By Debbie Hall and Taylor Boyd
The Patrick County Board of Supervisors reaffirmed their support for a referendum on a local sales tax.
County Administrator Geri Hazelwood said the referendum would give voters the option to decide whether or not to increase the sales tax in Patrick County by one percent.
“The funds from this one percent increase would solely be used for what it is written for, which is for school construction and renovation work,” Hazelwood said.
If the referendum is approved, the local sales tax will increase from 5.3 to 6.3 percent. The proposed increase would expire in 2040.
In other matters, the board:
*Heard proposed changes to the fee schedule in the Building Inspection Department.
Jason Brown, an official in the department, said he surveyed several other counties on permitting fees in categories that included Residential, Cell Towers, Singlewide and Modular.
“Once we got our comparisons back, one was extremely low and one was extremely high,” Brown said, adding that Henry County was the lowest and Grayson County was the highest. As a result, he opted to compare the fees in Patrick to those in Floyd, Carroll and Franklin counties.
For Residential Construction of an 1,800 square-foot home with a basement, two full baths, two 8-feet by 10-feet porches, 200-amp electrical service and one HVAC system, Brown proposed increasing the fee from $782.98 to $805.80.
A similar comparison was used for a Singlewide, with a proposed increase from $136.30 to $260.10.
The proposed increase for Modular was $744.60 from the current $538.18.
For Cell Towers, the current $300 cell tower permit fee and the $500 cell tower plan review were to remain the same.
The new fee schedule was proposed to create additional revenue for the county, Brown said, adding it also still includes some exemptions to fees. For instance, a permit is required, but fees are not charged for “work performed by gov agencies, public schools, churches and fire and rescue.”
Businesses locating in the county’s Enterprise Zone also fall into that category, Brown said, adding that waived fees are among the local incentives available to businesses.
However, Brown recommended “doing away with that Enterprise Zone waiver on those fees,” primarily because most larger businesses include the fees in their estimated building project costs and view them as part of the cost of doing business.
Also, larger businesses are those most likely to receive a waiver for locating in an Enterprise Zone, he said, and named Mid Atlantic Broadband, CVS Pharmacy and Tractor Supply as among recent recipients.
Brown said he did not know how much revenue that may generate going forward, but “I want to know what the board wants us to do as waiving these fees in the Enterprise Zone. Do we continue or do we start charging?”
Jane Fulk, board chairman, asked if the Enterprise Zone is a state measure.
Bryce Simmons, director of Economic Development, said the Enterprise Zone is an incentive program that is partly managed by the state and partly managed locally, so if there was a significant construction project, over $100,000, that is when the state incentives would kick in, and those are the state funded incentives” which take several things into consideration, among them real property, capital investment and the number of jobs to be created.
“Whatever a business develops in the Enterprise Zone has to meet certain criteria to meet the state threshold,” Simmons said. In terms of the local incentive, “we have discretion” on waiving fees, like the building permit fee, and offering a machine and tools tax credit. “As far as I know, those are the only two incentives we offer.”
Crystal Harris, vice chairman and of the Smith River District, said “I know we need the money, but it’s just a tiny bit that we can try to get somebody to come in. I just have that issue with” doing away with the waiver.
“I understand that, but unfortunately, the small hometown businesses don’t get it,” Brown said. “Most of your home-grown companies don’t get it.”
The Enterprise Zone “has been very underutilized” during Simmons’ tenure, he said. “We haven’t had many projects other than a Wal-Mart.”
“We kicked this around a number of different ways,” including a grant that businesses they could apply for and a reimbursement program in conjunction with the EDA, Brown said. “We don’t know the best way to go.”
Denise Stirewalt, of the Peters Creek District, said she does not believe “a business is going to decide to come to Patrick County or not based on the Enterprise Zone. We discussed during the budget process that the Building Inspection Department needs to pay for itself and it has not been able to do that. Working with the EDA may be a great, but with Wal-Mart, Tractor Supply” and other big box businesses, “can you imagine the money lost?”
Dr. Clyde DeLoach, of the Blue Ridge District, suggested other alternatives, including waiving the fees on an individual basis.
“That’s kind of my opinion, too. Work with the EDA,” said Clayton Kendrick, of the Mayo River District. “I noticed on your fee schedule, you hit mobile homes pretty hard” with the proposed increase. If approved, Kendrick said Patrick’s fees would be “almost next to the highest. You might ought to look at that one. It may not quite be fair because that’s almost double.”
The board asked Brown to revamp the proposed increase on Singlewide fees, and also set a public hearing for the Nov. 16 meeting.
* Joanne Spangler, of the Jeb Stuart Rescue Squad, raised concerns about individuals requesting a particular rescue crew when calling for emergency medical services.
She noted an agreement which stated a career EMS/fire crew would serve as a backup system to support volunteer rescue squad agencies.
