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Seniors should be some of the first prioritized to receive a vaccination for the coronavirus when it becomes available, the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living told the National Governors Association.

“Given that long term care facilities care for our most vulnerable when it comes to this virus and employ hundreds of thousands of essential health care workers, we urge that your plans to the CDC make residents and staff of these settings the highest priority for the vaccine. Long term care facilities are comprised of our nation’s nursing homes, assisted living and memory care communities, intermediate care facilities for individuals with developmental disabilities, and independent living communities,” states the letter.

Those who reside in long term care facilities are especially susceptible to this novel virus. The average age of residents in our facilities is 85 and almost every one of them has an underlying health condition, and some have multiple chronic conditions. According to CDC data, the risk of mortality in this age group is 630 times higher than those 18-29 years old.”

“I fully appreciate the perspective the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living have shared,” said Dr. Stephen Smith, president and chief operating officer, Novant Health UVA Health System Haymarket Medical Center and Novant Health UVA Health System Prince William Medical Center.

Novant operates the Caton Merchant House assisted living facility in Manassas.

“We’ve been fortunate at Caton Merchant House, as none of our residents have contracted COVID-19. ‘This can be attributed to our team’s commitment to following the best practices of social distancing, hand washing, and mask-wearing in the facility.”

“We look forward to having the opportunity to further protect our residents when a vaccine becomes available and agree that this vulnerable population should be a top priority,” Smith added.

Seven people died during a coronavirus outbreak at the Arbor Terrace Assisted Living facility on Garner Drive just outside Manassas.

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He’s been politically active in numerous parts of the city for decades but has never run for office.

He’ll probably never do it again, he says.

For now though, “I’m really enjoying himself,” said Harry Clark, a candidate for the Manassas City Council.

He’s running for the council as a Republican and is the secretary for the city’s GOP committee headed by former city council member Andy Harrover.

Clark serves as the Chairman of the city’s Planning Commission charged with hearing land-use cases and making recommendations to the City Council. He’s also chairman of the Board of Equalization – which hears appeals to property assessments and sits on the Freedom Aquatic and Fitness Center Advisory Board, and the Manassas Regional Airport Commission. Clark has also been volunteering to keep score for the Stonewall Park Swim Team since 1997.

“I try to keep busy,” Clark said.

Clark and his wife, Debra, moved to Manassas in 1990. They’ve been married for 35 years and have two daughters. Their daughters went through Manassas public schools. His wife is a retired military police officer, and he is a retired military intelligence agent. Growing up, his children couldn’t get away with anything, he joked.

Clark analyzed intelligence budgets at the Pentagon for 19 years. His office was located where a Boeing 757 crashed into the building on September 11. He was not in his office that morning.

“I got lucky,”  Clark said.

But Clark says the thinks the city is turning the wrong direction politically, and that the government has an increasing “appetite for high taxes.” Eight weeks into the pandemic, the city council this year hiked taxes, raising the average homeowner’s property tax bill $220 more than last year, to an average of $4,295.

At a town hall meeting at the city’s airport on Monday, September 21, he said it was apparent that the people in Georgetown South don’t like the Grant Avenue Streetscape project. The $8.1 million project aims to reduce the number of lanes on South Grant Avenue that runs past their neighborhood, from four to two lanes.  The reduction will make it more difficult for residents to travel in and out of their neighborhood and will lead to traffic backups.

Higher tax rates are also driving out the city’s most poor and vulnerable residents, he said. He is also worried about increased taxes driving businesses out of the city.

“I’m retired…I plan to stay in the city,” Clark said. “It’s a vibrant and diverse community, and I want it to stay that way.”

The city has been doing a good job with its response to the coronavirus pandemic, but he thinks the local government needs to be more proactive about businesses getting the relief available from the state and the federal governments. The city’s economic development department had provided multiple grants to city businesses and has partnered with Prince William County, and Northern Virginia Community College to provide job retraining skills.

Clark said he wants the business community to have more interaction with the school system, too. While the school system has a vocational program that works with local businesses to train students, many business owners don’t understand how to access the program. He wants to aid business owners in the process of filling out the required forms and completing the background checks needed, he said.

