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Many needs, lacking money / January 28, 2013
“We have heard about a lot of needs this year and we will have to make some tough decisions,” said Doug Bowman, finance committee chairman for the Board of Supervisors, as members concluded their annual day-and-a-half Strategic Planning session Friday with snowflakes falling over Riverstone Technology Park.

“Many of those needs will have to go unmet this year,” Bowman predicted.

The supervisors emerged from their retreat with a set timetable for this year’s budget deliberations but no clear response to perhaps the county government’s most pressing need — fixing up the dilapidated Courthouse.

Finance Director Stephanie Jackson told supervisors that the finance committee will begin work on the 2012-13 budget this week and bring recommendations to the full board on March 4. Following a budget public hearing scheduled for March 18, supervisors by April 1 are due to adopt the budget and set tax rates for the coming year. Jackson reminded the supervisors that the county must pay annual debt service in excess of $5 million, mostly from the financing of new schools.

On Thursday morning, the supervisors heard from CJMW, an architectural firm hired to present a plan for the extensive renovation and expansion of the historic Halifax County Courthouse. Local circuit judges have sued the county to force improvements to the courthouse, which the judges have deemed unsafe and not up the standards set forth by the Virginia Supreme Court.

No cost figures for the renovation project were made public, but Board members were advised that it would be a lengthy and costly process, conducted in phases — beginning with the demolition of the old jail area, now largely used by the Sheriff’s Department.

Sheriff Fred Clark advised supervisors of the needs of his department if and when the demolition takes place. Clark said the department is crammed into 5,300 square feet of space, much of it cluttered, and needs at least 7,000 square feet, although 8,000 square feet would be better.

Clark said he needs 19 office-size rooms for administrative personnel, secretaries, investigators and line supervisors. He also said he needs two very large rooms for storing evidence, three large rooms to include a lobby and waiting area, and five rooms for deputies, their desks, computers, office supplies, forms and other items. Clark said he would also like to have a training room for employee physical fitness purposes.

Unrelated to the Courthose renovation, Clark said his department also needs to replace five vehicles with more than 175,000 miles of use.

Clark was followed by Emergency Services Coordinator Kirby Saunders, who told supervisors that his most pressing need is for a new telephone system at the dispatch center. “Our system is failing,” said Saunders, arguing it has to be updated.

He said he is seeking a $150,000 grant for the upgrade, but would still need another $74,000 to finish paying for the new system. Saunders pointed out that it is not only difficult with the current system to determine where cell phone calls are coming from, but it is getting increasingly difficult to get replacement parts to keep it running.

Saunders said emergency services faces other challenges, including a steady decline in the number of active rescue and firefighter volunteers, at the same time demand for services continues to rise. He also pointed to increases in operating costs and a decrease in donations and contributions, as well as problems with aging and failing equipment.

The supervisors also heard from Industrial Development Authority executive director Matt Leonard. Leonard reviewed the recent history of economic development in Halifax County going back to the 1980s, which saw the staging of the first Virginia Cantaloupe Festival and the formation of the IDA, the establishment of the Continuing Education Center, and the opening of both Presto and Lasco, followed by the buy-out of Westinghouse by ABB.

In the early ‘90s, Leonard said, Halifax County became the first locality to tap the state’s shell building fund. The decade also saw the opening of Annin, Huber, the Clover Power plant and Dollar General.

The next decade brought Riverstone Technology Park, the Mid-Atlantic Broadband headquarters and a major expansion at ABB, he continued. In 2010, the Riverstone Energy Center debuted, as did the NOVI/South Boston Energy Project wood-fired power plant, the C-Care coatings technology center and the Dominion call center.

Praising the Board for its support of IDA projects, Leonard pointed to a recent meeting of the Virginia Resource Authority at which Halifax County was hailed for having “one of the two top economic development models in the state,” along with Rockingham County.

Leonard also praised the work of Energy Center Director Dr. Doug Corrigan, who recently was named as one of the top ten competitors in an international science project. “Dr. Doug,” he said, “has put us on the map.”

Leonard said Halifax County has invested $792,000 for economic development, and with that money it has leveraged $38.5 million from the Virginia Tobacco Commission, $850,000 from the Governor’s Opportunity Fund and another $1.7 million from other state and federal funds.

For the coming year, the IDA will seek level funding from the past year — $481,000 for operations, $15,302 for its membership in the Southern Virginia Regional Alliance and $147,000 for the county’s local incentive program, plus local matching funds of $150,000.

During the final presentation to the Board on Thursday, Dewberry of Danville gave its report on the Master Plan for the Halifax County Fairgrounds.

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All these departments need to make do with what they have. NO NEW TAXES. We will have to pay enough for Obama care etc


The problem is that they have put off and put off and continue to put off essential upgrades. Now that the traveller has come home only to find the place is falling apart, they have no money but all kinds of big plans, and there is little infrastructure in the county to cover the money needs.

I don't mind paying the taxes as long as I can see some real-world return on them. But I don't see it. Looks to me like all the departments want to be big show, but fancy logos and all can mask mediocre performance for only so long.

These people also need to realise the Tobacco Commission golden goose will not live forever.

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