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Furnace heats up South Boston council discussion

To South Boston resident Ben Capozzi, a wood-fired furnace was the solution to economically heating his home, and he appeared before South Boston Town Council at its Monday night work session to support his investment.

Town staff has proposed language to be added to town code regulating wood-fired furnaces.

There are at least five wood-fired furnaces currently operating in South Boston, and outside wood-fired furnaces are not addressed in Town Code, Town Manger Ted Daniel told council at its November work session.

They do require permitting by the Halifax County building official, he said.

New language would require all outdoor wood-fired furnaces to be located at least 50 feet from the property line; at least 100 feet from any residence not served by the outdoor wood-fired furnace; and the chimney to be two feet higher than the peak of the residence served or not served, whichever is higher.

Capozzi told council he and his fiancee moved into their current home in 2010, only to find that heating their two-story house with oil was cost prohibitive.

“Our house doesn’t retain heat well,” said Capozzi, adding he kept his thermostat at 65 degrees.

Despite adding insulation and energy efficient windows, he paid close to $2,500 in fuel oil from November through December in 2010, before investing approximately $8,000 in a wood-fired furnace system, which is located in his back yard.

He now pays approximately $500 for firewood over a three-month period, he noted.

The system has a 30-foot high smokestack, added Cappozi, who now has been in his home for 18 months.

Council in large measure agreed with Capozzi in that he has a right to heat his home in the most economically way possible, but debated the bigger issue of how any smoke and odor coming from furnaces like his would affect neighbors, particularly if a number of other residents build wood-fired furnaces.

Councilman Bill Snead said he has always been an advocate of homeowners doing what they want to with their own property.

Still, he told Capozzi he became aware of smoke eminating from Capozzi’s furnace as he was passing through North Main Street recently.

“Smoke was just wrapping up your neighbor’s house,” Snead told Capozzi.

“I went down Irish [Street] to see and on Shepherd there was no visible smoke but an odor.  I know if I lived on Shepherd, it would have been difficult staying outside for an hour either raking leaves or playing in the yard.”

Councilman Mark Morris said weather conditions that day may have caused smoke coming from any chimney in town to stay close to the ground, and Councilman Ed Owens brought up the question of potential fines or penalties levied to homeowners if their furnaces met code but still produced noxious smoke.

If smoke coming from a properly installed and regulated furnace next door permeated his house, what recourse would he have, he asked Daniel.

“We need some regulation…I favor putting in some protection for the neighbors,” Owens said.

Most of the proposed regulations are driven by setback requirements, Daniel replied, adding existing wood-fired furnaces like Capozzi’s could be “grandfathered in” with regards to setbacks.

South Boston Fire Chief Steve Phillips suggested the county building official be notified of any regulations pertaining to wood-fired furnaces so the official in turn could notify the town of anyone applying for a plumbing or electrical permit to install a wood-fired furnace in the future.

That would allow Phillips to determine if the furnace meets requirements and register its location.

The current issues committee continued discussion of the issue to the February work session.


Public hearings

Council and its current issues committee set Feb. 13 public hearings on an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan to include the designation of a new Urban Development Area (UDA) and the proposed closure and abandonment of Harrell Street in South Boston.

The UDA district would protect much of the existing neighborhood and ensure that future development follows historic patterns and enhances existing land use patterns.

Council is considering closing and abandoning an unopened right-of-way known as Harrell Street, a 1.08-acre plot of land lying between Watkins Avenue and the Norfolk and Southern Railway.

Council is expected to appoint a Board of Viewers following the public hearing to study the issue and recommend to council whether any inconvenience to the public would result from closing the public right-of-way.



Council and its current issues committee also addressed proposed amendments to town code regarding pawnshops.

Pawnshops are not currently addressed in town code, but they are regulated by state code, which allows localities to regulate the conduct and prescribe the number of pawnshops within town limits.

Currently, a person wishing to operate a pawnshop must initiate the license process by applying to the circuit court.  If the court authorizes the license, the locality may issue a local license.

The police department investigates the applicant to determine if he has been convicted of a felony before the court grants approval for operation of a pawnshop.

The town attorney recommends chapter 82 of town code be amended to add the state definition of pawnshops, and chapter 114 (zoning) be amended to say where and under what conditions pawnshops are allowed, according to Daniel.

Amended language would limit the number of pawnshops to three in operation at any one time within town limits.  The town also would establish a business license fee for operation of a pawnshop. Pawnshops are currently categorized by code in the “business” category and are taxed at 18 cents per $100 of gross receipts.

