A look back at 2021 – part three

Published 8:05 am Saturday, January 22, 2022

Throughout the month of January each Friday edition of The Farmville Herald will highlight the events of 2021. This week’s edition takes a look back at the months of July through September 2021.

JULY 2021

• United Way fades into history

After distributing thousands of dollars to area nonprofits for more than 50 years, the Prince Edward County United Way is no more.

The organization’s board of directors made the decision in May to close the organization after taking some time to consider the United Way’s role in the community and determined the best days of

“We are literally doing the last work with accountants and then shutting down the entity with the state,” United Way President Rucker Snead said Tuesday, June 29. He said shutting down Prince Edward’s operation was much simpler than other United Ways he has talked to that have staff, property and endowments to deal with.

On its way out the door, the organization was able to provide a final contribution to three local nonprofits where they thought they could make a final community impact. The organization ended up donating more than $42,000 back into the community in its final year.

• Emergency medical dispatch now available

Telecommunicators at the Farmville Emergency Communications Center are now able to provide 911 callers with pre-arrival instructions such as how to control bleeding, perform CPR or even assist in childbirth.

According to Jackie Gilbert, emergency communications manager at the center, each dispatcher is now certified in emergency medical dispatch — a process which allows telecommunicators to provide those who dial 911 with instructions on how to respond to a medical emergency before first responders arrive.

In a Monday, July 12, interview, Gilbert highlighted the center began offering emergency medical dispatch services May 19.

• Cumberland looking for new administrator

Cumberland County Administrator Don Unmussig will be leave his position with the county at the end of the month for a job with the Virginia Department of Military Affairs.

The news marks the third administrator change in the Farmville area in less than a year.

In October of 2020, former Warren County Administrator Doug Stanley took over the county administrator position in Prince Edward County after the Prince Edward Board of Supervisors elected not to renew Wade Bartlett’s contract that April. Former Buckingham County Assistant County Administrator and Finance Director Karl Carter took over as Buckingham County Administrator in July after Rebecca Carter retired from the position at the end of June 2021.

• The fair is back

From funnel cakes to ferris wheels, the Five County Fair is coming back for 2021, and officials say this year’s festivities will include more rides, games and food than previous seasons.

Canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 Five County Fair, serving the counties of Prince Edward, Buckingham, Cumberland, Charlotte and Appomattox, will return to the area Sept. 28 through Oct. 2.

“We are definitely planning to have one this year,” Fair Manager Auburn Estes said Wednesday, July 21.

While fair organizers will meet later in the week to make final decisions related to events and scheduling, Estes said this year’s fair will feature classic fan favorites such as agricultural shows, beauty pageants, professional wrestling and more.

Despite last year’s pandemic setbacks, Estes anticipates this year’s midway will have even more food, games and rides than in 2019.

Darlington Heights Volunteer Fire Department celebrates 50 years

The Darlington Heights community gathered to celebrate 50 years of the volunteer fire department protecting the community.

The Darlington Heights Volunteer Fire Department started in 1972 with an Army tanker truck. Since then, the department has grown in the number of trucks to six and also greatly increased the square footage of the fire station as the department and the community partnered to grow over time.

Chief Dallas Tinsley, who has served as chief for the department the past 23 years, said support from the community has been crucial to the department’s success.

“They went out and fought fire before there was a fire department,” he said of the days on Darlington Heights before the fire department was established. He said there was box in the community with rakes and shovels for anyone to use when a fire occurred. “When they had a fire, people would drive by, throw a rake and a shovel in the truck and keep going. That’s the way things happened back then.”

He said it is that same community spirit of everyone pitching in and coming together for a common cause that has carried the department through these 50 years.

AUGUST 2021

• CuCPS makes mask plans

Cumberland County Public Schools (CuCPS) has released further information regarding masking and other school policies as students prepare for their first day back following summer vacation, including a tiered action plan should COVID-19 cases continue to grow in the area.

In a letter dated Thursday, July 29, CuCPS Superintendent Dr. Chip Jones addressed families and discussed plans for the coming academic year.

With the first day of school scheduled for Monday, Aug. 9, CuCPS will be open on a regular schedule five days per week.

As it is currently up to school divisions to decide whether or not masks are required in school buildings, CuCPS has developed a three-tiered system that will be utilized to determine masking and other mitigation requirements as COVID cases rise or fall.

According to Jones’ letter, the school division will begin the school year in Tier I: New Normal. For Tier 1, CuCPS will continue to implement mitigation strategies such as encouraging hand hygiene, frequently sanitizing high-traffic areas, alternative scheduling and three feet of social distancing as much as possible. Parents will be asked to screen their children at home for COVID symptoms, and the division will continue to quarantine students and contact trace as needed.

• Farmville’s free clinic is a community success story

A church sermon, a need found in an unlikely contingent of patients and networking with people in the community who could help make a difference led Pat Payne to begin Farmville’s Heart of Virginia Free Clinic nearly 10 years ago.

I went to church Sunday and my preacher was standing there and said, ‘If you know the solution to something and you know a group of people that need to have the problem (solved), then that’s God telling you something,” Payne, the director of Farmville’s free clinic, said.