There are four open City Council seats on the November 3 ballot, to include the mayor. Clark is joined by Republican incumbent councilman Ian Lovejoy and Lynn Forkell Greene. Incumbent council members Mark Wolfe and Pamela Sebesky are running for re-election, alongside newcomer Tom Osina, for the Democrat ticket.

Two incumbent council members, Theresa Coates Ellis and Michelle Davis Younger are seeking the mayoral seat for the Republican and Democrats, respectively.

“I know all those people, and I like them. Nobody’s getting really nasty about things [during the campaign],” Clark said. “It’s a small town, we’re all friends.”

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Greg Neiss just wanted to do something nice for his community.

“I stuck a flag on the pole outside my house, and I’ve had it there for years, on and off, probably 10 years,” Neiss told PLN.

A Marine Corps veteran, Neiss started to think it would be nice if there were more U.S. Flags on his block to cheer up people during the recent coronavirus lockdown.

So he went to Costco and got a few more flags.  He put them up on light poles on Clover Hill Road in Manassas. No one said anything.

It wasn’t until his neighborhood’s community forum on the website Nextdoor, started to chat about the flags, that anything happened. Neighbors posting to the forum were asking who was putting up the flags, and if it was the city government.

Someone in the forum identified Neiss as the man who was posting the flags, and then people began putting money in his mailbox to buy and erect more flags. When all was said and done, he installed 15 flags along Clover Hill Road, from Waterford Drive to Wellington Road.

“I didn’t want credit for it,” Neiss said. “I just did it.”

Neiss reiterated that it was not politically motivated. Not long after he put up the last flag, the city government received a complaint.

“The flags were put up on city street light poles by a resident without permission.  Nothing, no flyers, flags, posters etc. are allowed on light posts for the safety of our electric utility workers,” states city spokeswoman Patty Prince in an email to PLN.

The decorative flags on utility poles in the city’s downtown — they’re put up by the city and are permitted, Prince states.

So the city gave Neiss an ultimatum: Remove the flags or it would.

Neiss started taking the flags down, but when he went to take one down at Clover Hill Road and Hastings Drive, neighbors urged him to fight back, he said.

He took his fight to a town hall meeting at Manassas Airport on September 21, where there was a discussion of creating an  “adopt-a-pole” program, similar to when an individual, family, or business “adopts” a street and vows to keep it free of litter.

In this case, anyone who adopts a pole would promise to maintain the flag.

“I’ve got good feedback from at least half of the city council,” Neiss said, including the Mayor.

Now, Neiss will meet with City Manager Pat Pate to set up a program where residents donate flags, and Greg would have them put up. Greg said there won’t have to be any cost for the City, and he can make all the arrangements to put them up.

“It wouldn’t cost the City a penny,” Neiss said.

The City Council has scheduled a work session in October to discuss the adopt-a-pole program.

“We continue to work with the neighborhood on their request to City Council to establish a more formal program to allow American flags on the City’s utility poles. As we do every year, the American flags will be removed from the city’s poles for the winter and be reinstalled in the spring,” said Prince.

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A town hall meeting will be held tonight at the Manassas Airport Main Terminal Lobby at 7 p.m. to weigh in on several topics.

According to the agenda, the items discussed will be proposed changes to the city charter, which would give the city’s mayor the power to vote on a regular basis. Democrats now hold a majority on the city council and are pushing for a change the charter.

Currently, the major votes only to break a tie vote.

Longtime Mayor Hal Parrish II is not seeking reelection this fall. Michele Davis Younger and Theresa Coates Ellis, a Democrat and Republican, respectively, seek to replace him.

Another issue that could come up during the meeting includes U.S. flags that were removed from utility poles along Cloverhill Road.

“The flags were put up on city street light poles by a resident without permission.  Nothing, no flyers, flags, posters etc. are allowed on light posts for the safety of our electric utility workers…we do have flags on light poles in the historic downtown, but they were put up by the city…” said city spokeswoman Patty Prince.

Residents can also expect an update on the Grant Avenue improvement project, which is slated to remove a lane of traffic from South Grant Avenue,between Prince William Street and Wellington Road. A new two-lane facility with dedicated turn lanes would be created.

The project would add utility, pedestrian, and streetscape improvements and a pedestrian and bicycle path from Wellington Road to Prince William Street. The project has been talked about since 2000, and could cost $11 million.

