Showing posts with label Gloucester Virginia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gloucester Virginia. Show all posts

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Gloucester, Virginia Public Hearing On Proposed $64 Million FY18 Budget

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“Taxes” One of the dirtiest words in the English language. The word “taxes” is not dirty because We the People don’t want to contribute our fair share of money to pay for necessary services and operations. The word is dirty to us because of the extreme level of corruption, fraud, waste and abuse that is associated with our tax dollars.

Our local government is recommending a 1.5 cent increase to the current 69.5 cents rate; raising the rate to 71 cents per $100 of assessed value, but they are advertising a possible rate increase as high as 73 cents in their recent Public Hearing announcement. According to the announcement, the Board of Supervisors will hold a Public Hearing on next year’s budget at 7:00 PM on Wednesday, March 29, 2017 in the T.C. Walker Education Center auditorium.

Before taxes are raised again, our local government should make the following changes:

1) Consolidate our local government and public school system departments. This one action will result in over a $1 million reduction in yearly operating costs.

2) Eliminate the County’s department of community engagement and return all functions to social services, information technology, county administration, the school system and the various nongovernmental organizations the department facilitates. This action will save the taxpayers close to $400,000 per year.

3) Build our own libraries and health department space so the taxpayers can stop renting them. Owning our health department space will also result in an $80,000 yearly revenue stream from rent payments received from the state. All together this move will result in a yearly savings of around $210,000 and create $50,000 or so in additional revenue after expenses.

4) Limit the number of full time animal control employees to two, redirect animal control response calls through the Sheriff’s department dispatcher and cease all patrolling by animal control employees. This will result in a savings of well over $100,000 annually.

The changes we have outlined will result in a combined saving of around $1.7 million per year and create an $80,000 revenue stream. Now it is time for you, the taxpayers and citizens of Gloucester County, to decide what our local government will do. Continue to raise taxes or cut unnecessary costs and get our financial house in order? 

The March 29th Public Hearing will be the ideal time to let those who work for us know it is time to drain the swamp and set things straight. Remember, three supervisors and three school board members are up for reelection this November. Hold them accountable.

The following is a SlideShare presentation of this year’s proposed line item budget, proposed capital expenditures and a list of the nongovernmental organizations asking for tax dollars. It is best viewed in “full screen” mode. Just click on the diagonal double arrows. 

Public Hearing Agenda:

MARCH 29, 2017
07:00 P.M.


Complete E-Packet

I.Call To Order & Roll Call

II.Invocation & Pledge of Allegiance

III.Introductory Comments – Phillip N. Bazzani – Chair

IV.Proposed Tax Rates and Budget Synopsis – J. Brent Fedors – County Administrator

V.Public Hearing on Proposed FY 2018 Budget
Link to proposed budget

VI.Public Hearing on Proposed Tax Levies for Calendar Year 2017
Supporting Document

VII.Board Comments

VIII.Review of Budget Adoption Schedule – J. Brent Fedors – County Administrator
FY 2018 Budget Calendar

Public Hearing Notice:

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Howard Mowry, Gloucester Point Virginia

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Mr. Mowry's remarks during the February 28, 2017 joint meeting of the Gloucester County, Virginia Board of Supervisors and School Board.

 Intro: Chairman’s, Members of the Boards, Dr. Clemons, & Mr. Fedors, Staff
Howard Mowry, Gloucester Point

1.   Scrap the idea of improving the Transportation/Facilities site on the old Page site and move your process directly to the new Page Site. Costs a little more but is assessable for the next 25 years where Route 17 (Interstate) will be a disaster.

Reduce the passenger vehicle inventory, to what is really needed, scattering the fleet around the county to hide vehicles that may not move once a week borders on criminal, and only increases the budgetary costs to insurance and upkeep.

2.   County Garage, call out the fire marshal and the hazmat team right now and secure that place. Clean up and bulldoze immediately. The below the ground level pit I thought was illegal. Who is really watching the store?

3.   Teachers Salaries, I must have been asleep in the past as I reviewed the current scale and then accomplished a timeline. The salaries have been stagnating in growth. With a projected loss of 75 students or 750 thousand dollars, these funds could be re-directed to a change in the scale make-up.

