By Taylor Boyd
An alleged lack of communication between Patrick County government, residents and businesses served by the board was a topic of the Sept. 13 Board of Supervisors meeting.
Kurt Bozenmayer, of the Smith River District, said that in 2019, two of the newly elected supervisors began hosting local meetings in their districts to hear the concerns of their constituents. These meetings were later cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bozenmayer said one of the sources of information he depended on during the COVID-19 shutdown was the county’s website, but he noted the website has shortcomings.
“I was appointed to the Planning Commission in May of this year, the third new member in 2021. Yet, the website still lists the five members from last year, as well as Alan Black as the county attorney, and Mrs. (Denise) Stirewalt as board liaison,” he said.
Other issues with the website include meeting minutes not being updated since 2020, a Solid Waster report from 2009 listed as the most recent in the Transfer Station section, and a blank slate for the list of members for the Patrick County Solid Waste Committee.
The personnel drain occurring throughout the county is also cause for concern, Bozenmayer said.
The Emergency Management Coordinator and Maintenance Supervisor both recently retired, and the Assistant Tourism Director and Director of Economic Development resigned.
“Sheriff Smith reports that his department is expected to have a personnel shortage of five people by the end of the year,” he added.
The lack of public participation in public meetings is another cause for concern.
Bozenmayer said only one member of the public attended the public meeting held in the summer for the proposed budget. This was the same for the most recent Planning Commission meeting, where only one person attended and gave suggestions on what should be included in the county’s Comprehensive Plan.
“Now, we have a candidate for an upcoming supervisor’s vacancy speaking out at other meetings, suggesting that there is not enough communication between Patrick County government and its citizens,” he said, but did not name the candidate.
In his opinion, Bozenmayer said it is apparent that residents are losing faith in the board of supervisors and the county administration, and he hopes the board will attempt to reconnect with the residents.
He suggested improved communication could be done by re-instating local meetings, updating the website, more aggressively advertising public meetings, and posting meeting notices on social media.
“Effective government is dependent on the involvement of the citizenry. We have a lot of residents who are interested and just don’t know how to get involved. Please help them,” he said.
Clyde DeLoach, of the Blue Ridge District, said he was one of the supervisors that held public meetings after his election in 2019. He has recently restarted the meetings in Meadows of Dan, and plans to begin holding them in Stuart again.
DeLoach said he has asked about the website multiple times since his appointment, and the county is theoretically in the process of revamping it.
But, “there is no reason why we cannot get the minutes up in some form or fashion, and so I apologize for that,” he said.
Jane Fulk, of the Dan River District, said she did not realize how far behind the county was on uploading the meeting minutes to the website.
Regarding the personnel loss, Fulk said the county is just like everywhere else in the world.
“The people that want to work are working, and the people that don’t want to work are not. It’s hard to get people to come,” she said.
In other matters, the board:
*Approved the commitment of $70,145 to the broadband Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) application. The funds will be used as a local match for the West Piedmont Planning District Commission’s (WPPDC) grant application on behalf of Charter Communications, Patrick and Carroll counties.
Steve Terry, of the Patrick County Broadband Committee, said Charter won areas in both counties in the Rural Digital Opportunity Funds (RDOF) auction in 2020. “These areas are to be served with fiber to the home projects, that’s what they bid on,” he said.
Charter will also be applying for the VATI grant for areas won by SpaceX, which include major parts of the Vesta and the Mountain View areas, as well as a large portion of Carroll County.
Terry said he first got into contact with Michael Tanck, Charter’s Director for Government Affairs, in May after learning that RDOF auction rules allowed companies six years to complete 100 percent of the bids they were awarded in Virginia.
During this time, he learned that SpaceX blocs would be eligible to be included in the grant applications. “My idea was, ‘hey what if Charter were be able to go after some additional areas and a VATI grant? That could incentivize them to move much faster on the whole RDOF program for our two counties,’” he said, adding work on the grant application began the last week of August.
If the VATI grant is received, 690 homes – mainly in the Ararat area and not slated to be served under RDOF – would be included in this grant. “Not only will that be a big deal for this number of people, but he’s also committed to me that they would expedite the entire RDOF program to meet the completion schedule that the VATI grant would have, and that is normally 18 months,” Terry said.
*Scheduled a public hearing for the approval of budget adjustment for the Patrick County Public Schools for October 18 at 6:15 p.m.
*Scheduled a public hearing for a potential cigarette tax for October 18 at 6:30 p.m.
*Appointed Chris Caviness to a four-year term on the Patrick County Department of Social Services Board.
*Approved the bills, claims, and appropriations.
*Heard an update on Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) projects from VDOT Resident Engineer Lisa Price-Hughes.
*Heard from Dr. Chip Hable about an idea for a dog park.
*Answered the questions Valerie Shough, of the Peters Crook District, asked as part of an assignment for Longwood University.
*Approved a recognition for Gen. Stanley O Smith.
*Approved the Malinckrodt bankruptcy plan.
*Approved the noted changes to the Patrick County Employee Handbook.
*Heard the county administrator’s report.
*Heard the Board of Supervisors Committee reports.