Finance secretary: Virginia revenue collections increase

February’s revenue collections in Virginia increased 17 percent over the same month last year.

In February, Virginia’s general fund revenues totaled $703,000, compared to $602,000 in February 2010. In addition, Virginia’s general fund revenues year-to-date are $9.2 million, compared to $8.9 million in 2010, which is on track to be an increase of 4 percent in 2011, according to Secretary of Finance Richard Brown.

This increase is ahead of the previous, projected annual increase of 3.5 percent that was written in the proposed budget in December, Brown wrote in a letter addressed to Gov. Bob McDonnell last week. In the same letter last year, Brown wrote that general fund revenues were expected to fall 2 percent in fiscal year 2010. In fiscal year 2009, it was projected to fall 7 percent. Fiscal year 2008 was the last time general revenue funds were expected to increase, by 1.2 percent.

February is the eleventh month in the last 12 months during which revenue collections have exceeded the amount compared to the same month the previous year. February is also the fourth consecutive month in which year-over-year growth was greater than 9 percent, according to Brown. The revenue increase was spurred by withholding and sales tax collections.

Earlier this month, the governor’s office also announced that Virginia’s unemployment rate had reached a two-year low. Virginia’s unemployment rate was 6.5 in January, which is the most current rate available through the Virginia Employment Commission. Loudoun’s unemployment rate was 4.4 percent in November, the most current number available from the county.

Still, McDonnell pointed out that although the “macro numbers” are positive, “we cannot lose sight of the fact that this recovery is still fragile and early.”

He said that too many Virginians remain unemployed and too many opportunities remain unavailable to Virginians.

In the future, “the administration will continue to adhere to a path of fiscal responsibility in the state budget and will aggressively support private-sector job creators with our public policies.”

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Home prices on the rise in Loudoun

More and more people were attracted to high-ticket homes last month, while the number of homes sold remained steady compared to February 2010.

The average sales price of a Loudoun home, as well as the median sales price and the total dollar volume of sold homes, all increased last month compared to February 2010, according to a report released by RealEstate Business Intelligence, a Metropolitan Regional Information System company based in Maryland.

Loudoun’s average sales price came in at $410,388, a 9 percent increase over the same time last year, when the average ticket price was $376,184.

The average price for detached units spiked in February due to the sale of one $4.5 million property and one for $2.5 million home, according to Loudoun housing analyst, Rosemary deButts.

Median sales prices increased from $343,359 in February 2010 to $360,000 last month. Additionally, Loudoun’s sold dollar volume totaled $111,625,445, a 9 percent increase compared to $102,698,319 sold volume in February 2010.

DeButts gave a partial explanation for the median sales increase. Distressed sales, which are short sales and foreclosures, spiked to 43 percent in January, but had a healthy decline of 38 percent in February, she said.

“Fewer distressed sales translates to higher sales prices,” she said. Montgomery and Prince George’s counties both saw an increase of distressed sales from January to February.

DeButts said Loudouner’s shouldn’t put too much stock in the sales figures because real estate is a cyclical industry.  The average sales per month will increase dramatically until June when the average begins to decline in the second half of the year, she said.

Single-family, detached units accounted for 52 percent of total sales so far this year in Loudoun. Townhouses and other attached units represented 41 percent of the total and condominiums represented 7 percent of the market. Last year, 273 homes sold in February, this year 272 homes were sold.

Last year, the market was bolstered by the First Time Buyer’s Credit, deButts said.  So far this year, the Loudoun market is holding its own compared to last year, a pretty remarkable feat in the absence of artificially stimulated demand, she said.

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Transportation secretary: Cut costs of Metro station

Several Loudoun leaders want to send Metrorail trains flying at Dulles International Airport.

Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton wrote a letter March 15 addressed to Charles Snelling, chairman of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, imploring the chairman to change Dulles airport’s proposed underground Metrorail station to an aerial station.

Connaughton’s main reason behind beseeching the change is that it will save $640 million in taxpayer money.

The second phase of Metrorail’s expansion to Loudoun, which includes the Dulles airport station, is more expensive than was initially anticipated. Phase two is projected to cost $3.8 billion – a more than $1 billion increase over its original projection. Phase one costs $2.7 billion.

