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Two speakers voice disappointment on road plan

Two county residents voiced their concerns Monday evening about the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Six Year Improvement Plan for secondary roads in Halifax County.

The Halifax County Board of Supervisors approved the plan after holding a joint public hearing with the Virginia Department of Transportation to hear comments on the Secondary Six-Year Plan for FY 2014-19 and Secondary Construction Budget for 2014.

Ida Terry of Scottsburg and Estelle Forest of Nathalie expressed disappointment their roads were not slated for improvements in the plan.

Terry said she has repeatedly asked for improvements on State Route 716 from Route 360 to Route 344 that serves as the main thoroughfare to Staunton River State Park.

“This is not a new request. My father started it over 20 years ago,” Terry said of the narrow, curvy road she was seeking to see added to the plan.

The resident of ED-2 said some people are questioning whether VDOT’s lack of response to repeated requests for improvements to that road may be racial.

“I hate to say it, but people on that road are thinking it may be racial because if you go through Halifax County and look at certain places you start thinking that way. Just like you’re going to do something to that road that goes to Falkland Farms. I don’t go to Falkland Farms, but it seems like to me because it’s a place where a lot of people go to hunt, then that’s ok,” Terry said.

The same can be true for the road for which she is seeking improvements, she said.

“A lot of people go to Staunton River State Park. They go past my house,” she added. “Somewhere after 20 years, it should be on the plan to do something.”

After hearing Terry’s remarks, VDOT Residency Administrator Kenneth Martin assured the ED-2 resident he would get a cost estimate to work from when making improvements to that section of State Route 716 in the future.

Also speaking was Estelle Forest of Lula’s Trail in Nathalie who sought improvements for the private road on which she and four other families live.

“It’s just terrible, and I’m here to see if we can get anything done to maintain this road. I have lived on this road for five years, and it keeps getting worse and worse,” she said.

Following the public hearing, supervisors voted unanimously, with ED-3 Supervisor William I. Fitzgerald absent, to approve the Secondary Six Year Plan and budget that totals $1,334,450 after adjustments.

 In that plan are three projects including replacement of a bridge on State Route 716 (Wolftrap Road) along with construction of approaches over the Banister River.

That project is estimated to cost $2,126,789 using Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) discretionary bridge funds, with funding subject to change based on CTB and district priorities.

Another secondary road project involves relocation of a segment of Meadville Road (State Route 642), approximately six-tenths of a mile north of Highway 57 (Chatham Road) to approximately six-tenths of a mile south of U.S. 501.

The estimated cost of that project is $6,592,661.

A third project is resurfacing of Buckskin Trail (State Route 695) at an estimated cost of $69,079.

Martin pointed out the six-year plan that proposes the three projects for 2014-2019 is not a construction plan, but an allocation plan.

Joining Martin in conducting the joint public hearing were VDOT employees Jay Crowder and Randy Hamilton.

In other action during Monday night’s meeting, supervisors listened as Larry Land offered a brief overview of how the Virginia Association of Counties represents individual counties’ interests before state and federal government and conducts educational programs.

Supervisors also voted unanimously to amend county code to add real estate taxes to the taxes required to be paid prior to issuing a business license.

At its May meeting the item was presented to the board as an additional tool to assist in the collection of delinquent real estate taxes.

Originally, the amendment only included full payment of delinquent taxes before a business license could be issued.

However, after some discussion the board said it may be advantageous to consider a possible payment plan option so that a business could be permitted to pay off the delinquent tax liability for a period of no more than a year while being able to remain open for business.

Monday evening the board approved an ordinance that allows for payment plans.

“The message it sends is you can’t be a business owner needing a business license every year and expect to not pay your taxes,” said ED-4 Supervisor Doug Bowman.

Supervisors also voted unanimously to request an extension from the Virginia Retirement System as they consider opting out of the VRS Long-Term Disability Program.