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Prince William County, Manassas, Manassas Park, and all the towns now have a Public Defender.

On Wednesday, September 2, Woodbridge District Supervisor Margaret Franklin hosted a virtual forum along with Chief Public Defender Tracey Lenox and Deputy Chief Public Defender Jenny Miller, as well as Occoquan District Supervisor Kenny Boddye and EJ Scott from the Prince William County NAACP.  

They had over 40 participants, according to Franklin.

Franklin said she and Boddye are invested in the office because of it how affects communities of color.

Public defenders are charged with making sure residents have adequate legal defense no matter what, Boddye explained. “We don’t believe that there should be a two-tiered justice system just because of your income or access,” Boddye said.

Tracey Lenox heads the county’s public defender office and has been a criminal defense attorney for 27 years.  “It’s patently and obviously an unfair system,” Lenox said.

When she looks out in courts, she said, it’s” predominantly brown and black faces.” Seeing this prompted her to run launch an unsuccessful bid to be Prince William Commonwealth’s Attorney in 2019. Lenox lost in a Primary Election to current Commonwealth Attorney Amy Ashworth.

Lenox and her Deputy Public Defender, Jenny Miller, are now hiring staff to fill the newly formed office, and diversity is a priority. Lenox said that in Northern Virginia, public defenders offices only had one African American staff member when they started.

Lenox and Miller hired the first African American senior supervisor in Northern Virginia, Ben Talley. Since then, they hired two more African Americans and so in a month, they’ve quadrupled the number of African American staff members in Northern Virginia. 

Lenox said she’s only hiring people who are true defenders at heart, she would rather have inexperienced people she can train who are passionate about the role.

The community has wanted this for decades, Lenox said. Lenox the credited voters with flipping Prince William County’s  delegation in the General Assembly in Richmond flipped from Republican to Democrat for making it possible for the creation of the new office.

The newly formed office is located at 7900 Sudley Road, near Manassas. Currently, they are in suite 805 on the 8th floor, but they will be on the entire 7th floor when the office is fully built out, Genevieve Miller said

The public defender is assigned to every indigent case except in case there’s a conflict – which is about 30% of the time, Lenox said. An example would be a robbery with two people. The defender can’t “do both”, so one person gets the public defender and one gets a court-appointed attorney.

The office began taking some cases in September. It will spend the next 10 weeks spending training of all new assistant public defenders. The office will slowly increase the number and types of cases, and is expected to be able to handle every case assigned to it by January 1, 2021.

“We will begin to really accelerate the number of cases we take in mid-November once we finally get into our full office space,” said Lennox. 

Prince William County is the largest locality in Virginia that does not have a public defenders’ office. Public defenders’ offices are state-funded and provide legal representation to individuals who can’t afford a lawyer.

The state is providing $5.4 million in funding for the new office over the next two years for 35 full-time positions including 24 attorneys, according to the Prince William Times,

Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy (D-2, Stafford, Woodbridge) and Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36 Lorton, Stafford, Woodbridge), carried legislation to create the new office during this year’s legislative session. The new office received support from Gov. Ralph Northam and was passed with bipartisan support in the House of Delegates and state Senate.

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors included $350,000 in their 2021 budget for a 15% salary supplement for the public defenders’ office. The boost in salary will make attorneys’ salaries more competitive with other Northern Virginia localities, the Prince William Times also reported.

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Manassas city residents will get some tax relief for their vehicles.

The City Council voted on Monday night to approve the allocation percentage for personal property tax relief in the City of Manassas for the 2020 tax year.

“Personal Property Tax Relief…is applied to all qualifying privately owned or leased motor vehicles used for non-business purposes in the City of Manassas,” said city spokeswoman Patty Prince.

Residents will automatically receive the relief in their respective tax bills.

Prince said that the average tax for qualifying motor vehicles is $269.52, and the average assessment for a qualifying motor vehicle is $8,260.

According to City documents,

…qualifying personal use vehicles subject to personal property taxation in the City of Manassas during tax year 2020 shall receive personal property tax relief in the following manner:

1. That qualifying personal use vehicles with an assessed value less than or equal to $1,000.00 will be eligible for 100.00 % tax relief from personal property taxation.

