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Mecklenburg supes hold off action on statue

SoVaNow.com / October 14, 2020
Online meetings can be fraught with problems — as the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors discovered Tuesday during the monthly meeting of the governing body.

County offices are currently on lockdown because of a surge in local coronavirus cases. In response, the Board of Supervisors held an online meeting Tuesday morning during which one of the topics set for discussion was the much-debated future of the Confederate statue at the courthouse square in Boydton.

Comments from the public were solicited in advance. Those wishing to speak were asked to submit their thoughts in writing no later than noon Monday. That did not stop at least one resident from claiming that the board was holding an illegal meeting by denying public access or the right to directly address supervisors.

In the end, the claims were for naught, as a majority of supervisors agreed to table any discussion of the statue until the next board meeting in November. The reason given for pushing off the discussion was that one of the nine members of the board, Charles Jones, was absent.

Speaking during board member comments, Supervisor Claudia Lundy chastised the full board for the lack of action. “We had a quorum. We need to move forward with the yeas and nays on the statue.”

In other business, Mecklenburg County Tourism Coordinator Tina Morgan shared data from Virginia Tourism and U.S. Travel Association from 2019. Tourism revenue in Mecklenburg County was up nearly six percent over 2018. “Our local tourism economy supported 1,454 jobs, while tourism-related taxes reached $4.3 million,” said Morgan.

Out of eight southern Virginia counties and the cities of Danville, Martinsville and Emporia, Mecklenburg is the leader in visitor spending, topping out at $58 million.

“Then came 2020,” Morgan continued. “Just as we prepared to kick off our busy season coronavirus stopped us in our tracks.”

Morgan worked with the towns to refocus their revenue generating efforts by creating a Gift Card Match program that generated $44,000 for local businesses in the first round and another $200,000 in the second round. Round 3 will launch on Nov. 17, Morgan said.

“Thanks to CARES funding we will have another $100,000 to match,” she explained, adding the goal is to generate an additional $200,000 in revenue for Mecklenburg County businesses that participate in the match program.

Morgan said the pandemic “may have changed the way we do things, but it has not stopped our passion to continue and grow tourism.” She said the county tourism office is working with the towns to “develop a cohesive branded message.” Each participating town receives a link to a county-wide calendar page for reporting upcoming events and a “trip planning widget” used to highlight important aspects of each town.

Morgan said she also worked with a film team to develop a video that highlights top places to check out in Mecklenburg County. It is featured on the VisitMecklenburg website. She also worked with a team to develop a series of ads that target specific groups, foodies, outdoor enthusiasts, history buffs and more.

In less than two months, these ads have drawn 11,700 visitors to Mecklenburg County’s tourism website compared to only 1,400 in 2019, Morgan reported.

Mecklenburg County is also part of the Virginia Tourism Corporation campaign to promote “epic road trips in Virginia through the “WanderLove Campaign.” She is in the process of developing road trip itineraries that will showcase the Civil Rights in Education Trail and direct people to the sites of the five “Love Works” signs in Mecklenburg.

Ultimately she plans to develop a “treasure hunt” for visitors that incorporate all five signs. Those who complete the treasure hunt can register for a weekend stay for two in Mecklenburg County.

As the county’s representative to the Roanoke Rails to Trails organization, Morgan said she is also happy to report renewed interest in maintaining and expanding the trails thanks to an influx of new board members. She asked for continued support from supervisors for the Tobacco Heritage Trail, saying, “our trails continue to be an important attraction in Mecklenburg.”

Morgan saved what she said was best — an announcement that American Bass Anglers has reconfirmed its commitment to host the 2021 Championship tournament in Mecklenburg County. Morgan did not disclose whether it would take place on Lake Gaston or Buggs Island Lake, as the American Bass Anglers Marketing Director plans to make that announcement on Friday.

In other business Tuesday, County Administrator Wayne Carter said he has been approached by a company interested in constructing a solar farm at the “old” county landfill in Baskerville. Carter said he discussed the feasibility of such a project with engineers who said it would be a good use for the site as long as the racking system for the panels do not pierce the ground. Currently the site has several vents through which methane gas is released and burned off.

Supervisors agreed that Carter should see if other parties are interested in using the site as a solar facility, as well as contact companies interested in purchasing the methane gas.

Planning continues for the widening and straightening of Old Cox Road between Ridge Road and Highway 92. Carter said he’s met with several of the affected property owners, explained the plans for the road and notified those whose property could be impacted for an easement or to shift the road. Carter said there are still details to be worked out and construction will not begin until some time in 2021 at the earliest.

Expansion and paving of the new parking facility at the Hudgins Courthouse in Boydton is complete except for the painting of the lines.

Several supplemental appropriations were made to various county departments including $19,930.73 to the 911 Center to cover the cost of repairs from lightning strikes; $35,424 to the public library to purchase Chromebooks and WiFi hotspots for the public to use; $75,000 to Virginia’s Growth Alliance for drone testing; and $10,000 to the Tourism Office for marketing.

Carter said he expects the county to owe the Meherrin River Regional Jail an additional $700,000 at the end of the fiscal year, to cover Mecklenburg’s share of bed space used at the facility. Supervisors had budgeted for 43 percent bed usage at the regional jail, but due to early releases, the county is now using 51 percent of the beds at the facility. He said Mecklenburg County has not had as many inmates released early from the facility as Brunswick and Dinwiddie counties.

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