 Let us not forget we cannot compare ourselves to any other county or city in the area. We must stand-alone; our revenues are driven by industry, business and taxes, (which do not need increasing). Many spend their money across the river, a greater variety of stores and close to one another a cost saver but a revenue loss to Gloucester.

So back to the scale, which is equal or very, close to the 2015 state salary average or above? The scale needs a lot of improvement such as:
38 teachers are past grade 31 in salary, how do you arrive at these annual salary values?

Even though the Bachelor and the Master’s are equal in step alignment step 1,2, 3 from step 0 and the salary increase is equal at 582 dollars or 2.61 cents a day, the scale continues to follow the same course to step four, where you are looking at 5 years of service or 4.07 cents a day increase.

          Now the first of two kickers, step 5 taking away step 4 salary is an increase of 104 dollars or .52 cents a day for 6 years of work. Who would hang around for this salary schedule?

 After 25 years of service the salary has increased by 20.59 cents a day from the fifth step. Of course, the scale changes annually by step and the increases still parallel one another the costs do not stand still but increase yearly. What would the scales look like if compressed to 25 years, or 15 levels spread over 10 steps or 20 to 25 years?

There could be a need to define a separate scale for those subjects that require continued life improvement and educational and occupational advancement, and a separate scale established to create a higher level of learning to compete with the international workforce that is moving into this country. 

          The scale needs a lot of work to ensure we are not a stepping-stone to other divisions.

As time runs out the need for a town hall meeting on the combined budgets needs to be considered and held on a Saturday afternoon.

I thank you for the time.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Mr. Howard Mowry, Gloucester Point, Virginia

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Mr. Howard Mowry, Gloucester Point, Virginia

We would like to introduce Mr. Howard Mowry of Gloucester Point, Virginia. Many of you already know Howard and his long record of following our local government and speaking out during public comment periods of Board of Supervisors, School Board and other public meetings pertaining to our local governance. Howard shares the following with us:

    I moved to Gloucester eighteen years ago and continued my hobby of following local Counties’ government for ten years. If the citizens do not follow their governing’s actions they would be in deep trouble. The process of tax and spend is an ongoing annual onslaught against the citizens net income. Most do not care especially in small counties where the largest employer is the Government. The nepotism, inter-relationship to business creates a system of quiet do not disturb mentality that has a wide range of negative impacts to those who are not a part of the system.

    This process is slowly changing in Gloucester as the population grows and more "outsiders" are moving in and becoming pro-active to their local government’s fiscal and managerial practices. Some very positive changes have occurred in the past four years but there is still a long way to go to make the process self-sufficient.    

    Since 1999 I have been a small voice at the local Board of Supervisors and School Board meetings, some suggestions have been implemented many haven't.  Many of ones suggestions that can save funding (tax increases) will go by the wayside since it may affect a retirement pension or become a cost effective solution. God forbid we don't want to go that far in creating a lean and mean cost effective government.

    Consolidation has always been one of my prime positions, the need to have sixteen department heads in-lieu of eight could save up to one million a year, also providing a ladder for promotions that is now almost non-existent unless you leave the county.

    I have written many articles over the years pertaining to government and some with spreadsheets to emphasize rising costs or lack of annual changes in doing business the same as usual.

    Time does not stop for no one but time should be able to provide the incentive for the young to step up to the plate and follow their local government. The regulations and policies they put in place annually may in their out years become the foundation where you are no longer a free person or country. Will I or we see change as the annual process of budgeting and taxing of your net pay takes place over the next several months? Without an increased showing of citizen participation at the meetings it will be hard to determine.

    One thing for sure the special interests will stand tall asking for more; and will want to raise taxes to fill their individual needs. 

The following are Howard’s public comments during the February 7, 2017 Board of Supervisors meeting. We will gladly publish any and all public comments made at public meetings as they are submitted to us at
Mr. Chairman:  Members of the Board, Mr. Fedors & Mr. Wilmot.

