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Halifax County supes meet to reorganize for new year / January 06, 2020

The Halifax County Board of Supervisors will meet tonight for the first time in the new year, with the first order of business being the selection of a new chairman and vice-chairman.

With three newcomers joining the board — Calvin “Ricky” Short in Election District 1, Ronnie Duffey in ED-4 and Dean Throckmorton in ED-5 — supervisors will vote to choose a successor to Dennis Witt, who served as board chairman in 2019. Witt lost his re-election bid to Duffey in November.

Each year at the January reorganization meeting, the board leadership is put to a fresh vote. Along with a new chairman, board members will select a vice-chairman. ED-3 supervisor Hubert Pannell served in that role in 2019.

Members also will be asked to adopt a meeting schedule for 2020, approve seating assignments and by-laws, and establish meeting guidelines, a code of ethics and standards of conduct.

The meeting is set to begin at 6:30 p.m. in the second floor meeting room of the Bethune Office Complex in Halifax.

The reorganization votes will be followed by discussion of agenda items having to do with solar energy facilities, local taxing authority, the progress of courthouse renovations and a variety of other matters. Highlights include:

» Supervisors will be asked to approve a resolution in support of equal taxing authority for counties — giving county governments the same authority to levy taxes that Virginia cities and towns already possess.

Halifax County is joining a push by the Virginia Association of Counties (VACo) to convince the General Assembly to broaden the taxing powers of Virginia’s 95 counties. VACo wants counties to be able to levy meals and occupancy taxes, cigarette taxes and ticket admission taxes without limitation, other than making the taxes subject to the approval of local boards of supervisors. Towns and cities can impose the same types of taxes without caps and without having to hold voter referendums. Currently, counties cannot impose meals taxes without first putting the question on the ballot.

VACo and county officials note that Virginia law leaves counties overly reliant on property tax revenues to fund basic local services such as K-12 education, public safety, social services and public health. Having more sources of local tax revenue, according to the draft resolution presented to supervisors, “would allow counties to invest the additional funds to respond to modern-day challenges” — everything from election cybersecurity to substance abuse treatment to vital infrastructure needs such as water and sewer systems.

» Supervisors also will hear an update on the work of a local government consortium to amend the state’s tax policy on solar generation facilities. Under the state tax code, large utility-scale solar projects receive an 80 percent exemption on local machinery and tools taxes, sharply reducing the amount of revenue that counties and cities gain from solar development.

In 2019, Halifax County froze the issuance of conditional use permits for solar facilities to express opposition to the state’s 80 percent local tax exemption.

Led by then-chairman Witt, the board argued that rural counties are not being fairly compensated for the loss of farmland and open space tracts to solar energy.

Since then, Southside county officials have joined with representatives of VACo and VML (Virginia Municipal League) and solar developers themselves to propose a solution — replacing the machinery and tools tax on solar facilities with a policy in favor of revenue sharing agreements.

However, the effort has hit a snag with VACo’s unexpected opposition to the idea. VACo supports another approach — letting localities decide whether to offer tax incentives for solar projects, and maintaining their authority to address all impacts associated with utility-scale projects.

That approach in turn has drawn opposition from the solar industry, which argues that it would create too many variables and unknowns when planning and developing new solar facilities.

» Supervisors will consider a recommendation to provide $25,000 to four fire volunteer departments in the county — Halifax, Oak Level, Midway and Triangle — to offset the cost of building improvements and debt service on vehicles and equipment. The money would come from existing funds in the Capital Improvement Project (CIP) budget.

» County Administrator Scott Simpson and Building Inspector Otis Vaughan will update board members on the status of the Courthouse Renovation and Expansion Project. In the past month, the project “has achieved many milestones,” according to Simpson’s report to supervisors, with placement of the third floor concrete deck, more work to the exterior concrete blockwork, and a large amount of roofing going over the new building behind the historic main courthouse.

Over the next month, roofing work should be completed and interior framing will begin. The placement of ground floor concrete will also commerce, according to Simpson.

» Supervisors will be asked to raise the fee for disposing of waste tires at the county transfer station, located behind the fairgrounds. The county currently charges $94.50 per ton for clean tires at the transfer station. Its vendor, Emanuel Tire, has raised its fee to $100 per ton for clean tires.

Simpson is recommending that supervisors raise the county’s fee to $105 per ton for clean tires and $210 per ton for dirty tires.

» Supervisors will be asked to approve a resolution asking the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation to designate an 11-mile stretch of the Staunton River as a state scenic river. The river portion in question runs from the U.S. 360 bridge in Clover to Staunton River State Park. With approval by DCR, the Staunton River in its entirety in Halifax and Charlotte counties will become a state scenic river.

There is no cost to the county for the river designation.

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