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South Boston council hears good, bad, ugly at retreat


South Boston Town Council got doses of good and sobering news at its biannual retreat over the weekend at Berry Hill Conference Center.

Town Finance Officer Erle Scott said in his estimation the town “is in pretty good shape compared to other towns and cities,” despite the recent economic downturn.


A review of FY 2009-2010 revealed the Cash Operating Fund grew from $2,523,817 to $3,077,369, with total revenues 104.9 percent of the budget goal, Scott reported, with a program for collection of delinquent real estate taxes and the DMV Stop Program as a means of collecting delinquent personal property taxes responsible for much of that increase.

Scott said the town plans to reduce the principal balance of the debt they service from $4,271,560 to $3,879,968 in FY 2010-2011, while the Halifax County Service Authority will reduce the principal balance of the debt they service from $5,815,493 to $5,345,165.

The Finance Office is in the process of implementing the point-of-sale function and also is putting finishing touches on an accounts receivable function through Mainstreet Software, Scott said.

The town also faces the prospect of rehabilitating its aging storm water collection system, with estimates for the highest priority projects already identified in the neighborhood of $3.5 million, according to Public Works Director Alan Auld.

Auld said in the past few years storm water issues have been prioritized lower than asphalt repairs and construction and general travel way maintenance in order to maintain current funding levels from state mileage maintenance reimbursements.

That has left the storm water collection system seriously underfunded, with the backlog of storm water system repairs and associated replacements growing larger.

The town has currently identified $1,350,000 in projects that should be of the highest priority, and another $935,000 is needed to raise Summit and Railroad Avenues to make it possible to keep those roadways open during storms, according to Auld.

Creek bank erosion has made it necessary to address drainage and roadway issues on Tanglewylde at Beechmont, with curb and gutter installation and repair along with street base repair with pavement replacement costing an estimated $1,250,000.

That could be just the proverbial tip of the iceberg, hinted Auld and Town Manager Ted Daniel, who both see completion of a grant/revenue sharing dependent storm water management master plan as a priority capital improvement project for FY 2011-2012.

“This is déjà vu all over again, and it goes right back to what we’ve just been through with the sewer system and the infiltration and inflow problem,” said Daniel.

“We were always aware of the problem and never did anything about it, and we were constantly reacting.”

Noting the age and size of the storm water system, Daniel and Auld agreed it is “entirely feasible” there are unidentified projects where costs could total $4.5 million or more.

And, with ever-changing and evolving federal regulations, the town may at some point be required to permit its own system, rather than a general permit in conjunction with the state, said Auld.

“If we were to permit on our own, we’d have to develop a plan on how to test and get pollutants out of the system before it hits the Dan River,” Auld explained.

“If we get caught in an EPA final ruling that makes us permit, we’d have to have a mediation plan, and luckily that’s where grants come in.

“The big thing about what we’re talking about is we don’t know what we have out there, it’s never been mapped, it’s never been studied.”

“We’re obligated to process that water and move it on, and at some point in the future, we may have to treat it…to make a long story short, we need a plan,” Daniel added.

“Number one, identify what you have, then through a mapping process evaluate the condition of the pipes, and in addition you identify where there aren’t any storm water structures.

“At the end of the day, you come back and prioritize that, and the advantage to that is we do it ourselves, we prioritize it ourselves, and we do what is absolutely essential, but there is a big bill coming.”

Auld also updated council on the need for future expansion at the three cemeteries in South Boston, and in a related issue the growing need for a special interment area for cremated remains also was discussed.

At the current rate of interments in the combined cemeteries (Oak Ridge, Memorial Gardens, Rose Garden), and by development of any usable space at Memorial Gardens, there should be space to last approximately 25 years, according to town staff, who added consideration also may be given to a completely new site for a future cemetery.

Council agreed with town staff that addressing expansion of existing cemeteries and creation of a special interment area (columbarium) is warranted.

◗ Police Issues
Police Chief Jim Binner updated council on the continuing upgrades to his department’s computer systems, with the subsequent installation of fiber optic networking, along with improvements to the department’s evidence room and equipment purchases, including the purchase of updated tasers.

