"With all the challenges that the virus brought us this year, Pittsylvania County government remained resilient, sticking to many of our goals and setting ourselves up well for the future.” - Bob Warren, Chairman of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors.
In the midst of all the challenges 2020 brought, Pittsylvania County leaders and staff rose to the occasion, making the best of the situation and continuing with strategic county efforts. From continuing to increase investments in public safety and fire and rescue agencies to onboarding the PCSA and improving the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the landfill, Pittsylvania County leaders have been very intentional in their efforts to move the county forward in ways that will benefit citizens for years to come.
“We could never have predicted that the Coronavirus pandemic would completely shape 2020 in the way that it did," said Bob Warren, Chairman of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors. "With all the challenges that the virus brought us this year, Pittsylvania County government remained resilient, sticking to many of our goals and setting ourselves up well for the future. From bringing on County-run backup EMS providers to beginning the process of using our landfill to generate revenue, Pittsylvania County is making strategic decisions and investments to ensure our citizens have access to quality services while improving our financial health.”
“For Pittsylvania County, 2020 was an unprecedented and unpredictable year," said Pittsylvania County Administrator David Smitherman. "Despite that, we stayed true to our strategic goals and made significant progress in many key areas. We are proud of the work that we have done this year and we are excited about what is to come in 2021.”
Increased Support for and Involvement in Fire and Rescue
The Board of Supervisors understands the crucial role that volunteer fire and ems agencies play in keeping our communities safe and bringing them together. That's why the Board has raised county funding of these agencies by 76% since 2018. During 2020, there have been many important developments in fire and rescue operations and policies throughout Pittsylvania County.
Early in the year the Fire and Rescue Commission - an advisory board that works with the Public Safety Department to provide recommendations and oversee strategic planning for all fire and emergency medical services provided in Pittsylvania County - began meeting. From establishing response rate thresholds to developing more consistent volunteer guidelines, the commission has already established itself as a helpful partner in the Pittsylvania County Public Safety system.
"We have a great group of experienced fire and rescue personnel and informed citizens on the commission, and we believe that we have defined the group's purpose to best benefit our entire public safety system," said Ron Scearce, Vice-Chairman of the Pittsylvania Board of Supervisors and a member of the Fire and Rescue Commission.
Pittsylvania County leaders have also been negotiating a funding discrepancy for Cool Branch Volunteer Fire and Rescue with Franklin County throughout the year. In the negotiations, which are ongoing, Pittsylvania County has repeatedly requested that Franklin County provide more funds to the Cool Branch agencies, which are located in and majority-funded by Pittsylvania County but run more calls in Franklin County. Franklin has provided only 16% of government funding over the past 10 years. Several proposals, which vary in scope from adjusting annual contributions to adjusting borders, have been sent back and forth in the ongoing negotiations.
"Both Pittsylvania and Franklin Counties carry equal responsibility to protect the Penhook community with fire and EMS coverage," said Pittsylvania County Administrator David Smitherman. "We expect to come to an mutually beneficial funding arrangement that works for both localities and, most importantly, allows for continued excellent, consistent, and timely emergency services."
After years of difficulties dealing with backup EMS providers, Pittsylvania County Public Safety created its own force of EMS professionals. Starting in July, a fully staffed ambulance is located in Hurt, Chatham, and Mt. Hermon. These paid staff run calls in tandem with volunteers from the many community stations or in their stead if no volunteers are available to answer. Forming a paid staff of EMS professionals both increases the quality and consistency of the service and will reduce costs on Pittsylvania County.
Beginning on Jan. 1, an additional EMS provider in a quick response vehicle will be staffed 13 hours a day at the former 640 Community Rescue Squad, which is dissolving due to a lack of volunteers. The station is titling its assets to Pittsylvania County Public Safety and Gretna Volunteer Fire and Rescue, as well as paying for the EMS provider, to ensure that the community still has nearby EMS coverage.
"We want to thank the many volunteers who served at the 640 Community Rescue Squad over the years, and we want to thank the station’s leadership for funding paid EMS staff to ensure that the community will continue to receive quality and quick emergency services," said Bob Warren, Chairman of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors.
Improving Financial Health
Despite the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, Pittsylvania County has continued to improve its financial health. After previous boards did not focus as heavily on financial planning and health, the current Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors have improved the county's financial position by focusing on building more reserves and taking better care of the assets it owns. This includes creating a solid waste fund to cover costs at the landfill instead of always pulling from general funds, purchasing newer vehicles when possible, and providing merit-based raises for employees for the first time in 12 years.
"When you look at the trends of where we were four years ago and where we were today… this board and this staff together, we've really turned the corner financially," Pittsylvania County Administrator David Smitherman said during a recent audit presentation.
From building up general fund reserves by adding $1 million a year to contributing to economic development funds to finding revenue streams to cover capital costs in solid waste, the board is taking the necessary steps to be fiscally responsible. Pittsylvania County has also created key new positions that will help improve services. Some of those positions include:
- Public Relations Manager
- Community Development Director
- Project Manager
- EMS Coordinator
- GIS Manager
Pittsylvania County also received $10.5 million from the federal government through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was to be used to better respond to the coronavirus pandemic. A significant portion of the funds have been invested in public safety measures like the purchase of new ambulances and equipment. Pittsylvania County also provided funds to help Pittsylvania County Schools purchase laptops for students to allow for remote learning and invested in infrastructure improvements, including a new meeting space and elections center.
In deciding how to allocate the funds, the goal was to balance short-term needs like personal protection equipment and masks with longer-term purchases, like new building renovations and ambulances. Ultimately, these funds have been utilized in a way that will benefit Pittsylvania County government and citizens for years to come.
