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Supervisors put $60,000 Prizery funding on hold

Following advice from County Administrator Jim Halasz, Halifax County Supervisors did not commit funding $60,000 to The Prizery Tuesday night, opting instead to refer Prizery board members’ pleas to a committee of two, ED-8 Supervisor W. Bryant Claiborne and ED-4 Supervisor Doug Bowman, for further review of the donation’s impact on the budget.

During its regular monthly meeting Tuesday evening in Halifax, supervisors heard Prizery officers Alison Streeter and Matt Leonard give a presentation regarding current management and operational plans.

 The presentation detailed the steps being taken at The Prizery to assure it remains “a vital and dynamic venue and community asset” for many more years to come.

Although they were not specific in the amount of funding requested, their financial pleas came on the heels of South Boston Town Council voting unanimously last month to commit $60,000 in contingency money to The Prizery to be used specifically to retire their historic tax credit obligation, which is binding upon The Prizery’s assets.

Council’s donation of $60,000 was contingent upon The Prizery obtaining a matching contribution from the Halifax County Board of Supervisors.

Streeter and Leonard said if The Prizery could put $120,000 in an escrow bank account, it would improve chances they could borrow the money necessary to implement the organizations’ new business model and plan that includes retiring its debt.

The performing arts center currently has three full-time employees and is seeking to hire an executive director and administrative assistant.

“We’re real proud how The Prizery has turned itself around as a business,” Leonard told supervisors.

Earlier County Administrator Halasz had told supervisors the town’s action and the commitment of funds based on a similar action on the part of Halifax County came as “a complete surprise.” 

“Neither Prizery representatives nor South Boston officials contacted county representatives about any request or need for funding by The Prizery,” he said.

Tuesday evening ED-5 Supervisor Barry Bank told Prizery officers their request “is very sudden.”

He continued, “I don’t know if we are going to be able to find any money. I’m concerned at some point we’ve got to stop dipping into the till. A lot of people don’t use The Prizery, and they don’t see any value in it and don’t want their tax money used for that.”

The county administrator said he is personally very supportive of The Prizery but cautioned supervisors to view this unanticipated funding request “with great care.”

During the few weeks he has worked for the county, Halasz said it has come to his attention the county’s reserve in fund balance has been drawn down on numerous occasions to meet demands for unanticipated funding requests.

“It appears that our unrestricted fund balance does not fully meet the standard expectation of minimum reserves in place to meet operational needs in an extended and severe economic downturn or natural or manmade calamities,” the county administrator warned.

ED-1 Supervisor J. T. Davis questioned why this request wasn’t brought to the board during the budget process.

He pointed to the county’s decreasing reserve in fund balance that three years ago stood at over $9 million and today stands at less than $6 million.

“We’ve already put $1.4 million into The Prizery. My district is very conservative,” he said asking for accountability if the county does honor The Prizery’s request.

Martien Van Dorsser of DNR USA, a maker of tea light holders located in the Highway 58 industrial park, told supervisors The Prizery played a role in attracting his business to locate in the county.

“I’m a good contributor to The Prizery. It’s very important for the people of South Boston,” he said.

Chairman West allowed another person in the audience, Bill Saunders, to comment on The Prizery’s request.

“I come to you concerned about The Prizery. Times are tight. I think this money could be spent better for the schools than The Prizery,” Saunders said.

At the conclusion of the discussion, Chairman West told Prizery officers the board would not take action Tuesday evening but would defer action until staff and committee could make a recommendation to the full board.

In other action Tuesday night, supervisors held a public hearing and then unanimously approved a request from Douglas D. and Melissa E. Bowen for a conditional use permit to locate a country store and creamery adjacent to 3070 Howard P. Anderson Road in ED #4.

According to the Bowens who spoke at the hearing, they plan to sell goat cheese and goat milk-based products including goat soap and other agricultural products. Also classes on making goat milk products will be held in the store and creamery.

The planning commission had recommended approval after holding a public hearing in August.

Supervisors also approved amendments to county code permitting the recovery of costs associated with the clean-up of methamphetamine labs.

The General Assembly passed legislation last session permitting local governments to seek reimbursement for costs associated with the clean-up of meth labs that can run in the tens of thousands of dollars, Halasz explained.

“Due to the highly toxic array of chemicals used and produced during the production of meth, in some instances disposal of these chemicals and even the condemnation of structures where labs were located can be a costly proposition,” he said, advising supervisors to make this tool available to the county should it need to be used.

Supervisors also authorized the county administrator to publish the 2010-11 real estate delinquent tax lists in area newspapers.

According to ED-3 Supervisor Bill Fitzgerald, he and the finance committee chairman met with the treasurer several months ago to discuss delinquent taxes.

“This issue is not being handled, in my opinion, in an effective manner for the citizens of this county. I don’t know what this board can do, but whatever this board can do legally, I feel that we should do it.”

He referred to business people who have been on the delinquent tax list for two or three years.

“There are businesses in this county who are delinquent in taxes. There are people who are working, and the treasurer knows they are working, but they are on that delinquent list. In my opinion, it’s inexcusable for a treasurer to not collect these taxes,” Fitzgerald said.

“This board has given the message that we want these taxes collected, and still isn’t being done. So I don’t know what we’re going to have to do to speed this process up, but whatever it is, I support the county administrator in moving forward because it’s not being done,” he continued.

ED-5 Supervisor Barry Bank said county employees also are on the delinquent tax list, and he questioned what action the county could take against its employees who aren’t paying their taxes.

Fitzgerald asked County Attorney Jeremy Carroll whether the board of supervisors could dock their pay.

He said the board can dock pay in certain instances but was uncertain if unpaid taxes qualified.

Supervisor Davis said the treasurer has that authority.

“To me it’s obscene to have that amount of money (about $3 million) in arrears when you have people on that list (531 pages on the website) who are gainfully employed. And further more I think they are gaming the system,” he added. “Put it out there. Let the public see it. I’m all for printing it in the paper. If we have to embarrass someone into paying their taxes, I’m all for it.”

In other business, supervisors took the following actions:

w Received a status report from Kenneth Martin of the Virginia Department of Transportation;

w Proclaimed the week of Sept. 17-23 as Constitution Week;

w Adopted the Rehab Program Design for the Halifax County Urgent Needs Project that will provide housing for four residents who lost their homes in a tornado that struck during the spring of 2011.

w Were informed Ag Development Director Leah Brown will assist in the management of this year’s Halifax County Junior Livestock Show and Sale;

w Set a public hearing for the planning commission on Sept. 25 and for the board of supervisors on Oct. 1 on a request for a conditional use permit from Gary Chesbro to operate a taxidermy shop specializing in fish only at 2070 Grubby Road, approximately 1.3 miles west of its intersection with Sinai Road in ED-3;

w Set a public hearing for for the planning commission on Sept. 25 and for the board of supervisors on Oct. 1 on a request for a conditional use permit from Mary R. Mayberry to operate a tire shop and repossession business adjacent to 2170 Cedar Grove in ED-6;

w Reappointed Carlyle Wimbish to continue serving as the county’s representative on the Old Dominion Resource Conservation and Development Council;

w Approve for new County Administrator Halasz to serve on 22 committees and authorities that former County Administrator George Nester served on.

At the conclusion of Tuesday night’s meeting, supervisors went behind closed doors in an executive session.

When the board emerged, supervisors unanimously authorized Chairman West to sign a $45,000 grant agreement for funds to improve the Tuck Airport runway.