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Fredericksburg City Beat

This blog includes news about City Hall, city schools and other 22401 news.

Pamela Gould reports on City Hall. You can reach her at 540-735-1972 or pgould@freelancestar.com. Robyn Sidersky reports on city schools. You can reach her at 540-374-5413 or rsidersky@freelancestar.com.

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Council meeting roundup

No big headlines, and the most-repeated line of the night was "I think we’ve already spent too much time talking about this," in reference to No. 2 on this list. Here are some highlights from last night:

1. 1200 Prince Edward plan moving forward (again). The owner has re-submitted an application for a four-condo plan for the property that the City Council of two years ago rejected. The ARB approved the first level of details on the project Monday night, and the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing in December. Council members last night heard an update on the maintenance work the owner has been doing. Council members George Solley and Kerry Devine remarked on the fact that much of that work was done on a volunteer basis by local homeless people, as reported by Amy Umble last week. "I certainly hope the owner, because of the volunteer labor, would consider a donation to a homeless shelter or program," Devine said. "That would certainly be a wise thing for the owner to consider."

2. Council not going to ask for complete reimbursement from political campaigns, after all. Two weeks ago, on the heels of two major political rallies in town, council members decided that the high-dollar presidential campaign operations should be asked to reimburse the city for the roughly $20,000 it cost to provide police, public works support, street closings and other services for both rallies. The city had already agreed to charge the Republican National Committee $1,700 for specific services related to the Sarah Palin rally, which was held on city property. It did not charge anything for Barack Obama’s visit to the University of Mary Washington, since that visit was not on city property and did not require any kind of city special events permit (even though it cost the city more than the University to staff). Last night, Mayor Tom Tomzak brought the matter back up, saying he never felt good about billing both campaigns for every penny anyway. Council members talked for a while about how great it was for the city to get national press exposure when the campaigns rolled through, and about how it needs to welcome special events, not deter them. Bottom line, they’re going to send the Republicans the bill they originally agreed on (which doesn’t cover all of the costs related to the Palin rally) and call it a day. For a little more detail, keep an eye out for a followup story in the paper.

3. Idlewild proposals rejected. Nothing different from what we reported here, but Leif Johnston, who submitted one of the proposals, did make a plea for the council to act soon to save the old house, before it deteriorates beyond repair.

4. School board spending questioned. When new Ward 1 Councilman Brad Ellis wanted to know more about a nearly $300,000 expenditure the schools plan to make on software from the $1.1 million left in their fund balance from last year, he was warned by his colleagues about the way budgeting between local governing boards and school boards works in Virginia. Although local governing boards approve the tax rates that bring in the money that they then give to their elected or appointed school boards (in Fredericksburg, the school board is elected), they do not have the authority to tell school boards how to spend that money with much specificity. This separation causes tension in some localities, but in Fredericksburg, the two boards have tended to work together fairly peacefully. "I’d like to keep it that way," Councilman Matt Kelly said. He said next year’s budget talks are "going to be a tough discussion to begin with, and throwing out any extemporaneous off-the-cuff remarks right now is not where we need to be." This came after Ellis noted that he was "just asking a mere question" about this agenda item, and that the money for software (which city budget officials said was going to renew expensive licensing agreements for certain programs) would pay for several teachers. "Six teachers, or software? Seems reasonable to me," Ellis said in defending his question. One thing that didn’t come up was the fact that this was the appropriation of fund balance, not recurring revenue that will be there year after year to pay teachers. Tomzak seemed a little caught off-guard when Ellis asked the question, and said of the school board, "We’ve never really questioned line items from the schools. … They are essentially unopposed, and there’s never any discussion during the elections–and thank God we have the talent that we do there."

 

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