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County budget deficit sliced

Halifax County’s upcoming budget gap has been reduced from $1.4 million to about $800,000, and during a board of supervisors planning session Thursday, Finance Director Stephanie Jackson told supervisors the best course of action would be to fund each department for 2012-2013 at no more than current levels, with no new hires.

She also suggested the board consider a central purchasing option and urged them to study the potential for the county to assume payroll functions for other departments as it did social services one year ago, all cost-saving measures.

Answering a query from ED-4 Supervisor Doug Bowman, Jackson said payroll presented the biggest opportunity for consolidation.

It will all be a step-by-step process, and the better the plan the smoother transition.

Bowman asked the finance committee to pursue the central purchasing option.

Jackson said she had three goals for the upcoming year, including an update of the county personnel handbook and managing insurance costs by fully implementing a Virginia Municipal Insurance risk management program and implementing an Anthem Wellness program.


Department heads present goals

Different department heads approached supervisors throughout the morning Thursday with a summary of 2011-2012 activity and their goals for the upcoming year.

General Properties and Buildings and Inspections Director Dwight Waller said his department has a number of projects under way at this time, including the $176 million NOVI project, one of the largest construction projects to be undertaken in the county since the Clover Power Plant was built.

In terms of goals for the upcoming year, Waller wants to “do away” with the maximum $2,500 permit fee Halifax County currently charges and pursue rehabilitation of the courthouse, study the master plan for the fairgrounds, implement the Pine Heights Trail Housing Rehabilitation Project ($840,169 Community Development Block Grant) and complete a project at William Tuck Airport to paint and stripe runways with the help of a $940,600 FFA grant.

Waller also wants to replace existing mowers and obtain a tractor to help in mowing the more than 786 acres of buildings and grounds property his department currently maintains, in addition to sealing and striping the parking lot at the Mary Bethune Complex.


Recreation Needs

Halifax County Recreation Director Brad Ballou told supervisors his department has assumed all outside maintenance at Edmunds Park.

Upgrades to the park include the restocking of the fish pond, construction of two new bridges and addition of more picnic tables and benches, as well as improvements to the disc golf course.

Ballou told supervisors he needed a used pickup truck for day-to-day maintenance, perhaps from another county department.

He also suggested use of inmate labor for help in maintaining trees and shrubbery at the Banister Lake boat landing in another cost-saving measure.

Ballou told supervisors the increasing cost of gas is having an effect on participation in the various youth sports leagues he offers, particularly basketball, as sometimes parents have to drive long distances often more than once a week for games and practices.

Ballou suggested using gymnasium-equipped county schools for youth basketball would help the travel dilemma, and he also suggested the formation of intramural leagues to increase participation.


Animal Control report

Animal Control Officer Todd Moser told supervisors his department needed a new animal control truck.

Five vehicles currently in use have mileages ranging from 30,000 (2010 model Ford) to 122,000 (2007 Ford), 197,000 (Ford Explorer) and 239,643 (2004 Ford), according to Moser.

His staff currently includes one full-time shelter worker and three full-time officers.

His department answered a total of 1,539 calls for service in 2011, with another 671 dispatched by 911 calls.

A total of 2,021 animals came through the animal control facility in 2011, according to Moser’s report, with 92 dogs and cats adopted, 143 returned to their owners, 320 rescued by the Humane Society and 1,466 euthanized.

Computers have been installed in his department’s trucks to help his officers file reports on-site, rather than their returning to their offices to compile them, Moser said.

In answering a question from ED-6 Supervisor Wayne Conner regarding the continuing coyote control issue, Moser said he was organizing a class on coyote awareness to be held later this spring.

The class would focus on coyote awareness in helping residents to take steps to keep coyotes away from their property, Moser said.


Emergency Services report

Emergency Services Coordinator Kirby Saunders told supervisors his department will be required to update the Halifax County Emergency Operations Plan in the near future, with that update due Nov. 20, Saunders said.

Another goal is to use on an online program to help in the plan update, said Saunders, who said his department continues recovery operations from the April 2011 tornado outbreak.

His department responded to a total of 12 emergency events in 2011, including eight fires, two search and rescue missions, one hazardous material event and one natural event, Saunders said in his report.

Currently, Emergency Services is focusing attention on securing an early warning siren to be located in the Town of Halifax in a joint effort between the town and the county.

Another goal for his department is increasing training opportunities for his personnel and the general public, and to that end he wants to find a full-time deputy coordinator responsible for training facilities and equipment.

It’s increasingly difficult for trained volunteers to respond in emergency fire and rescue situations due to work obligations, particularly in the daytime, Saunders explained.

