New Road Project Nears

Published 5:28 pm Thursday, February 28, 2013

PRINCE EDWARD – The long-awaited opening of the new Route 786 project will have to wait a little longer.

County Administrator Wade Bartlett reported at the February 12 board of supervisors meeting that most of the punch list items have been resolved, all of the traffic items addressed, that he believed all of the check downs have been removed, sediment from three of the five storm water ponds has been removed and that numerous other issues have been resolved.

Still, he noted, work is continuing.

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There are still a couple of issues on Route 15, which the county administrator assessed weren't going to be resolved in the next couple of days, noting that it's going to require “a couple little paving patches” which were all on the shoulders.

Most of the remaining items, it was noted in a board packet summary, are associated with work on Route 15.

Fire Program Funds

Prospect resident Sam Campbell raised concerns about the use of fire program funds. The program, he detailed, is operated by the state; there's a one percent surcharge added to the insurance policy issued in the county for the fund.

“…The Code of Virginia is very specific about how these funds are to be used,” Campbell offered in the board's public comment time.

He cited that $41,000 of the fund was transferred to the Piedmont Regional Jail operating fund as a result of the board's action at the December meeting.

Bartlett reported that the Virginia Department of Fire programs received “false allegations that Prince Edward was using Fire Program funds inappropriately. Information received by the Department of Fire programs was incomplete in that it did not mention that the county had already appropriated the FY 13 Fire program funds in the county's existing budget. That piece of information was critical in understanding the action taken by the County.”

Bartlett noted that he was contacted by the grants and local aid manager about his concerns regarding the allegations.

Bartlett reported, “(He) agreed that the fiscal year 2012 funds had been spent appropriately and that his concern was the fiscal year 13 funds would be used to support the jail instead of the fire programs…I informed him that that was an incorrect assumption and explained that the fiscal year 13 funds had already been appropriated and budgeted then he withdrew that complaint.”

Bartlett noted that he can see where there has been confusion in the budgeting process in the past.

The county may look to require the fire departments to work together to come up with a list of expenditures and then submit them to the County for approval. (Bartlett cited that would be his recommendation to the board.)

“And then, and only then, will we allow the expenditures of those funds and then place those back in whatever department has expended those,” he said.

Traditionally, he cited, the funds are budgeted and are contained in the funds they give the Fire Departments.

Superintendent Follow-Up

Prince Edward County School Superintendent Dr. David Smith presented an update on an incident at the school and a letter that was sent home to parents February 12.

“The issue that I wanted to share with you was an incident that our school administrators became aware of at approximately 11 o'clock yesterday morning. The information that they received involved a statement that (a) student had heard another student make a…potentially threatening comment in conversation with a couple of other students on Friday, the previous week,” Dr. Smith explained. “The first call that the administrators made, appropriately, was to the sheriff's department and the sheriff's department began their investigation promptly. And, as you know, when the sheriff's department investigation is underway, that takes precedence over everything that we do administratively.”

He informed supervisors that they worked closely to support and facilitate that investigation and have their own investigation as well.

“Their investigation was concluded late last night. This morning, I sent the communication around to all of our staff. We sent the communication out on our instant alert system to all parents, all members of the school community as well to let them know what had transpired,” Dr. Smith said.

It was reported that the high school administration followed school board policy and procedures and immediately processed the report and referred it to law enforcement and that administrators worked closely with the sheriff's department for their investigation. The letter to parents also cites that the student was removed from school and that, “At no time was any Prince Edward student or staff member at risk of harm or in danger.”

Committee Report

Bylaws Committee Chairman Don Gantt presented a committee report on several issues.

A code of ethics will probably be finished in April or May and Gantt reported that they were “pretty much in agreement” with requiring a second for every motion that comes before the board of supervisors. The board opted to wait to tackle the issue along with others from the committee.

It was noted that it takes two-thirds of the eight-member board – or six – to approve changes to the bylaws.

Gantt reported that they “even brought up term limits” adding that it was a shock that it's against the constitution. The only term limits in Virginia are for the governor.

Gantt reported that they looked at the merits of rotating the chairman and vice-chairman and noted that he wanted to go back to the committee and discuss electing a chairman and rotating the vice-chairman.

“The deal is figuring out how the rotation works, and that would be what I'd like to take back to the committee,” he said.

The committee also presented a proposal for framing and displaying the mission statement of the Board prominently in the courthouse.

That statement reads: “To represent all citizens, provide leadership, create vision and set policy to accomplish effective change, planned growth and provide essential services while maintaining and enhancing the quality of life in Prince Edward County.”

Supervisors unanimously approved the recommendation and displays are expected to be placed on each of the courthouse floors.

Gantt suggested that it is a good idea for the chairman, either 15 days before or 15 days after the board, sets a budget to prepare a statement for the citizens of the county, likening it to a state of the union.

“I do that every year prior to the public hearing on the budget,” Chairman William “Buckie” Fore commented. “Have done it for ten years.”

Jones highlighted, however, that the committee did not discuss that issue.

Openness Discussion

Cornell Walker, speaking in the public participation segment of the meeting, took aim at the County's transparency. (The board received an “F” rating from the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, which looked at localities across the state and how easily accessible their budget information is for the public online.)

