commercial zoning, should be considered, however, concerns over retaining the right-of way through the property and its associated parking area were a potential stumbling block.

“We’re unlikely to use it in the future” Staelin agreed.

“It bothers me that it is not being productively used”  added Supervisor Hobert. “If we are going to keep it we should try to at least rent it out so that it can be used to bring business back into the community.”

The committee directed Ash to explore the options for selling the property.

While no formal action was taken at last night’s meeting, the sub-committee directed Judge and Ash to develop a formal set of recommendation and alternatives that will be presented to the full Board of Supervisors for review.

Although the majority of last night’s discussion was dedicated to cost cutting, one new budget increase was placed on the table.

Supervisor Staelin took up the cause of a group of citizens who have been working privately to designate a new historic district in the county. According to Staelin, the new “Chapel Historic District” would place a large section of Clarke County under the new designation.

Staelin said that ten Clarke County citizens have already donated $6K of private money to get the new historic district planning started. According to Staelin, the county already has several such districts but the addition of the new Chapel Historic District would improve tourism and provide tax credits to property owners for certain types of construction.

“The initial study to review the idea was funded by citizens who were able to get a matching grant from the government” Staelin said. “The Virginia Department of Historic Resources would create the new district but it will take $10K from the county, $15K from a grant and citizens raising another $10K.”

“When citizens are putting up two-thirds of the money for something like this I think that we should consider putting some money behind the idea.”

The Board of Supervisors will meet for its next regular meeting on March 15th when it plans to set a public hearing on the budget for April 5th with final budget adoption planned for April 5th.