PARKSLEY, Va. (Delmarva Now) -- A war of words has broken out between Accomack and Northampton officials over the limits of regionalism — including who should pay what share of the cost when it comes to certain regional facilities.
Robert Crockett, Accomack County Board of Supervisors chairman, responded with a lengthy statement to comments his Northampton County counterpart, Spencer Murray, made to a media outlet.
Murray in the letter wrote about, among other topics, funding for the new regional library in Parksley.
Murray said Jan. 23 he had no further comment on the matter and has had not contact with Accomack County chairman Robert Crockett.
Crockett, during a discussion about the library at the Jan. 17 meeting, said he is concerned Northampton County may seek to renegotiate its share of funding for library operations once the library moves north.
Crockett's concern was based on a question Murray asked of Northampton's finance director during a meeting, he said.
The two counties currently have a 75/25 percent split of operational expenses for the library, with Accomack paying 75 percent and Northampton paying 25 percent, Crockett noted.
"They are probably going to want to reduce their part of the contribution to the operation of the library, which would put the library board of trustees in a deficit, as far as operations," he said.
Crockett in his statement later in the same meeting talked about regionalism as it relates to two other items that affect both counties — broadband internet service and the Eastern Shore Regional Jail.
Crockett said he is concerned about comments Murray made about the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority during a Nov. 21, 2017 meeting of the Northampton County Board of Supervisors.
"He began to criticize the bylaws of the authority in regards to the appointment process of members ... and in doing so he made the following statement, and I quote, 'What fools wrote these bylaws?'" Crockett said.
Crockett called the comment "shocking."
He said the contract that set up the broadband authority was approved unanimously by both counties' boards of supervisors in April 2008, and the language used was required by state law.
Under the joint resolution creating the authority in 2008, it has a board of five, with two members being the board of supervisors chairs from Accomack and Northampton, and three being appointed by agreement of the two boards of supervisors.
"My research also revealed that Chairman Murray was a member of the Northampton County Board of Supervisors on April 8, 2008 and voted for the broadband contract," he said.
Murray at Northampton's November meeting said he had written to the entire Accomack County Board of Supervisors in September about the broadband authority.
"I asked them to consider changes — not any strategy, but changes to the bylaws, because right now we are stuck. All of the terms — every term of the three citizen people on that board — have all expired," Murray said.
"They all expired June 30, and we have not been able to put any new people on, and they have not been able to put any people on, because, quite frankly, we can't agree on who ought to be making these multi-million dollar decisions."
The three members whose terms expired remain on the board until they are replaced, according to the bylaws, he said — then he made the statement to which Crockett later referred.
"What kind of fool would write a set of bylaws like that? They have lifetime appointments if they want it. It's ridiculous," he said.
Murray said he had "grave concerns" about the effect on private sector internet providers of the broadband authority's decision to expand its fiber-to-the-home initiative.
Crockett also commented on a statement in Murray's letter about the regional jail, in which Murray wrote, "When Accomack needs a new jail, it will be built in Accomack."
Crockett said Murray, by making the statement, "has unilaterally changed the conditions of the resolution" that created the regional jail.
The 2003 agreement "clearly states that Accomack County has the right to construct an addition to the regional jail when its jail is no longer useable," Crockett said.
The right for Accomack to build a future addition to the regional jail was among conditions that allowed the Department of Corrections to approve the facility as a regional jail — which in turn allowed Northampton to receive a 50 percent reimbursement from the state for most of the construction cost, as opposed to the 25 percent it would have received if it were not a regional facility, Crockett said.
Under the agreement, Accomack would not be responsible for paying for the regional jail's operating costs "until such time Accomack's jail was no longer useable and we constructed an addition," Crockett said, adding, "Accomack County has complied with all conditions of the regional jail contract, including all conditions dealing with funding, and will continue to do so in the future."
"I ask that Chairman Murray be more careful with his statements in the future; comments from the chairman of the board can be taken as coming from the board," Crockett said.
Crockett called Murray's statement about the regional jail "Ill-advised" and said it could have "negative consequences for the residents of Northampton County should the state construe it as an effort to break the resolution and contract."
That could result in Northampton County having to repay the state reimbursement "and that would cost the residents of Northampton County millions of dollars," Crockett said.
Crockett enumerated instances where Accomack County has cooperated with and helped Northampton — including holding Northampton's female inmates in the Accomack jail "for decades" prior to the new jail being constructed in Eastville.
Additionally, Accomack County has made available to Northampton County residents, at no cost, an emergency shelter during extreme weather events, because Northampton County has no such facility, Crockett said.
He concluded, "Accomack County has always been available and willing to assist and cooperate with Northampton County in the past and look forward to our continued assistance and cooperation in the future."