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Look for Santa ‘round the corner, in neighborhoods and towns

Christmas celebrations will be different this year due to the pandemic, but even with restrictions in place communities in and around Mecklenburg County are finding new ways to keep the…

Deaths mount, led by nursing home outbreak

Virus toll at So Bo Health and Rehab rises to 10; 17 lives lost in county

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R/C car enthusiasts take to the hills, creeks and parks of Halifax County

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Loose ends

SoVaNow.com / December 03, 2009
Spanning the globe, and the back yard too:

Bunny Propst has written a straight-to-the-point Viewpoint letter blasting South Boston’s alleged scheme to run off Riverdale merchants and build a wetlands park at the town’s southern gateway. I agree with Propst that converting Riverdale into parkland is folly, but not for quite the same reasons as she spells out. Where is the money for this grand design? Wouldn’t it be better to drop this notion of buying out property owners, make some low-cost improvements to the district (like doing something about that billboard that blocks the view up the hill of the SVHEC and The Prizery) and simply move on? Should the Riverdale merchants form their own version of MoveOn.org? So many questions, so little time for answers.

The case for the slow-mo conversion of Riverdale from business district to open space is simple: You’ll never be able to do much to improve the area as long as it lies in a flood plain, and South Boston’s image suffers from having such a dumpy approach into town. These arguments over “curb appeal” are more than a little maddening, given that the county picked a less-than-optimal site for the new South Boston Elementary School — as far as “curb appeal” is concerned, anyway — for the simple reason that the land could be had for free. Now, financially-strapped South Boston is suddenly going to attempt a do-over, in the cosmic sense, by shelling out millions (over time, admittedly) to buy out Riverdale and turn it into a river garden? To quote the first George Bush, not gonna happen. (And don’t even get me started on the millions expended for that other little Shangri-La of ours, Riverstone Technology Park.)

Quality-of-life issues are important, and having an aesthetically pleasing town is a laudable goal, but let’s not go nuts here. If South Boston really wants to impress the newcomers and make life a little more pleasing for current residents, why not rebuild the public swimming pool at Grove Avenue Park? Or better yet, give the Recreation Department two new indoor gyms to supplement the Armory, the busiest building this side of Grand Central Station? Insert your own ideas here.

Whatever you come up with, it’s likely to stand up reasonably well compared to the Riverdale recommendations in Comprehensive Plan 2030 (which, by the way, includes some excellent ideas for the eventual expansion of the SVHEC). I understand that a planning document is just that, a set of proposals for future land use, so maybe a wish-list of swimming pools and basketball gyms doesn’t belong in this conversation. But neither does an exercise in top-down determinism that would sideline a group of merchants who are just trying to make a living and do their level best to contribute to the health and vitality of the town. On this point Propst and the Riverdale merchants are exactly right: South Boston has bigger problems to fry. Town Council should recognize as much.

***

Speaking of bigger problems, the county schools are probably looking at a $3 million budget reduction (or more) next year. How do you handle a shortfall like that? You’d have to eliminate middle school sports for the next 40 years to make up the difference.

We’re long past the point of cutting programs to balance the budget — the next step is eliminating jobs. (Salaries account for roughly 80 percent of the school budget). For this reason, I think it’s high time for the Virginia Tobacco Commission to set aside some of its more baroque schemes for reshaping the economies of Southside and Southwest Virginia and, as the only viable source of replacement funding, pitch in to help avert this catastrophe for public education in the region. The Commission should channel some money to local school divisions, if only on a temporary basis, to replace at least a share of the money that school divisions will lose next year from the state.

The Tobacco Commission just earmarked $25 million to start up a medical school in the Bristol area. How much would $25 million mean for hard-put school boards in the Commission’s service area? I would imagine that the Commission could attach some useful strings to prod school divisions to beef up (or save) vocational programs and STEM classes,or whatever objective it wants to attach to any intervention, but the broader point here is that local school divisions are facing a catastrophe unless they get outside help from somewhere. Cumulatively, teacher and staff layoffs in Southside and Southwest next year could number in the many hundreds. How many times has the Tobacco Commission created — or saved — hundreds of good-paying jobs?

***

Lots of loose ends to fill up space with:

n Like plenty of folks here in Halifax County, Pittsylvania residents are asking why their property assessments are going up as housing prices go down. The Danville Register & Bee reported this week that Pittsylvania’s latest tax reassessment shows an average jump in property values of 8.7 percent since the last time the reassessment was conducted four years ago. That would be in line with the 4 percent average gain in Halifax County property values in the county’s new two-year assessment. It’s interesting that Pittsylvania would only reassess property values every four years. Any chance the elongated time frame could mask recent declines in property values due to the recession?

n The Roanoke Times ran an interesting story two weeks ago, “Residents beg SCC to reject rate increase,” that may offer a window to our bill-paying future. Residents and businesses in the Henry-Franklin county area are up in arms over a 14.5 percent rate hike for Appalachian Power, which won approval for the increase from the State Corporation Commission. What else could the SCC do? As Doug Bassett, chief operating officer for Vaughan-Bassett Furniture, testified, “This mess has largely been created by the changes enacted by our legislature governing the regulation of Virginia’s electricity.”

Bassett was referring to the electrical re-regulation bill enacted by Dominion Virginia Power, er, the Virginia General Assembly in 2007. That legislation limited the SCC’s discretion in setting utility rates. You may remember that the bill was the crowning legislative achievement of its sponsor, our own Del. Clarke Hogan, which is another reason to give thanks that James Edmunds will be taking over the seat next year. Maybe Edmunds might be interested in revisiting a law that is killing jobs and hitting household budgets in Southwest Virginia. Especially before the same thing happens in Southside.

n Finally, readers of the Sunday Richmond Times-Dispatch may have seen the paper’s iconic photo of University of Virginia head football coach Al Groh running off the field — and into the sunset — after losing Saturday to Virginia Tech, 42-13. Groh was fired the next day, making the T-D image one for the books. Also gaining a toehold in history is the other person shown in the photograph, none other than News & Record sports editor and my big brother Tucker McLaughlin! Gives you the shivers just thinking about it. Or not.

As an inter-office footnote, Big Bro was yapping on the phone Monday with one of his advertiser friends when in the course of discussing various sports-related matters he evidently found himself in the uncomfortable position of having to defend the dignity of the ACC as a football league. (Moral of the story: Don’t bite the hand that feeds you — literally.) Anyway, at one point during the chat Ye Olde Sports Editor made the claim that “the ACC is the fourth best conference in the country” when it comes to the overall caliber of its football awesomeness.

Maybe he meant to say the CAA?

If not, someone please just shoot me.

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