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Halifax County loans Prizery $60,000

The Prizery is receiving a cash loan infusion of $60,000 from the Halifax County Board of Supervisors to help get over the financial crunch in which it now finds itself.

The decision came Monday night during the board’s regular monthly meeting in Halifax. 

Acting on a motion by ED-8 Supervisor W. Bryant Claiborne that received a second from ED-5 Supervisor Barry Bank, the $60,000 loan was unanimously approved contingent upon The Prizery Board of Directors appointing a supervisor to its board in the near future. 

The one-year loan is to be repaid to the county by Sept. 30, 2013, according to the motion.

Prior to the vote, County Administrator Jim Halasz explained the current financial status of The Prizery requires a short-term infusion of funds to cover the last remaining payout of proceeds to the holders of the New Market Tax Credits used to finance a portion of The Prizery start-up.

Earlier this year, the South Boston Town Council approved a $60,000 grant to The Prizery contingent upon the board of supervisors making a similar commitment.

Had the county decided not to make the $60,000 loan, the Town of South Boston, county and community as a whole may have been in jeopardy, Halasz said, “as the holders to the New Market Tax Credits could secure The Prizery and liquidate it.”

Both the town and county currently are paying debt service on financing for the start-up of The Prizery, according to Halasz. The amount budgeted by the county is currently $69,420.

Since incurring debt to start up The Prizery, the town and county have invested approximately $700,000 and have $1.2 million in combined future debt to service, Halasz explained.

The county administrator told board members it is important to recognize The Prizery has been successful at bringing in visitors from outside of the county to the area.

“Roughly 31 percent of guests to The Prizery are from outside of Halifax County. That is an important number as these individuals normally will have a meal or two and perhaps stay an evening in a motel in the county bringing in additional revenue to the area in terms of both business sales and taxes to the town and county,” Halasz said.

According to information The Prizery Board of Directors provided to supervisors, 69 percent of Prizery patrons through September 2012 have been county citizens with 1,530 living in the South Boston area and 1,636 living out in the county. Another 23 percent of the patrons visit The Prizery from counties adjacent to Halifax County and the remaining 8 percent have visited from other Virginia counties.

“It’s hard to measure the benefits that come from The Prizery,” said ED-4 Supervisor Doug Bowman who noted the once empty warehouse buildings that house The Prizery and Southern Virginia Higher Education Center now teem with activity. “It’s a great one-two punch.”

Bowman described the decision to loan The Prizery $60,000 as “a quality of life issue that not everyone recognizes and appreciates.”

However, he quickly added, “Visitors do. I hear it.”

Since learning of The Prizery’s financial crisis, Bowman said he has become involved.

“If The Prizery doesn’t pay off the $120,000, we could lose a $6 million building, and a lot of sweat and volunteer time that has gone into that building. It’s a quality investment that has a lot of equity in it,” he added.

Acknowledging that many of his constituents don’t support the county pouring money into The Prizery during these hard economic times, Bank agreed with Bowman the county’s investment in The Prizery must be protected.

One of Bank’s constituents who opposed county money being loaned to The Prizery is Jane Davis of Scottsburg.

Chairman Tom West allowed Davis to vent her opposition during Monday night’s board meeting despite it not being a public hearing on the issue.

Davis pointed out supervisors had just enacted a new $48 annual trash fee on county residents because they didn’t have enough money to pay their bills, and now they are loaning out money to The Prizery.

“If they can’t afford to keep it up, then why have it?” she asked, adding, “It (The Prizery) wasn’t for the poor, it was for the rich.”

Although Bank seconded the motion, he said for some of his constituents, “It’s a matter of putting food on the table or paying taxes.”

However, he noted the county already has invested $900,000 in The Prizery, adding, “It’s not good for the county to lose that (investment).”

He admonished Prizery officers attending the meeting they should have been more prepared to pay back the $120,000 debt.

“That’s what should have been done, and we wouldn’t be here right now,” Bank said.

Prizery Officer Matt Leonard responded to Bank, “We did turn the Prizery around and make it start making money.”

Referring to the loan’s condition that a supervisor be appointed to The Prizery board, Leonard said he would welcome “some real timely and effective leadership” from the county on The Prizery board.

As he offered the motion to fund the $60,000 loan, Claiborne said, “Times are hard, but we have an investment. We have to do what’s best for the county, and we’re not going to be giving the money away.”

 Claiborne along with Bowman and the county administrator will continue to serve as an ad hoc loan committee to review terms and conditions of the loan that is due to be repaid in full by Sept. 30, 2013.