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Despite confusion caused by Facebook post, Warrenton Christmas Parade still set for Friday – Fauquier Times

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Clear skies. Low 29F. Winds light and variable..
Clear skies. Low 29F. Winds light and variable.
Updated: November 30, 2021 @ 5:50 pm
The Warrenton Christmas Parade is back on Main Street this year. This photo is from the 2018 parade.

The Warrenton Christmas Parade is back on Main Street this year. This photo is from the 2018 parade.
For a few hours the morning of Nov. 26, Warrenton residents were led to believe that the annual Christmas parade down Main Street might be moved off Main Street or canceled because of a lack of funding. A few hours later, the crisis was « resolved » through a large donation from Accounting Solutions of Warrenton, LLC.
Town officials said, however, that the parade was never in danger of being canceled and will take place Dec. 3 as scheduled.
« We apologize that anyone was led to believe the town council was not supportive of the Warrenton Christmas Parade. We are disappointed this organization would look to divide our community with false statements, having not consulted with anyone from council or otherwise. »
—Nov. 29 statement from Warrenton Mayor Carter Nevill
The parade is being organized by a nonprofit, First Responders Mutual Aid, which is composed of Warrenton Vice Mayor Sean Polster (At-large), Nicole Polster and Fauquier County Fire Chief Darren Stevens, according to state records.
A Facebook post from the Warrenton Christmas Parade page the day after Thanksgiving – accompanied by a picture of the “Grinch Who Stole Christmas” — announced a potential issue with the parade, stating, “We are continuing to evaluate the situation and are committed to seeing this year’s parade through.
“But with the unanticipated costs incurred from the Town of Warrenton, we need to reevaluate the logistics of the parade or possibly move locations. It is with a heavy heart that we must say, if we are not able to come to a resolution, we would unfortunately need to cancel the parade.
“Your event may be subject to fees from the services of community development, public works, police and/or fire. Please see the attached fee schedule for additional information. »
— Town of Warrenton special event application form
“The Christmas parade has always been a key event this time of year in Warrenton. In years past, the town has partnered with First Responders Mutual Aid nonprofit, to make it the event that it has become. This year however, we have received word that the town is unable to support the parade regarding necessary expenditures (insurance, police, road closure signs, etc.). Therefore, while the parade is important for many in the community, we cannot justify these unanticipated expenses of almost $6,500, nor are we prepared to pay the requested amount to the town.
“This would take money from the nonprofit and therefore limit the ability of the nonprofit to assist those in need, the sole purpose of the organization.”
Comments on this post – mostly demanding that the parade be held and criticizing the town — numbered more than 200 by Monday, and the post had been shared nearly 100 times.
Warrenton Mayor Carter Nevill released a statement Nov. 29 regarding the Nov. 26 Facebook post:
“We love a Christmas surprise as much as anyone, but the Friday morning post by the event organizers regarding the Christmas Parade was not one of them. We apologize that anyone was led to believe the town council was not supportive of the Warrenton Christmas Parade. We are disappointed this organization would look to divide our community with false statements, having not consulted with anyone from council or otherwise.
“The Town Council has always been supportive of community events, as they benefit our residents, businesses and visitors, and remains committed to working with all organizers fairly and equally to ensure successful and safe outcomes. The town council was never asked to formally partner with the parade, and past involvement has been loosely affiliated and not based on a formal agreement.
“The town council adopted special event fees to implement policies and procedures to recover costs incurred by events. These fees were suspended during COIVD-19 but were reinstated with a phased-in timeframe voted on in a public forum.
« Large-scale events that block off multiple roads and generate a significant amount of trash can lead to extensive overtime costs for taxpayers. Organizers of events are all afforded the opportunity to formally appeal to council for a waiver or reduction of these fees. »
—Nov. 29 statement from Warrenton Mayor Carter Nevill
“All event organizers pay these fees, and there is also a process for applying for a waiver of fees. This process holds event organizers accountable for using taxpayer dollars for their events, and nonprofits are eligible for waivers. The town gives organizers the estimated fee upfront based on their application details so they can plan accordingly. The fees are published for everyone and are based on the average security, cleanup and oversight costs. Currently, the fees do not fully recoup all costs as they are modest, flexible and based on the size and scope of each individual celebration. Large-scale events that block off multiple roads and generate a significant amount of trash can lead to extensive overtime costs for taxpayers. Organizers of events are all afforded the opportunity to formally appeal to council for a waiver or reduction of these fees.
