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End of an era: Blalock to retire in November

South Boston News
Blalock / October 11, 2017

Longtime Baskerville supervisor Bill Blalock announced his resignation from the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, ending a career in local public office that dates back to 1968.

Blalock made the announcement through a written statement read by Board Chairman Glenn Barbour at the start of the supervisors’ monthly meeting Tuesday morning in Boydton. Blalock’s retirement is effective Nov. 6, 2017.

The Baskerville dairy farmer was first elected to the board in 1968. He served for four years before being defeated during his first re-election bid. Four years later he returned to the board and has represented the citizens of ED-6 for the past 41 years.

According to the Virginia Association of Counties, Blalock is the longest-serving county supervisor in Virginia.

“I have served with many fine people over time,” Blalock said in his statement, adding that the “citizens of the county have been well served by those elected.” He thanked citizens for their confidence in him over the years.

Blalock was lauded by fellow board members Glanzy Spain, Dan Tanner and Glenn Barbour, who praised him as a staunch fiscal watchdog and cited his unwavering dedication to constituents. “You may not have agreed with him, but you always knew where he stood on any issue,” said Tanner.

Spain remembered the first piece of advice he received from Blalock upon his election to the Board: “He gripped by hand in a firm handshake and said don’t spend too much money.”

An interesting turn of events occurred in the midst of Tuesday’s meeting, when officials with VDOT announced that, for the first time in decades, all of the roads set for paving this year under the county’s six-year roads improvement plan have been completed.

Throughout his tenure on the Board, Blalock has voiced his objections to the six-year VDOT plan, calling it absurd and a waste of time since the roads listed on the plan were never paved as promised.

It was as if officials with VDOT somehow knew that Blalock would announce his retirement, and as a parting gift, fulfilled their paving commitment.

Soon after the announcement was read, Blalock departed the meeting to a standing ovation from board members, staff and the public.

Attorney Russell Slayton said once Blalock’s resignation becomes official, the board has 15 days to ask the Circuit Court to set a special election to fill his position and 45 days to appoint a temporary successor.

In other action at Tuesday’s meeting:

Ben Duncan and the staff of the 911 call center were recognized for earning Emergency Medical Dispatch accreditation. Out of Virginia’s 121 public safety answering stations, Mecklenburg’s 911 center is one out of only 49 in the state to meet this standard.

The accreditation is a voluntary program designed to promote the implementation of emergency medical dispatch protocols and continued training and education.

The training required to achieve this honor was paid for with monies from an RSAF grant. Because of this training, Duncan said his team is saving the county money through proper resource management.

Supervisors agreed to join with Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative to seek a grant from the Virginia Tobacco Commission to assist MEC in building a fiber network to offer high-speed reliable retail internet to the county’s rural residents.

MEC needs fiber for connectivity, to reduce internal costs, smart grid, speed and bandwidth to substations, substation and system security and talk to meters and downline devices, explained David Lipscomb, Vice President of Member and Energy Services with MEC.

“It is inconceivable that MEC would build fiber and not make it available to their customers and others, but it is an ambitious project that will cost about $85 million. But we call it an investment the community needs,” he added.

Lipscomb said the VTC has set aside about $10 million in R&D money to bring broadband to rural America through the installation of fiber optic cable. MEC is asking for just under $3 million of that for its project, but must partner with a unit of government.

MEC wants to run a power grid that is smart and fill in the under and unserved areas within their electric footprint. Lipscomb called this service “the new deal” in which cooperatives like MEC are doing what telecoms are not doing for the rural areas.

The idea came to offer broadband to people living in its customer region came about as MEC looked at plans to connect all 27 of its substations through broadband. “Right now we are leasing lines, but they are not fast enough to fulfill our real time energy needs,” he explained, adding that the move to link the 27 substations offered a “unique opportunity ”to upgrade internet service to people throughout the county, regardless of whether they are MEC customers.

Before moving forward, MEC looked at nationwide cooperatives and conducted a feasibility study. The result, Lipscomb said was that MEC could offer broadband access at a reasonable cost. “We will start with 135 miles backbone passing approximately 3,100 homes and business, and then request $2.7 million from the Tobacco Commission to cover the costs of connecting these homes and businesses in a retail offering.”

The Federal Communications Commission stipulates that anyone whose internet speed is 10 mbps or less is considered underserved. Highspeed internet calls for 25 mbps or higher. That can be achieved with fiber optic cable.

Mid Atlantic Broadband is onboard with this program and will provide access to its lines already laid in the area.

Lipscomb said, “we are committed to bringing this critically important services to Southside Virginia’s rural areas and providing those who live here the same access afforded to those in urban areas … they deserve nothing less.

School Superintendent Paul Nichols applauded both MEC and the board for their support and desire to ensure that all residents of the county have access to quality high speed internet as this dove-tails with the many new technology oriented programs he is implementing at the schools.

Lipscomb said MEC’s application will be submitted to the Tobacco Commission in mid-November, and if approved, they can begin work on the project in 2018. He also stressed that the money needed to connect MEC’s substations with fiber optic cable would be paid for by MEC. The tobacco commission money would be used to provide broadband service to various homes along the route by hooking them into MEC’s fiber optic cable.

As expected, supervisors also approved a recommendation of the Budget and Finance Committee to fund the purchase of five school activity buses — four 44-passenger and one 14-passenger by bus. The estimated cost is $518,600.00. The money would come from the New School Facility Fund, which was infused with over $1 million in additional monies earlier this year from unspent funds returned by the school division.

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