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Mecklenburg County tourist spending rises sharply in 2018 / September 11, 2019

Mecklenburg County’s tourism economy reached new heights in 2018, county tourism coordinator Tina Morgan told the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors at their monthly meeting Monday night in Boydton.

“Mecklenburg County’s tourism industry is thriving like never before,” said Morgan.

She provided data to supervisors to back up that statement: according to United States Tourism Association (USTA), which issued its latest figures this week, tourism revenue for Mecklenburg County reached $144.4 million in 2018, a 5.2 percent increase over 2017.

Locally, tourism supported 1,431 jobs and generated $4.2 million in tax revenues, Morgan added, citing the USTA findings.

She attributed the increase, in part, to the variety of events hosted by towns throughout the year and to the county’s tourist attractions, led by Buggs Island Lake and Lake Gaston. Morgan also noted the importance of the county’s wineries, citing Three Sisters of Shiney Rock in Clarksville, American Way Country Wines in Chase City and Rosemont of Virginia in La Crosse, as well as Mecklenburg’s craft breweries and distilleries (Buggs Island Brewing Co. in Clarksville and Bondurant Brothers in Chase City) and a live music scene that includes the Lake Life Live summer concert series in Clarksville, Bluegrass in Boydton, and the Sunset Sounds concert series in South Hill.

Morgan also credited the work of the Virginia Tourism Corporation in promoting visitor attractions and development efforts around the state, an effort that draws guests to hotels and restaurants, craft breweries, wineries, distilleries and cideries, sports events and festivals, convention sites and music venues, and other Virginia destinations that are growing in popularity.

Statewide, tourism in Virginia generated $26 billion in travel spending, supported 235,000 work opportunities, and contributed $1.8 billion in state and local taxes, Morgan said.

Morgan also discussed upcoming improvements to the county’s tourism website to make it more “image heavy” and user friendly. The changes to will be revealed later this month, she told supervisors.

In other business, a disagreement over protocols for handling fire and safety emergency calls in the Epps Fork region of the county, near Townsville, N.C., brought residents of the community as well as the fire chiefs of the Townsville and Clarksville volunteer fire departments before the Board of Supervisors Monday night.

Townsville Fire Chief Darren Smith and Epps Fork-area resident Debbie Riggan claimed that existing protocols put in place by Mecklenburg County Fire Chiefs Association and the 911 Advisory Board endanger the welfare of people living in Epps Fork because of the time it takes for the Clarksville fire department to respond to fire and safety emergencies.

Riggan presented a map from 1992 showing the Townsville Fire Department was primarily responsible for fire and safety emergency calls in that part of Virginia until the advent of the 911 system. Now, according to Riggan, Townsville Fire Department no longer receives notice of such emergencies even though the department is the closest first responder to homes in Epps Forks, where quick access is cut off by the lake.

Riggan said she and her neighbors want the Townsville Fire Department to be designated as the primary responder for their area even though the department is in North Carolina. Townsville VFD lies closest to them geographically.

Clarksville Fire Chief Johnny Shriver disputed Riggan’s description of how the Mecklenburg County 911 call center dispatches first responders. According to Shriver, under an automatic aid agreement signed in 2014 between Clarksville and Townsville Volunteer Fire Departments, both departments are simultaneously notified of any call coming to the 911 call center involving life safety or injury in the Epps Fork area.

Townsville is the only adjoining fire district that receives simultaneous notification, Shriver said. “I have been dealing with this [issue] for more than a year now, and I don’t understand the concern,” he said.

In the past couple of years, records maintained by the 911 center indicate there were only three calls out of 23 when the Townsville VFD was not contacted. The reason, according to Shriver and Mecklenburg County Administrator Wayne Carter, had to do with the nature of the emergency. In Virginia, VDOT, not the fire department, responds to calls about trees across a road and downed power lines, unless there is a personal injury involved.

Chairman Glenn Barbour asked why Townsville’s fire department is the primary responder for EMS calls but not for other emergencies. He was told by Carter that it had to do with existing protocols developed by the Mecklenburg County Fire Chiefs Association.

Shriver added that Smith had been invited to share his concerns with members of the association but had failed to avail himself of the opportunity, an assertion disputed by Smith.

Supervisors David Brankley and Jim Jennings described the ongoing back and forth as “a serious safety issue” but also “politics” that could be best resolved by convening a meeting of the Fire Chiefs Association, 911 Advisory Committee and the Townsville Fire Chief.

Fellow board members agreed, and after Smith claimed he’d never received an invitation to a Fire Chief’s Association meeting, supervisors asked Carter to set up such a meeting “to iron this out.”

Supervisors also agreed to look into a request from homeowners in the Merrymount and Peete River Farm subdivisions near Lake Gaston to create a no-wake zone on Hawtree Creek. Homeowners said the narrow creek is made up of several sharp curves and lined with boat docks on both sides. Boat traffic in the creek increased substantially after the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission installed a public boat landing at the back of the creek.

Speaking for the homeowners group, R.L. Jamison and Bobby Glass said they were asking permission to install four no-wake buoys throughout the creek. The homeowner groups would be solely responsible for purchasing and maintaining the buoys.

Though sympathetic to their concerns, County Administrator Carter worried that the lack of guidelines for no-wake zones could open the floodgates to requests from other homeowner groups wanting similar zones near their docks. He asked for and received authorization to develop guidelines for possible no-wake zone ordinances on Buggs Island Lake and Lake Gaston before moving forward with a public hearing on this request.

Also, supervisors approved a supplemental appropriation in the amount of $18,061.23 to the Institutional Care/Detention line item of the county budget. The money was a refund from W.W. Moore Detention Center.

The board also approved a $325,000 payment to Haymes Brothers for debris removal at the site of the old Mecklenburg Correctional Center on Prison Road in Boydton. Carter said plans were to use the site as storage for fill dirt. Instead, the property will be reforested. The payment is for work done by Haymes to prepare the site, bringing in topsoil and soil amendments.

Supervisors were invited to attend the bid opening for the consolidated secondary school construction project on Sept. 17 at 2 p.m. at the School Board office in Boydton. The names of the contractors seeking to construct the facility will be revealed at that time.

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