Council and the current issues committee advanced the proposed amendments to town code regarding pawnshops to council’s February meeting for adoption.

Insurance issue

Council and its current issues committee studied an amendment to town code that would remove duplicate insurance for line of duty act coverage for the South Boston Volunteer Fire Company.

The Virginia Line of Duty Act (LODA) provides health and life insurance benefits to state and local hazardous duty employees, including volunteers.

Line of Duty Act benefits are administered by the state but paid by the locality (as of 2011), with localities automatically enrolled in coverage through the Virginia Retirement System (VRS).

Localities have until July 1 to opt out and go with another company.

VRS coverage for FY2012 was $233.89 for active members and will increase to $474 in FY2013, while the Virginia Municipal League Insurance Program is offering the same coverage at $220 per active participant.

Town staff has recommended amending town code so South Boston is no longer responsible for line of duty coverage for volunteer firemen, thus allowing the town to opt out of VRS and go with VML for coverage.

The issue was advanced to the February council agenda.


Appropriation resolution adopted

Council convened as a whole in open session and adopted a resolution amending the current budget to officially record the appropriation of a full $1 million in bond anticipation borrowing to support the Washington-Coleman Community Center Project.

Town Council had appropriated $720,000 in capital outlay for the community center project, and it also appropriated $55,351 in debt service expenditures in anticipation of community center debt borrowing.

All was contained in an appropriation resolution when council adopted its 2011-2012 budget.

The town issued a Request for Proposals last June for a bond anticipation note in the amount of $1 million for the renovation of Washington-Coleman, and council voted to finalize the financing obligation in July.

“With the full appropriation, the town can proceed with design work for Phase II, estimated at $56,000, and asbestos removal, estimated at $41,500,” Daniel said at Monday’s meeting.

“Our goal is to complete design work and asbestos removal by July and be able to bid the project as early as possible.”

“Full financing for the community center will be determined as part of our FY2012-2013 budget,” Daniel added.


Finance report

Revenues as of Dec. 31 reflected a total of $5,850,724 out of a budget of $1,007,170, compared to expenditures of $5,382,593, according to Finance Director Erle Scott’s report.

“It’s the first time we’ve had revenues exceed expenditures this year, and that’s due to tax collections,” explained Scott.

The town had $975,083 in operating cash as of Dec. 31, with a balance of $4,129,596.

With the fiscal year half over, a number of selected general fund revenues were running ahead of projections, with personal property tax and personal property tax relief collections leading the way.

Scott’s report noted personal property tax collections of $437,258 and personal property tax relief collections of $295,432 as of Dec. 31, with both surpassing the projected totals of $425,000 and $295,432 projected for the entire 2011-2012 fiscal year.

Current real estate tax collections stood at $854,939 as of Dec. 31, or 99.4 percent of projected totals, while occupancy tax collections stood at $79,709 or 69.3 percent of projected totals for the current fiscal year.

A tax comparison report indicates collections for the first half of the fiscal year are running ahead of projections in four of five categories.

Local occupancy tax collections were $79,709 as of Dec. 31, or 69.3 percent of a budget of $115,000, local sales tax collections were $213,051, 56.8 percent of a budget of $375,000, and consumer utility tax collections were $217,569, 51.1 percent of a budget of $425,000.

Meals tax collections were running ahead of budgeted totals with $519,198 as of Dec. 31, 51.9 percent of a budgeted $1,000,000.

Telecom tax collections were running behind for the fiscal year, according to Scott’s report, with $294,124 collected as of Dec. 31, 47.8 percent of a budgeted $615,000.

The town collected a total of $107,533.02 in delinquent taxes as of Dec. 31, including $20,765.43 in personal property tax relief collections; $23,765.43 in delinquent real estate tax collections; $43,083.71 in delinquent personal property tax collections; and $420.02 in delinquent mobile home tax collections.

Scott also reported the results of a non-judicial real estate sale held Jan. 12.

Fifteen parcels were up for sale, primarily small properties with an assessed value of less than $10,000, Scott told council.

Six parcels were sold, and the town bought back eight parcels at an approximate cost of $1,500 to the town, Scott said.

The town plans to charge off $1,151.23 in taxes and $1,245 in unpaid bills relating to the real estate sale, Scott added.


Board of zoning appeals appointment

Council and the current issues committee studied an upcoming vacancy on the towns’ Board of Zoning Appeals.

The term of Sterling Roberts expires Feb. 28, and she is eligible and willing to be re-appointed for another term, according to Daniel.

The issue was advanced to the February council agenda.