CARES money used to upgrade arena for day care, shelter

Published 8:42 am Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Prince Edward County and the Town of Farmville have agreed to work together to convert the Firemen’s Sports Arena  to an emergency shelter and licensed daycare facility but not without some discord between the two governing bodies.

C. Scott Davis

The Firemen’s Sports Arena Draft Proposal states this a 20-year use agreement for sheltering purposes, lasting five years with three five-year renewals.

The draft proposal includes the use of the facility as an emergency shelter but states that if the Firemen’s Sports Arena building is sold by the town within five years, the town will repay the county for the cost of the upgrades.

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“The second part doesn’t really sit as well with me as far as paying money back because what we were trying to do is be a good partner,” Farmville Town Manager Scott Davis said.

He explained how the proposal came out of a Prince Edward County CARES Act Committee meeting. Among those on the committee is Ward D Councilman Donald L. Hunter.

“We knew the children in the county, when they went virtual, were going to have a tough time and their families having day care abilities,” Davis said. “Part of the CARES Act funding that the county set aside for this is to also offset with a scholarship for students whose families may not be able to pay the full cost.”

Davis reiterated his issues with the agreement when he summed up his recommendation to the council.

“Based on principle, I’ll say this — it’s probably not right, in my mind, that we would have to owe money back after five years when the purpose of this is to try to do the right thing and help,” he said. “But for the sake of the reason we’re doing this, to help school-age children, I would ask that the council do that agreement so that we can keep moving forward.”

In a Tuesday, Sept. 15, interview, Davis said the upgraded handicap bathroom and flooring price for the Firemen’s Sports Arena would be at or less than $55,000, and the town is expecting the building to be ready for children the first part of next week.

David Whitus

Later during the Sept. 9 meeting, Mayor David Whitus emphasized the county is simply a dispersal agent of CARES Act money, noting it is not Prince Edward’s money. The county received $3,978,774 from the federal government as its share of the Coronavirus Relief Fund, which was established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020.

Whitus called the stipulation on the sale of the property put in by the county “extremely shortsighted.”

“They have a couple of large projects down the road that if they ever come close to fruition, they’re going to need the town to partner, and we will,” he said. “We will. We will not act like the county and say, ‘Hey, we’re only going to partner or give you this if you do X, Y and Z.’ It’s not fair, and we will do what’s in the best interest of the community.

“The county, on the other hand, never seems to step forward and do what’s in the best interest of the community, be it town or county, unless they can get something out of it. And it clearly should not work that way.”

Jerry R. Townsend

Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jerry R. Townsend responded Tuesday, Sept. 15, to the mayor’s comments by first addressing Whitus’ characterization of the county as a dispersal agent of CARES Act money.

“The mayor is correct; the county is the agent for the CARES Fund and is responsible for refunding any funds deemed to have been spent on a non-COVID expense,” Townsend said. “There is still great uncertainty regarding the allowed uses of CARES funding, especially with the most recent memo from the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Treasury.”

Townsend stated the county is protecting the interest of county taxpayers, adding that it is not unusual for federal grants to be audited several years after the grant has been awarded.

“The requirement for the town to reimburse the county is meant to provide the county funds to cover that contingency,” he said. “The county will continue to be good stewards of taxpayers’ money, and we hope that the mayor understands that is our intention with the contingency.

“The county looks forward to continuing to partner with the Town of Farmville on new initiatives that benefit the citizens of this community we all love.”