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No relief in sight for road-weary county resident / October 10, 2012
Louise Crane, a retired special education teacher, asked the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors at their October meeting yesterday why her short road is not paved, despite being one of the oldest existing roads in the county and having been on VDOT’s six-year paving plan for over 20 years.

Crane said it is only three-tenths of a mile long and the only means of ingress and egress to her subdivision, which includes 46 homes.

Supervisor Bill Blalock, who represents the area in which the road is located shared his own frustration with the VDOT’s six year plan: “I don’t know why we even have the plan. They (VDOT) tell us to make a list of the roads that need paving and they’ll pave them if they have money. But they ain’t never had any money.”

Crane said her reason for coming before the Board was “merely informational and to follow protocol.” She explained that Billy Smith with VDOT told her the Supervisors were responsible for identifying roads in need of paving. This brought a guffaw from several members of the Board, including Blalock.

Jim Jennings said that in reality the decision regarding which roads get paved and whether there are funds available for paving are made at a higher level than the local VDOT office or the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors. Until changes are made to the funding formulas and the decision making-process, the County has little ability to impact paving decisions. He encouraged Crane to appeal her case to state Sen. Frank Ruff and Del. Tommy Wright.

County Administrator Wayne Carter shared his previous conversations with Crane regarding VDOT’s offer to share the cost of paving any road in Mecklenburg County with the County: “I told her we had never been in the paving business and I did not see it happening at any time in the near future.”

At this point, Blalock interjected with “Go back and ask VDOT who’s going to maintain that road once it’s paid, and who’s going to pay for maintenance.”

Carter concluded by telling the Board and audience that “For the past few years, the six-year plan for the repair and construction of local roads and bridges was drawn by VDOT.” The plan, which the board is asked to approve each year, shrunk to just three items because VDOT claimed money was not available for the County.

In other business, Supervisors adopted Mecklenburg County’s new Comprehensive Plan - Mecklenburg 2035. The purpose of the plan is to assess how and where Mecklenburg County can grow and develop or improve over the next 20 years.

Supplemental appropriations of nearly $144,000 were approved by Supervisors, including $4,002.75 to the Sheriff’s Department from two checks paid for damages to vehicles that needed to be added back to their budget, $5,000 for the Colonial Theater for a grant awarded to the County on behalf of the Theater, and $134,800 for Virginia’s Retreat for a grant awarded by the Tobacco Commission. This grant was originally awarded through Prince Edward County, but Virginia’s Retreat wants it transferred to Mecklenburg County to be administered by the Southside Planning District Commission.

Supervisors agreed to give $3,000 to Madeline’s House, a shelter for battered women, as its share of the cost for the facility to relocate. For several years, Madeline’s House has been located in an old barracks on Fort Pickett. A new Economic Development project on the base forced the facility to relocate. They found a new site in Blackstone that will serve their needs, but did not have the down payment of $36,000. Madeline’s House asked each of the 12 political entities that use the facility to pay a share of the expense of the down payment.

Supervisors held a public hearing on the acquisition of 2 1/2 acres of land off Highway 58 in South Hill, which will become its new solid waste collection site. No one spoke on the matter.

Ann Schrader, sixth grade student at Bluestone Middle School, and Bryce Watson and Noah Whitby, sixth grade students from Park View Middle School, shared with supervisors some of the recent experiences in their project-based learning classes.

Kevin Costello with Abingdon Convention and Visitors Bureau shared his experience as the first economic development manager for Botetourt County. He was invited by Mecklenburg County’s Economic Development Director Angie Kellett, Costello said, “the two counties share many similarities.” They both have two major highways, focus on outdoor recreation, and have many historic sites.

Costello said when Botetourt County first looked into using tourism as an economic development tool “it raised its lodging tax from 2 percent to 5 percent. It then started developing relationships with lodging partners in the various towns.” The County asked both the “lodgers and historical societies what they were interested in developing.”

He cautioned the Supervisors against pursuing grand plans such as the need to develop a new theme park. “You already have what people want. Research is very important. Known what motivates people to come here, who’s coming and why. This is how you develop your benchmark for future success.”

Costello stressed the importance of creating a brand identification that gets integrated into all publications, web and advertising materials.

The single most important factor, said Costello is, “If tourism is your economic development tool you must be prepared to spend money.”

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