Tower construction OK’d by supervisors

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By Debbie Hall

The application for a proposed cell phone tower in Claudville sailed through another hurdle Monday, passing the muster of the Patrick County Board of Supervisors.

Central States Tower, or CST, now will build the 235-foot tower on a 5.5-acre tract of land, across the road from Lee’s Kar-Go in Claudville. T-Mobile will be the dedicated carrier.

The board approved the request for a special use permit in a unanimous vote after a public hearing on the application.

“We are excited about bringing this proposal to you because we think we will be able to provide coverage for this community,” said William Shewmake, the company’s attorney. Currently, there is a “great lack of coverage in this area,” he said, adding that with an estimated 70 percent of people nationwide have nixed landlines. The ability to use cell phones, particularly in emergencies, is critical.

The height is needed to achieve the desired coverage area, Shewmake said, and explained the height will allow the signal to broadcast further. Once established, he said the tower “basically becomes part of the scenery.

“We think it’s an important part of the service community, serves a public safety function and I think it also will help the economic development because you’ve got to have coverage,” he said.

Roger Hayden, a Claudville resident, noted that Route 103 “is a dead zone from Route 8 to Mount Airy” and the North Carolina/Virginia line.

“We’re blessed that Central States took an interest in Patrick County and our area. The Planning Commission voted unanimously to go ahead with the cell tower, and I’m asking this board to do the same,” Hayden said.

Rickie Fulcher, board chairman, said he had several calls in support of the project. One caller, Andrew Blinick, expressed concern about the height of the unit and lighting. Blinick “certainly understands the need, but just concerns about the height of it.”

Fulcher said that Blinick also was concerned there would be another request to increase the height by 10 percent above the 235-feet initially requested.

Shewmake said there is “no intention to go any higher,” and “no intention or desire to add anything to the height.” He noted the tower will meet requirements in terms of light installation.

In other matters, the board:

Heard a presentation from Bill Clark and Glenn Roycroft, who presented the findings of their research on the lodging tax, which is otherwise known as the county’s Transient Occupancy Tax.

Both represent a political action committee called PaCoVa Pac. Clark explained that while a PAC generally concerns itself with candidates, the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) is becoming a candidate issue.

“We took it on our own to get to the bottom of what it is and how it works,” Clark said, noting the purpose was three-fold. “We want to show what the lodging impact is to Patrick County,” clear up some confusion by showing how the fund is used and make sure it balanced.

In the 2018-19 fiscal year, Clark said the beginning balance was $181,987.75. The amount of tax collected was $392,368.08, for a total of $564,413.11, and that same amount was transferred to the county’s General Fund.

The local tourism department also was “lucky enough to get a grant” of $10,000 from the state Tourism Corporation, Clark said.

Funds are transferred from the TOT Fund to the General Fund, where they were used to pay tourism related expenses, Clark said. Remaining or unspent funds — in this case $50,000 — were transferred back to the TOT Fund, for an ending balance of $60,743.71 (including $40,000 not expended, collected penalties of $450.73 and interest of $349.76).

He also noted there are calculations to determine the impact on the local economy. In the year referenced, Clark said the impact of the lodging tax alone (TOT) was $8 million. He added that does not include fuel, meals or other items purchased by visitors.

Clark, who also serves on the county’s Economic Development Authority (EDA) Board, said “one of the numbers we use in the EDA is the multiplier factor.” He explained that every dollar spent in the county is re-spent seven times. “So, take that $8 million, multiply by seven and that is roughly $56 million impact.”

Additionally, Clark said “one of the things that really surprised me is that we all know how many places there are to stay in the county, but in 2018-19, there were 70 establishments that paid into the Transient Occupancy Tax. That was a number that really kind of surprised me,” he said.

Roycroft, also a member of the EDA Board, said much of the information that resulted from their research was an eye-opener and underscores the importance of tourism.

Both Roycroft and Clark expressed their appreciation to Sandra Stone, Treasurer; Janet Rorrer, Commissioner of the Revenue and Donna Shough, the county’s finance director, for their help with the research.

Jane Fulk, of the Dan River District, said the information was interesting. She and Crystal Harris, of the Smith River District, thanked both men for their efforts.

Lock Boyce, of the Mayo River District, said he was “not very happy with” the presentation. “I think we’re getting run around the tree again. You’re telling me that $21,000 is spent on lodging every day” in Patrick County, he asked.

Adding that he also read some of the expenses paid by the tourism department, Boyce said “my point is, if we’re going to take money out of tourism and pay” those expenses, the board should vote on individual expenses to determine whether residents want to spend the tax funds on certain expenses.

For example, “if they want $12,000 going to fireworks,” Boyce said.

Meadows of Dan has many visitors as does the Blue Ridge Parkway and Primland, but “the tourism department had nothing to do with that. We tax everybody and we give the money to a few select fortunate people who are already rich,” Boyce said. “I don’t believe your figures.”

He said that in the past when he has questioned Stone, he “can’t get any documentation on it. … She just takes the figures given to her. I was told $550,000 a year, not $392,000” reported Monday, Boyce said. “It’s pretty simple math.”

Karl Weiss, of the Blue Ridge District also serves on the Tourism Advisory Committee (TAC). He said he thinks the committee spends the tax money “very wisely. Most of us on this board (of supervisors) already knew how it came in and went out” of the General Fund.

Fulcher noted the figures used by Clark and Roycroft were collected from “actual tax documents that are filed” with the appropriate taxing authority. “This is just a drop in the bucket. It doesn’t count sales, just lodging. It flows through the general ledger per our instructions and I will continue to support tourism as long as I see the money going back into Patrick County. We are blessed to have this tax,” he added.