Loudoun Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott York (I-at-large) said last month that he endorsed Metrorail’s aerial station as a cost-cutting measure.

The Loudoun Economic Development Commission voted unanimously to endorse the above-ground option in September. Chairman John Wood, who is also the chief executive officer at Telos Corp. in Ashburn, said at the time that he saw five dollar signs in front of the underground option and only two dollar signs in front of the aerial proposal.

Metrorail currently has designs for an underground tunnel station as well as an aerial, or above-ground, station.

By selecting the aerial alternative, the authority would be showing taxpayers that they are concerned about the use of valuable state and local dollars and assets, Connaughton said.

Funding for construction comes from local jurisdictions, an increase in tolls on the Dulles Toll Road and the creation of a special tax district surrounding the Metro stops.

Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova scribed a letter to Snelling last month. In it, she states that Phase two cost estimates do not sit well with the Fairfax board.

“When coupled with the recent information about actual costs exceeding budget for station finishes on [phase one], the county is further concerned about the accuracy of the cost estimate for [phase two],” she writes.

“If the Airports Authority Board favors an alignment that is more costly than the aerial alignment, then the Airports Authority should fund the differential without impacting Fairfax County or tolls on the Dulles Toll Road,” she said.

Connaughton also expressed concern about rising toll rates on the Dulles Toll Road. He said that toll rates must remain as low as possible and that the authority “must do anything possible with alternative design selection, value engineering, excellent project management and oversight and creative financing to keep costs low.”

Connaughton also pointed out that Fairfax and Loudoun County leaders have endorsed the aerial station, as both governments have direct impact with finance commitments to the project.

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Burton: ‘Bow wave’ in near future

Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge) stopped by the Economic Development Commission meeting March 4 to give a presentation on the county’s capital needs assessment for fiscal years 2017 to 2026.

As a member of the fiscal impact committee, Burton and several others tackle the county’s infrastructure needs and report the number and type of facilities needed for future development. The committee also develops policy recommendations for the planning commission and the Loudoun Board of Supervisors.

The county’s needs are based on its projected population growth.

Loudoun’s current population is approximately 312,311 according to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau figures This is “22,000 more people than we thought we’d have,” Burton said. In 2017, an estimated 333,000 people will call Loudoun home. That number will jump to 402,000 in 2026, according to the county’s projections.
Given these estimated population spikes, the finance committee approved nearly 40 projects for future construction. They include a juvenile assessment center, waste drop-off centers, park and ride lots, two fire stations, an animal shelter, community park and a library, among others.

The committee also approved 10 more schools; four elementary, three middle and three high schools. These schools have not been approved by the Loudoun Board of Supervisors.

Of the 25 facilities in the capital needs assessment, 12 are needed by 2017 in Ashburn alone, Burton said. They include a fire and rescue station, a developmental services residential facility, mental health group residence, recreation center, regional park, district park, community park, recycling drop-off center, community center, teen center, senior center and an elementary school.

But, where is the money for these projects?

The capital needs assessment document came together in recent months because the lights went on in many peoples heads about what the costs and plan requirements were, Burton said.

“The magnitude of this problem is quite sufficient,” he said.

Burton said the board has delayed construction for these facilities for many years because of fiscal constraints. By doing this, however, these facilities were pushed out beyond the capital improvement program time frame, which created a bow wave of paying for these facilities.

The committee has made several suggestions to the board on paying for the facilities, Burton said. Policy-wise, the board can think about delaying capital projects further, he said. The supervisors could also consider some additional sources of money or they could change the standards of the facilities they are promising to the public, which would reduce the costs. The other sources of money would include increasing taxes, debt and revenue sources.

“Any way you look at it, it is time to pay the piper,” Burton said.

Michelle Frank, who sits on the Economic Development Commission meeting and works at Orbital in Dulles, suggested the committee consider collocating compatible facilities. For example, turning more schools into park and recreation centers during after-school hours.

Burton said the committee is also looking into changing facility standards to reduce the number and scope of facilities.

