In his fifth State of the Town address, Purcellville Mayor Kwasi Fraser assured residents that western Loudoun’s largest town is stable financially, growing operationally and thriving economically.
The mayor delivered his annual address to a crowd of about 30 residents in the Town Hall council chambers Monday night, touching on topics of the town’s daily operations, police force, economic development, community engagement, finances and the flawed 2017 investigation into now discredited claims of misconduct against the police chief that continues to affect the town in more ways than one.
“I’m confident that we will rise above the challenges as a community and as a town government,” he said. “The state of our town is strong and resilient.
Fraser said that the town last month successfully worked with its insurance company to settle a lawsuit brought by Police Chief Cynthia McAlister, who sought $16 million in damages. The town has not released the settlement amount, but was expected on Tuesday night to vote to formally ratify that settlement agreement, along with one the town reached with a separate employee affected by the failed investigation.
Town Manager David Mekarski previously said the town would release a full account of the town’s expenses related to those lawsuits once it settles a final outstanding lawsuit—brought by Police Cpl. Kristopher Fraley for $17.2 million.
One of the most heavily scrutinized documents in the town in the last year has been the budget, which was hit by declining water and sewer funds, by 39 and 16 percent respectively, in the past fiscal year. Fraser pointed residents’ attention from the red to the black ink within those funds—where water and sewer revenues were up by $16,000 and $51,000 respectively, although those funds’ expenditures were also up by $165,000 and $113,000.
He added that the town’s overall debt decreased by $7.6 million between July 2014 and July 2019. He said that while that number could be better, the town is committed to not take on more debt, even though it features top credit ratings from Standard and Poor, Fitch and Moody’s.
Fraser also stated the town’s General Fund revenues in 2019 exceeded budget expectations by $746,000, while expenditures were $434,000 below projections.
Operationally, Fraser said the town staff worked to enhance its effectiveness in serving residents, specifically through automated systems. He praised the town staff for setting up livestream recordings of Town Council and Planning Commission meetings, for earning the water treatment plant its 12th consecutive excellence award and for working with the Planning Commission to update the Comprehensive Plan and bring it before the Town Council for a vote.
The Town Council is soon expected torefer that plan back to the Planning Commission to make edits and restart the 90-day adoption clock.
Fraser also directed attention toward the town’s economy, where 23 new stores and 18 home-based businesses opened in 2019, and 137 new jobs were created. He pointed out that the town is also now home to 10 banks within its 3.4-square-mile corporate limits.
Talking about the commercialized downtown, Fraser said he would like to see more murals to accompany the “Welcome to Purcellville” mural thatgraphic designer Addie Moore completed on the side of the Purcellville Family Restaurant in July.
In the public safety realm, Fraser said that since he was elected mayor in 2014, the Police Department has hired several new police officers, including the town’s first ever deputy chief, and has outgrown its headquarters—which is why the town is evaluating new locations.
The Town Council on Tuesday was expected to discuss options to build a new police headquarters, rather than find empty space to move into.
“We’re committed operationally and as a Town Council to assess and evaluate properties,” Fraser said.
Fraser also noted that the third annual Cabin Fever Film Festival has grown from showing six films in its inaugural year in 2018 to 14 this year and hopefully 28 in 2021. He also stressed to the town’s youth that, contrary to what many of them might think, Purcellville can be an engaging place for them to live. He pointed to the makerspace that was opened in 2018 in a converted town maintenance building where kids can woodwork and experiment with robotics, among other activities.
He said the town is also looking to partner with area businesses to build a bike and skate park.
Looking forward to the remainder of the 2019 calendar year and toward Fiscal Year 2021, Fraser said he’s focused on implementing several initiatives to bring the town more revenue and provide its residents with more amenities.
One of those is an idea to look at the Fireman’s Field complex as more than a destination for baseball. Fraser said he has been told that drone racing might be a viable option for the complex. He also suggested that the town could sell its reclaimed water to, and treat the wastewater of, the county as it works on projects like the planned Rt. 7/690 interchange that’s scheduled to open in summer 2024.
On the 189-acre Aberdeen Property, Fraser said the town continues to explore hemp, hops and horses—a reference to past ideas to grow hemp and/or hops on the property, or bring in steeple chase events.
Fraser said the town also needs to implement a managed deer hunt for residents and staff members on Aberdeen. Those discussions follow a December 2017 Town Council vote to prohibit town staffers from hunting and fishing on the town’s reservoir property after nearly a century because council members wanted to provide more public access.
“We need to reinstitute that program, but we need to make it equitable for our residents and town staff,” Fraser said.
He said that he and Hamilton Mayor Dave Simpson also have petitioned the county Board of Supervisors to begin construction on a Hamilton-to-Purcellville sidewalk.
Fraser said that while he knows the town still faces many challenges, he is sure it will continue to improve its operations on all fronts.
“I remain confident that we will persevere in maintaining the safe, healthy quality of life, small-town atmosphere and positive values,” he said. “The state of our town is strong.”