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Stepped-up traffic safety enforcement among uses of county budget surplus

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Thanks to a hiring freeze, cautious spending and increased local sales tax revenue as people shopped close to home during the pandemic, the Fauquier County government had $10.2 million left over from its fiscal year 2021 budget.

At their Nov. 10 meeting, county supervisors voted to allocate $254,000 of the surplus to fund increased traffic safety enforcement. The money will pay for overtime salaries for two sheriff’s deputies per day for six months. “The deputies will be conducting targeted enforcement on all of the major roadways in the county,” according to the sheriff’s office.

Supervisors also allocated $250,000 to Hero’s Bridge, a local nonprofit dedicated to providing services to military veterans, toward the construction of 25 to 50 “micro houses” for low-income military veterans. The concept is still in the early planning stages, the CEO Molly Brooks told supervisors, but she hopes to negotiate a lease at the state-owned Puller Center campus in Vint Hill for the “village.”

The Fauquier SPCA was allocated $101,000 to offset increased expenses over the last year. Because of delays to court proceedings during the pandemic, the organization has needed to house seized animals for longer than normal.

Supervisors also allocated $100,000 toward the renovation of the Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services Board building on Hospital Hill in Warrenton; the building will be used as an in-patient “step-down” drug addiction treatment center. The PATH Foundation has committed $700,000 to the project, with the rest of the money coming from the community service board’s budget.

Following the county’s budget policy, half the FY 2021 surplus — $5.1 million — was allocated to the capital reserve fund, leaving about $4.3 million of the surplus uncommitted. A public hearing was held Nov. 10 before the vote to allocate the surplus funds, but no members of the public chose to speak.

Traffic enforcement

The Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office will receive $254,000 to increase traffic safety enforcement efforts around the county for six months. The additional funds will be used to put two additional patrol deputies on the roads on any given day, focusing on times of day that see high levels of traffic.

“The deputies will be conducting targeted enforcement on all of the major roadways in the county,” explained Capt. Chad Brubaker in an email Friday. “They specifically plan to hit [Routes] 29, 28, 17, and 50. In the event we find a secondary roadway needs attention we can pivot to that need very easily. This targeted enforcement will be in addition to the normal patrol functions that the shifts perform.”

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The speed limit has been lowered to 35 miles per hour for traffic approaching the Interstate 66 interchange from the south on U.S. 17.

Brubaker pointed as an example to a fatal Nov. 10 crash on Dumfries Road between Warrenton and Nokesville. “We worked a fatal crash Wednesday evening that involved a Woodbridge man illegally passing another vehicle,” he said. “Our aim is to combat this type of behavior and improve the safety on the roadways by proactively enforcing traffic laws.”

Sheriff Bob Mosier elaborated on the issue. “We’ve had complaints about unsafe driving all over the county,” he said. The additional patrol deputies will be assigned based on complaints from residents and on crash data.

“We’re taking a proactive approach,” he said, noting that reports of speeding and unsafe driving have increased across the country since the height of the pandemic, when many people were working from home or out of a job. And, he said, the addition of new housing developments in places like Bealeton and Marshall means that more drivers are on local roads.

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Supervisor Holder Trumbo (Scott District) speaks during a Nov. 10 Fauuqier County Board of Supervisors meeting.

Supervisor Holder Trumbo (Scott District) explained his support for the six-month funding. “The point here isn’t that we’re going after Fauquier people. The problem here is that the volume of traffic has increased dramatically in the past two decades,” he said. Most of the traffic on U.S. 29 northeast of Warrenton, for instance, originates outside Fauquier County, he said.

“The point here is that the dramatic increase in the volume of traffic — without any increase in the size of the roads” has combined with a recent uptick in “excessive speeding,” he said. “That creates not just a very dangerous situation, but an untenable situation for the folks who live here.”

He’s heard from many residents in New Baltimore, for instance, who have difficulty accessing the main roads safely from their driveways or neighborhood streets.

The extra enforcement isn’t necessarily meant to be permanent or to put an undue burden on county residents, Trumbo emphasized. Rather, he said, it’s a “a tool in the toolbox” for when “things get out of hand.” If data suggests more enforcement would be beneficial at the end of the current six-month funding period, the supervisors could consider allocating more money.

“What we’re doing is kind of a trial basis,” he explained.

Fauquier SPCA

Supervisors allocated $101,000 of the budget surplus to the Fauquier SPCA. The organization receives $300,000 from the county’s regular budget each year, meant to cover the cost of the legally mandated services the SPCA, a private nonprofit, provides on behalf of the county. The SPCA’s annual budget exceeds $1 million, with most funding coming from private donors.

Tim Nevill, the organization’s treasurer, said Monday that the 70 dogs seized from Broad Run resident Irina Barrett in February 2020 as part of a criminal case coincided with the pandemic to put a severe financial strain on the organization.

The criminal animal abuse case against Barrett — along with the civil case that will ultimately determine whether she must give up custody of the dogs permanently — has dragged on since then, with trials scheduled, canceled and rescheduled. The case is currently set for a September 2022 trial, although a motion to dismiss most of the evidence in the case on constitutional grounds is currently pending.

Meanwhile, Nevill said, the SPCA was responsible for providing medical treatment and housing for the dogs while the case played out — and continues to play out — in court. And, he said, the volume of animals from that single court case overwhelmed the organization’s ability to perform other functions, like taking in strays and adopting them out at the same levels as before 2020.

The Barrett case, he said, “basically shut us down. Not only did we have full capacity, but we lost all the adoptive capacity.” Fees for adoption and other services, which Nevill emphasized do not cover the SPCA’s full costs of treating and housing stray animals, have fallen to $48,000 this year compared to $81,000 in the same period in 2019. And, he said, the $300,000 provided annually hasn’t changed in several years, even as the organization’s costs have risen in general.

“We’ve tried to pro-rate [the estimated cost] honestly,” Nevill said of calculating the financial burden of the Barrett dogs. The organization has been forced to use money from private donations to cover the difference, he added. “I think the county should be paying for their own services and not relying on us to dip into our donated funds,” he said. “I feel the county has not paid their fair share.”

Board of Supervisors Chairman Chris Granger (Center District) disputed this claim, however. “The amount we put in the carryover [spending package] is what they could quantify,” he said.

An itemized list of expenses compiled at the request of the courts for the Barrett case claims hundreds of thousands of dollars in per-diem expenses totaling $376,000. Another $612,000 in payroll expenses related to the dogs is listed, along with thousands for other items like veterinarian treatment and medicine. The expense report created for the courts totals $1.08 million.

“Every time we have a court case, they want all the documentation and costs,” said Nevill. “We weren’t looking for the $1.1 million [from the board of supervisors].” He acknowledged that quantifying the actual expenses of certain animals or court cases can be nearly impossible, and that reasonable people can disagree over the impact of this or that circumstance. “We were trying to nail it down [with the county budget office],” he said, “but some of those numbers are so abstract.”

Granger explained the reasoning behind the $101,000 ultimately allocated to the SPCA as part of the carryover spending package, pointing to another document listing the SPCA’s actual year-over-year expenditures. The document shows an actual increase of $101,000 from 2019 to 2020.

“Simple answer: Their annual budget is about $1.2 million,” Granger said in a text message Tuesday. “Last year, they only saw about a $100,000 increase, NOT total expenditures of $2-plus million.” Reimbursing the actual increase in the SPCA’s expenses was the purpose of last week’s budget surplus allocation, he said.

Reach Coy Ferrell at cferrell@fauquier.com

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