Howard Mowry, Gloucester Point

            As promised to a few folks I recommend you follow through on this topic since you have already have had a discussion on the subject in the past. Over the past eight years, the working force has seen their economy and jobs decrease to the point where they have to work multiple jobs to stay afloat. This in turn decreases the amount of time they can donate to critical positions required in the county.

          I am speaking about our Rescue Program in the county; many hours are required to learn and become a licensed EMT by the state and be able to operate the vehicle. With this in mind and you should never be caught where you cannot answer the bell.

          I recommend you proceed to have all ambulance movement in the county be a paid for service and all employees receive a salary. There are provisions that can be accomplished for those who lack the insurance for payment as covered by law.

          To make this process work I would suggest you send a small group to Richmond County and be briefed on how they operate and collect their funds for a successful rescue operation in their community.

          I have attached a copy of a redacted billing that provides how the process is billed and what the individual pays, depending on their policy.  The winner now in Gloucester is the insurance company, a profit to the shareholder. 

          With billing to insurance, you free up a large possible budget allocation for items necessary to upgrade and maintain your existing excellence service.

          A process worth tackling immediately and implementing the first of July 017.

2.      The subject of proffers ties into the above subject, a positive use for these funds. Connecting to a shopping center is a disaster, look to Newport News and the carts are left strewed all over the place, especially in the housing areas. We also do not need to waste funds on sidewalks that parallel interstate 17. This highway will eventually become eight lanes wide and the jackhammers will only remove them. Short lane is also a waste of money since it could also become a four-lane road interesting with a four lane T.C. Walker extension towards route 14. I do not believe you are at the 12 year markers, so keep your money in investment until you can spend it wisely.

3.      The change in the real property tax year may well pass tonight, but keep in mind to eliminate stealing from the public the tax rate change should only occur on the first day of the new fiscal year. The windfall then is non-existent; this process should also apply to personal property. If not the need for a balanced budget is only an exercise in balancing numbers to meet state audit regulation, the taxpayer is the loser.

4.      You need to push the buttons at VDOT to have Route 17 re-painted, the lines are just about gone creating a driving hazard at night. Appreciate all you can do to correct this safety hazard.

I thank you for your time.

The following are the public comments Howard made at the Public Hearings on the County Administrator’s proposed list of Capital Improvements (Buildings, parks, parking lots and such they want to build or fix), and on proposed changes to our local government’s ordinance (Local law) on Noise Control. These public hearings also took place during the February 7th meeting:


          Politically you all have major needs at the taxpayers’ expense. The best way is Pay as you go.

          The most critical at present are the software programs that interact with all departments including all public service equipment both audio and software.

School HVAC units have been neglected for more than 40 years now is the time to upgrade without debt.  Buses are an annual requirement by regulation. Millions have been spent on school roofing, the need to have in-house engineering or high school seniors or juniors using a CAD system design truss systems for all the schools similar to Page, along with metal roofing applied. A major cost savings over time.

          Debt needs to be restrained for the next five years at least. Paying down the existing 50 to 60 million unfunded and obligated debt is necessary.

          Consolidation of transportation, facilities, and utilities on one site at T.C. Walker road is a must.

          What has happened to the utility funds outside of the consent order? What is left and why can it not be obligated and utilized now?

2. Noise Control: 

Sitting on my porch today, it was vehicular noisy, are you going to build a wall to suppress this discomfort? I think not.

Noise is music to one’s ear, some for the good and some an irritation. You need to be selective in government control of private property including the individual.

Noise suppression from 10 to 6 AM is a norm. All areas that have condensed housing may have logical restrictions

If you live in the boonies with acreage, you need no government interference unless you are exceeding logical noise decibels.

Animals and fowl talk at all hours of the day or night. Neighbors need to communicate with each other if a problem arises. Most can be resolved without a government rule or the sheriff showing up at the door.

Only the elderly hear some noise so an ordinance would not apply. Loud could be soft who knows.

Let us put logic into the government’s methods as they try to control the mass, which will not work in the long haul.