Emergency dispatch is answering multiple calls at one time, and sometimes there can be a 30-45-minute wait for an ambulance, Saunders said.

Finding temporary shelters for those affected by natural disasters similar to the April tornadoes needs to be addressed, Saunders said, and in response to a question from Supervisor Tom West, Saunders suggested using the high school and middle school as temporary shelters.


Ag Development report

Agricultural Development Director Leah Brown told supervisors she is focusing on agricultural diversification, education and outreach and greater producer involvement for 2012-2013.

Agricultural diversification could be achieved through changing zoning ordinances in regard to Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO).

“In 2014, tobacco buyout money dries up, and farmers are still living off buyout money,” said Brown.

“We need to develop alternative and diversified agriculture practices for many of our farms.

“Agriculture education efforts will identify opportunities in agriculture accomplished through education programs and meetings, and a possible farmer mentor program within public schools,” Brown said.


Planning and Zoning report

Halifax County Planning and Zoning Administrator Robbie Love told supervisors one goal his office needs to achieve is updating the 2007 Halifax County Comprehensive Plan, something the state requires every five years.

Another goal is to evaluate county land development and growth patterns that occurred in the county and implementation of cross training and certification of planning staff.

“That would provide training opportunities to staff and commissioners involved in permitting and dealing with the public in planning-related matters,” Love said.

A positive trend he’s noticed recently is businesses using older buildings as opposed to newly constructed ones, and Love wants to revise local code sections that currently conflict with state planning and zoning laws.

“We’re smack dab in the middle of Richmond and Raleigh, and we don’t want hodgepodge, spotty development,” Love told supervisors.

“We need a plan to address it.”


GIS and IT Goals

In a report to supervisors, GIS/IT Administrator David Day said one goal for the coming year is implementation of a voice-over Internet protocol in an effort to link the Mary Bethune Complex, Farm Services office, library, county administration building and the courthouse, and to reduce telephone costs.

A second goal is to implement a fee for sale of GIS data, and a third goal is to implement a GIS update in order to create more space and thus quicker response time.


Public Works

Halifax County Public Works Director Ricky Nelson said one of his department’s goals for the coming year is completion of the county solid waste plan, with its objective being the development of three additional neighborhood collection centers in Scottsburg, the Omega/Hyco community and the Town of Halifax.

Nelson is proposing expenditure of funds to relocate scales from the closed Bethel Landfill to the loading pit at the transfer station.

That would allow loading to legal limits in transport trailers and avoid overloading, thus saving time and labor associated with unloading trailers that exceed legal weight limits, Nelson explained.

Comingled recycling has been a success, Nelson indicated.

“In the 2011 calendar year, we delivered 518.85 tons of recyclables to TFC; Halifax County received $10,377 from TFC ($20 per ton),” he said in his report.

The public works department has modified an existing building to accommodate an automobile maintenance shop, with approximately 80 county vehicles taken to the garage for service since that time, Nelson reported.

Construction, electrical and heating work was completed by the public works department, Nelson said in his report.

The garage is now performing maintenance on all public works, county administration, buildings and grounds, recreation, animal control, emergency services, tax assessors, sheriff’s office and social services vehicles.


Service authority

Halifax County Service Authority Executive Director Willie Jones told supervisors construction on the Maple Avenue Waste Water Treatment expansion project has started, which would double the plant’s capacity when finished.

Long-term projects include a loop line through Sinai to Halifax and consolidation of water tanks in the system to save maintenance costs.

The authority is finishing painting on two water tanks and is looking to implement a fats, oils and grease (FOG) program, according to Jones.

Approximately 55-60 percent of blockages are due to grease dumped in the sewer by homeowners, Jones told supervisors.

Accumulations may cause a sanitary sewer overflow that creates a health risk to the public, according to information on the FOG program.


Upcoming cuts affecting SVHEC

Dr. Betty Adams, executive director for the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, took supervisors for a tour of the Innovation Center on Thursday, followed by a Powerpoint presentation of what the center offers.

At a South Boston Town Council meeting in December, Adams warned innovative programs developed at SVHEC would cease to exist unless additional funding could be secured.

Since they became an independent agency in 2005, SVHEC has used tobacco commission seed money to develop seeding programs, such as the Business of Art & Design and R&D Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Energy Efficiency, Adams said in December.

“In this budget biennium, those tobacco commission grants are going to lapse, and our biennium budget request includes additional funding to fill those gaps,” Adams said.

Loss of funding would result in elimination of several programs and cuts in personnel, she indicated at that time.