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Council discusses library consolidation at retreat

South Boston Town Council, noting budget reductions that have cut personnel and operating hours at both the South Boston and Halifax libraries, wants to revisit the issue of library consolidation versus two facility operations.

That was one of many agenda topics discussed at council’s biannual retreat, and it’s one of council’s strategic goals for 2012-14.

Other strategic goals also discussed during the retreat include continuing upgrades to the police department computer system; and town-funded priority capital improvement projects (2011-12), including stormwater management upgrades and the Washington-Coleman recreation center, both ongoing projects.

Another ongoing capital improvement project is the landfill gas project, according to South Boston Town Manager Ted Daniel’s presentation.

Ongoing FY 2010-12 priority capital improvement projects (grant revenue sharing dependent) also were included: development of the North Main Street area near Washington-Coleman; development of Cotton Mill Park with the Master Gardeners developing the north end; and storm water upgrades.

Daniel also updated council on the ongoing zoning ordinance rewrite and work on the North Main Street historic planning area, also listed as strategic goals for 2012-14.


Council discusses library consolidation issue

The library consolidation issue was first raised at a town council retreat in 2000, where consolidation issues were discussed with members of the board of supervisors, and again at its 2008 retreat.

The last time council discussed library consolidation was at its 2008 retreat, with the issue part of the agenda for the September-October joint meeting with the county.

No action was taken on library consolidation at that meeting, and there had been no further initiatives by council to discuss the matter as a joint meeting agenda item since that time. 

Daniel told council consolidation of other services in recent years have proven beneficial, including the E-911 Center and the Halifax County Service Authority.

“The argument is consolidation has always proven to be advantageous to everyone, and everyone of those consolidation issues was fraud with angst, resistance to change, but I think the record shows consolidation was a viable way to do it,” said Daniel.

“If it isn’t the issue of whether to consolidate or not to consolidate, in my mind, the point is does it really require serious discussions of how our county is going to operate the library system.

“Does the community want two separate libraries,” Daniel asked council.  “If that is the decision of the county and town, it seems to be logical we throw our support behind funding to make them effective.”

Councilman Coleman Speece said it was nonsensical to have two libraries supported by tax dollars.

“I felt so strongly about it, we went out and bought a building to contribute for consolidation of the library,” said Speece referring to the former Urology Clinic which now houses the South Boston Police Department.

“It didn’t work out, but my opinion hasn’t changed. One modern well-equipped library that would be open makes a lot of sense.

“The biggest variable in my mind is the budget crunch, and having to know what particular day the library is open is non-sensical. We ought to have a library you can go visit any day of the week.”

Library Director Joe Zappacosta told Speece he was “open to this discussion.”

“I’ve only been here about a year and a half, and for me to go out and say I have an opinion one way or another wouldn’t be a good idea,” Zappacosta said.

County Administrator Jim Halasz, who also sat in on the discussion Saturday morning, told council several supervisors had approached him about the issue.

“From what I’ve heard, it’s a viable area of discussion,” Halasz said.

Speece and Councilwoman Tina Wyatt Younger suggested a central location for a consolidated library that would benefit both the towns of South Boston and Halifax.

“A lot of citizens find it just as easy to drive to Centerville as it is to the South Boston Library,” said Speece.

Younger suggested a building in the Centerville area would be appropriate because of its proximity to the high school, a “happy medium” between the two towns.


Cotton Mill Park

The Tobacco Heritage Trail component of Cotton Mill Park is complete, with the Southside Master Gardener’s Association continuing to work toward placing trees and arbor-type foliage on the grounds, Daniel reported.

The smokestack and tower on the grounds of the proposed park are still standing, and members of the community are stepping forward to seek ways of preserving them, the town manager added.

“We had the decision to save them or not,” said Daniel.  “I recall an advertisement going out, and some community input to keep them, the tower and smokestack.

“It was enough to motivate us to save them.  We salvaged the tower and put a fence around it to protect it and secured the smokestack and put a fence around it.”

The town applied for grants for Cotton Mill Park but were unsuccessful, ultimately “passing the baton” to the Master Gardeners for preservation of the landmarks and development of the park, according to Daniel.

After a recent work session, some interest arose for preserving the two structures.

“I’ve had some feedback from people interested in getting some money together and can we save them, and my answer to that was yes,” said Daniel. “I’ve had positive feedback from the Master Gardeners about saving them. We’re sort of in a wait and see position now,” added Daniel.

“I’m encouraged private citizens want to put time, effort and money into saving them. There was never any intent on the town’s part to go out and knock them down, and I never would have advocated saving them in the first place if I thought [demolition] would be the only course of action.”

The town is exploring the option of connecting Summit Drive to Railroad Avenue to the east and Wilmouth Avenue to the west through land owned by Habitat for Humanity, Daniel told council.

