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$10 million flows to South Boston from federal coffers

SoVaNow.com / July 15, 2021
South Boston has taken in over $10 million in grants in just two weeks. Town Manager Tom Raab, who presented the results at Monday night’s Town Council meeting, summarized his report by saying, “It’s been a good two weeks for the town, finance-wise.”

The deluge began with a $1 million federal grant to carry out the rehabilitation and reconstruction of 14 homes on North Main Street. The homes, 12 of which are occupied by minority families, and 10 of which have elderly residents, are the recipients of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). Raab thanked the Southside Planning District for helping the town successfully apply for the grant, and informed the council that there would be a new committee that would meet on July 22 to decide exactly how to spend the money. Mayor Ed Owens will be part of that committee.

The largest windfall, however, came from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), from which South Boston was awarded $7.8 million, with another $3.9 million expected next year. Raab explained that the windfall was so massive that he was putting the funds in an interest-bearing account while he and his team at town hall figured out what to do with it.

“We will have until 2024 to spend them, so I don’t want to rush into spending them,” he said. “The process now is trying to figure out how it can be used.”

Raab’s initial suggestions to council were to focus on infrastructure and small business aid programs. To help with this process, Raab said he planned to invite Ted Daniel, former South Boston town manager from 1998 to 2014 and a retired Air Force colonel currently living in Sterling, to return as a special “ARPA administrator” for South Boston. Raab said Daniel plans to return to South Boston and that he had met Daniel at the Fourth of July celebrations.

“Ted is a master of town code,” Raab said.

Council members voiced their approval of Daniel’s return.

Council Member Bob Hughes said, “I’m excited that this piece of the puzzle [Daniel] is solved. Ted’ll eat this up.”

Regardless of what his team decides to spend the money on, however, Raab’s grand vision is still focused on ensuring a sturdy town left to the next generation.

“We want to take care of some things that would cost the town a lot of money down the road. We want to take care of that now,” Raab said. “We don’t want them [in the future] to be asking, ‘Where’d all that money go?’ and then be blaming the group that was here now.”

On top of the CDBG and ARPA funds, the Raab also announced $1.17 million in state grants for the Poplar Creek housing development. Raab thanked Southside Outreach Group and developer Earl Howerton for their efforts in lobbying the state in Richmond. Southside Outreach Group develops and manages the construction and sale of single-family homes to first-time homeowners. The Poplar Creek development aims provide duplexes and triplexes, but it went $1 million over budget, leaving the town in an awkward place having provided the utilities to a site that wasn’t yet finished. The state funds mean that the project can finally move to completion.

Of the total, $900,000 of the Poplar Creek funds are for constructing homes, but $270,000 are specifically reserved for the construction of energy-efficient houses.

With this final windfall, Raab announced, “The town took in about 10 million dollars in two weeks.”

All of this came on the heels of a glowing financial report from Finance Director Mickey Wilkerson. Wilkerson said that most taxes had exceeded budgeted expectations, citing the meals tax and local sales tax as areas of particular surplus. The meals tax came in at 129 percent of what was predicted, and local sales tax at 106.5 percent.

“I was just amazed that we did that well in a pandemic,” Wilkerson said.

She added, however, that cigarette sales taxes had fallen short of expectations for the first time.

In other action, Assistant Town Manager Dennis Barker gave a report on COVID-19 safety protocols taken by the town government and thanked the staff for their performance during the pandemic.

Barker informed the Council of plans to contract a consultant to produce an effectiveness study on a potential fixed route bus system in Halifax County, a system where buses would carry passengers between South Boston, Halifax, and the communities scattered around the county. Barker said that he had studied existing systems in Farmville and Blackstone, and that he was in talks with Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) to receive some or total compensation for the costs of a survey. He said the project did not currently have plans to tie into any existing bus systems, including any in Danville.

Council was also informed of a public hearing on July 14 on a potential solar array to be established on Route 360. The company, South Boston CSG LLC, plans a 5 mega-watt solar array and is applying for a conditional use permit.

At the end of the meeting, Council member Joe Chandler recognized the organizers of the South Boston Brew Fest for their Fourth of July festivities.

Chandler said, “I wanted to thank everyone involved in that for putting on a good event for our community.”

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