Special Report to the Cape Charles Mirror by Ken Dufty
Supervisor Duer opened the session by listing the many accomplishments this new Board has enjoyed (using that term loosely!) in their first 6 months on the job. The list includes an amended and more balanced zoning ordinance (a work still in progress), a reasonably balanced and restrained 2017 budget, an expanded EMS budget and staffing, closure on the USDA obligation of nearly $600,000, project permitting and deliberation, and many more issues that were previously unresolved by the former board. True to form, Supervisor Duer explained that he is a man of few words (but as we all know by now, a man of action) and he turned the opening remarks over to Chairman Murray.
Chairman Murray then expanded on the Board’s accomplishments over their first (1/8 of their term) half of this year. He expressed concern about the next election, saying that in one year, candidates would have to be certified to run for county supervisors, and the balance of the Board is at stake. He expanded on the debate over the zoning ordinance, explaining that the Board had taken many of the good points of the 2015 proposed ordinance and melded them into the 2016 adopted ordinance, and also informed us that tweaking of the ordinance is still in the works. He said the increased setbacks for poultry houses and the expansion of working waterfronts were two highlights of the new ordinance, also explaining that while there still COULD be a poultry house or two on very selective and isolated parcels, chicken houses are “not a good fit” for Northampton County.
Chairman Murray spoke of the impression many have that you cannot “get anything done” in Northampton County because of red tape, inconsistency in enforcement, and confusion as to regulations, most all originating in planning and zoning or with DEQ onerous regs re: stormwater management and erosion and sediment control. He implored attendees to contact their state elected leaders to express frustration over very onerous regulations that make it very expensive to get any project completed in a timely and affordable manner.
Both supervisors expressed their concern that the county administration is not getting things done, with the prevailing and repeated question “is the county being property managed” and why has the county administration apparently failed in its charge to keep projects and initiatives on track. Chairman Murray said the entire Board is concerned about the management of the county, explaining that the County Administration has COMPLETE authority over the day-to-day workings of county government, and the general feeling is that perhaps it could be done better. Chairman Murray also said the county needs to improve its relationship with the towns….adding that it is time the sentiment that it is the ” county versus the towns” is dispelled.
CHAIRMAN MURRAY then shifted the discussion to the EMS issue, with Supervisor Duer adding that in a county of 12,000 residents, our EMS budget is approximately $1.3 million annually, which appears excessive. Both explained that the Board has commissioned an outside consultant to review EMS procedures, staffing, and future needs, and that the study should be completed by the end of June, with a version to be released to the public and the Board by mid-July. The discussion also centered on the need for a new EMS garage, and Chairman Murray explained that the need and location for that facility was under review and would be addressed by the independent study. Personal Note: Supervisor Hogg has been incredibly active on this issue, ensuring that any new decision on this issue will be well researched and avoid cost overruns due to unforeseen matters.
Exmore Town Councilman G.W.Adkins then opened up the discussion about the pending move of the hospital, an issue that is on the minds of most of the residents and elected leaders in the county. CHAIRMAN MURRAY spoke at length about the promises Riverside made in their application for a Certificate of Public Need which had to be filed with the Virginia Department of Health in order to get permission to move the primary and emergency health care facility out of NC. Jack Ordeman then expanded on this issue, talking about the Riverside Board (on which Rick Hubbard sits) explaining that the Board informed him that they would be making a decision on which health care facilities would be retained in NC when the hospital moves on or about December 3, 2016. Chairman Murray informed us that Riverside appears to have seized the hospital’s endowment fund of $7 million, leaving those who raised money for this fund in Northampton County with little or nothing. SUPERVISOR DUER added that while Riverside has said they will knock down the old hospital, the county records appear to show that Riverside DOES NOT own the building(s). In their COPN, Riverside promised in return for permission to move the hospital to Accomack County that they would leave NC with an urgent care facility with expanded hours, services, and imaging, but to date they have not indicated that that is what they are willing to do. An interactive discussion between the attendees and the supervisors ensued, with both leaders stating that we HAVE to have an emergency facility in NC, explaining that ambulances CANNOT transport a patient to a “doc in a box” or a primary care facility (Riverside has said they will retain a primary care doctor’s office in the old cancer center when they move),,,and must transport to a certified emergency facility.