Loudoun architect Alan Hansen warned against using cheaper materials to build schools and other buildings, however, because the buildings would start to deteriorate at higher rates of speed, which would only delay the bow wave, not delete it.

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Report: Women underrepresented on companies’ board

Where are all the corporate ladies?

A report released by The Leadership Foundry, a division of Fairfax-based Women in Technology, found that women in publicly traded companies are underrepresented on their organizations’ board of directors. The company commissioned its first report, “Women Board Directors in Virginia and Washington, D.C,” this year.

Of the 172 publicly traded companies headquartered in the Washington, D.C., area that were analyzed for the report, 97 percent did not achieve the “critical mass” of three or more women board members, according to the report. The report was conducted by American University’s Kogod School of Business.

“We were not surprised but a little bit disappointed to see that the numbers are so low,” said Vicki Warker, chairwoman of the corporate board committee of Women in Technology.

In Virginia, 160 publicly traded companies were analyzed. Women hold 101 board seats of the 1,318 board seats in the commonwealth, an 8 percent rate. Women hold 14 of the 109 board seats in Washington, D.C., or 13 percent.

The arts, entertainment and recreation, and health care and social assistance industries have the most women board members in Virginia. The finance and insurance sectors have 43 women sitting on their boards, the most in Washington, D.C. The information and manufacturing sectors come in second with 13 women on their boards respectively. The aforementioned industries also support the most publicly traded companies.

“Considering the fact that the Washington, D.C., area is arguably a nexus for leadership, you would think that the region would be pretty progressive,” Warker said.

The report states that women on a company’s board increases diversity of opinion, expands the range of strategic input, provides female role models and mentors, positively influences decision making, improves the image of companies with stakeholder groups and ensures better boardroom behavior.

A number of studies have shown that companies with more women on their boards improve financially, Warker said.

Women in Technology hopes to provide a vehicle to increase the number of women serving on area boards by running a pilot program that will send selected women through a corporate training program. The program will focus on giving the women the opportunity to see what it would take to get the knowledge, skills and connections to serve in their first corporate board seats.

In turn, the business community will gain greater diversity and perhaps better financial performance, Warker said.

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Not quite colorblind: Loudoun’s black business people face difficulties, triumphs

Her accolades include enterprising woman of the year and top minority business leader. But as recently as the 1990s, Wanda Alexander didn’t feel like she could be taken seriously in certain circles of Loudoun’s business world.

Although Alexander considers herself a “successful, easygoing woman that has something to say,” she admits that it made a difference if her white male business partner accompanied her to meetings in the 1990s – “especially with financing,” she said.

Alexander is president and chief executive officer of Horizon Consulting Inc. in Leesburg. She purchased a majority interest in Horizon in 1995 for $20,000. By 2002, the company landed the ranking of No. 312 on the Inc. 500 list and was operating in five states. Alexander also happens to be one of the county’s few black business owners.

“I don’t know people would say, ‘Oh, Wanda is a black woman.’ I think they would describe me in different ways,” she said. “I think the way I’m seen in the community is as a very dynamic, outgoing servant leader.”


Miamah Karmo, owner of the Tigerlily Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports women with breast cancer, often finds herself pigeonholed when people applaud her for starting a “black breast cancer organization.”

Karmo said she looks at things as not having barriers or labels because that automatically sets boundaries. She said she’s not defined by her color – she creates her success neither because of it nor in spite of it.

“When I’m looking at the business environment and the community and my involvement, I don’t see color,” she said.

Before starting the foundation, Karmo worked in government contracting and consulting. She said she felt some people judged her. One coworker thought he was paying her a compliment by telling her that she “carried [her]self differently than other black women.”

“I was shocked that someone had the audacity to say that,” she said. “I don’t really look at myself as being a black woman, I look at myself as being a woman. That’s my first caveat.”

‘Good ole boys’

Purcellville retiree Reggie Simms, 76, worked in the graphics department at the Metro for 20 years before retiring in 2001.

“We were called colored people back then,” he said.

Simms started taking art classes at young age, and continued taking them after returning from war. He landed a job at a grocery store in New Jersey where he eventually designed layouts for window signs.

