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Mecklenburg County backs upgrade for Bracey-area broadband / July 15, 2020

EMPOWER Broadband has gained the support of Mecklenburg County for a $1.3 million grant funding request to the state to provide last-mile internet connectivity to homes in the Tanglewood Shores subdivision in Bracey.

Michele Taylor, former general manager of Buggs Island Telephone (BIT), which has been since been acquired by EMPOWER, told the Board of Supervisors on Monday that 460 homes in the Tanglewood Shores area have DSL internet service, with download speeds of 25 megabytes per second (Mbps) or less.

The state Department of Housing and Community Development, through its Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI), is offering some $19 million to providers willing to provide last-mile broadband service to customers in underserved areas. An underserved area is defined as one where download speeds are 25 Mbps or slower, and upload speeds are 3 Mbps or slower.

Empower’s broadband speeds are up to 1 gigabit — orders higher than conventional DSL service.

Taylor said EMPOWER will provide grant matching funds, which will be determined once the final application is filed, on or before Aug. 17. Mecklenburg County is not being asked for any money for the project.

EMPOWER Broadband is a subsidiary of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative, which plans to lay ultra-high speed fiber optic cable throughout its service area in southern Virginia and northern North Carolina.

Over the past several years, community interest and support for establishing reliable and fast broadband service to this area has been tremendously high, said Taylor. Residents of the Tanglewood Shores subdivision have been “extremely supportive” and promised to write letters to DHCD recommending that EMPOWER receive the VATI grant.

So far, EMPOWER has laid nearly 3,050 access lines and has over 2,500 DSL subscribers and 661 fiber internet subscribers.

David Lipscomb, vice president of member services with Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative, said EMPOWER is currently laying additional “backbone” internet fiber in areas of Baskerville, and it expects to begin last-mile connections to homes in that area in late fall or early winter.

In other business at the regularly August meeting of the Board of Supervisors:

» Beth Engelhorn, executive director of the Southside Community Services Board, asked supervisors to approve a name change for the agency to Southside Behavioral Health. Engelhorn said the change is part of an organization rebranding and is more descriptive of the services provided by the agency — which include substance abuse counseling, mental and behavioral health care, and family services. Supervisors agreed to the name change without opposition.

» Jon Taylor, who heads the county’s emergency services office, updated supervisors on local trends related to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of Monday, 262 cases of the virus have been confirmed in Mecklenburg County, but only 23 are currently active, he said. There had been 29 deaths and 210 patients who have recovered from infections. Of the deaths, all but three are associated with nursing homes in Clarksville and Chase City.

Between Friday and Monday, nine new cases of the virus have been confirmed in Mecklenburg County — all the result of community spread, said Taylor.

On Tuesday, Sentara MeadowView Terrace, the long-term care facility in Clarksville, reported one new case of COVID-19. MeadowView Terrace was the site of the first known outbreak in Mecklenburg County, and is associated with 83 confirmed cases and 14 deaths.

» Mecklenburg County will seek VDOT Smart Scale funding in an undisclosed amount for planned improvements to the intersection of Highway 58 and Regional Airport Road and Highway 58 and Brown Town Road in Brodnax. County Administrator Wayne Carter said the intersections have “poor to no sight distance, with traffic having to pull out onto US 58 eastbound to see if they can cross the road, and then pull out on a blind hill on westbound US 58. These intersections have been the scene of numerous accidents over the years.”

» Supervisors approved a contract with Johnson Controls in the amount of $51,968 to update HVAC systems at the Mecklenburg County General District Court Building in Boydton. Supervisors also approved a change order in the amount of $57,200.40 for the removal of embedded rock at the Hudgins Courthouse facility. The obstruction was uncovered by the contractor that is expanding the parking lot at that facility.

» Verizon Wireless was granted a special exception permit to install a 199-foot communications tower on property owned by Margaret Montague at the intersection of Sandy Fork and Henrico Roads near Clarksville.

» Supervisors also approved a $10 increase to the courthouse security fee. The money is used to offset the costs of providing security at Mecklenburg County’s two court facilities. The fee, which will rise from $10 to $20 as of Aug. 1, will be assessed in all traffic and criminal cases that result in convictions.

» Treasurer Sandra Langford shared the good news that county tax collections have not been impacted by the COVID-19 virus. As of June 15, 97.22 percent of property taxes owed to the Treasurer’s Office were collected, compared to 96.84 percent in 2019.

» Linsey Carroll of La Crosse was appointed to the Mecklenburg County Industrial Development Authority. He replaces retired Joe Just who died last month. Tom Tanner was named to the Mecklenburg County Lake Advisory Committee. He replaces Landon Hayes, who asked to be taken off the committee because of scheduling conflicts.

» A resolution for towns receiving CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) funding through the county was approved by supervisors. The resolution states that if towns use CARES Act funds for expenses found not in compliance with the Act guidelines, the funds must be repaid. If the non-qualifying amounts are not repaid in a timely manner, Mecklenburg County will withhold sales tax funding from the locality.

Mecklenburg County received $2.6 million of the nearly $150 billion Congress earmarked for state, local and tribal governments that are navigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The county shared a portion of that money with five towns, Boydton, Chase City, Clarksville, La Crosse and South Hill, based on population.

The intent of CARES Act grant funding is to cover direct costs incurred by local governments and their communities as a result of the unprecedented circumstances associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

» Local residents Jimmy Cox and Harrison Taylor appeared before the board to speak in support of keeping the Confederate statue standing in front of the Mecklenburg County Circuit Court Building in Boydton. Cox is commander of the local chapter of Sons of the Confederacy. He told supervisors that before they take any action to remove the statue, they must hold a public hearing for interested persons to share their views on the matter.

Earlier in the meeting, Jim Jennings, who heads the supervisor property committee, announced that his committee would take up the issue of what to do with the statue on Aug. 10 at 8 a.m., ahead of the next meeting of the full board.

Cox also asked the board to consider gifting the statue to the Sons of the Confederacy should they decide to remove the statue from its pillar on the Courthouse Square.

Beverly Baugh was also there to speak, not specifically on the statue but on symbols of the Confederacy that are frequently exhibited around the county.

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