Chairman Murray then talked about high speed internet with high speed video capability, a critical component to health care in NC when the hospital moves. An urgent care facility can offer much needed emergency care if they have tele-medicine capablity, reducing costs for care and expediting critical care, but so far that capability is not available where we need it. Chairman Murray pointed to the tornado that hit Cherrystone several years ago, explaining that without a nearby emergency care facility, the results of that storm could have been markedly different.
Robert Meyers added several times that the failure to address this problem and the problems associated with the EMS issue have to fall on the county administration, and he expressed his frustration that there have been no changes made at that level. Chairman Murray responded that the entire Board is concerned similarly that nothing is getting done.
During the discussion, Maplewood Garden’s Phil Custis expressed his concern that it is very difficult to get anything done in Northampton County, and for nearly a year he has been trying to get permission to build a simple building on his property, only to be caught between the engineering firm that he has hired to draw up a site plan and the county staff and engineering firm hired by the county, costing him tens of thousands of dollars, with still no ground broken. Chairman Murray and Supervisor Duer both agreed, saying that the contract with Timmons Engineering is up in a month, and they will go out to bid and perhaps this issue will be addressed. Conversations also centered on the State’s onerous stormwater regulations, and the “donut hole” that counties who opted in to the state program find themselves in. Supervisor Duer talked about the problems Dollar General is having trying to knock down the old Burger King in Exmore, and are becoming frustrated with the red tape and legal wrangling that they are having to deal with. Chairman Murray stated that he recently talked to an investor who said they would not come to Northampton County because it is just too difficult to get anything done (personal note here: I hear this same complaint almost every week in our business….and we need to make changes to become more business friendly if we are to further our economic resources and opportunities). Chairman Murray added that Mr. Colson, a very successful wholesale and retail farmer who employs directly over 100 people, also has had a horrible time expanding his business because of the lack of cooperation from planning and zoning and onerous state and county regs. Chairman Murray said that over the last year he has spent hundreds of hours in the planning and zoning office trying to resolve these issues, and is as frustrated as potential developers are that Northampton County is living up to its reputation of being unfriendly to new business development and reasonable expansion of such.
Marion Naar then asked Chairman Murray to address the proposed change in the polling place for District 4, and Chairman Murray said he has asked Terry Flynn of the Electoral Board to extensively exhaust the consideration of all alternative locations in the Machipongo area before electing to move the polling place to the very edge of District 4 in Eastville, the town where the population is just a fraction of the density in the Machipongo Middle School area.
Carl Nordstrom then asked about the public process regarding decisions being made on the pending changes to the Comprehensive Plan. CHAIRMAN MURRAY and SUPERVISOR DUER commented that they had not seen the draft plan (note here: PLEASE READ MARY MILLER’S ARTICLE IN THE CBES SHORELINE NEWSLETTER TWO MONTHS AGO (THIS IS ONLINE)…AND YOU WILL SEE THE RATHER TROUBLING DETAILS OF THIS PROPOSED PLAN AND AS ONE PLANNING COMMISSIONER REMARKED….”IT APPEARS TO HAVE BEEN WRITTEN BY REAL ESTATE INTERESTS WHO WANT TO HAVE MORE WATERFRONT REAL ESTATE TO SELL” . NOTE THAT THE STUDIES TO UNDERWRITE THIS DRAFT PLAN WERE APPARENTLY FUNDED BY NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS AND THAT THIS ENTIRE PROCESS OF REWRITING THE PLAN (AS OPPOSED TO “UPDATING HAS EXCLUDED THE DIRECT PARTICIPATION OF THE PUBLIC, EXCEPT FOR OUR 3 MINUTES AT THE MIKE!)
CHAIRMAN MURRAY vowed that the deliberation and consideration of the draft Comprehensive Plan, a plan that the Planning Commission is charged with writing and updating, will be a very public process, unlike what has transpired to date.
Phil Custis then thanked Exmore, Nasswadox, and Cheriton for their contributions to the Randy Custis ball park in Nassawadox, and the crowd disbursed.
Many thanks to Mr. Dufty for this report.