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History or safety: Council considers razing cotton mill stack

South Boston Town Council finds itself at a crossroads with historic preservation at odds with public safety, and a decision must come soon, Town Manager Ted Daniel said at Monday’s monthly work session.

 

The history in question is contained in a smokestack and tower at the site of the proposed Cotton Mill Park in South Boston, the site of the former Halifax Damask factory.

The cotton mill, save the signature smokestack and tower, was razed several years ago, with the two sentinels remaining as a monument to the textile industry that once thrived in South Boston.

Both structures are deteriorating, and council must make a decision on razing them or having someone else tear them down, Daniel suggested.

“It would be wise to find someone to take them down for bricks and spare the town the expense,” Daniel explained.

A decision was made earlier to save them when the mill itself was torn down, but with the Cotton Mill Park project on track, the crumbling bricks are a continuing safety issue, Daniel indicated.

“The time has come to make a decision to tear them down,” said Daniel, who suggested to council it receive input from the general public before making a final decision.

Timing for a decision is critical considering progress on construction of the Dan River Rails to Trails project, a 2.4-mile trail through South Boston and Halifax County with a tie-in to the proposed Cotton Mill Park.

Hikers, cyclists, runners and horseback riders will soon be enjoying another recreational venue with the completion of the initial phase of the project, which extends from Cotton Mill Park, along a former spur track rail bed to the former Richmond and Danville Railroad corridor, before terminating in the railroad corridor near the western boundary of the Berry Hill Plantation site. 

Daniel presented a Powerpoint presentation to council showing progress on the trail, which includes access to a duck pond in memory and honor of Halifax conservationist “Biggy” Hunt, a scenic overlook with views of the Dan River.

Benches, several small bridges and signage are also part of the trail, which is scheduled to open “fairly quickly,” according to town staff.

The Dan River Rails to Trails project is a component of the Tobacco Heritage Trail, a network of long distance recreational non-motorized trails through the Southern Virginia countryside, exposing users to the area’s farming heritage and agrarian and forestry practices.

 

VDOT revenue sharing program

Daniel, in another Powerpoint presentation, presented council with details of a proposed Virginia Department of Transportation revenue sharing program designed to address drainage issues in designated areas throughout South Boston.

The project totals an estimated $2,001,800 in a 50/50 matching grant set up between the town and VDOT.

Daniel detailed 11 separate projects, three in the vicinity of Powell Road and one each for Grove Avenue, Gann Street, Penick Avenue, Powell Road, McKinney Street, Greenway Drive, Moore Avenue and Easley Street.

The most expensive component of the revenue sharing plan ($845,000) involves reconstruction of a bridge on Summit Drive and involves moving the bridge location from 545 feet west of Railroad Avenue to a location 700 feet east of Railroad Avenue.

The town has until June 2013 to commit to the project, according to Daniel, or it needs to find another revenue source to pay for the projects.

“We need to get public input and make a decision,” Daniel told council.

 

Council studies VRS resolutions

Council studied Virginia Retirement System contribution rates and member contribution rate resolutions at Monday’s meeting.

Recent legislation passed in the Virginia General Assembly that calls for localities to make decisions by July 1 regarding employer and member retirement contributions.

Town staff recommended a 16.90 percent employer contribution rate option for the defined benefit retirement plan in the biennium beginning July 1, the rate certified by the VRS Board of Trustees for the 2012-2014 biennium.

Effective July 1, the town employee contribution rate for Group Life Insurance is 1.19 percent, according to town staff.

Town staff also recommended a Virginia Retirement System member contribution rate of 5 percent.

All employees hired on or after July 1 must pay the full 5 percent upon employment with no phase-in allowed.  For current employees, governing bodies are allowed to phase in the member contribution in each of the next five years or until current employees are paying the full 5 percent contribution, whichever is earlier.

Consideration of both resolutions was continued to the June 11 meeting of council.

 

Proposed budget changes

Council considered line item updates to its proposed 2012-2013 budget at Monday’s meeting.

Town Finance Officer Erle Scott detailed total revenue changes of $275,521 and total expenditure changes of $139,341.

Revenue changes include $11,000 in Main Street reimbursement funds for labor costs incurred during Main Street events; $14,000 in repayments (principal) for the Visitors Center; and $8,337 in interest payments (Visitor’s Center).

Revenue changes also include $7,184 from a police department taser grant in categorical aid; $200,000 from loan proceeds ($650,000-$850,000) regarding the Washington-Coleman project; and $35,000 in miscellaneous revenue (fly ash).

Expenditure changes include $1,500 for building repairs (recreation department); $11,000 for street maintenance and overtime; $1,000 for the police department (K-9); $7,184 for the police department taser grant; $2,500 for the South Boston Police Department/South Boston-Halifax County Drug Task Force contribution; and $116,157 for payroll expense increases (5 percent salary increase – VRS).

Net revenue increases to the 2012-2013 budget are $136,180, according to Scott.

 

Finance Report

Scott reported revenues of $9,489,161 (94.8 percent of budget) and expenditures of $8,401,025 (84 percent) as of April 30, out of a budget of $10,007,170.

The cash operating general fund showed activity of $159,714 for the month ending April 30, and it shows a year-to-date balance of $4,257,257.

Selected general fund revenue categories are expected to make budget, according to Scott’s report, including categorical aid ($1,730,957 or 82.6 percent of budget); real estate tax ($874,365, 101.7); personal property tax ($453,763, 106.8); personal property tax relief ($295,432, 100 percent); local tax ($357,420, 95.3 percent); occupancy tax ($118,768, 103.7 percent); meals tax $901,764, 90.2 percent); and business license tax collections ($492,450, 103.7).

A total of $166,185.38 in delinquent taxes has been collected as of May 29, according to Scott’s report.

 

Grant matching funds resolution adopted

Council came out of closed session Monday night and adopted a resolution committing grant-matching funds to the Halifax Education Foundation in support of project financing for the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center.

The Higher Education Foundation applied for and was awarded a grant in the amount of $625,372 in support of the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center and its new Innovation Center last March.

A grant commitment from the U.S. Department of Commerce was not successfully obtained through no fault of the Halifax Education Foundation, according to the resolution.

South Boston Town Council and the Halifax County Board of Supervisors are seeking to assure $1,250,744 in funding is available to insure the operational viability of the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center.