Gantt noted that he had a need for the budget in October and went online and noticed it wasn't there.

“But when I went and talked to Wade about it, he went in the other room and came back and handed me a budget,” Gantt said. “And I asked him some questions kind of like you've asked and they came back the same way. He said, anybody needs the budget, we hand it to 'em. The grade this group gave us, it's my understanding, we have met every state requirement. There's no state requirement that says we have to have a budget on the website. Now, I think it's a smart thing to do.”

The number of clicks to find a budget, he assessed, “is a ridiculous way to figure transparency.” Gantt further offered that if he had come to the office and asked the county administrator for the budget and he couldn't find it or told him to come back in five days, “I would have a big problem. But the fact that he put it in my hands in 10-15 seconds, I didn't see a problem…I do think it should be on the website and it's my understanding it is on the website.”

While the budget has since been added to the website, it was noted that the County already had the recommended budget on the website (not the final approved budget) and budget presentation as well as an explanation of how tax funds are used, and every individual fund.

Bartlett offered that he is going to give the Virginia Coalition for Open Government an “F” on their grading system.

“They don't care, obviously, about citizens who don't have access to high speed internet, because if you don't have high speed internet, you're not gonna pull down a document that's about 150 pages long,” he said. “So, for the people in rural counties that don't have that access, they don't care about them. They don't count. Well, they count here in Prince Edward County.”

The County's budget is available at the library and is in the County Administrator's office.

In Other News…

*Supervisors approved a consent agenda that included two appropriations – including a $2,100 grant from the Department of Criminal Justice Services. The funds are mandated for use by the Piedmont Court Services for training and do not require a local match. The Circuit Court Clerk also received a $19,814 grant to be used for preservation of records and require no local match.

*Among the highway concerns highlighted for VDOT were potholes on U.S. Route 460. Every year VDOT grades the quality of the pavement on the roadways and it was reported that the residency engineer was hopeful that, because of the impact from all of the rain, the score on that section of Route 460 will be such that they will return and correct the problem permanently.

Gantt raised the question of dead trees leaning across roads. He asked about their possible removal before they fall; he also asked about a possible grant. It was noted that VDOT can't remove a tree on private property. And right-of-way varies.

County officials are expected to discuss the issue with the Department of Forestry.

*Mary Hickman, acting president and CEO of the Commonwealth Regional Council (CRC), presented the Council's annual report. Among the services that the Council offers: grant writing and grant administration services, and mapping and geographical information services. They also have of a wide variety of information and statistical services available, it was reported, and provide a forum for exploring regional cooperation on issues.

*Hampden District Supervisor Charles McKay and Farmville District (701) Supervisor Jim Wilck announced their citizen committees, which will field nominations for the school board for their respective districts. The board also agreed to authorize the advertisement of the committee names and contact information where citizens can submit nominations and authorized a public hearing for the March board meeting. Citizens at that meeting will have an opportunity to submit potential candidates to be considered for appointment.

*The board approved a letter of agreement with the County's school board that will allow fire and EMS departments to have access to diesel fuel at the schools. The pumps, per the agreement, will be available between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.; invoices are to be submitted monthly to the Board of Supervisors and payment will be provided within 30 days of receipt; and the school board is responsible for the procurement process in securing the fuel purchase.

*Supervisors tabled action on the CRC's request that the board consider a resolution asking Congress to adopt the Industrial Hemp Farming Act. It was reported that the County contacted Congressman Robert Hurt's office and that the resolution cites the 112th Congress when it is now the 113th Congress. No bill has been introduced to the new Congress regarding industrial hemp farming. It was reported that the congressman has no position since there is no bill.

The proposed resolution had cited that industrialized hemp's three raw materials (fiber, hurds and seeds) “…can be used in more than 25,000 products, including textiles, rope, cellulose plastics, resin, particle board, paper products, shampoo, vitamins and oil…”

It was noted that the Virginia Association of Counties is supporting industrial hemp farming.

*Supervisors had no luck for the second round of advertisements for volunteers to serve on the Old Dominion RC&D Council. Vice-Chairman Howard Simpson will be tasked to serve in the interim with Assistant County Administrator Sarah Puckett agreeing to continue to serve as the alternate.

Supervisors are expected to consider re-advertising for appointments in June.

*County Planner Alecia Daves-Johnson presented the board with the annual report of the Planning Commission. The board was also presented with a copy of the commission's bylaws. She cited that the commission has proposed an amendment, which would stipulate that matters coming to the commission are to be placed on the calendar for consideration only if the director of planning and community development certifies that the signature of all property owners directly involved have been attached to the application or letter of request.

*The personnel committee-with the impeding retirement of the chief deputy in the commonwealth's attorney's office- recommended, and the board agreed-to hire an attorney with an April 1 start date at a $60,000 salary.

*Supervisors approved a $12,000 appropriation to the fund balance. The County received reimbursement from the state on a study to analyze modifications required for the Sandy River Reservoir dam to pass an appropriate amount of water in case of a maximum probable precipitation event without causing dam failure. The board also approved a $35,000 budget amendment to fund a community survey related to the county's schools.