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Proposal to switch voting precinct raising ruckus

“Work it out.” This was the directive the Halifax County Board of Supervisors offered Monday evening to electoral board officials and firefighters from North Halifax Volunteer Fire Department who find themselves at odds over whether the Republican Grove Precinct polling place should be moved from the fire station across the road to First Baptist Church of Republican Grove.

 

The advice came following a public hearing on the issue as supervisors tabled action on the matter until the two groups can discuss options available that will work best to serve the voters of the precinct.

Electoral board officials are seeking the move, but fire department officials want to keep the polling place in the fire station but move it to the new fire station building.

The point of contention and reason electoral board officials sought the move followed the November election when voters had to vote in the old fire station without any heat, except that provided by several space heaters.

According to Pat Wingler, chairman of the Halifax County Electoral Board, election officials were at the precinct 15 hours in November with very little heat.

“We need heat, air conditioning, restrooms, space and water. From time to time these needs have issues,” she said speaking of the current polling place in the vacant fire station building located adjacent to the new facility.

She offered a report on the elections held in this facility during 2012.

“For our March election, we had two space heaters, and our workers huddled around them all day.

“June Primary, we only had a small window unit for air conditioning. Thankfully, it wasn’t hot that day,” she added.

The day before the Nov. 6 election, Wingler said she called North Halifax Volunteer Fire Department Chief Ronnie Waller about the heat, and four space heaters were provided, although they did not give off much heat, she said.

“Our workers brought in more units, but when they were plugged in, they blew the fuses or breaker. It just happened that someone from the fire department was there and got the power going,” she said. “By this point, we were afraid to touch anything electrical because we didn’t want our voting machines to go down.”

Wingler said she attempted to contact Waller and left a message on his cell phone, but he never returned her call.

“One of our worker’s husband brought a propane gas heater so the voters and workers could get warm,” Wingler added.

When the polls opened, a line of voters were waiting, and throughout the day the precinct had lines, and at closing they still had a line, she said.

“We had voters who opened the bay doors so the voters waiting in line were at least out of the wind,” she said, noting that didn’t help keep the heat inside the building.

She thanked the fire department for allowing use of their facility over the years, but under the circumstances, Wingler said, “We feel our voters and workers would be more comfortable at the church.”

Speaking during the hearing, Chief Waller described the problem as “a failure to communicate.”

He said voters have been voting in a vacant building for the last four years, and the fire department would like to see the precinct moved to the new building located 60 feet away.

“We’re proud of this community service we can provide,” Waller said, adding, “We’ll be glad to work with the electoral board to move them into the new building.

Also addressing the issue during the hearing was Nathalie resident Bernard Mitzler who votes at the Republican Grove precinct.

“I really think we should keep it in the fire department due to separation of church and state,” he said.

Judy Rowland, chief electoral judge for the Republican Grove precinct, disagreed.

“Wonder why we were not offered the new building before November?” she asked.

“I’m asking that we please move to the church so we have no conflict with the fire department any longer,” Rowland said.

Because the new fire department building has the same 911 address as the old department and is located adjacent to the vacant building, fire department members contend “any alterations would be negligible.”

Halifax County Registrar Judy Meeler attended Monday night’s meeting and told supervisors no additional hearings would be required to move it into the new fire department building.

“Voters and election workers would not have to worry about changes or new locations,” Waller added.

After closing the public hearing, several supervisors sounded off on the issue.

ED-1 Supervisor J. T. Davis, who represents constituents voting in the Republican Grove precinct, said he would like to see the precinct remain in the fire station but moved to the new building.

“This facility needs to be showcased,” he said of the new facility.

He also recognized the four firefighters attending Monday night’s meeting – Chief Waller, Hugh Gray Hendricks, James Burton and David Fallen.

If a vote were taken Monday night, Davis said he would vote to keep it in the fire department. However, he offered a motion to table any action until the two parties can get together and find a resolution.

ED-8 Supervisor W. Bryant Claiborne agreed that a solution should be worked out instead of moving the precinct to the church citing problems in the past resulting in lawsuits when the justice department became involved in situations where one voter objected to casting a ballot in a church.

In other county business Monday evening, supervisors took the following actions: 

w Approved a conditional use permit application request from Barbara Tucker to operate a beauty salon and school at 9044 James D. Hagood Highway in ED-2 following Monday night’s public hearing on the request;

w Adopted the 2013 meeting schedule resolution that includes regular monthly meetings on the first Monday of the month excluding holidays which will be held on the following Tuesday, and the July meeting is scheduled for June 24;

An annual strategic planning work session for board members is slated for Jan. 24-25 in Riverstone Technology Park Conference Room, and joint meetings with the Halifax and South Boston town councils are set for Jan. 22, April 15, July 15 and Oct. 21.

A series of budget meetings are set for Feb. 4, March 4, March 18 and April 1.

w Were informed the treasurer’s office “is very willing” to work with the county administrator to collect current and delinquent real estate and personal property taxes, and together they plan to explore using other tools and means of improving delinquent tax collections;

w Accepted terms of a grant agreement from the Virginia Department of Aviation for installation of an automated weather observing station at William M. Tuck Airport;

w Approved annual events schedules and fireworks permits for VIR and South Boston Speedway;

w Heard comments from citizens Fay Satterfield and Ida Terry.

Satterfield urged supervisors and county citizens to financially support the visit of The Wall That Heals coming to Halifax County Middle School April 11-14. 

This exhibition features a 250-foot replica of the original memorial in Washington, D.C. and travels across America. The names on The Wall That Heals replicate the names on The Wall in Washington, D.C. As on The Wall, the names are listed alphabetically by day of casualty.

Halifax County Middle School is seeking donations to assist with the $6,000 in associated costs for this event. 

Any business or organization wishing to assist the middle school with set-up and maintenance costs should contact Faye Bruce, principal, at Halifax County Middle School. 

On separate issues, Terry asked supervisors to include State Route 716 on the six-year plan for road improvements, sought explanation of what the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority’s new logo is supposed to represent and asked for help in finding employment in the treasurer’s office for several people 55 and older to assist with delinquent tax collection to be paid salaries with federal funds.