We thank Howard for his efforts and for his submission. We encourage other Gloucester residents, landowners and businesses to actively follow our elected and employed local government representatives and administrators, and to help hold them accountable for their actions. Remember, all levels of government belong to We The People, but that ownership becomes compromised and weak when We consent to their actions by our silence.

The following web address is to the video recording of the February 7th Board of Supervisors meeting:

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

My experiences while serving as an At-Large member of the Gloucester County, Virginia Public Utilities Advisory Committee (PUAC) (The 3rd in a series of articles about my experiences and findings)

Our Water Treatment Facilities

We all know having access to safe, drinkable water is a necessity in sustaining human life. When we think of drinking water we think “clean”. Don’t we? Shouldn’t the plant our water comes from be clean and the water from it clean when we consume it? Of course it should. And “safe”? It has to be “safe” beyond reproach; Right? Heck yes it does. Do you know where your water comes from? Do you know what is in it? Are we paying a fair price for our water? In this and other articles I will share what I know about our local government operated public water supply system and sewer system. This article is about my first visit to our water treatment plants.

In Gloucester County, Virginia, some residences and businesses obtain water from private wells while others obtain this life sustaining element from our public water supply system. Some of our public schools obtain water from private type wells while others obtain it from our public water supply system. Many people with private wells and their children are likely to consume water from our public supply system at schools, at church, in restaurants, at the hospital, in doctor offices, at a friend’s house and so on. There are a lot of people who come to Gloucester County to visit family and friends, enjoy our historical attractions and attend various events. Many of these people also consume water from our public supply system. With so many people drinking our public water one would think our local government would do everything necessary to insure the safety, quality and availability of the water so many of us consume. That certainly “was not” the impression I was left with after my first visit to our water treatment facilities.

Our local government obtains water from two different types of sources and operates two different types of treatment plants that are located next to each other. Treated water from both sources are combined together to make up the water provided in our public supply system. Our first water source is Beaver Dam Reservoir, which began being used to supply our public water system when our surface water treatment plant was constructed in 1990. Our second source of water is the Potomac Aquifer. We have two deep wells near the water treatment plants that pull brackish (salt containing) water from the aquifer and sends it to our second type of treatment plant; our reverse osmosis plant that was placed into operation in 2003.

When I first visited our water treatment facilities in 2014, I was given a tour by then plant manager Brent Payne. Mr. Payne has since been promoted to Assistant Director of our Utility Department; in my opinion, a well deserved promotion. I have visited several such treatment plants over the years, but I have to say, our plant was without doubt, the absolute worst of them all. Most plants I have visited appeared very clean and well maintained, yet I found our surface water treatment plant to be just the opposite. Mr. Payne showed me various pictures of what areas of our plant looked like when he first began working there and it was even worse than what I was seeing as I walked through the plant. It was evident by the pictures, Mr. Payne and his people had made numerous improvements, but there was still a lot of work to be done to return our plant to an acceptable, up to date condition.

One of the larger rooms in our surface water treatment plant contains numerous large water pipes, valves and pumps that are used to control the flow of water during treatment processes and subsequent implementation of disinfected water into the public supply system. It was evident recent repairs had been made to some of the components within this room, but there was a lot that still needed attention. There were trails of water running into floor drains that were coming from small leaks in various places. There were bolts in valves and other components that were corroded and needed to be replaced several years before I first saw them. It looked like no preventive maintenance had occurred for many years. The only items in the room that looked like they had been painted in the last 20 years were items worked on by Mr. Payne and his crew. Not long after my first visit, a leak occurred in this room which sprayed water onto an electrical panel that was not designed to resist water. A short occurred in the panel, equipment was damaged and our facility and employees were placed in harms way because our local government ignored safety requirements that are diligently enforced upon private citizens and businesses.

I saw rooms inside our surface water treatment plant that were filled with various items that were piled and mixed together with zero thought of accountability, organization or value. Most of the walls throughout our plant looked dingy and as if they had not been painted for many years. The lighting was poor and ventilation seemed inadequate in most areas as it was very humid with the continuous smell of chlorine in the air. 

