PE Budget Numbers Eyed

Published 3:41 pm Tuesday, May 31, 2011

PRINCE EDWARD – County supervisors, tweaking a few numbers, revisited their April 26 approval of the County budget at their May meeting agreeing to rescind their prior action and then voted to reapprove the budget.

County Administrator Wade Bartlett explained that when the decision was made by the board to add to the school fund to allow for the three percent bonus, those dollars were added into the school fund-which was correct-but it was not added to the total line on the general fund.

The net effect is that the amount the Board approved in prior budget action was short by the $226,520.

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Following the lead of Chairman William “Buckie” Fore, the board rescinded their April 26 motion and approved the budget a second time with the correction.

The new budget totals $57,755,544. Real estate (42 cents per $100 of assessed value) and personal property (per $100 of assessed value ) tax rates remain unchanged.

The budget was approved with Leigh District Supervisor Don Gantt opposing. Gantt had also voted against approval on the board's April 26 budget vote.

School Board Appointments

Supervisors held a public hearing on appointments for school board members to represent the Lockett and Prospect districts. After a months-long process that included the input of citizen selection committees, there is only one candidate from each of the respective districts.

Incumbent, and current School Board Vice-Chairman Susan Lawman, is seeking reappointment; Prospect will have a new member with only one nominee, Darin Thomas. Current Prospect representative Thomas Tillerson reportedly did not seek reappointment. Thomas, present for the hearing, offered that he takes this charge as an honor to possibly serve his alma mater.

There were no comments on the two nominees; supervisors are expected to consider appointments at their June meeting.

Public Hearings

Supervisors have scheduled several public hearings for their June meeting including:

*A proposal to place no through truck signs in the Rice area on Rt. 735 and Rt. 600 near U.S. Rt. 460 in the Rice village area. Virginia Department of Transportation regulations require a board of supervisors to hold a public hearing on the proposed restriction. Following the hearing, if the board so chooses, they can adopt a resolution.

Assistant County Administrator Sarah Puckett highlighted that there are four criteria that the roads have to meet: a reasonable alternative route is provided (which Rt. 460 would be) for both of the roads; it would have to have the character or frequency of truck traffic to be restricted or not compatible with the affected area; the road is residential in nature (a specific density is cited, which is more suburban than rural residential); and that the road be restricted as functionally classified as a local or a collector (which both fall under VDOT classifications).

The restriction, it was cited, would not apply to local trucks and not impact existing businesses.

*The planning commission recommended that the board add a truck yard use definition to the County's commercial and industrial districts. It was also recommended that the County amend its existing agriculture definition to include aquaculture activities.

*A change in the county's zoning ordinance to allow personal services as a use in the Agriculture Conservation District by special use permit. (Typical uses would include such operations as a beauty and barber shop, grooming of pets, seamstresses, tailors, shoe repairs, florists, laundromats and dry cleaning stations serving individual households.)

*A Longwood University Real Estate Foundation's request for a special use permit to operate a woodyard on a 17.6-acre parcel in the A-1 zoning district on U. S. Rt. 460 near the Nottoway County line. The site is expected to initially be used to store sawdust and woodchips for use by the University's bio-mass boiler (used to supply heat and hot water on campus). It is expected to supplant their currently leased site on U. S. Rt. 15 South.

Redistricting Update

County Attorney James R. Ennis reported that they had submitted their redistricting plan on April 11.

Ennis noted that they are apparently not going to receive an expedited consideration, which they had requested at the time of submittal. The good news, he cited, is that they have not been asked to provide any additional information at this point.

“So if all goes as anticipated, there will be a sufficient amount of time for absentee ballots to go out prior to (the) August 23rd primary date,” Ennis said. “But I spoke to the registrar this week and he is going to need to plan at this stage in order to not run into a problem.”

County Administrator's Report

Board members were presented with a copy of comments from Health Department District Engineer W.J. Thompson. Thompson reported in the May 4 letter that they have completed their review of the Preliminary Engineering Report n the Sandy River Water Treatment and Distribution Project.

Bartlett reported that Draper Aden, he believed, had developed a response already and submitted it. Basically, he cited, there is one item which has to do with pilot tests. Most of the other items are recommendations, he assessed.

Bartlett noted that “we're requesting conditional approval based on the successful completion” of a summer pilot test.

Bartlett also presented an update on a possible alternate State Route 628. He cited that the design is complete and there is an engineering cost estimate that includes the Rt. 15 turning lane (which VDOT is willing to provide some funding for). The estimated cost for the turn lanes is an additional $980,000, he reported; VDOT is only willing to provide the County $500,000 for that cost.

The total cost, including the engineering estimate is about $3.9 million. While the County has $2 million in revenue sharing (half of which are county funds) and $500,000 from VDOT, leaving about a $1.4 million shortfall that would have to be absorbed by the county on the project, Bartlett cited.

“Now the developer has continued to state if his project moves forward, he's willing to fund this through incremental tax financing,” Bartlett reported. “Another item we could look at…would be a service district to help fund this cost.”

