By: Terry Harris | Email: Click Here
Posted: January 25, 2019 | 10:52 a.m
TOWN OF WAVERLY – In 2018, a platform of improvements and transparency swept a new mayor and entire town council into office in Waverly. Last week, Mayor Angela McPhaul shared insights into challenges and accomplishments during their first six months in office and goals of the team going forward.
“We all ran on a platform that Waverly was in decline and we needed to stop the status quo,” McPhaul began. “There have been challenges. When we began serving on July 1, the communications supervisor and clerk of council had resigned and left in June and the treasurer was on her way out. We discovered that terms of three members of the board of zoning appeals expired during the previous administration, so we recommended three new members who now have been appointed by Circuit Court Judge Sharett. I think the first several council meetings lasted three hours. We spent the first month meeting with department heads, watching and listening. And then we hit the ground running.”
One major accomplishment by the new town council was that in September, through a great deal of research and pulling together various factions involved with the project, they were able to get the main water tower – which had been down for several years – back up and running.
“Now that the tower is back on line we are working toward a flushing program to help with brown water complaints,” McPhaul said, explaining that progress has been delayed recently due to a “tremendous number of leaks over the past six weeks, plus ongoing winter weather is not conducive to flushing large amounts of water into the streets.”
McPhaul added that the completed design for well house 4 and is currently with the Virginia Department of Health for review and approval, and they hope to have this project out for bid within a few weeks.
One early, well-received project was a 5K Race with 15 local sponsors and over 80 participants. McPhaul said that the project was undertaken both to help promote a spirit of coming together among all town citizens and to address concern about the lack of shade at the Allen W. Gibson Memorial Park. She said that the recently completed park was lovely, but lack of any way to cool off during the hot summer months had been cutting down on use of the facility. The town-sponsored race raised $5,200 to help get trees planted in the park, and is expected to be an annual event.
A major challenge occurred in early October when the interior structure of a commercial building at 315 West Main collapsed, leaving only the unstable exterior and a dangerous situation that necessitated the closure of Main Street and nearby sidewalks.
“Through an enormous, coordinated effort between the mayor, several council members, the town attorney, and Sussex County, we were able to partially demolish the exterior within a week in order to render the downtown area safe and to re-open Main Street,” McPhaul reported. “Thanks to the county helping us secure a $40,000 grant, the issue has not cost the town any money to date.”
Asked about some lingering confusion concerning the demolition, McPhaul said, “In a previous article I spoke of the town attorney drawing up papers for the town to take ownership of the building as an emergency measure for safety reasons. That was the original idea, but after further research the town attorney instead drew up a Consent of Lienholder to Nuisance Abatement Agreement – which did not give the town ownership but did give us the right to go ahead and begin demolition. Research by the town attorney into some extenuating circumstances that we were not aware of when the building collapsed continues, and once these are cleared up, we intend to complete the building demolition and decide what to do with the empty lot.”
“In September the town hired Lee Copeland, a Building Inspector/Zoning Administrator who works for the town hourly as needed,” she continued. “He already has provided critical guidance after the collapse of the 315 West Main Street Building and for the closing of the Melody Inn. Starting in February we will be working aggressively to address houses abandoned and in disrepair as well as non-operable cars and cars with expired tags and inspection stickers sitting in the front of homes.”
Asked to elaborate on the closure of the Melody Inn, McPhaul said, “After numerous complaints about the Melody Inn, we looked into it and discovered that the owner had not paid their town taxes or paid for a Business License in 5 years. Subsequently, a report prepared by the State Health Department and by the Town of Waverly Building Inspector indicated that The Melody Inn is basically uninhabitable due to conditions found during the inspection. To date, there has been no response from owners, no back taxes or business license fees have been paid, and they have not applied for a permit to repair the Inn.”
Another discovery by the new town council has already resulted in some changes affecting all Waverly citizens. After learning that outstanding real estate and property taxes have gone uncollected for years in Waverly, the town offered an amnesty month during November, waiving penalty and interest for back taxes. The treasurer’s office also mailed out both personal property and real estate tax bills in one envelope and added a page showing overdue taxes. This both saved several hundred dollars in postage and made it easier for citizens to understand their unpaid tax liability. Since then, McPhaul said, “We have had quite a few citizens come to town hall to meet with the acting treasurer to better understand their bills and to make payment arrangements, and to those citizens we are very appreciative.”
Addressing two significant law enforcement upgrades on tap, Mayor McPhaul said that due to the current fleet of police vehicles including several with up to 300,000 miles and monthly repair and maintenance bills running higher than monthly payments to replace those vehicles, the town will take delivery on some new police cars this spring. Also, the police department was awarded a $45,000 grant to update the technology to a new system – SOMA – with a target date of going live in March.
“We have done much, but we know that there’s much yet to do,” McPhaul said. “A grocery store is what we hear the most about. And while we realize that on the outside it may look like little progress is being made, we do ask citizens to realize that efforts like this have to go on behind the scenes in the beginning stages. No one will be happier than we when we are able to announce something concrete. In the meantime, it’s important to realize that so much else goes on in the town on a daily basis.”
“When we ran for office, “ she continued, “we constantly heard about the lack of communication between elected officials and citizens. Now the Town of Waverly has a Facebook Page that is updated each Friday – https://www.facebook.com/townofwaverlyvirginia/ – that is updated each Friday. We encourage everyone to join our page to stay up to date on everything going on in our town. Also The Town of Waverly Website we’ve been working on should be up and running in the next few weeks.”
Harkening back to one of the things that she said first caused her to want to get involved with a “clean up” effort in Waverly, McPhaul added, “I am constantly saddened as I drive down the streets in Waverly to see the amount of litter and the terrible example being set for younger children. So I have spoken with Ms. Latham at the Library and with Dr. Tolliver at the Jessica Moore Foundation. We are planning to work with the children who use their facilities to better educate them about littering and how important it is to take care of the Town in which we all live.”
McPhaul said that even when faced with all the work still ahead for the town, she sees encouraging signs that progress is being made.
“We were happy last month when the council meeting agenda only needed a regular sheet of paper – and not a legal sheet – to fit all of the agenda items,” she said. “There really isn’t a way to start as mayor on Day 1 and know everything you need to know to run a town. I try to draw on my experience in the private sector as a business owner and make informed decisions. Have I made some mistakes? Absolutely. But I try to correct those mistakes, learn from them, and use that knowledge to move forward. I really love helping citizens of the town of Waverly. If somebody wants to meet with the mayor, I meet with them – usually the same day. So often there’s an easy fix for a problem that only involves making a few phone calls. I am proud of the accomplishments that the town council has made, and we all encourage citizens to come to our town council meetings on the second Tuesday of the month at 6:30 at town hall. I really do welcome calls at 804-834-2330 and visits at our offices at 119 Bank Street, and typically am there Monday through Friday, 8 – 5. Or anyone is welcome to set up an appointment. If you have a question, ask me. Ask us. We ran on a platform of transparency. We remain dedicated to that.”