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Support sought for public transit service

SoVaNow.com / September 07, 2017
The Southern Virginia Education Center is aiming to develop a local public transportation system with the help of Halifax County and Virginia Tobacco Commission.

SVHEC executive director Betty Adams approached the Halifax County Board of Supervisors Tuesday night to ask for the county’s support in seeking a Tobacco Commission grant to fund the transit system.

Adams had earlier received funding from the Department of Rail and Public Transportation to study the needs for enhanced transportation across Southern Virginia.

The study concluded that such needs in the region were great, identifying two corridors — from South Boston to Danville and from Danville to Chatham –—where the service is most needed.

Danville Transit, a City of Danville operation which would provide the service, has estimated annual operating costs at between $250,000 to $265,000.

State and federal funding would cover some $160,000 to $185,000, leaving about $40,000 to be funded by Halifax County (with Danville adding another $40,000).

Adams told supervisors that she is exploring opportunities to secure funding for the county’s share from the Tobacco Commission or Go Virginia, a regional economic development council, as well as support from other outside stakeholders.

She explained that the service is not expected to begin until July 2019.

Halifax County would be expected to put up about $16,500 in July 2018 to cover its share of the cost of the buses.

Several SVHEC Transportation Committee members — County Administrator Jim Halasz, Kathy Andrews of the Department of Social Services, Kathy Conner of the local Workforce Center and Matt Leonard of the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority — all addressed the need for greater public transit, not only to support educational opportunities for the higher education center but for hospital visits, shopping and entertainment events and other purposes.

Leonard pointed out the benefits of working with Danville on economic development opportunities, while also noting that the county would be getting a great investment on its money.

Andrews pointed out that 20 percent of her clients at Social Services don’t have transportation and she has to spend at least $30,000 annually paying neighbors and friends to provide them with their transportation needs.

Conner pointed out that the Workforce Center has problems with employees being unable to get to their jobs due to a lack of transportation.

Adams explained that while it may take three years for the program to be successful if rider numbers do not show it to be working, then the program would be eliminated.

Another financial issue arose after Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg asked the Board to release the $431,250 it had budgeted in the current year’s Capital Investment Plan (CIP) for the purchase of ten new propane school buses. Lineburg noted that the money will be used to pay for the ten Volkswagen buses for which the company is providing anywhere from 40 to 80 percent of the total cost of the buses.

At this point, the superintendent said he does not know much Volkswagen will pay but he asked the Board to base its payment on the 40 percent grant. He explained that should Volkswagen pay more than 40 percent of the cost, he will refund the additional money back to the county.

Lineburg also advised Supervisors that his school board is purchasing five more propane buses through the Clean Cities program which is also offering a grant program, but he does not know how much that grant will be.

He said he will have to ask his board next Monday night during its regular monthly meeting to approve a seven year loan of some $392,5000 to pay for the five buses.

He said the school board will pay that loan from its budgeted amount with the county not being ask to pay the loan.

However, he noted that Supervisors will have to approve their moral obligation of the loan.

Members by a 8-0 vote approved Lineburg’s request.

Supervisors also heard from Beth Engelhorn, executive director of the Southside Community Services Board, who reviewed the work of her agency which covers Brunswick, Mecklenburg and Halifax counties. Of the three counties, Halifax received 49 percent of the services offered.

Engelhorn told Supervisors that her agency submits its annual budget to them each spring, noting that the state mandates that each county pays 10 percent of the operating budget.

For the past years Halifax County has not paid the ten percent match in funding which has meant that she has had to seek a waiver from the state for the county’s not meeting its match.

She said that without that waiver which she has been able to get thus far, the agency stands to lose $40,000 in state funds, which would mean a significant cut in services.

ED-1 Supervisor J. T. Davis noted that Halifax County has increased its budget for SCS to $150,000, up from its budgeted $67,450 in 2013. That is 78 percent of its 10 percent matching amount.

“We’re headed in the right direction,” Davis said in addressing the County’s increase in funding.

In other business Davis reminded his fellow board members that the Board is getting close to finalizing a proposal with the SCS company to provide broadband internet service to the unserved or the underserved areas of the county.

Davis said he is looking at potential funding assistance from GoVirginia whose deadline for funding is Oct. 10 and the Tobacco Commission with a Nov. 15 deadline.

“We have done our homework and invested some money and we (as a board) need to vote in October to move the process along,” Davis said.

Following their earlier public hearing the Board approved the relocation of Precinct 5 in ED-2 from the Mt. Ruritan Club to the Clover Fire Department for a distance of 4.1 miles.

In Precinct 6 in ED-2 the precinct was moved from the Bethel Community Ruritan Club to the Halifax County Agriculture Marketing Center, located at Farmway Lane, Scottsburg, a distance of 3.5 miles.

In ED-6 at Precinct 14 the Mt. Carmel precinct will be moved just up the road to the Turbeville Fire Department located at 1002 Melon Road.

Also, voters in South Boston East and South Boston West will be combined into a single precinct to allow for easier voting. The only person to address the precinct locations told Supervisors that she was happy to have the South Boson precincts combine since residents there cast their ballots at the South Boston Recreation Center located on Jeffress Boulevard.

“It will make things much easier,” she said.

The Board also approved an Oct. 25 special event for VIR which will include shooting activities up to 11 p.m. and they approved the updated Comprehensive Plan.

Supervisors also approved a contract amendment to the Verizon Tower Agreement.

County Administrator Jim Halasz said he and board chairman Dennis Witt are considering working on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Town of Halifax on improving cooperation, communication and outcomes with the Town to resolve any questions that the Town may have about the County’s request for a zoning permit to allow for the Courthouse Renovation Project to begin in early 2018.

CORRECTION: The original version of this article stated that Danville Transit is privately-operated. It is a department of the City of Danville.

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