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Emergency response, mental health services top Mecklenburg supervisors’ agenda

SoVaNow.com / November 07, 2018
Mecklenburg County’s emergency response team, the Southside Community Services Board and Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative used Monday’s meeting of the Board of Supervisors in Boydton to recap activities involving their organizations in the past several months.

Jon Talyor, the county’s emergency response coordinator and Ben Duncan with the 911 call Center spoke of the extent to which Tropical Storm Michael taxed their organizations’ resources. In the first 24 hours after the storm hit on Thursday, Nov. 11, the 911 center processed 636 calls, more than half of them were between the hours of 5-9 p.m. So far this year, the 911 center has received 67,000 calls for service, many of which are due to the storms, Michael and the earlier Hurricane Florence.

Taylor said that Thursday started out as a normal day, but around 5:30 p.m. “the day turned south.” Among the calls, the 911 center received word that the front wall of the Planter’s Warehouse building in Clarksville had collapsed into the street.

“Our staff was tested, but they passed. I commend them,” Duncan added.

Both Taylor and Duncan praised first responders, VDOT and utility company workers for the speed at which they reopened roads and restored power. At one point, according to Duncan, there were 44 downed power lines, three houses hit by falling trees, one with residents trapped inside, and 12,300 homes and businesses without power in Mecklenburg County. The 911 call center lost its email services for a period during the peak of the storm.

Taylor said the good news was that no one was injured, power was fully restored to county residents by late Tuesday or early Wednesday, and most roads were quickly reopened. High water levels kept some roads closed, and a collapsed drain pipe on High House Road near Chase City is still being repaired. Tommy Johnson with VDOT said Mill Creek Road remains closed due to flooding.

One problem that became apparent during the preparation for Hurricane Florence and following Tropical Storm Michael was Clarksville’s lack of a suitable shelter site for storm victims. Chase City and South Hill both have designated shelter locations, but Clarksville does not. Taylor said he was working with the town to resolve the problem.

Taylor is also working with FEMA to recover damages for those properties damaged by both Michael and Florence. Property damage in Mecklenburg County from Hurricane Michael not covered by other insurance amounted to $39,000 and Florence caused another $90,000 in losses to various individuals.

David Lipscomb, vice president of Member and Energy Services with Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative said he was at the board meeting to thank supervisors for helping the electric cooperative receive a $2.6 million grant from the Tobacco Revitalization Commission. Because of their support, MEC has laid 10 miles of fiber backbone which is being used to deliver high speed internet between MEC’s headquarters to its substation at Black Branch and to three homes along the route.

MEC has filed applications with the State Corporation Commission for authorization to offer 50/50 Mbps broadband to homes within 1,000 feet on either side of the newly installed cable backbone. In the next few months the cooperative will begin laying cable in the Big Fork area near South Hill and Gasburg.

This line will increase access to high speed internet service to approximately 300 homes. Over the next five years Lipscomb said they company will use another $1.8 million it received in Connect America Funds to bring broadband to nearly 850 rural homes in Brunswick County. The total cost for this project is $8.2 million, Lipscomb said.

While the supervisors did not ask, Lipscomb assured them that MEC is selling broadband services for a reasonable rate. For a minimum of $69.95 a residential customer will receive 50/50 Mbps, which Lipscomb said is enough bandwidth for his children to simultaneously play online video games while his wife listens to music online.

Dan Tanner asked if MEC had plans to expand the reach of those who will have access to MEC’s broadband to people living more than 1,000 feet from the company’s fiber. Lipscomb said that will not happen for at least three years, until the company has fulfilled its initial commitment to the Tobacco Commission.

Beth Engelhorn, executive director of the Southside Community Services Board, described steps her agency is taking to manage funding from the county and improve mental health and substance abuse services to its service area of Brunswick, Halifax and Mecklenburg counties.

At the start of the year, she said she would have given the organization a grade of D-. But after working with a consulting firm and implementing several operational changes, Engelhorn said she believes the board is well on its way to transform the behavioral health system and services for this area.

“We assessed the job duties of our case managers and removed much of the administrative workload to increase their ability to provide direct care services and we looked at ways to utilize funding efficiently to get the most services out of the funds there were available.”

From their introspection, Engelhorn said SCSB learned that the organization was sufficiently staffed to provides required services, but too much time was spent on administrative duties and they needed to find and implement efficiency models to improve access to service for people with developmental disabilities, substance abuse issue or behavioral issues.

The improvements SCSB implemented include creation of a centralized scheduling system to improve access to open appointments, revamping and simplifying the intake process, commencing same day access for services, cutting down the wait time for access to services from six weeks to 10 days, partnering with local providers to obtain physicians to prescribe suboxone for opioid treatment, and partnering with VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital to develop a crisis intervention team assessment center for people in distress. The planned opening for the center is later this month.

Engelhorn said the SCSB is not stopping with these improvements. Moving forward, she said, “We will continue to evaluate our progress and processes to insure we do not back slide. We will set target goals to measure outcomes and progress, and address barriers to achieving goals.”

In other business the board approved a request from the Department of Social Services to increase the amount of office space. Because of Virginia’s Medicaid expansion, County Administrator Wayne Carter said the department needs five additional offices for staff. The cost of creating the spaces, including adding sprinklers and upgrading the HVAC computer software, is about $100,000, Carter estimated.

In other business:

Tommy Johnson, VDOT assistant residency mManager, said paving working was completed on Rochichi Road in Boydton at the end of October, but weather issues are forcing them to postpone paving of Twin Peaks Road until next spring or summer.

A local resident, Calvin Hofstetter, asked the supervisors for help with a neighbor whose outdoor heater blows excessive smoke into his yard and house throughout the day. Hofstetter said the smoke was affecting his health and preventing him from accessing his yard. He asked the board to consider adopting an ordinance regulating the height of chimney stacks, specifically mandating higher stacks so the smoke would disperse into the upper atmosphere.

Speaking at the close of the regular meeting, chairman Glenn Barbour said he was concerned by the number of people bring neighborhood problems to the board. “I sympathize with them, but government can’t regulate everything. Sometimes it’s about being a good neighbor. If you are causing your neighbor to suffer, give that some thought and be a good neighbor.”

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