The 10 biggest stories of 2018

By Christina Dimeo, editor

From controversies over logos and speeding tickets to dedications of solar farms and museums, last year was a busy one for Fluvanna County. Here, in no particular order, are the 10 biggest stories of 2018.

Controversy roils over rainbow F logo
Fluvanna’s most intense controversy of 2018 unleashed over a request from students in the high school’s Alliance Club, a group for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) students and allies, to use a rainbow-color version of the Fluco logo.

Initially the club wanted to offer stickers bearing the rainbow F logo to teachers and staff to display in their rooms as a sign of a “safe space” for LGBTQ students.

Superintendent Chuck Winkler presented the club’s request to the School Board in an Oct. 10 closed session meeting.

Somehow Rob Schilling, a radio host and blogger for the conservative Bearing Drift website, ended up with a color picture of the formal request letter. On Nov. 2, five days before the request was made public, Schilling posted a column entitled “The culture wars come to Fluvanna,” in which he described the request and took a stand against it.

People packed a Nov. 7 School Board meeting, expressing views both for and against the rainbow F. About three-quarters of the speakers supported the request and about one-quarter opposed it. Many on both sides protested what appeared to be a deliberate leaking of student information to a blogger. At the meeting, the Alliance Club dropped the part of its request that involved giving the logo to teachers for classroom display.

Though the School Board had first learned of the request a month prior to the Nov. 7 meeting, it decided not to make a decision that night due to insufficient legal knowledge.

The School Board conducted a self-investigation in response to the anger over the apparent leaking of the student’s letter to Schilling. Chair Perrie Johnson stated at a Dec. 19 meeting that the self-investigation concluded no one on the School Board had leaked the letter.

No decision was reached Dec. 19 either. School Board member Andrew Pullen did not attend the meeting and did not respond to requests for comment as to why. In his absence the board split 2-2 (Johnson and Shirley Stewart for the logo, Charles Rittenhouse and Brenda Pace against). The board will discuss the rainbow F for a fourth time Jan. 9.

Farm Heritage Museum dedicated
After years of planning, the Farm Heritage Museum at Pleasant Grove celebrated its dedication Aug. 4.

The Fluvanna Historical Society spearheaded the effort to construct the barn-like museum, which will house a collection of antique farm equipment donated by local farmer, John May, and his family.

The museum cost slightly over $300,000 to construct. The historical society provided $272,000 of that total. For years 50 percent of the proceeds from Old Farm Day, Fluvanna’s celebration of its farm heritage, were squirreled away for the new museum.

Fluvanna County also contributed financially to the project.

The museum’s exhibits should be in place by this year’s Old Farm Day on May 4.

CVEC launches broadband project
Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (CVEC) launched an ambitious project to provide all its Fluvanna customers with an option for broadband in the next five years.

The $110 million project includes a $20 million to $25 million investment in Fluvanna.

CVEC covers about 85 percent of Fluvanna with about 8,600 points of service. Dominion Virginia Power serves the other Fluvanna locations.

Expanding internet access and capacity for Fluvanna residents and businesses is important, Jason Smith, former economic development coordinator, told the Board of Supervisors Aug. 1.

Some homeowners can’t sell their properties because they don’t have internet access and prospective buyers aren’t interested. The internet has become ubiquitous in today’s society and residents without access are significantly hampered. Businesses are also unlikely to locate to areas without internet access.

Fluvanna’s Economic Development Authority has offered CVEC $500,000 in tax rebates for the portion of the project being completed in the county. CVEC’s investments in Fluvanna will bring in tax dollars after the $500,000 rebate has been satisfied.

CVEC’s Firefly Fiber Broadband company will offer high-speed internet with unlimited data at 100 megabits per second for $49.99 per month or one gigabit per second of unlimited data for $79.99 per month. “Unlike many other internet services, the download and upload speeds will be the same on the Firefly network,” according to a CVEC press release. Firefly will also offer voice-over IP phone service with unlimited local and long-distance calling in the continental U.S. for $29.99 as an add-on to internet service.

