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Halifax County supes boost Poplar Creek project, spurn church request / September 09, 2021

The Halifax County Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday night to provide help for local housing and health initiatives but turned down other spending requests from outside groups, including a Cluster Springs church that sought the county’s help on a project for homeless residents.

Supervisors, meeting Tuesday in their regular September session, also tabled a request for $10,775 to restart the county’s youth soccer program.

Board members rejected a request by The Worship Center for $430,000 to assist the church in renovating a portion of its building as apartment-style units to assist individuals and families that have lost their homes. The church is housed in the former South of Dan Elementary school building.

Worship Center pastor Ricky Whitlow told supervisors that $120,000 will be needed to repair a leaky portion of roof over the apartments, before other work there takes place.

The Worship Center has set aside $30,000 of its own money to establish the apartment-style housing, which the church wants to make available on a temporary basis to people going through hard times. Whitlow said the church is in the process of creating a non-profit 501©3 organization to oversee the effort.

“But the non-profit is still attached to the church,” said ED-8 supervisor William Bryant Claiborne. Claiborne suggested Whitlow should seek grant funding from a charitable foundation or organization.

Raising concerns about mixing church and county business, board chairman Hubert Pannell suggested that Whitlow contact the Department of Social Services to see if that agency has available funding.

“Call the Director of Social Services, Kathy Andrews, she has a pool of money to help you,” said Pannell.

In a letter to the county describing the project, Whitlow wrote that it would be temporary housing, not a homeless shelter, to assist people who have lost their homes to fires and other disasters, or who have fled domestic situations, or otherwise find themselves in need of short-term help. The church has housed homeless people in Halifax County in recent months and wants to expand its charitable services, which also include a community food bank.

Faring better before the board Tuesday night was a request by Southside Outreach Group for a waiver on county building permit fees. Southside Outreach, an affordable housing organization, is building a South Boston subdivision, Poplar Creek Homes, that will offer home ownership and rental opportunities for low- and moderate-income families and individuals.

The request for a fee waiver comes after Southside Outreach’s construction costs soared for Poplar Creek Homes, due to a shortage of building materials.

The pandemic-related cost increases created a $1.5 million gap in the project budget, said Southside Outreach Executive Director Earl Howerton. Howerton said the organization has been able to cover much of that shortage with additional grant funds, but SOG still needs to identify some $250,000 in new revenue or savings to complete Poplar Creek Homes.

“We got funding from multiple sources, and yes, we were back about a month ago — a million dollars short, but we are not a million dollars short now, and we pretty much know where we can get that from,” said Howerton.

Southside Outreach Group and the Town of South Boston have partnered to construct 16 duplexes for 32 homes on Poplar Creek Street, several blocks behind the local museum. The Town of South Boston donated the land for the housing subdivision. Howerton said the first wave of development included 22 single family homes, beginning in 2006.

“These homes were sold and we did all the infrastructure and roads that were put back on the tax roll,” said Howerton.

Southside Outreach Group

As a non-profit 501©3 organization, Southside Outreach Group (SOG) is tax exempt, but not exempt from real estate tax. SOG owns Miller Homes, which consist of 46 multi-family apartments across the street for Poplar Creek Homes. SOG owns 20 other single-family homes throughout Halifax County, ten parcels of land equipped with buildings as well as the SOG office, located on Seymour Drive in South Boston.

“We are asking for you to waive the building permit fees, because the more relief we can get, the savings can be passed onto the low- to moderate-income tenants,” said Howerton. He said these home dwellers are economically vulnerable and only earn from $16,000 to $25,000 a year.

When Poplar Creek’s rental units are built, they will be leased within month, Howerton said. He added at least five people stop by daily looking for affordable housing.

“Well, I think that clarifies background information and we can take action,” said Board Vice Chairman Garland Ricketts, ED-7.

Supervisors approved a motion to waive the building permit fees for Poplar Creek homes, not to exceed an amount of $16,000. The motion passed unanimously.

Taking up another matter, supervisors tabled a $10,775 request from the Halifax Soccer Club, which is seeking money to establish a program to replace AYSO soccer. In setting aside the request, supervisors said they were unsure if the money would benefit a successor league to AYSO, or private traveling soccer teams.

Prior to the meeting, all supervisors received an email from a representative of the YMCA that raised questions on whether the money would be used to offset travel team expenses.

“The YMCA had raised $2,000 to help with the Halifax Soccer Club until they realized it would not be used for Halifax County players. I think we need more clarification on this and motion we table this request,” said ED-1 supervisor Ricky Short.

The money for the soccer program was previously recommended by the board’s budget and finance committee, and County Administrator Scott Simpson said the soccer program would be open to all local youths.

“The Halifax Soccer Club had sign-ups over the past three weeks for anyone in the public,” said Simpson. “I have not heard from anyone with the YMCA and was not sent the email you all received so I cannot respond to that.”

In another funding matter, supervisors approved $3,000 bonuses for Halifax County sheriff’s deputies whose salaries are not funded through the State Compensation Board. The locally-funded bonuses put these deputies on the same footing as others in the Sheriff’s Office who have received the state-financed bonuses.

Also, the Halifax Department of Health was granted use of carryover funds of $13,902.89 to purchase 45 doses of shingles vaccines.

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