If the county’s career squad, Station 8, can be requested, “Station 8 is no longer a backup,” Spangler said, adding the agreement and associated paperwork calls for the career squad to “assist and they will help, assist, assist, assist.”
But if the squad can be requested, “they’re no longer assisting, they are the ones up in front and its nothing to do with Station 8,” Spangler said. “This county needs Station 8. It’s nothing to do with Steve Allen,” who oversees the career crews and is Emergency Services Coordinator for the county.
Allen “has done a great job for this county. I don’t think it’s right that anyone can call and request whoever they want to come and run that call,” she said.
“We just have an issue with the protocol. Right now, we are supposed to ask for backup, or if we can’t cover a call, then they’re supposed to cover calls,” Spangler said, and added the requests for a certain squad are becoming more frequent.
“We need the volunteers,” Stirewalt said, and added that she received a call from someone who lives out of town, but “her parents are taxpayers in Patrick County. It took a rescue squad 20 or 30 minutes to get to her” parent when needed. “Her thoughts are a paid service should have come first. They could have gotten there sooner. We will look at protocol. My thing is one who can get there first can save a life.”
Fulk said it took Station 8 45 minutes to respond to a call in Vesta, when the crew Fulk is in “could have there in 20 minutes. We are a rural community, and when you start letting people in your community run your 911 system, then you don’t need one.
For instance, “if I had a person on Willis Gap who has a stomach ache who calls and wants Station 8 to come get them because they don’t like us, Station 8 is going to Willis Gap. That is 45 minutes. If Station 3 has that frequent caller they get all the time and they’re over there with her, and Dr. Deloach has a heart attack in his backyard, who’s going to pick him up? I am, and that’s a 45-minute run for me too. Protocols have worked. You cannot please everybody all the time. Everybody in this room knows that you can’t please everybody all the time,” Fulk said.
Harris said “the main thing is saving lives. That’s what we’re there for. People are people and they want what they want. That’s all I can say, and we do have the protocol to go by, but I do understand where you’re coming from.”
Patrick County Sheriff Dan Smith recognized three deputies with awards for their service.
Deputy Lewis Carroll received a Letter of Commendation/Lifesaving Award for his “valor and selflessness” on Aug. 22, when a vehicle that was eluding Carroll crashed into a tree and caught fire. “The in-car video shows Carroll worked tirelessly without regard for his own safety to removed the three” people inside, Smith said.
Matt Rorrer and Oscar Tejeda, deputies, were honored for their response to a Sept. 16 incident in which a young man tried to harm himself. The deputies applied a tourniquet to slow the blood flow, Smith said, and warded them Lifesaving Awards for their efforts.
“You don’t really think about what you do until when the smokes cleared and everything has calmed down,” Smith added.
*Adopted an Immunity Resolution “in opposition to any legislative effort to repeal or revise the judicial doctrine of qualified immunity for law enforcement officials.”
Smith said he favored the resolution.
“By ending qualified immunity they’re shifting the burden of legal fees from the state to the locality even though we are commanded to enforce state law. They’re trying to make the locality fund the legal representation of who issued,” Smith said, and added qualified immunity is for any government employee, particularly those in high liability professions like prosecutors, judges, and public defenders.
It seems to affect police officers more, Smith said, adding that he “doesn’t know a group of individuals who are sued more than law enforcement officers in any professions. I’ve been sued 12 times since I’ve been sheriff.” Repealing qualified immunity “would bankrupt this county.”
*Approved a Mutual Aid Agreement that “has been used in the past for situation such as flooding, and was used a few years ago to help with an earthquake in Central Virginia. It allows counties to pull in people from partnering counties for help during emergencies, only if those counties have the personnel available” Brown said.
*Tabled a request from the Recreation Department to give each of Patrick County’s five parks $5,000 until additional information is received. Finance Director Donna Shough said the Recreation Department wants to take the money from the $37,809 in its activity fees account. The Tourism Department used to give each park an annual $5,000 allotment, but no longer has the funds to do so, she added.
Fulk, the only dissenting vote said she voted no because she “wanted the parks to have the money. I know some of our parks are struggling because they haven’t been able to have fundraisers because of the pandemic.”
*Approved adding Election Day, Nov. 3 as an official county holiday, and removing Jackson-Lee day as a state holiday in 2021.
* Heard from Jennifer Hooker, a Patrick County dispatch worker who lives in the Mayo District, who asked the board to consider paying dispatch workers $4 an hour retroactively from the CARES funds like law enforcement and sanitation workers. “We work just as hard as the guys in law enforcement,” she said.
*Reappointed Angie Brown and Donna Martin to the Anchor Commission for 4-year terms.
*Reappointed Harold Gregory to the EDA for a 4-year term starting retroactively Aug. 1.
*Tabled discussions of website upgrades from the CARES Committee until the Nov. 16 meeting to wait for additional information about financial quotes.
*Hired a full-time maintenance assistant to fill an existing open position.