Purcellville Mayor Kwasi Fraser delivered his fifth State of the Town address to a nearly full Town Hall Monday night.
About 40 people made it out to hear Fraser give an update on the town’s financial standing, project progress and overall operational status. Following a year-and-a-half of controversy surrounding investigations into ultimately unfounded allegations of misconduct against Police Chief Cynthia McAlister and changing directions on the management of the town’s Fireman’s Field complex, Fraser addressed both topics head-on and presented some of the town’s accomplishments in 2018 and goals moving into 2019.
Fraser began his talk by noting that town staff continued to deliver high levels of services during the McAlister investigation, which forced the chief into paid administrative leave from August 2017 to August 2018. He said the town was transparent during that time by disclosing the costs of the probe and the other investigations into allegations of misconduct by other senior staff members—$891,100 according to the town website—and by publicizing the final report on July 30 last year.
Fraser then dove into a few key areas of focus, which included updates on town operations, public safety and finances.
Perhaps the most talked about topic Fraser brought up dealt with Fireman’s Field management. Early last year, Shaun Alexander Enterprises took over management of the entire 15.89-acre complex as part of a Town Council effort to generate more revenue from the property. The approached fizzled, starting when proposed higher fees prompted the Upper Loudoun Youth Football League to play its season elsewhere after nearly a half century in the complex. When the year ended, SAE was responsible only for the Bush Tabernacle, which lacked a subcontractor to manage day-to-day operations, while the county’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services resumed its long-time role of managing the sports fields.
Fraser said that while there were issues making sports affordable to youth leagues under the SAE contract, Town Council members and town staffers worked to create an interim partnership with the county to maintain the field and to help keep users fees down. He said that residents would see a final long-term agreement with the county in the coming months.
From there, Fraser discussed the police department’s progress last year and how it graduated three new officers from the police academy and hosted six Coffee with a Cop events. He said that the town would identify potential sites for a new police headquarters this year, noting that it paid $100,000 in rent at its “woefully inadequate” location off Hirst Road in 2018.
He also mentioned that the town would prioritize the 48 recommendations made by the Novak Consulting Group following a four-month-long, $69,800 operational assessment of town operations and that implementing those would make the government “more functional.”
As for town finances, Fraser mentioned that the town’s general, water and wastewater fund revenues had all seen increases over 2017—by $228,922, $34,624 and $90,614 respectively.
He also pointed out that the town’s investment portfolio increased by $5.4 million in 2018, up to $14.5 million as of Dec. 31.
“Your money, citizens of Purcellville, is working for you,” he said. “As we sleep, our money is working for us in the bank.”
Fraser also said that the town will need to find ways to pay off utility debt, since water and wastewater expenditures were up in 2018 by $664,073 and $304,119 respectively. “That is a key challenge,” he said.
Among other tidbits Fraser presented, he noted that 225 jobs were created in Purcellville during 2018, 40 new storefronts opened for business and six sports grants totaling $5,200 were awarded to youth sports organizations.
Moving forward, Fraser said that he would be focused on working on a plan to share wastewater treatment operations with the neighboring Town of Hamilton, to bring in more cellular carriers and construct a new cell tower to provide residents with affordable broadband, to find ways to generate revenue from the town-owned Aberdeen Property, and to secure money for town projects.
On the 189-acre Aberdeen Property, Fraser used the phrase “hemp, hops and horses,” to describe options for the town to make money from the land. The town has reviewed proposals for hemp and hops farming and to hold steeplechase events there. He said that because the town is not using the property, it’s a liability, rather than a benefit, to taxpayers. “We need to extract value from that,” he said.
Fraser said he would be on Capitol Hill as a National League of Cities member on March 13 to ask Congressional legislators for money for town projects, like the Hirst Farm Pond construction, Hirst Road safety improvements, Main Street and Maple Avenue improvements and Nursery Avenue improvements.
“I will be knocking on doors and lobbying to bring money back to Purcellville … so we don’t have to go into the pockets of our taxpayers,” he said.
Fraser concluded his address by thanking his wife, Angela, for her support, Town Manager David Mekarski, Administration Director Hooper McCann and Town Clerk Diana Hays for their tenacity, perseverance and commitment to making the town run and residents for their participation in town government.
“Thank you for your loud voice,” he said. “The state of your town is strong and vibrant.”