“It opens up access and eliminates the need for a new bridge at the foot of Summit Drive across Poplar Creek,” explained Daniel.

The new parts of Summit Drive would be constructed to VDOT lane-mileage standards, with curb, gutter and sidewalk, explained Daniel.


Police department

South Boston Police Lieutenant Dennis Barker told council his department has a goal of acquiring mobile laptops and an e-citation ticket system for 20 patrol vehicles and two investigator vehicles.

The total projected cost of the system is $88,600, according to Barker, with a yearly recurring cost of $7,500.

His department is seeking grant money to help with the costs, Barker told council, noting only three agencies in Virginia have the e-ticket program.

The laptops will provide the officer with the capability to access the Records Management System database and enables officers to query background records from national (NCIC), state and local databases, receive calls for services from dispatch via computers, complete reports in the field and run information through the DMV and check criminal history information on individuals.

“This would save time,” Barker said, adding that at present a typical traffic stop lasts 15-30 minutes, based on how long dispatch takes to relay information.

The system, once implemented, would tie into the police records system, court case management system and the state’s citation tracking system.

Barker, who writes grants for the police department, said the department had applied for and received five grants totaling $51,000 in the past year.

One was a DMV grant to put more officers on the street for DUI and seat belt enforcement, and three were equipment grants, one for a “live” system to submit fingerprints to the state data base, saving time and administrative costs.

Another grant was for a records system, and another grant provided funds to help purchase equipment for officers and taser equipment.

One grant was used to help defray the costs of protective vests for every patrol officer, Barker said.

A typical vest costs upward of $800, and the program paid 50 percent of each of 12 vests purchased during the past year.

“All officers on patrol wear vests at all times. It’s mandatory for us,” Barker added.

Barker and Police Chief Jim Binner also brought to council’s attention the need for improvements to the evidence room, including additional space needed to house evidence.

The current evidence facility is a concrete block structure that is approximately 900 square feet in size.

One suggested solution would be the addition of a wire cage attached to the current evidence room that would serve as the processing area at an estimated cost of between $4,000 to $7,500, according to a background paper presented to council during the retreat.

Another issue is the high humidity level found in the police department basement, which impacts biological evidence storage.

Barker and Binner told council a system to help control humidity is needed to slow down degradation of biological evidence, at an estimated cost of between $14,000 to $21,000, according to the background paper.

Council suggested a bid from a reputable heating and air contractor as the first step in addressing that issue.


Finance department

Town Finance Officer Erle Scott told council his department had purchased a new software package from Edmunds & Associates, with the goal of streamlining his department’s daily workload.

Scott said the new package was a drastic improvement over the Main Street software the finance department had been using.

“Our goals, when shopping for a new system, were to have a product that would give us plenty of growing room in future use, support we could count on and a stable owner/management in the vendor we chose,” said Scott. “That was one of the things we were looking for, someone to respond to a problem we had and respond immediately.

“We had a very good experience with their training program,” added Scott, who noted one of the system’s strong points is its accounts receivable program.

“Our tax bills this year will have a bar code on them, and when they come back in with a check as payment, we swipe that barcode,” he explained.

“That goes completely through the system and right into the general ledger and is posted once it’s scanned.

“With Main Street, we collected all the bills, added them up and had to hand post them.  Now, with one swipe, they’re in the system and done.”

Scott said the system, complete with training, costs the town $61,000 (interest free), with the costs absorbed in three yearly payments starting next year.

A yearly maintenance fee amounts to approximately $19,000, with the first year free, added Scott, who said he has already made one payment on the system.


Fire department

South Boston Fire Chief Steve Phillips told council a goal for his department is the replacement of its 1995 KME pumper.

In March 2011 the pumper had to have the engine computer replaced at a cost of $3,120.56, said Phillips.

“The gears in the pump gearbox have been filed and put back into the pumper.  These gears will not last much longer and will need to be replaced.”

Phillips added an annual pump test indicated the pump is wearing out and will need to be rebuilt in the near future, with a total of cost of gears and pump estimated at $20,000. That money already is in the budget.

The cost to replace the pumper is approximately $425,000, according to Phillips.

Councilmen Bill Snead, Ed Owens and Speece suggested a separate line item be created in the budget for this type of expense.

“I think that’s a must for this type of equipment,” said Snead.

“This is a strong argument for some type of funding depreciation (program) of some degree,” noted Speece.

Another issue raised by Phillips is the needed hiring of additional firefighters.

The South Boston Volunteer Fire Company has assisted the South Boston Fire Department for many years, but the number of volunteers is decreasing, Phillips told council.

Mentioning the time and expense required to train and certify volunteers to fight fires and beyond that to run EMS calls, it’s becoming more difficult to find volunteers, Phillips explained, particularly when responding to daytime calls. 