County officials are moving ahead with a look-see on specific construction bids at a cost of just over $10,000. They would look to advertise for 30 days receive bids, and make a decision.

Counting The Minutes

Supervisors will take another look at the minutes of the April 12 meeting before considering action. Staff was asked to review it and present a draft again for board approval at their June meeting.

The issue for Gantt involved additional information on a board-approved change to the County's health insurance, which would increase the employee deductible and save the County. (Board members would later reverse course-with Gantt opposing-and restore the current health insurance plan).

Gantt sought to add as part of the minutes that the change in coverage would save the county $90,000 and that, with the motion, they would find a way to supplement the family plan and use the savings to offset the deductible.

Gantt, however, offered that until minutes are approved, they should not be “circulated around.”

He cited, “The way this is worded, as a employee, I'd be upset about it-just changing the deductible. But that wasn't the motion.”

While Gantt conceded it had been overturned, he also offered that even more than having them corrected “these minutes need not to be publicized, not taken from office to office, not to be shown around, until we approve (them).”

While Chairman Fore offered that he didn't disagree with that, Assistant County Administrator Sarah Puckett cited that the Virginia Freedom of Information Act requires that draft minutes are available upon completion of the draft.

“So they are marked draft and they show to whomever is reviewing them that they are draft minutes…,” she cited.

Gantt would offer that he realized that, but that they circulated the whole courthouse.

“If someone requests them, we can't withhold them once the draft minutes are completed,” Ms. Puckett said.

“I don't know that they were requested,” Gantt said. “I think somebody walked in your office, picked 'em up and hand walked this thing around the courthouse.”

“I don't know that,” Ms. Puckett said. “But all I know is that the Virginia Freedom of Information Act specifically states draft minutes…”

It is clear, she would later state, that they are not approved minutes to anybody who would review them.

“I don't disagree with you,” Gantt said, “but I can tell you this, I don't remember seeing the word draft on the sheet I saw-I'm not positive.”

Not that it matters, he would also cite, when it gets printed out, it's taken as gospel.

“I'm not disputing that the minutes are correct or incorrect,” Ms. Puckett said. “I just want to make it clear to the board that we have to release draft minutes because that's what's required by the Code of Virginia.”

Gantt would further ask if they keep a list of who they release draft minutes to (the answer was no) and if they keep a list of anybody that requests anything for the freedom of information.

“It just depends on how specific the request is or how voluminous the response is,” Ms. Puckett said.

She would also offer that she didn't know who requested them or who had access to them.

Bartlett later pointed out that the draft minutes are on the County's website and could be printed off. (Draft minutes are available when board packs are posted.)

Still Gantt raised the issue of the timing of the minutes being available. He would also later add that he believes someone came in, picked up a draft and photo-copied it. He suggested they at least find a way to document that they hand somebody something.

Bartlett likened it to a receipt and indicated that they would research the act and see if it is allowed.

In Other News…

*Henry Shelton, speaking in public participation portion of the meeting, offered that the Sandy River water project meetings “have left a trail of unanswered questions and an impression of deceit.”

*Jacqueline Ghee appealed to the board for funding for the Youth Empowerment Center and the board-which had factored some funding in an earlier work session that was removed prior to budget approval-discussed the request, but voted it down on a split vote.

“The reason why I'm here is to say that the kids in the community that we service need our help desperately,” Ms. Ghee said. “We service…at least over 50 kids during the school year and during the summer, at least over 60 kids or more.”

She cited that they provide to them such service as tutoring and mentoring. Children range from seven to about 18 years. They also service the parents of those children.

Lockett District Supervisor Robert “Bobby” Jones, who had previously offered a motion not to fund the program, said he is sure it's a good cause but also that he felt like money is tight and that there are plenty of other programs that would like to come to them for money.

“And we've gotta decide some time…to just say hey, we can't take on anything else,” Jones said.

He said he believed the Y would have a youth program in the summer so there would be things for them.

The board, at the end of the open session, would defeat a motion by Vice-Chairman Howard Simpson on a 3-5 vote to fund the program $5,000.

*Supervisors agreed to authorize a grant application and approved a resolution for the state's Department of Conservation and Recreation grant for matching funds (and will seek $25,000) for engineering for dam repairs and improvements at the Sandy River Reservoir. Safety regulations require that all dam owners in the state evaluate the downstream dam break inundation zone through a “Dam BIZ” study. The Dam BIZ study on the Reservoir, a memo to the board highlighted, has determined that based on a required extreme calculation method, called the probable maximum flood, water could overtop the dam by 2.6 feet during a severe event. The next step is to determine the necessary modifications to the dam structure in order for it to comply with state regulations.

The engineering study would evaluate alternatives.

*The board, following some discussion and a presentation from Sgt. Richard Raybold of the County's Sheriff's office, agreed to apply for federal COPS grant funding to supplement the office with an additional field deputy. If approved, grant funds would afford three years of salary and benefits, but the County would be required to fund non-salary expenses and a fourth year of salary and benefits.

If approved, the board would still need to accept the funding.