The public comment period got a little heated during last Tuesday’s Hurt Town Council meeting as a few citizens voiced their concerns over the recent storm damage in Hurt on May 31, the proposed budget with rate increases, and a proposed change to the town’s dog ordinance.

The first citizen, and by far the most vocal one, addressed the council about concerns he had over the response to storm damage. Appearing quite upset, he informed council that the “first responder” he saw was Domino’s Pizza handing out free pizzas along Spencer Road Saturday morning. “You put everyone’s life at risk!” he said.

Continuing, the individual stated that he, his mother, and his girlfriend all three witnessed a tornado come through their area. He was disgusted that the National Weather Service had declared it to be “straight line winds,” something he went on to say was probably an insurance tactic to keep payoffs down. He was also upset about live wires that were down Friday night and a slower-than-expected response with repairs, finally calling for Mayor Gary Poindexter to “resign, go home tonight, and let someone new come in tomorrow.” 

Another citizen was disturbed about the recent purchase of new police cars and a laptop for the mayor to use for town business, stating that the items are “not needed, in my opinion.” He also spoke of his concern for those in town who are living on Social Security checks, pointing out that, “They’re not as fortunate as you or me. They can’t afford increases every time you turn around. Consider those who are not as fortunate.”

A third citizen spoke out in favor of setting up a tiered water rate structure based on usage, which would help those on lower incomes who are not using as much water compared to some of the more affluent households.

During the public hearing on the proposed 2019-20 budget, Former Mayor Lillian Gillespie indicated she was also concerned about proposed increases and how it will affect the town’s citizens who may be struggling. “There’s a 40% increase in personal property, a 23% increase in decals, a 24% increase in real estate…all of this at one time is too much…you’re trying to increase everything at one time.”

As a public hearing for a proposed change to the town’s animal control ordinance opened, Gillespie returned to the podium and spoke about her concern over any leash law. “Be aware that it’s costly to have an animal control officer. Be careful what you put in the code,” she cautioned.

During his monthly police department report Chief Rowland noted there were 141 calls for service, with18% of them traffic related. A number of alarms went off on Saturday due to widespread damage and power outages from the storm the night before. The new police cars have been delivered and outfitted, while the old vehicles will be sold later this year with the proceeds going toward payment for the new ones. The town was able to buy three new police cars for the price of one thanks to an anonymous donor of $30,000, along with grant funds, resale value of the old cars, and capital funds placed in reserve over previous years.

Public Works Coordinator Ed Hodges spoke with emotion as he described the damage he saw in the town after the powerful May 31 thunderstorm. “Every road in town was blocked (with downed trees or power lines). We had to get streets unblocked so we could check on people. I called Pittsylvania County for assistance. I am disappointed with the county.”

He commended fire and rescue personnel from surrounding departments including Blairs, Cool Branch, Gretna, Altavista, and Renan who either came to assist the Hurt Volunteer Fire Department or remained on standby to do so. 

Hodges then pointed out that the county’s offer to waive tipping fees at the landfill [for town residents until June 14] wouldn’t help some people − especially the elderly in town who can’t get outside to cut trees, pick up brush, and load trucks.

He continued, relating that he had worked for several days picking up debris and bringing it to a pile behind the town hall. He also commended Supervisor Elton Blackstock for helping on June 1 as well as many others in town.

Council was agreeable with Hodges’ request to purchase a small generator that could be moved as needed to keep automated control devices for the water system powered up and working when there are power failures.

Clerk/Treasurer Susan Frazier also spearheaded conversation as to the need for a plan to be better prepared for future emergencies. With power off, town hall experienced problems communicating due to computers shutting down.

Speaking again, this time as a local citizen instead of as a town employee, Hodges exclaimed, “The county dropped the ball…we are just the ‘red headed stepchild’…we should have been able to call dispatch, but the county did not step up…deputies should have showed up…there was no help from the county…we needed more resources.”

Vice Mayor Steve Watson noted that he only saw one county deputy in town during the first three days of the storm aftermath. Mayor Poindexter agreed, stating, “I would have liked to see more from the Sheriff’s Department.”

Chief Rowland then spoke up by giving thanks to several people who really stepped up, including: Frazier, Officer Jason Lovelace (who came in to work while on vacation), local businessman Walter McCormick, and Supervisor Elton Blackstock. The mayor praised the whole town for putting other differences aside and neighbors coming together to help one another.

When talking about the proposed water rate increases, the mayor and fellow council members were all in agreement that anything that can be done to help low income families absorb rate increases should be looked at. While it’s too late in this year’s process to advertise any further upward changes in the proposal since a budget has to be approved by month’s end, adjustments can still be made as long as they do not cause the advertised budget total to be exceeded.

Poindexter discussed how many towns and cities must go into debt to repair and/or rebuild aging infrastructure, and that this is something Hurt does not want to do unless absolutely necessary. He noted that while the town has roughly a half million dollars in reserve funds, “we shouldn’t let ourselves get comfortable with that because a major breakdown would wipe it all out practically overnight.” 

While he clearly hated to say the words, the mayor acknowledged that many water system components in Hurt are “close to crumbling” and that major work will need to be done in the future. 


For more on this story, see this week's Altavista Journal.