Funding for those projects, along with funds allocated for overtime for traffic enforcement, is from $38,546 in Byrne Grants and $13,400 in a DMV Grant.

A LINX Grant for $9,500, to be used for the installation of fiber optic network connection to the police department, also has been approved.

Binner lobbied for the continuation of the School Resource Officer programs at the high school and middle schools in partnership with the Halifax County Sheriff’s Office.

He told council he’d like to have two school resource officers at the high school, as opposed to the one currently staffed there, due to the large student population and the size of the high school campus and adjoining middle school campus.

“It’s hard for one officer to be where he or she needs to be at a certain time…ideally a school resource officer should be at that school about 75 percent of the time,” said Binner.

Binner added that a number of high schools in the state make use of school security officers, officers who have no sidearm but do have arrest powers, suggesting that as an alternative if grant funding for additional resource officers was not available.

South Boston Fire Chief Steve Phillips told council his department has identified a number of needed upgrades or repairs to the fire department building with an estimated price tag of $78,585.

Just as important, according to Phillips, are the procurement of another pumper truck to replace the current 1995 model (at a cost of $400,000), and the hiring of additional paid firefighters with advanced EMT training.

Phillips said he has noted a decline in the number of volunteers since he came to the fire department, from 40 volunteers in 1971 to 22 currently, in addition to paid staff.

“The volunteers we have do a terrific job, but at some point in time we need to increase the number of paid personnel in the fire department,” said Phillips.

Currently, four to five paid personnel staff the fire department during the day, and two are present at night, in addition to volunteers, added Phillips.

Councilman Bill Snead suggested the use of part-time paid volunteers to augment current paid staff as an initial step toward additional full-time paid personnel.

◗ Recreation Issues
Work is scheduled to begin in May on Phase I of the Washington-Coleman Community Center project, including work on the pre-K wing of the building, with work on the community center wing beginning in fall 2011, funding permitted.

According to town staff, the goal is to have pre-K in new classrooms for the start of the September 2011 school year.
Rooms in the community center will be configured to accommodate planned activities such as arts and crafts, a game room, exercise room and a personal computer center.

The community center is sorely needed due to continued overcrowded conditions at the South Boston Recreation Center, which is in use literally year-round.

South Boston Recreation Director Matthew McCargo told council that seven recreational basketball leagues use the facility during the winter months, necessitating a cutback from 400 to 298 games.

“We’ve outgrown that facility for basketball,” said McCargo.  “I’d love to practice the kids twice a week to learn fundamentals, but I can’t now due to space limitations.”

The Senior Exercise Group, started in 2000 by three ladies who wanted to exercise indoors when it got too cold to walk around the Hupps Mill Plaza area, has grown to 198 members and is seeking more time to exercise, McCargo noted.

It’s now the largest ongoing program the Recreation Department offers, and the group is very enthusiastic and appreciative, in addition to being racially and gender diverse, according to McCargo.

The group also has become a financial and spiritual help group by offering prayers, scholarships, donations and social networking, McCargo added, but he noted the group is looking for additional time and space to exercise.

The Washington-Coleman Community Center could help provide that space, McCargo explained.

◗ Strategic Goals
and Objectives (2010-2012)
Town staff issued a draft document listing strategic goals and objectives for 2010-2012 following the meeting, including continuing upgrade of police department computers to enhance information sharing capabilities for law enforcement purposes; continuing the School Resource Officer Programs at both the high school and middle school in partnership with the Halifax County Sheriff’s Office; and sustaining support to insure the success of the Halifax County/South Boston Drug-Gang Task Force.

Priority capital improvement projects (town-funded) include establishment of a vehicle depreciation program; identification of appropriate land acquisitions to permit cemetery expansions; and funding repairs and upgrades to the South Boston Fire Department building.

Priority capital improvement projects (grant/revenue sharing dependant) include renovation of Washington-Coleman into a multi-use community and recreation center; establishment of a neighborhood park on the Halifax Cotton Mill property in cooperation with the Master Gardeners; completion of the South Boston component of the Tobacco Heritage biking/hiking trail; completion of a storm water management master plan; and continuation of police department communication system/radio upgrades.