I went into another larger room that is primarily dedicated to storing and adding various chemicals and compounds used in the surface water treatment processes. Within this room was a smaller room that is dedicated to adding activated carbon (essentially charcoal dust) into the water treatment process. The activated carbon is contained in bags that resemble plastic lined paper grass seed sacks. These bags are periodically dumped by hand into a hopper by our employees. When they dump the bags, black dust fills the air unless there is an adequate exhaust and filter system to collect it as it comes out of the bag. No such system existed at the time of my first visit. The walls and everything else in the room were black from years of carbon dust buildup. When asked, Mr. Payne said he could not guarantee every employee utilized dusts masks, eye protection or other safety devices every time carbon was dumped into the hopper.

Activated Carbon is relatively safe to use, but prolonged exposure to carbon dust has been found to cause pulmonary disorders. For this reason OSHA has established airborne exposure limits and is the reason I wasted no time in bringing my concerns about potential health risks to the attention of our BOS and County administration. A rudimentary exhaust system has since been installed, but I have no knowledge of its make up or effectiveness.   

After visiting our surface water treatment plant we headed to the reverse osmosis plant. This newer plant appeared, at first glance, to be in much better shape than our surface water plant. Mr. Payne explained about the water for this plant coming from two nearby wells that tap into the Potomac Aquifer. He also explained that one of the wells is not used as much as the other because it was positioned in a place containing high iron content. He further explained that iron greatly shortens the life of the plant’s expensive filters. The only way to correct this problem is to drill at another location, verify the water quality and then construct the well pump house. It looks like someone previously skipped the “verify the water quality” step. I wonder how much that screw up will eventually cost us.    

Residents, businesses and others, who obtain water for human consumption from private wells, are responsible for monitoring the safety and quality of water drawn from “their” wells. Samples of private well water can be tested by our local, state government run, Health Department or by private labs like Reed and Associates in Newport News. Our local government is primarily responsible for monitoring the public system water, but the Health Department plays an “oversight” role in the monitoring process. Our public school system is responsible for monitoring water drawn from wells at our schools that are not connected to our public supply system. The Health Department also plays an oversight role in this monitoring process. Considering instances like Flint Michigan; in which local and state government monitors hid substandard test results, coupled with some of the things I have seen and learned about our public water system; I am not convinced our local government has always done the job we have paid or elected them to do.

I will share more of what I have learned about the quality of our public water in later articles. Before I close I want to share this: So far, the picture I have painted of our public water and sewer department is fairly negative. I guess it appears that way because there have been so many years of neglect. In all fairness to the people currently leading our Utilities Department, I have to say they are dedicated, knowledgeable and capable employees. They did not create the mess I am sharing with you in these articles; in fact, they have made some improvements. Our Utilities Department could use more support from our Board of Supervisors, but Utilities and the PUAC could do a much better job of publicly providing our BOS and us with an accurate, nonpolitical and complete picture of the condition and capabilities of our water and sewer infrastructure. More on that later.
Feel free to share this article at your discretion.

Kenneth E. Hogge, Sr.
Gloucester Point, Virginia  

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

My experiences while serving as an At-Large member of the Gloucester County, Virginia Public Utilities Advisory Committee (The 2nd in a series of articles about my experiences and findings)

Utilities' Equipment Storage Yard

As I previously shared; I visited Utilities’ office, equipment storage yard and water treatment plants after being appointed to the PUAC. I began by visiting the equipment yard first and was astounded at its’ dilapidated and unorganized condition. Being retired from the military and from the dirt work side of the construction industry, I am well aware of what an equipment and vehicle storage yard should be like and why. Utilities’ equipment yard is located in the courthouse area, behind Southern States and behind Main Street Center. Access to the yard is limited as it is gained through the Southern States shopping center parking lot and along narrow roads behind the shopping centers. The floor of the yard is made up of various slopes covered in dirt, gravel and grass/weeds. One of Utilities’ heaviest used and oldest sewer pumping stations is located in the rear of the yard. Beyond the pumping station are wetlands with a stream that flows to the Ware River