In the mid-1970s, Simms got married and returned to Loudoun. A few years later, he answered an employment advertisement with Metro and was hired to redesign all the bus signs in the system.

Simms chafed under his boss, who refused to incorporate Simms’ suggestions on streamlining the design process. Eventually, he noticed that one of his coworker’s sons was being trained in a back room to replace Simms in what he called the “good ole boy network.”

“I was ready to quit,” he said.

Simms had been in the art field for more than two decades, yet a man with no printing experience was being promoted above him, he said. But instead of quitting, he took a friend’s advice and transferred to the Metro’s train division. He stayed there until he retired.

Looking ahead

Alexander relocated her business from Fairfax County to Loudoun in 2003. She still only knows of a handful of black business people in the community, despite serving on numerous boards, including the Loudoun CEO Cabinet.

“I would like to see many more business owners, and of course, I would like to see African-Americans contributing to Loudoun and to Virginia. And that’s the bottom line,” she said.

Simms isn’t as optimistic. He said that what happened to him still occurs.

“It’s still like that, but it’s not as blatant as it was,” he said. “But racism will exist until the end of time.”

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Loudoun’s real estate market off to a cold start

January’s cold weather has put Loudoun’s real estate prices on ice, but the market is also primed for a thaw in coming months.

In January, Loudoun’s average sales price was $363,394, compared to $392,641 in December 2010 and $382,119 in January 2010, which resulted in a 5 percent decrease year over year, according to reports released by the Dulles Area Association of Realtors and RealEstate Business Intelligence, a Metropolitan Regional Information System company.

Overall, Washington, D.C., area sales did not quite reach 3,000 units sold in January 2011. Compare January’s 2,963 sales to 4,413 homes sold in December 2010 and 3,417 homes sold in January 2010.  Washington, D.C., saw the smallest decline (22 percent), but Loudoun had the largest decline (40 percent) in sales, according to a report released by Loudoun housing analyst and consultant Rosemary deButts.

Loudoun’s sales dip resulted in only 251 single family homes, townhomes and condominiums sold last month, compared to 374 in December 2010 and 261 in January 2010.

“Activity in January is always slow and it was bound to be slower than last year given that the market is no longer artificially stimulated by the first-time home buyer’s tax credit,”  deButts said.

Donna Evers, president and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate in Washington, D.C., agrees.

Evers released a housing market report Feb. 14 for the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. She stated that 2011 has gotten off to an uneven start for all of the metropolitan area’s jurisdictions. More buyers are out looking, but fewer desirable properties are on the market in the metropolitan area, she said.

“The flow of new listings was likely delayed by bad weather,” she said.

The good news: The number of homeowners listing their homes for sale has risen significantly, which may mean many Loudoun homeowners are prepping for an active spring selling season.

The number of new listings jumped from 364 in December 2010 to 585 in January 2011. This is a minor drop from January 2010, when 599 homes hit the market. This results in a 2 percent drop year over year, according to RealEstate Business Intelligence.

“With the combination of low mortgage interest rates and increased consumer confidence, we should see a steady, strong pace of sales in 2011,”  Evers said.

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County administrator talks economic development

The state of the county’s economic development was the hot topic at the Economic Development Commission meeting Feb. 11.

County Administrator Tim Hemstreet presented a slide show detailing the county’s economic indicators, which he had previously presented to the Loudoun Board of Supervisors at its Feb. 7 meeting. The highlights from the presentation included:

Commercial and industrial sectors
Loudoun’s vacancy rate was at 14 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010, which is down from 16 percent from the same period last year.

Loudoun’s rate of decrease has been less than that of many of our neighbors, he said. Still, Loudoun permitted 1.6 million square feet of non-residential property and gained several high profile leases last year. Rockwell Collins added 178,000 square foot of space and 400 employees; Neustar expanded its facilities; and more than 350,000 square feet of industrial space was developed around the Route 606 corridor last year, he said.

Additionally, 268 employers started new businesses in Loudoun last year, he said.

Real property and assessed value

Loudoun’s main revenue base is real property, Hemstreet said.

