Two agenda items stir Clarke officials

Posted: January 8, 2013

The Winchester Star

BERRYVILLE — The General Assembly won’t convene until Wednesday for its annual legislative session in Richmond, but the Clarke County Board of Supervisors is already worried about how some proposed legislation could affect localities.

At a Monday work session, the supervisors agreed to send letters to General Assembly committees, area legislators, the Virginia Association of Counties and neighboring counties to protest two matters up for discussion.

House Bill 1430 would allow retail activities on farm land — a measure that board Chairman Michael Hobert says would “curtail local zoning” by barring county governments from deciding what activities can take place in agricultural zones.

If approved, the bill would “dramatically affect local zoning,” said Hobert, adding that the state will allow “almost anything in agriculture areas.”

Supervisor John Staelin said the bill is being proposed because state wineries are doing well. These enterprises “make money off events,” Staelin said, and now other farmers are asking, “Why can’t I?”

Supervisor David Weiss said the change would make a farming operation just a “backdrop” for other businesses.

Even a large restaurant could be put on a farm under the state’s criteria, Staelin said.

Clarke leaders also found fault with Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proposed 2 percent pay hike for teachers.

Under the plan, localities would have to come up with matching funds in order to get the state money.

Thomas Judge, Clarke’s finance director, said the proposal would bring the county an extra $86,000 for teachers required under the state’s Standards of Quality, but the county would have to provide $292,000 to get that money.

Staelin pointed out that Clarke gave all its educators a 2 percent pay raise last year, when few other jurisdictions did.

“We might be more supportive,” he said, if the state would allow that pay increase to qualify as the county’s matching funds for this year’s state increase.

Judge noted that the state generally budgets for two years, and 2013 is the second year of that biennium.

If the state would give credit for a pay raise within that time period, Clarke would be fine, since last year’s 2 percent raise is already built into the county’s budget.

Weiss said the state shouldn’t tell the county that it has to give a pay raise, unless it is willing to pay the whole thing.

Attending the meeting in the Joint Government Center were Chairman Michael Hobert and Supervisors John Staelin, Beverly McKay, David Weiss and Barbara Byrd.

— Contact Val Van Meter at vvanmeter@winchesterstar.com