Hurt Town Council convened for the first monthly business meeting of its 2021-22 term on Tuesday, January 5.
The meeting began with a longer-than-average closed session of nearly 100 minutes for discussion of HR and prospective business, but no matters were voted upon pertinent to the closed session.
Following preliminaries and approval of the monthly consent agenda, Town Attorney John Eller apprised council that he is drafting a proposed ordinance to establish land use regulations for any prospective solar farms that may seek to locate in the Southern Virginia Multimodal Park (SVMP) or Key Industrial Complex (KIC) over the coming years.
Alluding to numerous solar farms appearing across Virginia, Eller pointed out that it is advisable for each locality to have guidelines in place for the development and operation of solar facilities. He plans to present council with a draft at its February and/or March meeting(s).
Hurt has no such provisions in its current zoning ordinance because there has been no obvious reason to develop them until recent years, but that could change as solar energy expands statewide and economic development processes evolve with the SVMP and KIC properties.
In other legal matters, town officials are working with Eller to streamline the town’s procurement processes by developing a list of service contractors to have “on-retainer” and accessible with short notice when needs arise. To get on the list, prospective contractors must apply and be subject to an approval process in accordance with procurement laws.
Hurt Mayor Gary Hodnett expects the contractor list to include a considerable range of services such as electrical, plumbing, HVAC, mowing, and water system repairs.
Turning to revenue, Administrative Assistant Kelsie Sligh reported 2020 tax collections are at 84% to date. Hodnett noted that this figure is up from last year, along with collections of delinquent balances, and that late notices for unpaid tax accounts are pending.
Hodnett later added that Sligh is working diligently with state officials to finalize any remaining details of a process the town began pursuing a few years ago – implementing the DMV stop used by many localities to compel payment of delinquent personal property taxes, along with a tax refund offset to collect delinquent real estate taxes.
Public Works Coordinator Colleen McGrath provided updates on utility bill collections, water meters, and related concerns. Her report referenced approximately $43,000 in unpaid water bills, with roughly half of that being 90-plus days overdue.
McGrath stated she has seen success with contractual payment arrangements for some customers who were having difficulty paying larger past due balances in lump sums, yet one concern she noted is that Covid-related restrictions are a limiting factor on collections.
Eller responded that the town should keep abreast of any developments in state law, including amendments to the governor’s orders, which may affect what localities can and cannot lawfully do to collect utility debts during the pandemic.
With the next quarterly billing cycle approaching next month, McGrath reported good progress in dealing with issues such as old meters with obscure locations and difficult access – often caused by debris buildup. She presented with a good-to-go status for upcoming readings, though debris accumulation remains an ongoing concern. In response, Eller and Police Chief Mike Jones advised that the town’s grass/weed ordinance may need reviewing and updating to help minimize the problem going forward.
Public Works Committee Chairman Collin Adams conveyed that Federal CARES Act funding has been extended to the end of 2021 and that one benefit of this for Hurt will be availability of additional money for water system projects, including the upgrade from conventional to cellular water meters. Hodnett then reminded members of an upcoming conference call with the health department and the engineering firm contracted by the town for water system improvements.
Adams also reiterated a concern from last month’s meeting – an absence of readily visible house numbers at all locations in town – which could waste critical time and/or cause other problems for first responders while en route to emergency situations. Eller advised that Hurt may need to consider revising the applicable town ordinance, and that Pittsylvania County’s ordinance should be reviewed in the process.
Finishing the evening with his monthly report, Mayor Hodnett informed fellow members that he is exploring possible month-to-month contract terms for 8-1-1 Miss Utility services, similar to the arrangement used by the county.
Hodnett announced that work is nearing completion for the town to tie in to the county’s “code red” phone alert system, which would be a very useful tool for communicating important announcements via automated calling to mobile and/or landline phone numbers, thereby providing yet another way to reach residents and help them stay informed in case of emergencies.
Hodnett anticipates the alert system option to become available within the next few months, and office staff to be trained on its operation in the near future.