The project is expected to create about 10 new jobs in Fluvanna.

CVEC President Gary Wood likened his company’s broadband project to the rural electric cooperative push to provide electricity to rural areas in the 1930s. “Just like in those early days, the cooperative has decided that if no one else will build the infrastructure to serve us all, we will do it ourselves,” he wrote in a letter to CVEC customers.

CVEC aims to have service to the Zion Crossroads area by the end of this year. In subsequent years it will expand its network throughout the county, and will finish by the end of 2024 if all goes according to plan.

Fluvanna County has partnered with CVEC to apply for a broadband grant from the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative. This grant would help defray the costs to bring broadband to the Columbia District.

The grant helps to supplement construction costs by private broadband providers, such as CVEC, who work in partnership with local governments.

If Fluvanna receives the grant, CVEC will have one year to complete the work. The county expects to find out sometime this spring whether it was selected.

Fluvanna picks winning candidates, soundly rejects meals tax
Fluvanna residents voted in the Nov. 6 election for Democrat Tim Kaine for U.S. Senate and Republican Denver Riggleman for U.S. House of Representatives for the 5th District. Kaine and Riggleman both won their races.

Kaine took 5,976 Fluvanna votes (49.8 percent) while Republican candidate Corey Stewart took 5,789 votes (48.3 percent). Libertarian Matt Waters took 217 votes (1.8 percent).

Riggleman earned 6,168 Fluvanna votes (51.5 percent), while Democratic candidate Leslie Cockburn took 5,785 votes (48.3 percent).

Voters flatly rejected Fluvanna County’s proposed 4 percent meals tax: 8,329 voters opposed the tax (71.0 percent), while 3,404 voters supported the tax (29.0 percent).

Voter turnout was higher this year than in previous midterm elections. Of the 18,543 registered Fluvanna voters, 12,029 (64.9 percent) cast a ballot. In the 2014 midterms, by contrast, 49.5 percent voted, and 57.7 percent voted in the 2010 midterms.

Suspects arrested in cold case murder
Jesse Morgan Hicks, Jr., disappeared from Fluvanna County 14 years ago and the case eventually went cold.

But Albemarle County police arrested two men Oct. 11 in connection with his murder: Richard Glenn Spradlin, 56, and his son Kevin Michael Moore, 34.

Each has been charged with one felony count of first-degree murder, one felony count of conspiracy to commit murder, and one felony count of using a firearm in commission of a felony.

What led to the arrest of the two Albemarle County men after 14 years has not been disclosed. Authorities have released little information about the case, including the exact location where Hicks’ body was found or the cause of death. Search warrants issued in the case have been sealed by an Albemarle County judge.

Hicks was reported missing to the Fluvanna County Sheriff’s Office Sept. 1, 2004. Spradlin and Moore have been charged with offenses on that date.

Hicks was declared legally dead in January 2012. His remains were discovered May 7, 2014, near Keene in southern Albemarle County. He was 47 when he disappeared.

Spradlin is scheduled for a five-day jury trial June 17 in Albemarle. Moore is set for a hearing Feb. 4.

Spradlin posted bond Oct. 24. Moore is being held without bond at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail.

Home values increase 4.7 percent
The value of Fluvanna homes increased by an average of 4.7 percent, according to information presented to the Board of Supervisors Oct. 3 by Randy Willis, assessor for Pearson’s Appraisal Service.

Excluding Lake Monticello, county properties increased by 5.4 percent. Lake Monticello saw a 3.4 percent increase.

The 2019 reassessment was administrative, meaning that assessors only visited properties that underwent some kind of change, such as an addition or a new finished basement. The next assessment in 2021 will be a general reassessment, in which every property is examined.

The reassessment values took effect Jan. 1.

Willis noted that residents’ feelings about their reassessment values align closely with their purposes for their property. If homeowners want to sell, they are typically pleased with increased value. If they plan to stay put, however, they may be unhappy because they will pay more in taxes.

Residents had the option of appealing their reassessments for a window of time after receiving their notices in the mail.