Inside the yard I observed several portable emergency pump units stored under a pole shed with various usable and unusable pipeline fittings and other items and debris. These pumps are necessary when one or more of the sewer pump stations become inoperable and they vary in price from $35,000 to $50,000 or more. Many of the hoses and fittings to the pumps, which are not cheap either, were lying on the ground in the dirt. Several of the pumps had flat tires and were missing various components. The batteries, like the rest of the pump units, looked like they had not been maintained for a very long time. When I asked Utilities’ employees how many of the pumps actually worked; they said probably none. They said all of the pumps’ batteries were likely dead because they had no way of plugging in chargers to keep them charged. They said when a pump is needed they take what is needed from the other pumps to get one running. I did not find this hard to believe due to the un-maintained appearance of the pumps and other items stored in the yard.

I was shown what was called “Utilities’ repair shop”. This “shop” consisted of what appeared to be an old portable wooden storage building with a ramp at the entrance. There was a riding lawnmower sitting in the middle of the floor with hardly enough room to walk past it on any side because of everything else being stored in the building. I was also shown a small recently built storage building where the employees said mostly copper and brass fittings were stored. I guess the intent was to better secure items that tend to walk away on their own or deteriorate rapidly when left outside on the ground. This building was the best looking and most organized area in the yard.

Utilities has a vactor truck which is essentially a huge shop vac on a truck. The truck is used primarily to vacuum up sewer water and debris and to flush out sewer pipelines. Vactor trucks are necessary pieces of equipment in utility departments like Gloucester’s. Utilities’ vactor truck, which likely cost $150,000 or more when new, was parked under another pole shed type structure. Like the other pole shed in the yard, there is no electricity. This would not be a problem for most any other truck type piece of equipment, but because vactor trucks have water tanks along with numerous fittings and lines that contain water; storing in such conditions during periods of freezing weather will cause many of the water containing components to freeze and burst. Utilities does a pretty good job of minimizing damage due to freezing; but don’t you think there should have been a heated facility for the truck to call home, before it was purchased?

There was no restroom facility or drinkable water located at Utilities’ equipment yard. When I first visited, there was a single user cinderblock outhouse facility inside the chain link fencing and to the right when you first enter the gates. The outhouse no longer had a door or place to sit; in other words it was unusable and appeared to have been like that for a long time. The outhouse has since been torn down and removed. I first thought there may be restrooms in the small cinderblock building that is to the left as you enter the gates. That was not the case, as there were no restrooms or drinkable water anywhere in the yard. An employee said they would typically urinate somewhere out of sight or go to the main office or somewhere else to relieve themselves.

There was a dump truck, backhoe, water trailers and others types of utility related equipment parked in Utilities’ yard. Even though all of the department’s equipment was not present, the yard appeared too small and uneven to safely move and store such equipment. There is also a lack of space to store pipe, fittings and other supplies necessary to repair and maintain our public water and sewer systems. The small amount of storage space within the yard is inadequate and does little to protect supplies from the weather.

Utilities has been in need of a new storage yard and office for a long time. (More about the office later in the series) Several years ago several million dollars were borrowed to, in part, design and construct a new yard. Tens of thousands of dollars was spent to have the design work done and drawings created. Unfortunately instead of making adjustments to the plans and continuing forward, the whole idea was pretty much scrapped by the current Board of Supervisors in 2013. The director of Utilities at that time wanted to buy land for the new yard, but the BOS did not agree and directed Utilities to search properties already owned by the County, to see if there was a parcel suitable for their needs. There was not much of a selection and the only suitable parcels are owned by our school system, so everything pretty much came to a halt. From that point forward I continually suggested constructing a new utility yard and office on the old Page Middle School property as the first step in consolidating certain County and school system functions. (More about the utilization of the old Page property will come later in the series)

The last I heard about Utilities’ yard from one of our Supervisors is they were thinking about building a temporary yard close to the school bus garage to establish a presence on the property; in hopes that someone will want to develop the property and, be willing to pay to relocate Utilities and the school bus garage to another property they hope the developer will purchase; all in exchange for the bus garage property and old Page property. I told the Supervisor nothing should be done if taxpayer money was going to be wasted on such speculative nonsense. Now the BOS and the school board have consented to spending tens of thousands of dollars on a study to determine the best place for the school bus garage facility and Utilities’ facilities to be located. Study after study, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy “so called” expert opinions. What a waste of tax dollars.