The sermon came after Payne, a lifelong health care worker, decided to slow down a bit by moving away from 17 years of 12-hour shifts as an ER nurse and work at Home Health where she supervised nurses’ aides.

They didn’t offer health insurance to these ladies,” she said of the home health nurses. They’re making $7 to $8 an hour taking care of people. Saving the family all these chores that has to be done to grandpa or mom when they get in the bed, but they didn’t have insurance. I found out right under my nose all these ladies didn’t have insurance and they had had high blood pressure. They had diabetes, but they didn’t have the money to go to the doctor.”

“We started out with my briefcase and some ideas, and we had nothing,” Payne said. “Now we have this building, and we have an endowment fund, and we’ve had over 500 patients. We’ve given away over $1 million worth of medicine.”

• Counties approve funding for broadband project

Supervisors in Buckingham and Cumberland counties approved funding this month for Firefly Broadband’s Regional Internet Service Expansion (RISE) Project set to bring reliable and affordable internet to underserved homes and businesses across the area.

According to Melissa Gay, communications and member services manager for Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, Firefly’s parent company, the funds will serve as grant matches associated with the project.

As part of the RISE Project’s initiative, Firefly is partnering with Rappahannock Electric Cooperative and Dominion Energy to create a regional project where participating counties will support an application for a Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) grant through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission will be the lead applicant for the grant.

There are currently 12 counties in the proposed RISE Project area, including Buckingham, Cumberland, Albemarle, Amherst, Appomattox, Fluvanna, Goochland, Greene, Louisa, Madison, Nelson and Powhatan counties.

Recently, Firefly has asked participating counties to commit to matching funds for the grant application. These funds will also improve the scoring of the grant.

During its Monday, Aug. 9, meeting, the Buckingham Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution to provide $1.5 million in funding towards the project. Firefly has identified an estimated 3,000 unserved locations in Buckingham which could be helped through the RISE project.

The Cumberland County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution the following night, Tuesday, Aug. 10, to provide local matching funding not to exceed $386,250 for the project. An estimated 464 unserved locations were identified by Firefly in Cumberland County.

• FDA approves Pfizer COVID vaccine

Despite COVID-19 cases soaring throughout the Piedmont Health District this week, good news has arrived in the form of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

While coronavirus cases have been surging locally and throughout the nation for weeks now as a result of the highly transmissible delta variant, case numbers are only getting worse in the Piedmont Health District. The majority of the area’s counties saw huge jumps in their COVID figures this week, none larger than in Prince Edward County, which has reflected one of the smallest vaccination percentages of localities in the commonwealth to date.

SEPTEMBER 2021

• SOLs reflect COVID’s toll on learning

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) has released the 2020-2021 Standards of Learning (SOL) test results.

With scores plummeting across the commonwealth and nation, state leaders and educators are hoping to utilize this year’s numbers to establish a baseline for academic recovery from the pandemic.

In a Thursday, Aug. 26, release, VDOE officials noted the department and school divisions were anticipating this year’s low SOL pass rates given the impact of the pandemic as reported on local assessments administered earlier in the year.

Statewide, 2020-2021 SOL pass rates sat at 69% for reading, 54% for math and 59% for science.

As the commonwealth’s SOL testing for 2019-2020 was canceled due to the pandemic, the last SOL pass rates for these categories come from the 2018-2019 school year. During this time, statewide pass rates were 78% for reading, 82% for math and 81% for science.

• Almond to lead health district

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has announced Dr. Maria Almond, M.D., MPH is set to begin her role as the new Piedmont Health District director effective Oct. 9.

Almond will inherit the role from Acting Piedmont Health District Director Dr. Sulola Adekoya who temporarily served as the district’s health director after the retirement of Dr. H. Robert Nash in February of this year.

Born and raised in West Virginia, Almond has been serving as a psychiatrist for Centra Medical Group in Farmville since 2015. She also serves as a current member of the Virginia State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Almond attended Harvard Medical School and received her master of public health from the University of North Carolina. She received psychiatric training at Duke University Medical Center and was an inaugural Duke Global Health Fellow, spending time in Moshi, Tanzania where she performed research on collective efficacy and its effects on mental health.

• Board lowers data center computer tax

After a public hearing that drew no speakers, the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to establish a separate category of tangible personal property for computers and other equipment used in a data center.

The board previously appropriated funding to the Industrial Development Authority that led to the purchase of the Lockwood property for possible use as a data center site.

However, the amount of tax on computer equipment and related peripherals could prove too much of a drawback to potential call or data centers that would otherwise be interested in locating in Prince Edward County.

Depreciation of equipment was a factor in their decision to set the tax rate in this category at $1.00 per every $100 of assessed value, County Administrator Doug Stanley said, noting that even for a private consumer, “after 4-5 years, your computer is basically a boat anchor.”

“Many localities adopted these lower rates to attract these types of facilities,” he said. “It’s considered a separate classification. As an example, Prince William County, Stafford, Spotsylvania, all have a rate of $1.25 per $100. Currently (before the vote), the county taxes such equipment at a rate of $4.50 per $100.”

LOOK BACK: The fair is back