Loudoun’s real property has shown appreciation during the last couple of years. The estimated fair market value of taxable real property in Loudoun in 2010 was $54 billion. That base will grow about $2 billion in 2011 and is projected to add $1.5 billion to reach $57.5 billion in 2012, according to county reports.

The average assessed value of a single family home in Loudoun jumped from $387,720 in 2010 to $397,300 in 2011 and an estimated $406,600 in 2012.

Loudoun’s revenue conditions

“All of our base revenue is doing positive,” he said.

The county has seen a significant increase in personal property as well as real tax, he said. On the other hand, the county’s key budget challenge is to focus on how to balance an increase in service demands while experiencing continued growth and ongoing reductions in support from the Commonwealth, he said.

The county has suffered a net loss of 95 positions during the last two years. Since then, the office of the county administrator has taken prudent actions to reduce the budget so that the county’s workforce would not face subsequent decreases.

“Your government is more efficient than it was two years ago,” he said.

Hemstreet’s proposed fiscal plan attempts to meet the board’s fiscal direction, preserves major board initiatives, opens and operates new facilities, continues to focus on the Department of Economic Development and invests in the county’s employees, he said.

Hemstreet emphasized that county employees are burdened by a heavier workload each year and have not received a pay increase for the past three years. Hemstreet hopes to give county employees a 3 percent pay raise this year.

“They continue to absorb additional workloads without additional resources,” he said.

The future of economic development

Hemstreet’s major goals for the Department of Economic Development in 2012 include:

– A proactive business retention strategy. Hemstreet hopes to add another position within the department that will focus solely on addressing the needs and wants of Loudoun’s current businesses.

– Reduce the county’s commercial vacancy rate by another 2 percent. County representatives need to pro actively meet with businesses who are looking to locate here.
– Enhance local agricultural products distribution. The spring and fall farm tours currently generate $130,000 in revenue and 15,000 visitors annually.

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A day in the life of a delegate

It’s 5 p.m. and Del. Tag Greason (R-northeastern Loudoun) is just half way through his day.

As a freshman at the Virginia General Assembly last year, Greason didn’t know what to expect upon his arrival in Richmond. Now, sitting on the dais in the General Laws Committee, he snacks on candy bars and sips on Diet Coke while listening to issues ranging from the commonwealth’s green certification to fireworks laws.

Thomas “Tag” Greason (R-northeastern Loudoun) spoke at a 2009 Virginia House of Delegates candidate forum at the National Conference Center.

The January 2010 assembly was his first session as a Loudoun delegate. His biggest challenge? Learning the colloquialisms of the house floor.

“There’s an enormous learning curve that you’re trying to overcome,” he said.

There is a specific language used on the House floor – the way you address the speaker and other colleagues – that took him some time to get used to, he said. Greason, who had no political or legislative experience before his election, has now learned the specific procedures and protocols of the floor, which was “like learning a different language.”

Additionally, first-year delegates do not receive their committee assignments until they start their first day.

“There is no way to prepare or research what you’ll be working on,” he said.

Greason is now in the throes of his second session and has made it through his “cross-over,” the date by which he had to complete work on his own legislation. Both congressional houses must have completed their legislation by Feb. 8. The Virginia General Assembly will adjourn Feb. 26.

This time around, Greason said he feels much more comfortable and can now focus on the content of the bill he’s presenting and not how he’s presenting it.

Greason spread his wings with his most recent bill. The bill, if passed, would provide insurance coverage for autism in children—providing medically necessary therapies for children ages 2 through 6, with a $35,000 cap on annual benefits. The bill has advanced through the House and passed in the Senate Feb. 8.

Autism affects hundreds of thousands of people across the commonwealth, he said. Several of his constituents have come to him describing the cost burden of caring for their autistic children.

“One in every 110 children is affected by autism. How can you turn your back on it?” he said.

People have been discussing or working on the autism bill for years, but Greason and the bill’s coauthors finally created a bill that was delicately balanced and fair to both the business communities and the families, he said.

During last year’s session, Greason introduced eight bills to the General Assembly. This year, he’s introducing the maximum 15 bills, ranging from a bill to provide a gambling-addiction treatment fund to designating September as Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month. Greason sits on the Finance, Education and General Laws committees.