2. That qualifying personal use vehicles with an assessed value greater than $1,000.00 but less than or equal to $20,000.00 will be eligible for 44.78% tax relief from personal property taxation.

3. That qualifying personal use vehicles having an assessed value of greater than
$20,000.00 shall only receive 44.78% tax relief from personal property taxation on the first $20,000.00 of assessed value.

4. That all other vehicles, which do not meet the definition of “qualifying” (including, but not limited to, business use vehicles, farm use vehicles, motor homes, etc.) will not be eligible for any form of tax relief under this program.

 

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For Manassas, it’s the bypass.

The City Council unanimously voted to support a plan to extend Godwin Drive, creating a four-lane, four-mile Route 28 bypass. Known as “alternative 2B,” the road would connect with Route 28 at Bull Run, on the Fairfax County line.

The move comes after the council in July failed to endorse the bypass plan. Later on August 4, leaders in Prince William County voted to scrap it.

But last week, those same leaders reversed course, took another vote, and revived the road by opting to spend $89 million to design the four-lane road. The decision came following threats from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority that it would pull the funding and allocate it to other projects.

As Manassas Vice Mayor Pamela Sebesky had said at the July meeting, “the city needs to wait for the Board of County Supervisors to make a decision before it can weigh in.”

“I think it’s presumptive of us a council to not allow them to make that decision and then support what the Board of County Supervisors’ decision will be in the near future,” Sebesky said.

And now that the county has spoken, city leaders say wanted their chance, and passed the resolution unanimously.

According to city documents:

“The City of Manassas remains a key stakeholder in this project. The Board of County Supervisors held a public hearing on the preferred alignment on July 14, 2020. After initially denying the request to endorse the bypass, the Board of County Supervisors approved Alignment 2B on September 8, 2020.”

Business groups like the Prince William Chamber of Commerce supported the bypass because it adds to the region’s existing road network, and would ease delays on Route 28 — dubbed Nothern Virginia’s most congested road prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

The bypass is expected to cost $300 million to construct and a total of 54 homes would need to be demolished.

Once the road is designed, those plans need to be approved by the Army Corps of Eginneers becuase a portion of the road will plow through wetlands of Flat Branch, located at Bull Run Regional Park.

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Manassas has a new fire chief.

During Monday night’s city council meeting, Mayor Hal Parrish swore in a new fire chief, William Garrett.

Garrett’s wife pinned the badge on her beaming husband after Mayor Parrish swore him in.=

Garrett has over 32 years of experience in public safety. Chief. Garrett will be replacing Chief Rob Clemons, who retired on August 28, Potomac Local News previously reported.

According to the City of Manassas website:

He has served in many different capacities: Fire Prevention, Emergency Medical Services, Operations, Support Services, and Strategic Planning. As Fire and Rescue Chief, Chief Garrett manages a highly progressive and professional agency and staff of 62 career members. He works in collaboration with the Manassas Volunteer Fire Company and the Greater Manassas Volunteer Rescue Squad leadership teams in providing oversight of the Fire and Rescue System.

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In the waning days of summer, people are flocking to area parks.

On afternoon of August 30, Leesylvania State Park in Woodbridge and Great Falls National Park in McLean were at the capacity that day and visitors who didn’t make it there early were being turned away.

Chris Alford, chief of Prince William Forest Park near Dumfries, said the park has seen increased visitors as well.  “At this time we are on a trend to be about 10 to 15 percent higher than last year’s visitation,” Alford said in an email to Potomac Local News.

Alford said this is likely due to the coronavirus. “Due to COVID there has been a big push for people to get out of their homes and get some fresh air. This drive has opened new visitors up to the outdoors and the value of recreational opportunities for health and wellness,” Alford said.

Alford said that he has heard that other parks are also experiencing this issue.

“At this time there are no plans to alleviate visitation at Prince William Forest Park. Our visitation regularly goes up and down due to the weather and time of year. Our peaks are usually holiday weekends between mid-May and November,” Alford said.

People have also been flocking to parks in Stafford County, too. County leaders are exploring the possibility of charging users of two popular riverside parks — Historic Port of Falmouth Park on the Rappahannock River and Aquia Landing Park on the Potomac River — $10 per car to enter the parks.

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