Supervisors raise taxes 3.5 percent
The Board of Supervisors voted April 11 to increase the real estate tax rate by about 3.5 percent, from 90.7 cents per $100 valuation to 93.9 cents.

A resident who owns a house valued at $200,000 now pays $64 more per year in real estate taxes, for a total of $1,878.

The vote also passed the $77.6 million budget for fiscal year 2019, which stretches from July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2019.

Supervisors kept other tax rates steady from last year. The personal property tax is $4.35 per $100 valuation, the business personal property tax is $2.90, and the machinery and tools tax is $1.90.

Three cents of the 3.2-cent increase came from costs associated with the Zion Crossroads water system and the E911 radio project.

Supervisors passed the budget and tax rates with a vote of 4-1 (Supervisor Don Weaver dissenting).

Lake Monticello implements, then drops, controversial speeding policy
The Lake Monticello Board of Directors made waves this year by implementing a controversial speeding policy it later dropped.

Originally the Lake Monticello Police Department (LMPD) only issued Fluvanna County traffic citations for drivers caught going 39 miles per hour (mph) or above.

But on Jan. 25 the board voted unanimously to implement a plan under which the LMPD could issue a policy violation – rather than a Fluvanna County speeding ticket – for drivers clocked at speeds between 26 and 39 mph. The plan also allowed the LMPD to issue a policy violation to drivers who failed to come to a complete stop at stop signs.

Under the policy, if a Lake resident’s guest or hired contract worker were stopped for minor speeding, the so-called compliance ticket would go to the resident, who is “responsible” for anyone they let in the gates under the homeowners’ association rules.

The $50 compliance tickets would have been paid to the Lake Monticello Owners’ Association (LMOA). Offenders would have gone before the Lake Compliance Committee if they desired to argue their cases.

Director Tom Braithwaite and the board said that one factor in their decision was the loss of revenue to LMOA, which does not benefit from county court fines and has to make LMPD officers available for court hearings.

But at a June 21 meeting, Board President Richard Barringer said, “It turns out we can’t do that.”

“If our private police force uses the state system to check for wants and warrants for a vehicle stopped, and if a ticket is issued, we are obligated to issue…a county ticket,” Barringer said in an email.

Solar farm opens in Troy
Fluvanna now has a solar energy center in Troy. The Palmer Solar Center, a 41-acre field of solar panels, held a dedication ceremony May 22.

The solar center, along with the 35-acre Martin Solar Center in Goochland County near Kents Store, will convert light into energy for at least the next 25 years. Together, the two solar centers can produce 10 megawatts of power – enough to meet the needs of 1,200 homes a year. It is the largest solar project undertaken by an electric cooperative in Virginia to date.

The facilities were developed and built by Coronal Energy, a Charlottesville-based solar energy company. Coronal will continue to own and operate the facilities, and Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (CVEC) has contracted to buy the output from both plants for the next 25 years.

Debra Roepke, of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, said that cooperative solar is surging across the country, with co-ops like CVEC producing 877 megawatts of solar power nationwide with another 800 megawatts under consideration. She noted that CVEC was one of only 10 cooperatives in the country to tackle a 10 megawatt project.

A group of about 75 people gathered for the ceremony. Gov. Ralph Northam gave a speech, saying that investment in renewable energy is not only good for the environment but is also good for business, given that it draws new businesses to Virginia and creates jobs.

County Administrator Steve Nichols announces retirement
County Administrator Steve Nichols announced his upcoming retirement at the Dec. 19 meeting of the Board of Supervisors. Nichols will retire July 5, after serving over seven years as Fluvanna’s county administrator.

“I will always look back with pride at Fluvanna’s path over the last decade, and for my small part in the positive changes that have occurred,” Nichols wrote in his resignation letter. “I also look forward to fewer meetings, more travel, and the time to become a more accomplished goof off, gopher and golfer in my retirement years.”

Nichols praised Fluvanna County staff and recommended that Eric Dahl, deputy county administrator and finance director, take over as his replacement.

Nichols will turn 65 years old in June.


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