After visiting Utilities’ yard I notified appropriate County staff and the BOS of the following safety concerns:

-No restroom facilities at the yard
-No potable water at the yard
-Unsafe equipment maintenance area at the yard
-No eyewash apparatus at the yard
-No readily accessible fire extinguishers at the yard

I did not perform an in-depth safety inspection by any measure. The concerns I noted were nothing more than first glance observations.

In my next article I will describe my visit to Utilities’ water treatment facilities. In upcoming articles I will also share some of my concerns about safety, accountability, water and sewer rates and a few other topics. If you pay taxes or pay for water or sewer in Gloucester County; you should not miss any of the articles in this series.

The third article in this series will be published after the new year begins. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours!!

Kenneth E. Hogge, Sr.
Gloucester Point, Virginia

Thursday, December 8, 2016

My experiences while serving as an At-Large member of the Gloucester County, Virginia Public Utilities Advisory Committee (The first in a series of articles about my experiences and findings)

I was appointed to the Gloucester County Public Utilities Advisory Committee (PUAC) in August 2014, as an At-Large member. From the outside looking in, it appeared to me that Gloucester’s Utility Department (Utilities) was not being managed very well. Being that I am now retired due to disabilities and possess knowledge and experience in water, sewer, and many facets of business management, employee and equipment utilization, safety and a few other areas; I was looking forward to and excited about the opportunity to give back to the community where I grew up.

From the very first meeting I began to realize the PUAC did not serve any realistic purpose and had no true sense of direction. From my very first visits to Utilities’ office, equipment and storage yard, water treatment plants and sewer pumping stations, I could tell everything had been neglected for numerous years. I also noted numerous workplace safety violations which I immediately shared with the Board of Supervisors and appropriate members of County staff. After thinking about the situation for a while I decided I would offer some suggestions to make things better, instead of trying to place blame on those responsible for the excessive neglect of Gloucester taxpayer's and utility customer's infrastructure.

One of my first suggestions as a committee member was the development and implementation of a Utilities enhancement program. The following was my proposal:

Gloucester County Public Utilities Enhancement

As we all know Utilities is not financially self sufficient, numerous areas have degraded for one reason or another over the years and systems expansion is stagnant.  Developing and implementing an enhancement plan utilizing an ownership approach will help considerably in turning Utilities into an efficient and self supporting department.  In order to establish an ownership relationship with Utilities, each committee member would have to look at Utilities as if it were their own personal investment or business.

Each committee member would have to become familiar with Utilities’:
-intradepartmental roles in completing missions
-growth potentials

Collectively the committee would have to identify the areas in which each member has experience or expertise so those talents can be applied accordingly throughout the enhancement process.  For example; if one or two committee members have experience in office management they could focus on areas related to such.

All intradepartmental leaders would need to give a short briefing to the committee in which they define their areas of responsibility, statistics related to their areas, their manpower, etc.  After such briefings, there would need to be an open discussion period for all of the leaders and the committee.  The primary purpose for such briefings and discussion period would be to establish professional, face to face relationships among those responsible for the functionality and care of Gloucester’s utility assets.

Each committee member would need to visit the varying sections of Utilities at least one time per month.  Such visits would serve to educate committee members on what is entailed in performing day to day operations and will help instill the ownership concept.  When employees see people taking interest in what they are doing they tend to perform better.  Such visits would need to be completely observational and educational in nature and all observations and suggestions would need to be presented to the committee before shared with others.  The only exception to this would be for safety concerns.  Situations where a person or persons’ safety is at risk should always be brought to administration’s attention immediately, through whatever means available.

A high level of participation and dedication would be required from all Utilities employees and the advisory committee to insure success of an enhancement program.  The frequency of committee meetings would have to change from bi-monthly to monthly and there would likely be frequent special meetings as well.  Increasing the number of committee meetings would be necessary to heighten focus, enhance the committees’ knowledge base, expedite the enhancement process and establish and maintain forward momentum through all process phases.