“Our goal, with one additional full-time employee, would be to move the training officer to the daytime shift to enhance the training program for our paid personnel,” said Phillips. “This would also put an additional firefighter on dayshift to assist with fire and EMS calls. Four additional people would put one more person on duty for the entire shift as well as allow the training officer to move to daytime shift.”

Phillips also suggested the town look into ambulance transport by the South Boston Fire Department.

The fire chief told council the total number of EMS calls in the department’s response area the last two years were 1,734, adding EMS calls for the first six months of 2012 totaled 880.

Phillips said the current cost of an ambulance is $150,000, which could be offset by applying for grants through the Rescue Squad Assistance Fund.

Housing for ambulances would require an addition to the current fire department building, and his department would have to hire a minimum of two additional people per shift just to respond with one ambulance, Phillips estimated.

“Right now, we’re doing EMS and far more EMS than we have done in the past,” Daniel told council. “It’s a service to our citizens.  Sometimes we do EMS, and we’re waiting for ambulances to respond.

“The issue is as there’s more and more pressure for the rescue squad to perform service to the county, not just the town, it may reach the point where citizens want us to provide that service to them through the fire department.”

That would require an upgrade for personnel, equipment and facilities, Daniel added.


E-911 center

Binner and Phillips, who both serve on the E-911 Center Board of Directors, told council an Emergency Medical Dispatching (EMD) grant recently has been awarded to the center.

“I see it as positive thing,” said Phillips.  “It allows dispatchers to give information to people right over the phone to assist in emergency situations, from a simple cut to heart attacks or strokes, any condition they have.”

The amount of the grant was $39,808.80, according to Phillips.

“The components of the EMD system are the EMD software to be installed in each console, manual card sets for each console and training certification for all dispatchers on how to use the system,” he explained in a background paper.

“Our goal is to have the EMD system up and running in early 2013,” Phillips said.


Recreation center

South Boston Recreation Director Matthew McCargo told council space at the recreation center is barely adequate for all the planned activities.

Currently, his department sponsors the Senior Exercise Group; Spring Classic Basketball Tournament; Senior Exercise Group fashion show and awards banquet; North Main Basketball Classic; Senior Exercise Group Sunrise Walk for Hope; New Covenant Christian Church Basketball Camp; archery camp; Substance Abuse Prevention Basketball Tournament; Sunday Family Fun Day; six basketball leagues and youth football.

McCargo said he would like to start a 40 and over basketball league, a teenage coed volleyball league and a coed kickball league, if space allows.


Community center

Daniel told council design work for the Washington-Coleman Community Center is complete, with the bidding process set to begin in September, following a committee review.

Daniel anticipates awarding the contract in October, with an estimated time for completion being from six to eight months.

Asbestos removal is virtually complete, and energy efficient windows will be installed in concert with the historic look of the building, according to Daniel.

One classroom will be restored to a 1930s-1940s configuration, complete with maple wood floor, replica lights and pot-bellied stove, Daniel explained.

The room will maintain Washington-Coleman’s historic character, added Daniel.

The town manager said there are plans to develop the former teacher’s lounge as an office for the Mentor-Role Model Program, in addition to an activity room for the organization.

Daniel mentioned possible plans for an auditorium within the center, with a stage and audio-visual component, as well as an exercise room with bath and showers and an outside walking trail.


Low income housing

Daniel updated council on low-income housing initiatives as ongoing projects.

Included are a possible partnership between the town, University of Virginia and SVHEC for design of an eComod dwelling for first-time homeowners, development of the Poplar Creek site in partnership with Southside Outreach, and support for Habitat for Humanity and Summit Drive development.

“The Innovation Center got a grant, and we’re working with them, with SIPS of America and the higher education center for zero-net energy housing,” said Daniel when referring to the Poplar Creek site.

“In the future if we don’t have a housing priority we may come back to the town for funding to help develop that site. The closer we get to developing that site and putting houses in there quickly, the better our chances at getting Community Development Block Grant development money for infrastructure,” the town manager added.


Zoning ordinance

Daniel updated council on a continuing zoning ordinance update.

The update is a coordinate design effort by town staff and Hill Studios with a project review by the South Boston Planning Commission.

Zoning ordinance and preliminary map initial drafts are approximately 50 percent complete, according to Daniel, who anticipated a public review by spring of 2013, followed by action by both the planning commission and town council.


Uranium donation

Council convened as a whole following the retreat agenda and placed the issue of a $5,000 donation to the Virginia Coalition on the agenda for discussion at the Sept. 10 meeting.

The Virginia Coalition, an affiliate of the Roanoke River Basin Association, is working to extend the moratorium on uranium mining and milling in Virginia.

In May, council approved an initial donation of $5,000 to the Virginia Coalition.