According to County Administrator Jim Halasz, with recent changes to the system, the General Assembly is requiring all localities to begin to offer both short and long-term disability programs for VRS eligible employees hired after Jan. 1, 2014.

The General Assembly required VRS to offer this new benefit to localities and mandated they participate at an additional cost in the VRS program unless they could procure the exact same coverage and opt out of the VRS program by Sept. 1 of this year.

Since the requirements were announced, Halasz said the Risk Pool group has worked to provide an alternative for localities that desire to opt out of the VRS coverage.

VACORP has provided an alternative pooled program available through the private carrier, Standard Insurance Company, that meets or exceeds all requirements of Virginia Code and is open to participation to all localities in the state, he further explained.

The VACORP program and policy has a three-year price guarantee lower than the VRS rate, it permits localities to leave the program and seek other coverage if that is desirable and provides for complete pooling and spreading of risk over all participants in the program.

“While I do believe this is the better option for Halifax County, we are not required to make this decision just yet,” Halasz told supervisors Monday night.

Instead he asked the board to authorize an extension to the opt-out deadline of Sept. 1, and after further review of the VACORP program, he promised to return to the board with a recommendation to participate in the VACORP program. 

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

w Adopted a resolution commending Willie Jones, who is retiring from public service June 30, for serving as the executive director of the Halifax County Service Authority, overseeing the building of the new service authority business office, establishing a cohesive staff and updating water and sewer equipment infrastructure throughout the county including the towns of South Boston and Halifax during his distinguished career;

w Unanimously approved a reimbursement resolution to segregate and qualify costs associated with the courthouse project because without approval, the county would be forced to take any costs associated with the project out of the general fund balance; 

w Unanimously authorized County Public Works Director Ricky Nelson to use $24,000 from the current year’s budget to purchase a pickup truck for the public works department and urged him to offer the local dealership an opportunity to match the state contract when buying the truck;

w Were informed that two additional state troopers will be assigned to Halifax County on Aug. 15 in conjunction with the graduation of the 119th Basic Session later this month;

w Unanimously approved a request from Head Start to place a 27-foot modular unit at the Mary Bethune office complex in Halifax for additional classroom space in order to avoid costly transportation expenses to either the Riverdale site or the Sydnor Jennings site for class overages from the Beth Car site;

w Unanimously agreed to the Halifax County Health Department’s request to vacate space in the Mary Bethune office complex that can be used by the school system when it moves alternative education classrooms from the industrial arts building inside the complex and authorized the county administrator to renegotiate the move and rent adjustment for the health department with the Department of General Services in Richmond;

The health department proposes to use the savings to purchase a computer program that will allow it to maintain a public record of all wells and septic systems that have received county permits, according to the county administrator.

w Were informed the podium in the conference room will undergo renovations the week of July 16; and

w Heard citizen comment from Margie Bowers of South Boston who chastised board members for loaning taxpayers’ money to The Prizery.

“I pay taxes to both the Town of South Boston and Halifax County, and I do not want to see my tax dollars used for personal interest and entertainment. With that said, I have nothing in the world against The Prizery. Matter of fact, I enjoy The Prizery. They have some good programs,” Bowers continued. “But I don’t want to see my tax dollars used whether it be a loan or an outright gift.”

She asked the board if The Prizery has repaid any of this money, and if not what action they plan to take to ensure repayment of the loan in a timely manner.

Earlier in the meeting during discussions about amending county code to require payment of taxes before business permits are issued, ED-5 Supervisor Barry Bank had questioned how people who owe money other than taxes to the county could be held accountable.

He referred specifically to the $60,000 loan supervisors made last fall to The Prizery.

“I just want to make sure we don’t have a problem getting money back that we have advanced to different organizations,” Bank said.

Bowman responded to Bank’s statement explaining The Prizery loan has nothing to do with paying taxes.

“That was a note,” Bowman said of The Prizery loan.

At the conclusion of Monday night’s meeting, supervisors went behind closed doors in an executive session but took no action.