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Imagine Farmville — Future of area government

In this edition of Imagine Farmville, The Herald looks into the numerous ways the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors and the Farmville Town Council, as well as area committees, have had to adapt as a result of the coronavirus.

PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY

Following the declaration of a state of emergency for Virginia in March, area governments, including Prince Edward, have had to create adaptions to meet guidelines from the commonwealth.

The county, in addition to releasing an ordinance detailing the new meeting structure in the county and allowing the county to perform meetings via phone or internet communication, also installed a call-in option for members of the public, who have the option to listen to county meetings over phone.

To call in, residents can call 1 (425) 436-6394, and when prompted for an access number, give the code 867576#. To contact the County Administration Office, call (434) 392-8837 or email board@co.prince-edward.va.us. Meeting details and contact information for supervisors can be accessed at www.co.prince-edward.va.us.

Kate Pickett, spokesperson for the county, said interest from county residents in area government has seen an increase.

“A lot of residents, including business owners, look to the county to help understand the policies, rules and regulations that have been set at the state level by the governor,” Pickett said. “The county government and the courthouse has remained open throughout the pandemic. We have had to change the way in which we carry out some services in order to ensure the safety of both employees and the public, but we will continue to serve Prince Edward County citizens while following the guidelines set out by the governor.”

A large challenge the county has experienced, also voiced by members of the Prince Edward Board of Supervisors, is conducting meetings electronically.

“We are looking into ways to further improve the way we do carry out meetings virtually,” Pickett said. She said the county would not currently have a way to broadcast meetings via a television or cable provider, but it would be something the county would consider in the future.

The inability to meet with constituents in person, as well as limitations in phone and internet-based communication methods have made local government operations challenging.

Jerry Townsend, chair of the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors and Leigh district supervisor, said the ways in which he has been able to gain input from constituents in the past, through neighborhood watch meetings, town hall meetings and church services, have been halted due to social distancing measures.

“It has been a challenge, but I have managed to work through the process with the assistance of board members and county staff,” Townsend said. “COVID-19 impact has enabled the board in adopting an ordinance to conduct electronic meetings during the pandemic so that county business can continue to be accomplished in an efficient manner.

“However I still encourage the citizens and especially my Leigh District constituents to feel free to contact me if there is a need,” Townsend said. “I am looking forward in holding my town hall meeting in November if at all possible.”

J. David Emert, vice chair of the board and Prospect supervisor, encouraged residents to call in and participate as fully as possible in meetings. He said he looks forward to interacting with constituents in person or holding county meetings in person, but said that may be a long time yet.

He said public participation also helps alleviate misconceptions about county government and what it can control and what it can’t.

“It’s a difficult world we live in now,” Emert said. “Stipulations make it difficult, that’s for sure.”

Pattie Cooper-Jones, Farmville 801 district supervisor, said the pandemic has presented unique challenges that the board has sought to adapt to.

“Prince Edward County‘s Administration was instrumental In keeping us operational and continues to make the necessary changes to keep the county operating as efficiently and as safely as possible,” Cooper-Jones said. “The biggest challenge is being able to communicate with constituents about their needs due to the effects of COVID-19. I encourage all citizens to call in on the phone to participate in Board of Supervisors meetings. Also, please continue to wear a mask and practice social distancing.”

Robert M. “Bobby” Jones, Lockett district supervisor, who also sits on the planning commission, said complications with the call-in option have caused struggles during meetings.

“There’s no replacement for public participation being face-to-face, but this is what we’ve got to deal with,” Jones said. “It’s a shame it’s this way, but we’ve still got to conduct business for the county.”

TOWN OF FARMVILLE

Dr. Scott Davis, Farmville town manager, said challenges the town has experienced include a lower rate of visitors coming to the Farmville area, as well as reduced student population over the spring from Longwood University students.

Davis said the town is also navigating a budget that is reduced from the previous year. According to the town budgets, the fiscal year 2021 budget comes to approximately $23 million, compared with $28.8 million from the previous fiscal year.

Davis said while there have been no increases or reductions in town positions, the town has frozen a few open positions and will evaluate any further steps as time goes on.

To conduct town council and committee meetings while social distancing, Davis said meetings have been streamed on Facebook and YouTube. The town has also reinstated its Instagram page to keep residents informed of town news. These methods have resulted in positive engagement between residents and town officials, and Davis said he expects these channels to be permanent.

“These won’t stop once the virus goes away,” Davis said.

He encouraged residents to speak with town officials via email, phone, or by mail. The town manager office can be reached at (434) 392-5686 and online at farmvilleva.com.

Greg Cole, Ward A council member, said the increase in electronic access to meetings has been a way the town has adapted to the pandemic.

“Prior to the pandemic we had been talking about ways to incorporate more technology into the daily operations,” Cole said. “The pandemic accelerated this in some areas and resulted in some trial and error endeavors, particularly with council meetings. Challenges will always be a part of local government. Sometimes challenges like COVID-19 can devastate communities. What I have experienced during this crisis is a spirit of cooperation and a common focus in keeping our town strong.”

Dan Dwyer, at-large council member, said council business and residents looking out for one another have thrived during the pandemic.

“The residents of Farmville are resilient,” Dwyer said. “I am aware of many acts of kindness extended from neighbor to neighbor.

Dwyer spoke about the economic challenges the town and its residents are experiencing, and the town’s willingness to help.

“The town has not turned off the water because a resident has been put in a financial bind,” Dwyer said. “It is a much overused statement when we hear that we as a town or state will get through these tough times but we will. You can’t keep a good town down.”