Thursday, May 13, 2010

Augusta Board of Supervisors spends another $1.7 million

There is an internal battle going on within the Augusta County Board of Supervisors. It's not something readily noticeable to someone not paying attention ... but to those who have a little history of the board, it's as plain as the nose on your face.

Wednesday night's BOS meeting was a prime example. While six supervisors, one county administrator, one county assistant administrator, and other staff members laughed and yukked it up, Supervisor Tracy Pyles, the lone Democrat, sat in his chair deep in thought.

As the watch dog on the board, it is obvious he has been shunned by the others. He questions the budget, questions spending, and looks over everything with the eye of a hawk which is something his constituents in Pastures District and citizens elsewhere in the county have noticed. They are appreciative that he is watching and trying to preserve hard-earned tax money as it is being spent hand-over-fist by supervisors often thought to be on a spending spree.

A point of contention during Wednesday's meeting was the new Greenville fire station that Supervisor Nancy Sorrells has been jamming through for the past several months. Even though previous meetings had volunteers lined up to address the board, asking them to hold off on spending such a huge amount of money in financially strapped times, it has never slowed down.

Augusta County Fire Company 10 located on Greenville Avenue is within Staunton City and was slated to be moved south of the city to cover residents in that area. However, instead of moving Company 10, a new set-up costing $1.7 million was approved by the supervisors Wednesday night in a 6-1 vote.

The lone dissenter was Supervisor Pyles.

It was not because Pyles disagreed with putting a fire station in the southern part of Augusta. It was for a number of reasons that he expressed before the vote was taken as he addressed fellow board members and those in the audience.

There is a budget crisis in Virginia, he stressed, adding that the fire station was a "Bridge to Nowhere," a personal perrogrative for one supervisor. Pyles expressed displeasure that the process had been done outside the regular budgeting procedure. In the past, a project was usually targeted and funds were set aside along with fundraising from the community. It has never been done like this before, he added.

Of major importance was the fact that, even though this project has been in the works for a while, the $1.7 million was not in the county budget that was passed just two weeks ago.

The original cost had been estimated at $1.1 million which Pyles pointed out did not include equipment or operating, start-up, and training costs.

In what I considered to be a sign of disrespect, county administrator Pat Coffield rose from his chair (he sits on the top tier along with supervisors) while Supervisor Pyles was talking and made his way to the lower tier to talk with a staff member, then into the audience to talk with someone sitting at the end of my row.

After returning to his seat, while Mr. Pyles was still speaking, county attorney Pat Morgan rose from his chair (he also sits on the top tier along with the supervisors), walked behind the supervisors to discuss some issue with Mr. Coffield. Mr. Pyles finally stopped talking until Mr. Morgan returned to his seat. It was distracting, to say the least, to have so much activity going on while a supervisor was trying to express his concern over budget issues.

In all my years of attending supervisor meetings, I've only seen Mr. Coffield move around a few times while a supervisor was speaking, and I don't think I've ever seen the county attorney get up and talk while a supervisor was addressing the crowd.

After Mr. Pyles finished speaking, Supervisor Beyeler called for the question and the vote was predictably 6-1.

Then Ms. Sorrells added the icing on the cake. She added a second motion that would amend the previous $1.1 million to provide money for equipment and operating costs bringing the total to $1.7 million. Mr. Howdyshell objected, and the vote was 5-2 to approve $1.7 million for the Greenville Fire Station with Pyles and Howdyshell voting no.

My question as an Augusta County tax payer is why wasn't this $1.7 million in the county budget?

Ironically, earlier in the meeting the board voted to do away with the paltry $12,000 annual coyote bounty program because of budget concerns.

There's a battle going on within the Augusta Board of Supervisors. Citizens grumble about taxes ... it is our responsibility to oversee and speak up about how they are being spent at the local level.

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