Once the above steps are in motion, the committee would then be able to begin to establish concise goals and desired results of the enhancement plan.  That is when the real work would begin.

No interest was shown in developing such an enhancement plan as it never even made it off the table. Changing the frequency of the meetings did not fly either, as it was unanimously voted down by my fellow committee members. I sensed my fellow committee members were unwilling to dedicate the necessary time to fulfill such a plan. From that time forward, the PUAC basically continued along the same path I can only assume it was traveling prior to my appointment; one of no direction or purpose. There will undoubtedly be those who will claim the PUAC has and continues to serve a worthwhile purpose and that everything is fine within Gloucester’s Utility Department. If that were the factual case, none of the articles that will be contained in this series would be necessary. In upcoming articles I will share some of my concerns about safety, accountability, water and sewer rates and a few other topics. If you pay taxes or pay for water or sewer in Gloucester County, you shouldn’t miss any of the articles.

Kenneth E. Hogge, Sr.
Gloucester Point

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Gloucester, VA Animal Control Retaliates Against Us For Exposing Them (Part One)

Retaliation.  Above what you see is Animal Control officer Jeff Stillman taking pictures of me while I was at a local Animal Swap meet at Tractor Supply a couple of weeks ago.  I was with a couple of friends and met with other people who I know at this meet.  The pictures were taken of not only me, but also a couple of the friends I was with.  What set this off?  Nothing that I did.  I could care less that he was there.  I was not even aware that he was doing this until one of the people I was talking with told me he was taking my picture.

Once I was made aware of what he was doing, it became a battle of the cameras.  It would seem clear that this is retaliation for my reporting issues surrounding other Animal Control officers and how they seem from every appearance, to be following made up illegal county ordinances as well as reporting on them as they use government vehicles for personal use.

After several minutes of the Battle of the Cameras, he pulled behind Tractor Supply and called in the Sheriff's department.  Numerous deputies showed up.  After about another 10 minutes, several Sheriff's deputies get out of their vehicles along with Jeff and then they walk up to where I am with a friend and stare us down.  Since that did not work for them, they removed themselves to the middle of the swap meet and it became a Mexican standoff.  I was not about to leave just because they wanted to be intimidating.

Now is this stalking by Jeff Stillman against me and my friends?

That is a tough one.  Technically, Animal Control in the state of Virginia are not considered law enforcement in one area but are in other areas.  They are not police.  Do they have the authority to conduct public investigations?  Not from what I could find.  What right did he have to do this?  If he was out of uniform?  Who cares.  But he was in uniform and on county, hence, taxpayer time.  Am I even someone who needs to be checked out for animal issues?  Don't you have to own animals first?

So if I can not be considered someone who needs to be watched for past animal abuses, then why is he doing this?  All we can come up with is this is pure retaliation.

This picture above is from a story we did on Animal Control where this deputy was about to break into a vehicle and take someone's personal property.  The owner came out just in time.  She was acting on what we have shown to be an illegal county ordinance in our view based on all available state codes and the Dillon Rule research.

That illegal ordinance is in the sign above, again, based on our research and reported here on this site.

Jeff Stillman still has a job even though we reported this issue to county officials.  What did they do, just slap him on the hand while patting him on the back for this retaliation?  This is only part of the story.  There is more coming soon.  This guy carries a gun.  Do I feel safe knowing he is still on the road?  No.  But there seems to be no state law against what he has done.  That means we are all in danger with this guy being out there and county officials don't seem to care.  Who is next?  You?  Will he decide to not use a camera the next time and use his gun?  Who knows?  Either way, it seems clear that he is unstable.

Steve Baranek from another story we did on Animal Control.

This picture was taken inside of Buying It Used, owned by yet another Animal Control deputy.  The above is of County property.  How was it acquired?  It's against county ordinance for county employees to buy county used goods from the county auction site which is how county property is supposed to be disposed of.  The projector says Petsworth School on it's side.