“It is fascinating to be exposed to so many different issues,” he said. “In a five- minute span you can be dealing with insurance, child abuse, autism or transportation.”

If it seems like a delegate’s day is jam-packed, it is. From the moment Greason steps into his office at 7 a.m. until he leaves his committee meetings around 10 p.m., every minute of his time is spoken for. Don’t just drop in. It’s not uncommon for Greason to be out of his office for hours on end. However, he and his staffers are very willing to schedule meetings.

His office décor relays the image of his fast-paced lifestyle – with some balancing details: Energy bars sit next to a Keurig coffee machine. Pictures of his wife and three children line the windowsill, and two Bibles rest atop his end table.

“Because we’re only here for 60 days, everyone in the entire commonwealth who has an interest in what we’re doing comes to see us,” Greason said.

The entire General Assembly building is bustling from morning till night with staffers and interest group representatives. This often leads to the spread of the common cold, and hand sanitizer machines abound. Nevertheless, Greason remains upbeat.

“I like to engage with people on issues that they care about,” he said. “The variety is absolutely exhilarating.”

Interest groups have stopped by Greason’s office to object to his votes on certain decisions. He has quickly learned that no matter what decision he makes, someone will always be unhappy with it. But he said he has found that if he can explain why he voted the way he did and that he researched it, he has never been faulted for a vote.

“I don’t pretend to know everything there is to know,” he said. “If you try to please everybody, you will fail.”

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The man with the ‘golden voice’

If inclement weather is in the forecast, he’s the voice parents and school kids are longing to hear: Is school closed or not?

Few are embarrassed to admit that they wait by the phone for Wayde Byard, the Loudoun County Public School’s public information officer, to call. Recent snowstorms have prompted several parents to create a Facebook fan page for Byard called “Friends of Wayde Byard.” Started on Jan. 27 with the status, “waking families in Loudoun County since 2000,” the group attracted more than 900 fans in less than a week.

Wayde Byard

Byard rings Loudoun’s public schools teachers and parents to inform them of inclement weather delays or closures. His automated voice message sometimes calls at night, but he most often sounds off during the wee hours of the morning. Several parents, who likely recall last winter’s back-to-back blizzards, said they know Byard’s on the other end of the line when the clock reads 5:30 a.m.

“It’s to the point that he really can dismiss the formality of identifying himself when he calls, don’t you think?” Tiffany Powers Burfield commented on the Facebook page. “He should simply say, ‘This is Wayde. Go back to sleep.’”

One woman jokingly pleaded with Byard to stop calling her house because her husband is starting to get suspicious. Another mother inquired if he had her on speed dial. Loudoun schools have closed five days this school year and had a few delays.

Last Monday night, Kelly Young said she answered Wayde’s call with, “’What’s the good word, Wayde?’ And he gave me the good word! What a guy!” He informed her that school was closed the next day.

All may receive the call, but all do not want it. Carolyn Edwards Pennebaker wrote, “No offense Wayde … but I don’t need any calls this week!”

Many commenters wondered if Byard was aware that a Facebook page had been created in his honor.
“The wife’s amused, I’m amused and the dog doesn’t care,” Byard said.

Byard said he finds the fan page funny and thinks it was created in good fun. He also appreciated that the fan page founder had posed a recent picture of him.

“As a student of the media, it’s always interesting to see the next wrinkle in communication,” he said.

The fan page’s founder, who is not identified, said they foresee a t-shirt in the group’s future filled with the “Wayde-isms,” including, “What’s the Wayde-ger for tomorrow?” or “Wayde is the real man with the golden voice.” The t-shirt’s proceeds could make up the school’s budget deficit, the founder wrote.

Despite the presence of his fan page, Byard plans to use the traditional outlets to inform parents and teachers of the school’s operational status.

So, Byard’s fans and foes still can expect more phone calls in the future. And they are awaiting, like schoolgirls anxiously anticipating the call of a love interest.

“Looking forward to your call, Wayde! smile,” wrote Bethany Thiele. “Call me baby!” chimed Nancy Parisi Tessman. “Call me, I’ll be waiting,” wrote Anne-Marie Daniel Frattali.

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