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Supervisors to select firms for courthouse renovation

Historic Halifax County Courthouse renovations are gaining momentum as supervisors set May 20 at 6:30 p.m. as the time they will consider and approve firms with which to negotiate a contract for courthouse design and construction services.

Earlier this year, Emmett Lifsey and Mikel Griffin of CJMW Architecture unveiled a needs study that included plans to renovate the historic structure. Demolishing the old jail located in the basement of the facility and the lower portion of the Halifax County General District Court clerk’s office, along with construction of a new circuit courtroom in the area of the former jail were detailed.

Also included in the plan was relocation of the public entrance to the facility, along with additional space for a lobby, public restrooms and toilets.

During the Halifax County Board of Supervisors meeting Monday night, County Administrator Jim Halasz said nine proposals have been received for architect and engineering services for the courthouse design and construction request for proposals.

ED-6 Supervisor Wayne Conner, chairman of the building and grounds committee, said the committee has narrowed the list to the top three firms.

Interviews are expected to begin next with the top three firms, and a contract should be signed by June 3 in conformance with the scheduling order with the courts.

Based on these timeframes and needs, the board set a special meeting for Monday, May 20, to authorize negotiation of a contract for courthouse design and construction services based on the ranking of firms after the interview phase of the selection process.

In other action Monday night, supervisors held three public hearings.

The first hearing was to amend county code so that no business license can be issued until evidence has been provided the person requesting the license has paid all delinquent real estate taxes.

Following the hearing in which no one spoke, supervisors tabled action until the county administrator can meet with the treasurer to determine what type of payment plan she is willing to accept for paying delinquent taxes.

Halasz said if the code were to change, and an existing business was not fully paid in their taxes, it would not be helpful to tell that business the taxes must be paid immediately.

He said supervisors may want to consider a payment plan during this “break-in” period to enable the business owner to pay the taxes while staying in business.

“If we put them out of business, they couldn’t pay at all,” Chairman Tom West said. “I don’t think that would be good.”

Halasz agreed, adding, “It would not be our best interest.”

County Attorney Jeremy Carroll pointed out business licenses are paid annually and should a business fail to pay delinquent taxes over the course of a year, the business license could not be renewed and it would not be allowed to continue to operate.

Since the treasurer had not been contacted concerning any practical arrangement, supervisors opted to table further discussion until the county administrator meets with her to discuss implementing the amendment to county code should it be approved at a later meeting.

“I think that’s important. We can make a decision about the ordinance, but the treasurer has to apply that. We have got to be clear going into this about what we are willing to tolerate and what we are not,” said ED-4 Supervisor Doug Bowman. “We need to know what she is going to do administratively to ensure that some effort is being made to collect delinquent real estate taxes as well as these other taxes that are already in our code. 

“Until we can have a clear understanding with the treasurer on the application of a workout plan, I would like to delay the decision on this,” Bowman added.

The second hearing was on a request from George A. Anderson to withdraw a parcel consisting of 30.42 acres from the Rodgers Chapel Road agricultural forestal district in order to subdivide the property.

Anderson told supervisors during the hearing “All I want to do is sell my niece a lot so she can build a house.”

Supervisors unanimously approved withdrawing the lot from the agricultural forestal district.

The third hearing in which no one spoke was on a request from the L. E. Coleman African-American Museum for exemption from payment of county real estate taxes.

The county administrator said granting the request would not place a financial hardship on the board since the annual tax only totaled $144.

“Since there are very few museums or similar parcels in Halifax County, any significant exposure for future revenue loss by the county in granting such an exemption and establishing a precedent is minimal,” Halasz added.

Supervisors unanimously approved the museum’s request for tax exemption.

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

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

w Adopted a resolution establishing county health care plan options and premium rates for the county and employees in the upcoming fiscal year;

The plans represent no significant changes to benefits with the exception that the $200 low deductible and high deductible health savings account plans have been eliminated. The three plans being offered contain a $500, $1,000 and $2,000 deductible options, and individual employee share of the monthly premium was held at or below the current employee financial participation rate.

w Approved a request from VIR to adjust its 2013 public event schedule to include two additional spectator events including testing for the Camping World Truck Series on Aug. 6-7 and the K & N Pro Series East inaugural race on Aug. 23-24;

w Appointed Kevin Chandler to replace Nancy Leonard on the Improvement Council;

w Appointed Jim Halasz to serve on the Blue Ridge Regional Jail Authority and Stephanie Jackson as alternate;

w Reappointed Debbie Ferguson to a four-year term on the Department of Social Services; and

w Reappointed Lisa Crews and Doug Bowman to two-year terms on the Workforce Investment Board.

At the conclusion of the meeting during the citizen comment period, Kevin Chandler urged supervisors to reinstate its race relations committee.

“I would recommend that you reconsider that because there are several incidents that are going on within the county. Things have not changed…There are some issues dealing with race relations,” Chandler told supervisors, adding questionable issues also surround hiring and firing practices throughout the county.

“These things are not going to go away, so we might as well decide to deal with it,” he added.

The NAACP has a race relations committee, and Chandler assured supervisors members of this committee would be willing to work with the board in dealing with some of the situations.

Also Monday night, Roger Long of South Boston congratulated the board on providing the fairgrounds for the community’s use for such events as the heritage festival held last weekend.

“It’s a great service to this community,” he added.

The Rev. Frank Coleman, pastor of First Baptist Church on Ferry Street in South Boston, commended ED-7 Supervisor Lottie Nunn for being “a most wonderful person.”

Having served with her on other boards and committees, Coleman said “Sister Lottie Nunn is one of the most conscientious and caring people you ever want to meet.”

Also speaking Monday night was Larry Giordano, a member of the Turbeville Ruritan Club who lives in the Paces community. He commended heritage festival organizers who continue to expand the festival each year.

At the conclusion of the open meeting, supervisors went behind closed doors but took no action upon emerging.