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COLUMN – How did Dillwyn get here?

The Town of Dillwyn is a small town with a big problem.

The town, with a population of 556, recently completed a $1.5 million streetscape project using a grant from the Virginia Department of Transportation. The project brought new sidewalks and better access for the disabled along with new benches, trash receptacles and decorative period lighting.

It is a great project. The problem is the town can’t afford it.

The $1.5 million price tag came with a local match that was reported to be around $254,000. The problem is the town brings in only in $148,000 per year in revenue. So a $254,000 match is huge for the town. It is the equivalent of a year and eight months of revenue for the town.

Mayor Linda Venable Paige appeared before the Buckingham Board of Supervisors last month asking the county for financial assistance to help Dillwyn out of this pickle. Board of Supervisor member Donnie Bryan quickly assessed that Dillwyn would likely not be able to pay back any funds the county loaned them. The town seems to have already cashed all its savings to pay the match.

Two banks the town went to for help saw the same thing and turned the town down for loans.

Now, contractors who have performed the work are on the hook. County Administrator Rebecca Carter said the contractors had been calling the county seeking payment after hearing the county would be asked to help Dillwyn.

The big question is, how did Dillwyn get itself into this situation? Who thought it was a good idea for a town with total revenue less than that of the annual income of a decent lawyer to take on a $1.5 million project with a 20% match?

The mayor and town council certainly bear some responsibility.

During the meeting with the Board of Supervisors, Paige appeared to be confused about the financing of the project. She said the town was not aware it would have to pay out the money for the project before being reimbursed. She also did not seem to understand the difference in the matched and the non-matched portions of the project.

The project was administered by the Commonwealth Regional Council. In a September Farmville Herald article about the project, Regional Planner Mary Huddleston made clear that the project was made up of more than $250,000 in matching funds. So, it was clear to them the funds Dillwyn needed to provide.

The question is, did anyone look to see if it was actually possible for Dillwyn to make that kind of investment?

The result is a situation that should never happen in local government. A small town with few resources has poured all of its savings into a huge project and is now left to come with its hand out to the county leaders for money to pay its bills.

The citizens of Dillwyn need to take a close look at this situation and demand answers. Their mayor and town council have left them in a perilous position with no good options based on inaccurate assumptions.

The sidewalks may be smoother, but the actions of Dillwyn’s local government have resulted in what looks to be an extremely rocky financial future.

ROGER WATSON is editor of The Farmville Herald and Farmville Newsmedia LLC. His email address is Roger.Watson@FarmvilleHerald.com.