“Again, we apologize for the division created over the weekend in our community and want you to know we stand behind you and will ensure the parade takes place. We will not let you down, and we will have the Christmas Parade. The basis of any decision will always be about public safety and responsible government, and to apply all decisions in a fair and impartial manner.”
The evening of Nov. 29, Polster posted a video to the Warrenton Christmas Parade Facebook page apologizing for the confusion and bad feelings he created. Polster said he wanted to “personally apologize” for the Nov. 26 post.
“While it was not our intent to disparage our town, its elected officials or the amazing staff that work tirelessly behind the scenes to make our community such a special place, the unintended consequences did just that.
« I should have better communicated with my nonprofit board, our town staff and my fellow council members to ensure that we were all on the same page. »
—Nov. 29 statement from Warrenton Vice Mayor Sean Polster (At-large)
“This was due to a lack of communication on my part, and I should have better communicated with my nonprofit board, our town staff and my fellow council members to ensure that we were all on the same page.”
He added that he hoped to « regain trust » with the community.
Polster was contacted on Nov. 26 and several times since, but as of press time he had not responded to questions from the Fauquier Times.
In March of 2020, Polster said about First Responders Mutual Aid, “In the emergency response system, mutual aid is an agreement among emergency responders to lend assistance across jurisdictional boundaries when a response exceeds local resources. Our nonprofit was founded by career and volunteer emergency responders to extend this concept to our communities in time of need, such as we are experiencing with COVID-19.” He said that the nonprofit was formed to raise money to provide meals for at-risk residents from March until May 2020.
First Responders Mutual Aid was responsible for 2020’s successful “reverse” Christmas Parade. The drive-thru parade was moved from Main Street to the WARF to comply with social-distancing guidelines during the pandemic.
The original Nov. 26 Facebook post on the Warrenton Christmas Parade page referred to “unanticipated costs incurred from the Town of Warrenton,” but the costs associated with the parade should not have been a surprise.
The Warrenton Town Council approved a special event application process (which was suspended in May 2020 but reinstated in July 2021) that requires private groups to apply for permission to hold an event in Warrenton and to reimburse the town for expenses connected with the event — like police services, trash pickup, insurance, road closures and similar costs that would otherwise be paid from taxpayer dollars.
The special event application requests that applications be submitted 60 days in advance of the event date. There is also a fee schedule that is part of the application, listing fees for police officers, no parking signs and cone/barricade rentals.
The application states: “Your event may be subject to fees from the services of community development, public works, police and/or fire. Please see the attached fee schedule for additional information.
“Event applicants will receive an estimate of expenses within 30 days of receipt of the application. A final invoice will be provided to the event sponsor no later than 30 days following the event.”
Nevill confirmed that First Responders Mutual Aid submitted a special event application on Sept. 13 but that it was incomplete. The additional materials required were submitted on Nov. 11, and an operational memo was completed by the Warrenton Police Department on Nov. 16. Staff estimated fees for the event and event fees were provided on Nov. 22 to event organizers. Once final materials were submitted, and all items were understood, staff generated an operational memo and invoice within six days, Nevill said.
There is also a process for nonprofits to apply for a fee waiver, but First Responders Mutual Aid has not filed a request for one.
The Warrenton Christmas Parade will be held Friday, Dec. 3, beginning at 6 p.m., on Main Street, from Fifth Street to Courthouse Square. Mr. and Mrs. Claus will make their first appearance in town at the parade.
Jacqueline Palanzi, owner of Accounting Solutions of Warrenton, LLC, said she was happy to provide $3,500 toward the parade expenses. “I hated the thought that the parade might get canceled at the last minute. I have very fond memories of the parade, from when my children were young. We’d go to the parade on Saturday morning, then go and cut down our Christmas tree. …The parade is important for our community.”
Reach Robin Earl at rearl@fauquier.com
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