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Supes, town leaders debate costs

South Boston News / April 19, 2018

Halifax County supervisors and town council members from South Boston and Halifax met in joint session Monday night to discuss funding for local fire departments, the rescue squad and the litter control program.

Supervisors Chairman Dennis Witt challenged all members to be aware of the problems that Halifax County faces and think up ideas for how to pay for much-needed services.

ED-1 Supervisor J. T. Davis, chairman of the supervisors’ finance committee, took a different tack — observing that as the owner of a 184-acre farm in the Nathalie area, he gets no benefit from the services the county provides. By contrast, in-town residents derive most of the benefit from fire departments, the rescue squad, and other services.

That comment brought a quick retort from Halifax Town Council member Bill Confroy, who pointed out that “everyone is a county citizen” although they may live in the towns. Town residents still pay county taxes just as those who live in the county do.

South Boston Town Manager Tom Rabb added that the South Boston Fire Department is the only local fire department that is staffed 24/7 by paid staffers and available to answer calls immediately. The Town of South Boston pays $871,000 annually to provide a fire department staff of 10.

A report from the South Boston Fire Department shows that in 2017, town firefighters answered a total of 2,201 calls — including 108 fire calls that came from the county and another 237 EMS calls from the county.

The discussion centered on the need for a place to house the county-owned fire ladder truck. The truck is currently stationed at the South Boston department fire department.

Only two other fire stations are large enough to house the elongated truck — one is the Halifax Fire Department station, but that building is already full with that department’s vehicles.

North Halifax Fire Department has a very large station, but it is not centrally located to much of the population.

South Boston Fire Chief Steve Phillips pointed out that the town station is terribly crowded with fire trucks — the department’s own and the county ladder truck. He gave a projected cost for adding two new bays to the South Boston station to alleviate the crowded condition of fire vehicles. He estimated it would cost $300,000 to add the two bays, with the Town asking that the county pay a $150,000 half share. Phillips estimated the addition would provide enough space for the fire department’s needs for at least the next 15 years.

Members of the two councils and the Board of Supervisors also talked about funding for the rescue squad, which has put in a request to the supervisors for more money to cover operational costs. During the discussion, it was pointed out that South Boston only provides $1,000 annually for the rescue squad while the county pays $118,000. In the upcoming budget, the county has raised its contribution to the rescue squad by an additional $30,000.

In yet another funding issue, Supervisors and members of the town councils agreed to jointly apply for a litter control and recycling grant which is being provided by the Department of Environmental Quality. The grant usually runs somewhere between $16,000 to $18,000 and is used by the county’s Improvement Council for its efforts in cleaning up the community.

In looking at ways to gain more funds for the needed services Davis said he wants to talk with local legislators about how the state leaves many prisoners in the Blue Ridge Jail that should be housed in state facilities. He noted that it costs the county money to house and feed prisoners who should be placed elsewhere. He noted that the county will have to pay more than $100,000 in the upcoming year to the Blue Ridge Jail to house long term prisoners that should be sent somewhere else.

In other business Monday night Supervisors and Council members heard from IDA director Matt Leonard and Renee Boyette about the Research Triangle Area’s Foreign Trade Zone which allows companies to delay or reduce duty payments on foreign merchandise.

Boyette pointed to the Revlon Company’s business in Oxford, NC which employs about 2,000 people to operate there. She noted that other companies such as pharmaceuticals, textiles, auto parts and machinery and equipment also may benefit from locating in the special zone. Having a foreign trade zone, she explained, is very beneficial to economic development. She noted that Halifax County could be considered for inclusion into her area.

Members of the governing bodies also heard an update from Lori Kroll of Draper Aden Associates about the EPA Brownfield Assessment Program which has awarded the IDA a $590,000 grant to expand or redevelop former commercial sites or facilities that can be transformed into operational or industrial sites.

Kroll told her listeners that she and the team surveying local sites where the funds may be used include the former Burlington Mills site in Halifax, the former Halifax Elementary school ball field in Halifax, the former J P Stevens plant site in South Boston, the former auto repair and service station in Riverdale, now owned by the Town of South Boston, the old Roller Mill in Halifax, the former Puckett Auto dealership in Centerville and the former Crowell Motor site in South Boston and possibly others.

The IDA which received the grant has until September 2020 to use the funds.

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