By Carol Vaughn —
The Onancock Town Council voted to set a public hearing Monday, April 11, at 7 p.m., to receive comment on an ordinance amendment that would increase ten-fold the fine for violating the prohibition against a dog running at large, among other changes meant to address nuisance dogs.
The current ordinance has a $25 fine for violating the leash law. That is proposed to be increased for the second or subsequent offense to $250, the maximum allowed by state law.
Onancock Police Chief Eric Williams and Town Manager Matt Spuck said the town received numerous reports in the last four to six weeks about a dog running at large and acting aggressively.
After some difficulty, the owner was identified in mid-March and was notified by letter about the dog being loose in violation of the ordinance. The owner was issued a summons.
The owner has been given a citation for each incident since, including “a much more egregious and violent attack” Sunday, according to Spuck.
If the dog is found running loose again before a court hearing in mid-April, it may be taken into custody and held by animal control until the hearing, according to state law, he said.
“This dog has caused trauma and horrible anxiety around town … but there are also limitations on how we can respond,” Spuck said.
Resident Speaks About Double-Digit Assessment Increase
Onancock resident Don Ruthig during a public comment period said the assessed value of his residence went up 26% after the 2002 assessment, compared to neighbors just outside the town limits, whose property was assessed at only 1% higher than in the previous assessment. Neighbors across the creek saw their assessed property value increase between 1% and 5%, he said.
“It’s incumbent upon the Town Council to hold the county accountable,” he said, calling discrepancies between in-town and out-of-town property values “an egregious difference” and alleging the Accomack County assessor “has redlined Onancock.”
He asked town officials to address the matter with Accomack County.
“The townspeople of Onancock are getting the shaft,” Ruthig said.
Mayor Fletcher Fosque asked if the town can appeal the whole assessment.
Council members also commented.
“How do we influence the county to take another look at this?” said Maphis Oswald, adding, … It’s just wrong.”
The average value of real estate countywide went up more than 9%, Accomack County Administrator Mike Mason said at the February Accomack County Board of Supervisors meeting.
Three districts — Captains Cove, Chincoteague, and Onancock — showed much higher increases than the county average.
Values on average increased 30.8% in Captains Cove; 19.2% in Chincoteague; and 18.8% in Onancock.
The increases resulted from escalation of sales prices starting in the latter months of 2020 and continuing through 2021, according to Accomack County Assessor Brent Hurdle.
Pavilion Plan Approved
Plans to construct a multipurpose performance pavilion on the grounds of Historic Onancock School advanced after the Onancock Town Council approved the project at its meeting Monday.
Rick King of Historic Onancock School said the approximately 67- by 52-foot pavilion will be roofed and open on the sides.
It will be built around 135 to 140 feet behind one corner of the school building.
The council’s approval is required to build anything on the property, which the town owns and Friends of Historic Onancock School leases.
The pavilion, in addition to providing space for outdoor performances that will bring in money for improvements to the historic school building and grounds, also will provide economic benefit to the town as a whole, according to King.
“All this will help draw increased tourism to the town,” he said.
Funds have been raised for the pavilion, which King said the organization hopes to see completed in time for events next spring.
Homestay Businesses Approved
The council approved special use permits for two homestay, or short-term rental, businesses, one at 3 White St. and one at 12 Joynes St.
The residence at 3 White St., has been unoccupied for many years and will be renovated, according to owner George Phillips.
Both permits were issued under an ordinance enacted in February, which among other requirements includes the provision that transient occupancy taxes must be paid and a quarterly tax report be filed with the town, whether or not the homestay had income in the quarter.
Additionally, the owner of a homestay must apply for a business license, is permitted only one homestay in town, and must provide contact information for a responsible party who will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to respond to and resolve issues and complaints. The town reserves the right to inspect the residence based on complaints to verify the homestay is being operated in accordance with regulations.
The special use permit for a homestay may be revoked in the event the owner does not comply with regulations or if the town receives three or more substantiated complaints in a year.
The homestay on White Street is permitted for up to eight guests at a time, with off-street parking.
The homestay on Joynes Street is permitted for up to two guests at a time, with off-street parking.
Spuck reported on highlights of the proposed 2023 budget, which goes to public hearing in April.
The budget as proposed reduces the real estate tax rate from 32 cents per $100 value to 29 cents; reduces the personal property tax rate on vehicles from $2 to $1.70, to offset a 22% increase in assessed value.
Additionally, the tax on computer equipment, heavy equipment, farm equipment, and business tangibles is eliminated for businesses.
One proposal is to use cash reserves to pay for a master plan, which could help the town take advantage of future grant opportunities, according to Spuck.
Using $50,000 in reserves is proposed to reduce water rates.
The amount likely could be recovered with reduced operating expenses after HRSD takes over the billing, and increased volume in the future also could lower costs, according to Spuck.
Using Hampton Roads Sanitation District published rates for wastewater results in around 10% reduction in cost for minimum-level water users and more than 16% reduction for high-volume users, according to Spuck.
The budget includes funds to replace a van used for the water department with a new work truck and to replace a police vehicle; money to pave or tar and chip five streets; and funds to begin installing remote-read water meters.
Cat Spay/Neuter Program Requests Funds
Margie Spangler, of Northern Accomack Community Cats, website www.accomackcats.org, asked the council for financial assistance.
The trap-neuter-release organization, funded solely by donations, spayed or neutered 407 outdoor cats last year, including 220 females.
“It is the only effective method of stopping the community cat population,” Spangler said.
Of the total, 54 cats were from Onancock; 67 more from the town are on a waiting list.
The group spent more than $4,600 on Onancock cats, according to Spangler.
Money donated by the town would be allotted only to spay and neuter cats from Onancock, and the group would send a report every three months, she said.
In Support of Bicycle, Walking Trail
Resident Bill McCarter spoke in support of a bicycle and walking trail from Onancock to Four Corner Plaza, saying the trail could be an advantage to the town with the coming of the Eastern Shore Rail Trail along the railroad right-of-way, which will pass through nearby Onley.
Steve Johnsen, who serves on Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board, said the town could seek to utilize funding from a state transportation alternatives program.
Johnsen also said the HRSD board last week approved $26 million for the Eastern Shore sewer line construction project, also located along the railroad right-of-way. The first phase of construction likely will begin in Melfa and proceed north, he said.
Council Approves $20K Match for Main Street Grant Application
The council approved a $20,000 match required if Onancock Main Street is awarded a community business launch grant for which the group is applying.
The grant’s purpose is to create new business entrepreneurs downtown, according to Janet Fosque, of Onancock Main Street.
The grant award could be $45,000 to $65,000, Fosque said.
The Virginia Main Street program includes a “Shark Tank” type competition.
The program “is a place-based entrepreneurial development strategy that fills a critical mass of vacant storefronts with expansion or start-up ventures. Local CBL programs train entrepreneurs, creatives, and small business owners about business planning practices.
This training culminates in a group of finalists pitching their ideas to a panel of judges, with winners receiving grant funding and support services from the community to kick-start their new venture,” according to the Department of Housing and Community Development website.
Seven Virginia communities were awarded grants ranging from $40,000 to $90,000 through the program in 2022.
Zoning Change Proposed for Sewage Pump Stations
A public hearing will be held next month about zoning ordinance changes to formally allow for the operation of six sewage pump stations that are being turned over to the Hampton Roads Sanitation District.
Current zoning does not include a classification for the use.