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Agencies hold out hope for more money

SoVaNow.com / March 27, 2014
Halifax County Supervisors on Monday night heard from representatives of various agencies and departments about their financial needs for the coming year, although only one citizen spoke during the comment period on the 2014 reassessment public hearing.

At that time Josephine Scearce asked board members “When are we going to get jobs here? We’ve had to cut back and I think it’s time for you to cut back, too.”

Douglas Powell, who chairs the county’s Board of Equalization, assisted by Cliff Somerville and Dewey Compton, reported that his board addressed 16 appeals following last year’s reassessment of which seven came from residential owners, one from commercial and eight from owners of agricultural properties. Of the sixteen appeals, Powell said, 15 of the assessments were reduced slightly with one remaining unchanged.

During the presentations by departments and agencies library director Jay Stephens advised supervisors that the two library facilities have hosted some 113,000 visitors over the past year. He renewed his appeal for more funds of up to $220,000 (level funding of $175.000) in order to be able to present more programs and services and attract more patrons.

Southern Virginia Higher Education Center finance director Patty Nelson asked the board to maintain level funding for her institution as she presented “a snapshot” of that they are doing. Nelson pointed out that the Center has awarded some 233 degrees ranging from associate degrees to masters degrees. She also stressed the work done in assisting local industry with job training, pointing to the 1,000 to 1,500 hours spent in helping to train employees of Presto Products for new lines of work.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Tracy Q. Martin asked for a small increase in her budget which would enable her to make a current part-time position into a full time job. Martin said the state comp board would pay most of the cost, but she needed an additional $11,000 to $13,000 to cover health care benefits for the staffer.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Merle Herndon thanked board members for their continuing support of the local school system while explaining that school trustees will have to cut $2.3 million out of its upcoming budget. Last year trustees had to cut $2.2 million, making a total of $4.5 million cuts over two years.

Herndon pointed out that the Virginia Retirement System is mandating an increase of over $800,000 for the coming year and she anticipates increases in health care coming also. She also noted that new teachers with no experience are making the same salary as seven year teachers since the system has no step scale in place. She added that more funding is needed for career technical classes as schools attempt to get more students into the pipeline for certification in such areas as welding, industrial manufacturing and precision machining.

School trustee Roger Long pointed out that the state has cut funding to the schools by $11.1 million over the past four years. He explained that the local composite index on which the state bases its contribution to education has risen to the point that the county should be contributing $16.5 million to the school rather than the proposed $13.4 million.

Long said he and other board members take no pride in the cuts they have been forced to make and feels that those cuts have hurt opportunities for students and short changed school employees who number 130 fewer than five years ago. “I ask you to re-examine your responsibilities to increase funds for Halifax County Public Schools.”

Also seeking more funds was Don Burge, director of the Southside Community Services Board, who was accompanied d by two local law enforcement officers. David Martin of the Halifax County Sheriff’s Office and Dennis Barker of the South Boston Police Department. Martin, who serves on the newly formed Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) board, said his group is working to improve response time to calls for service and to train those who respond to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses. The group is partnering with the local hospital to improve services for mental patients, he said.

Barker said two members of his department are training in Mental Health First Aid treatment as well as working with the CIT program. They are hoping the new programs will help to avoid tragedies such as those seen across the nation in Colorado, Connecticut and Virginia Tech.

In the staff recommended proposed budget, local funding for the SCSB is projected to rise by $25,000 to $92,450, but one board member, ED-6 Supervisor Larry Giardano, pointed to activities at two local SCSB programs saying “there is such a duplication of services and money wasted just inside one facility (the board’s Highway 58 facility) that until they look at their legitimate expenses, I cannot approve any additional funding to this organization. In fact I feel strongly that there should be a reduction in funding.”

Also appearing before the board was Paul Smith, president of the South Boston-Halifax County Museum of Fine Arts and History who reported that the museum has a budget of $105,000 of which Halifax County contributes $7,000, or 6.6 percent of the total (the Town of South Boston contributes $25,000 or 23.8 percent ) with the remainder of the budget coming from membership dues, donations and fund raisers as well as the distribution from its endowment.

