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SoBo Council donates $5,000 for fight against uranium mining

Resident speaks in opposition to donation

South Boston Town Council voted unanimously at Monday’s meeting to make a $5,000 donation to the Virginia Coalition in its fight to keep the ban on uranium mining in neighboring Pittsylvania County.

 

The donation by council matched that approved by Halifax County Board of Supervisors at their Monday meeting, with Halifax Town Council expected to take action on the issue at its meeting Tuesday night.

South Boston resident and retired attorney Robert Meeks made his opposition to the donation known before the vote was taken.

“I’m not here to argue or debate whether it’s a good idea or bad idea to mine uranium in Pittsylvania County,” Meeks told council.

“I’m ambivalent about it and couldn’t care less one way or the other and have no stake in it whatsoever.

“My objection to this issue is council and the Town of South Boston is jumping in on one side of this issue and using taxpayer money to fund it with lobbyists. To me, that’s an unseemly and improper approach to doing town business, that’s my objection.”

Meeks acknowledged council had the responsibility to make a decision on the donation.

“I’m not going to change your mind on it if you’ve already made it up, but I’m telling you I’m opposed to it, and I’m not the only informed person in this town who’s opposed to it,” Meeks said. “I think there are much better uses we could put the town’s money to.

“All the things that need to be done and need to be funded in this town need to be paid for with taxpayer money,” noted Meeks, adding the town “’frittered’ away taxpayer money on high paid lobbyists, who get $85,000 a year to go out and buy votes.

“They’re losing the arguments, and we continue to fund them, anyway,” Meeks added.

“I’m a retired lawyer, but before I became a lawyer I worked seven years of my life associated with the nuclear power industry. During that time, I worked for a company that sold electronic instruments that dealt with control of most of the nuclear power plants in the world.

“I’m experienced in knowing what people say about nuclear power.

“All these ways to shut it down and prevent it from happening, I’ve been listening to it for 40 years. None of this is new to me.  I’m not easily frightened.  I’m not concerned what’s going to happen if they mine uranium over in the next county.

“All these people who claim to know what’s going to happen, they don’t know. It’s all conjecture, speculation. That’s all it is.

“We need to deal with the here and now. South Boston is a poor town, and it’s not getting any richer,” he said. “We need to take the money we get and spend it wisely.  That’s what I’m asking council to do.”

Meeks left the meeting after making his remarks and before council could respond to his comments.

“He says he’s experienced in nuclear power generation, that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about uranium mining, which is a very different thing,” Councilman Coleman Speece said in response. 

“I don’t know whether he’s studied it or not, but as we discussed in our last meeting, those people who have done a thorough study of this issue, if you talk to them, you must agree it’s a threat to this area.

“This Virginia Uranium group has spent over half a million dollars,” continued Speece. “If the municipalities and if local government do not respond, then who does?

“If we don’t, I think we’re being irresponsible if we don’t take steps to prevent this damage to our entire area.”

Council, with Councilman W.R. “Bill” Snead absent, voted to follow the finance committee’s recommendation and appropriate $5,000 now to the Virginia Coalition and consider a second $5,000 contribution during the 2014-2015 budget process.

 

Real estate conveyed

Council voted unanimously after a public hearing to convey property at 1401 College Street to Southside Outreach Group. 

Town Manager Ted Daniel explained the land, consisting of three existing parcels and totaling 0.67 acres or 29,168 square feet, could be divided into two buildable lots, and he added town staff recommended transfer of the property for use for low income housing and neighborhood revitalization.

Southside Outreach Group Executive Director Earl Howerton spoke in favor of the conveyance, concurring with Daniel his group is proposing to build one house, if not two, for use in Southside Outreach Group’s home ownership program.

 

Council discusses opposing insurance disability plans

Council discussed opposing disability plans at Monday’s meeting.

The 2012 General Assembly created the Virginia Local Disability Program (VLDP) for political subdivisions and school division employees who will be covered under the VRS Hybrid Retirement Plan effective Jan. 1.

The VLDP plan is mandatory, Daniel explained, but the town has two options, and a decision must be made by Nov. 1.

The town must accept the state mandated VLDP administered by VRS or provide a comparable employer paid program, such as VML Insurance.

That program, explained Daniel, offers advantages that will benefit the town from an enhanced human resources management standpoint.

The VMLIP program encompasses a “single leave program” that makes no distinction between a vacation and sick leave and integrates both the mandatory short-term disability requirements of the state along with the long-term disability requirements.

The VRS administered program does not address these enhancements for existing employees, Daniel pointed out.

The basic VLDP Program under VRS and mandated by the state only applies to new hires (non-public safety) after Jan.1, 2014.

The rates have only been set for the first six months and are 0.91 percent of the Hybrid Retirement Plan covered payroll, which at this point is nothing and will only be defined by the payroll of new hires after Jan. 1, 2014, Daniel pointed out.

Coverage is automatic under VLDP unless council elects to opt out and provide a comparable employer-paid program, and opting out is irrevocable.

The VML program will only be administered for a minimum of two employees.

Town staff is submitting data to VML for an evaluation of a paid leave plan through the VMLIP Program for consideration of council at its October work session, along with projections for participation through the VRS plan.

In other business, council took the following actions:

w Gave unanimous approval to proposed rules and regulations for the Washington-Coleman Community Center, adding a provision that gives Parks & Recreation Director Matthew McCargo the authority to evaluate and/or change regulations as he sees fit.

w Passed an amendment to the 2013-14 fee and tax listing to add Washington-Coleman Community Center rental fees as recommended by the finance committee, which gave its nod to setting rental rates for the multi-purpose room at $75 per hour, not counting time for setup or breakdown, in addition to a $200 refundable damage deposit and a $100 set up fee.