Elkton Council Votes To Finance Jennings House Project

The following article by Kathleen Shaw/DN-R is as published in the Daily News Record (Harrisonburg, VA) on Tuesday, April 21, 2020. (DN-R File Photo)

Taking to Zoom, Elkton Town Council began discussing the financial future of the town on Monday after March’s meeting was canceled.

Center stage of votes and discussion were the plans and funding for the Jennings House project, approved in two 4-3 votes.

During the Civil War, the Jennings House served as a Confederate hospital and bore witness to Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s army marching to Swift Run. Now, the brick structure sits on West Spotswood Avenue in need of repair, which Lantz Construction plans to take on at a cost of $940,000. Lantz Construction is an employee-owned business based in Broadway that also worked on the Elkton Area Community Center. President and CEO Chris Weaver spoke to council about the business’ local connections to the project.

“We have a number of other local personnel who likely will work on the job who are either from or live in the Elkton area,” Weaver said. “The total number of subs and suppliers on the project are 24 different businesses, and the vast majority of those are Valley businesses. So, very much a local project.”

In two close votes, both Lineage Architects’ recommendations and the funding proposals for the Jennings House were approved. Plans include the addition of a stairway, wheelchair lift and lobby as well as updating electric, plumbing, lighting, heating, ventilation, air conditioning and new storm windows.

By voting on the funding, the town has delayed paying interest until next year. The finance committee has not met this year and had not reviewed the decision before it was made.

Council member Margaretta Isom voted against the proposal and said a quick decision made before an in-depth analysis was irresponsible when the financial future is so uncertain.

“I understand that we have a year before we have to make a payment. My problem is making a commitment to that payment when we’re really not sure of a lot of different things at this point,” Isom said. “I’m just concerned about committing our taxpayers to so much debt all at this time when a lot of people are struggling. … It’s good being able to say ‘Oh, I’m not going to have to make a payment.’ … That time is going to come by fast, and there’s going to be a payment coming.”

Weaver said the estimated completion is between four and five months.

Town Manager Greg Lunsford said Monday’s meeting was the first opportunity for the town to discuss regular agenda topics outside of COVID-19 concerns in two months. After joining the town staff in late February, he said management in the current situation has been a whirlwind, but council has taken every change with a grain of salt and adapted well.

“We’ve been going through a very unusual situation so everything that we’ve had to deal with, bear for COVID-19, then on top of that all the regular things we do every day. … Taking care of our budget, our maintenance projects, all of that. We still have to keep the town running, and everyone has done a great job of that,” Lunsford said.

While the pandemic is forcing many businesses to adapt or temporarily close, Lunsford said the meals tax is more than $100,000 overbudget, which provides a safety net if shutdowns extend and threaten future financial plans.

“Originally, we had projected probably losing or gaining only about $5,000 or so. We’re thinking we’re going to be in a much better situation than that, based on the numbers that we’re seeing,” he said.

Public safety reports show that arrests were down from 45 in February to 43 in March and calls for service rose from 166 to 239.

A plan to repair 20 sidewalks is due from the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission by April 29. On June 1, council will regroup with the commission.

Lunsford said paving of C, D, E, F and High streets was delayed when a member of the crew tested positive for COVID-19, but the work has been rescheduled to begin later this week.

Long Enterprises sent the renewal of its contract for trash removal, which will be reviewed at the next council meeting. On April 22 at 2 p.m., the bid opening for contractors for the wastewater treatment and sewer rehab are opening. The chosen contractor will be announced on July 17, and the projected completion is July 2022.

The next finance committee meeting to present the first preliminary budget is on April 28. According to the timeline, on May 12, comments will be addressed from the finance committee and on June 1, a public hearing will be held on the budget before putting it to a final vote on June 15.