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South Boston Council looks at budget, downtown start-ups / April 11, 2019

South Boston Town Council met Monday to discuss the proposed budget for the upcoming year, as well as listen to a presentation on the success of several new businesses that have found a home downtown.

Tamyra Vest of Destination Downtown South Boston updated Council members on her recent travels to Seattle to attend the National Main Street Conference.

Vest said the conference and Main Street Program have helped to bring several new businesses to the community through the business launch program, “SoBo Start-Up!” which offered classes and grants to budding entrepreneurs.

Six businesses won grants last year, totaling $52,000 among all the winners. These businesses have since created about 40 jobs in downtown South Boston, said Vest.

The start-ups have garnered a positive response since their opening, agreed Vest and Town Manager Tom Raab, but Vest says her group wants to not only help local stores get started, but also “help businesses keep on keeping on” by supporting them with mini-grants for certain business needs.

Through the SoBo Keep Entrepreneurs Program (SoBo KEP), classes and monthly merchant meetings have been organized for businesses that want to participate. Although these meetings are not mandatory, Vest said that those who “take the initiative to participate … are weighted more heavily” when they give out grants.

Asked by Vice-Mayor Tina-Wyatt Younger about the future of this program, Vest said she hopes to continue the program assistance in the future, provided Destination Downtown has the money to do so.

Councilman Bob Hughes suggested that small businesses that have been in the area for some time should be invited to future conferences to see if they can glean ideas or assistance from the program — although Vest said most “anchor businesses” have shown little interest in taking part.

No plans have been made for future conferences, though Council members expressed their hope that the program will continue due to its positive impact so far.

Council also heard from Steven Crutchfield, board representative of Dixie, Inc. and Halifax County Dixie Youth Baseball, as he presented the programs’ needs for the town budget in the upcoming year.

Crutchfield noted the Dixie organization allows almost 500 local youths to play ball in both South Boston and Halifax, calling Dixie an important part of the community that helps to keep children occupied and “off the streets.”

With $6,700 given annually from the town, Crutchfield talked about the desire of the Dixie program to host two weekend-long ball tournaments, as well as undertake more maintenance on facilities. Crutchfield asked Council to allocate “at the least” double the previous budget expenditures.

Jay Stephens, director of the Halifax County/South Boston Public Library, also addressed Council about the library’s needs for the upcoming year.

He thanked members for their continued support “not only monetarily,” but also through the help of maintenance and other necessities. The fully-staffed library asked for “a little bit” of an increase to their budget this year, in order fix some electricity issues that they had been dealing with.

As Raab then went through the proposed budget for the 2019-2020 year, he pointed out that the library would receive an additional $4,167, but so far town staff has not found room in the budget to grant Dixie Inc.’s increase. However, after further discussion among Council members, it was decided, upon Hughes’ suggestion, that the town should add $7,000 to the organization’s budget — rounded up from their original request of another $6,700.

The upcoming budget is similar to the current one, other than a large bump in revenue from the town’s new cigarette tax. That has brought in $125,000, and South Boston is receiving another $119,269 in VDOT revenue sharing funds. The current budget ends June 30 and the new one takes effect July 1.

The budget will be reviewed again in May during a public hearing, with a final reading and passage in June.

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