Smith explained that children, students and adults enjoy the various historical displays and music and art programs presented at the museum with over 1,000 students having viewed the traveling historic exhibition of the Virginia Historical Society. He also noted that researchers of family history from all across the county and world visit the facility to search for records of their ancestors.

Melissa Wood of Madeline’s House which provides shelter and assistance to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault asked that the county continue its level funding of $7,500 annually. She said Halifax County is one of 12 counties that supports the program and noted that 23 Halifax County residents had sought assistance there last year.

Unable to attend Monday’s meeting Matt Leonard, Director of the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority, asked for operating funds of $421,000, an amount of $60,000 below that of the current year’s budget. He also asked that the county put up $114,000 in matching funds for a $1.4 million grant from the Tobacco Commission to cover Phase III renovations to the Southern Virginia Manufacturing Center (formerly the Daystrom property).

During a later budget discussion by supervisors, newly appointed ED-3 member Ray Owen questioned a line item in the staff recommended budget listed as $35,000 for IDA expenses under the Building and Grounds items. “Who owns that building and why are the repairs not paid for by the IDA ,” he asked. He was told that the $35,000 would cover any repair expense that county maintenance staffers could not handle.

In other business finance chairman Doug Bowman reminded his fellow board members that a decision on the real estate tax rate will have to be finalized at their next regular meeting on Monday, April 7. The full budget did not have to be approved until May, hoping by that time to have an approved state budget which will include funding that the county may expect to get from the state.

The board also named Giardano to serve on the Southside Planning District Commission’s executive board to take over the seat formerly held by ED-3 Supervisor William Fitzgerald.

They also authorized County Administrator Jim Halasz to send a letter to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development in support of Tri-County Community Action Agency’s weatherization assistance program in Halifax County.

“As localities such as ours face the financial challenges of providing services to its constituents, it is a benefit to have this Agency supporting the community with energy conservation measures,” Halasz wrote.

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Comments

Wonder why Larry G. hates the sscsb?? Did Larry work for a agency affiliated with this group and get fired or what?? Where's the love Larry G=Good for Halifax County?????

Comments

Supervisor G. should look at the new requirements for mental health facilities due to Senator Deeds assault by his mentally ill child. The supervisor is indeed functioning from ignorance. I was afraid of this when I saw his name on the ballot. Another sad four years for the constituents of his district. They will get what they deserve, unfortunate for the county, it won't. The boards of supervisors has become a very dysfunctional group of individuals.

Comments

SCSB is a complete waste of money. I agree with Larry G. I am sorry, but if you have a mentally ill child it is YOUR responsibility to look after them not the Governments! Also county agencies don't need anymore money. The county administrator should have told them to cut 10% across the board. School system should have cut 10% from entire budget then another 10% from the county part. Waste, waste, waste. and we let thme do it. I love how they advertise these public hearings, people have to work an can't get their in time to do it. I contact my supervisor by phone she is sick of hearing from me, but until we decend on them in mass and tell them to cut cut cut, they will keep on the path that they are going.

Comments

AP2, have you ever dealt with a mentally ill family member? I can assure you from experience it's pure unmitigated hell, and often more than a family is equipped to handle.

Cut what little help is offered to them and you end up with Sandy Hooks, Virginia Techs and Fort Hoods. Then people blame guns and the NRA for the tragedies when it was an untreated nutjob with a gun, not the gun, that caused it all.

There's waste in any government agency (and vast majority of private enterprise) but mental health assistance is one of the last things that should be cut. It's always cut by people who have no concept of the hell and torture inflicted by dealing with a mentally ill individual.

I was not keen on an outsider running for and winning the Supervisor seat from my ED. My experience has invariably been people will move into an area, get involved in its politics, and then try to turn their new home into the same thing they left- and that is rarely a good thing.


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