"We have utilized Coronavirus Relief Funds for strategic investments that improve the level of service we can offer our citizens not only during this pandemic, but for years to come," said Pittsylvania County Administrator David Smitherman.
PCSA, Public Works, and Solid Waste
For decades, the Pittsylvania County Service Authority (PCSA) operated as an independent entity, but now it is a municipal utility provider. Starting on July 1, the Board of Supervisors stepped in and became the PCSA board. The PCSA provides water and wastewater service for several thousand Pittsylvania County customers, and it purchases water from the City of Danville, Chatham, and other area localities. Since stepping in as the board of directors, the Board of Supervisors are taking thoughtful and strategic steps to determine future developments of the PCSA, including rates and expansion policies.
In addition to adopting the PCSA, the county consolidated several departments under a newly formed Public Works Department, which is being directed by former PCSA Director Chris Adcock. With PCSA, buildings and grounds, and solid waste all under one umbrella, the department is improving efficiency of each by allowing them to share equipment when needed.
Also included in the Public Works Department is the landfill and convenience centers, which are primarily funded through the solid waste fee. Over the past few years, county staff have worked with engineers to dramatically improve the efficiency of the landfill. One of the biggest steps taken was to improve the compaction rate, increasing the amount of trash that can fit into a given area.
"Because of our strategic efforts to maximize its efficiency and increase its lifespan, our landfill is one of our greatest assets," said Deputy County Administrator Richard Hicks. "Instead of losing money on the landfill and struggling to pay for any capital improvements to our solid waste infrastructure, we are now creating revenue that will more than cover the costs of improvements.”
Because of the massive size of the 450-acre landfill and the improved practices, the landfill still has a lifespan of well over 75 years even with trash coming from the Town of Bedford and now Martinsville and Henry County. This extra revenue from these contracts will help pay for the $7.8 million in capital expenses that are already on the horizon at the landfill over the next five years, regardless of the amount of outside trash coming in.
"The last thing that the Board wants to do is raise taxes or increase the Solid Waste Fee, and Pittsylvania County is still paying off the debt of expanding into the current cell nearly 10 years ago," said Bob Warren, Chairman of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors. "That is why the Board believes that using the landfill to accept outside waste, cover its own expenses, and generate revenue is a sound financial decision, both for the finances of county government and for the individual taxpayer."
Economic Development Success
Despite widespread impacts across the national and global economy, Pittsylvania County found significant economic success, both in its own right and by collaborating with regional partners. Several major companies announced their intentions to move to or expand in the region, committing to capital investments of more than $38 million and the creation of 410 new jobs.
- In April, Ennis, a business that has been in Chatham for over 70 years, announced it would expand and create 15 new jobs.
- In May Staunton River Plastics announced it would move into the Southern Virginia Multimodal Park in Hurt and create 200 jobs.
- In October Ison Furniture Manufacturing announced it would locate into a facility in Axton, creating 150 jobs. The company's supplier, Dogwood Global, is co-locating on site and will create 45 additional jobs.
Many other area companies have continued to hire and expand. For instance, Morgan Olson, which announced its plans to replace Ikea in Ringgold in September of 2019, already has well over 400 employees and continues to hire more.
After years of more informal partnering with the City of Danville through entitles like the Regional Industrial Facility Authority (RIFA) and Staunton River RIFA, Pittsylvania County and Danville formed a regional economic development alliance in September. Along with the alliance, a comprehensive, regional strategic economic development plan was adopted and a leadership council was established to oversee regional efforts.
"Strategic and coordinated partnership with the City of Danville and other regional entities will help move both of our localities forward together in terms of economic development," said Bob Warren, chairman of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors.
As a result of effective collaboration with Danville, other surrounding localities, and area institutions, the region won several economic development awards this year. Earlier this year Pittsylvania County, the City of Danville, and the Southern Virginia Regional Alliance - which includes both localities and several surrounding counties - collectively won the 2020 Community Economic Development Award from the Southern Economic Development Council, which covers states from Florida to Texas to Virginia to Kansas. In April, Site Selection Magazine, which is a trade resource, ranked Danville and Pittsylvania County as the No. 6 Micropolitan Area in the entire United States, based on factors like business capital investments, creation of new jobs, and development of new floor space.
Pet Center Helping Animals and Fundraising Well
Despite having to close to the public for multiple stretches, the Pittsylvania Pet Center has remained incredibly busy and performed admirably in 2020. As of Dec. 30, the Pet Center has taken in 1,913 animals, some of which were adopted out, while others were transferred to partner organizations, and yet others remain in the shelter's care. With the help of many partner organizations and local adopters, the Pet Center maintained a 92% save rate, which means that 92% of the animals that came through the shelters' doors have been adopted out, transferred, or remain in care.
After taking over operations of the center in January 2019, Pittsylvania County staff have continued to find creative ways to offset costs and reduce operating budgets. Partnering with outside organizations that provide in-kind donations and help transfer animals to other agencies to be adopted is one of the way that the center has been able to remain under budget. Despite COVID-19, the Pet Center also hosted a wildly successful fundraiser in the Bark-A-Q at Banister Bend, where $30,000 was raised.
The Doggie Bag Thrift Store, a joint venture between the Pet Center and the Pittsylvania County SPCA that benefits both organizations, also had its grand opening in March before being forced to close down for several months during the early days of the pandemic. The Virginia Association of Counties (VACO) awarded the Pet Center with two achievement awards for the Doggie Bag Thrift Store and the Regional Food Pantry, which provided thousands of pounds of pet food to area residents.