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The Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors held a busy day of meetings on Tuesday that included several committee meetings, a joint session with the Pittsylvania County School Board about internet availability in Pittsylvania County, a work session, the last meeting of the Pittsylvania County Service Authority Board, and an evening business meeting. Some of the highlights of those meetings included:
After several months of work to prepare for scheduled music festivals, the Board of Supervisors approved a comprehensive update to the Pittsylvania County Music Festival Ordinance that will allow large events to proceed safely and smoothly.
"We took our time in developing these ordinance revisions because we wanted to make sure that everybody is getting a good deal," said Bob Warren, Chairman of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors. "We believe this ordinance adequately and fairly allows for music festivals to occur in a way that is safe and efficient for everyone involved."
The action taken by the Board on Tuesday night was to approve revisions of the ordinance. A special called meeting has been scheduled for June 22 at 4 p.m. At that meeting, the Board of Supervisors will consider permit applications for multiple music festivals that Purpose Driven Events is planning at the Blue Ridge Amphitheater in Blairs.
Discussions about how to improve the music festival ordinance have been ongoing for months. In wake of multiple upcoming events that are scheduled at the Ampitheater in Blairs, the Board of Supervisors passed a motion during its April 20 meeting to freeze the acceptance of all music festival applications until the County code could be revised. The Board considered some proposed revisions to the ordinance, which hasn't been thoroughly updated in many decades, during its May meeting, but ultimately decided that additional changes needed to be made regarding areas like insurance and bonding requirements.
An informational session was held in May where all of the regulating agencies that would be involved, the event planners, and Pittsylvania County representatives spoke and answered questions from the public. Several less formal meetings have been held with regulating agencies and groups that live near the amphitheater.
"We believe that this revised ordinance effectively addresses the concerns that this Board and many of our citizens expressed about large-scale music festivals at the Blue Ridge Ampitheater in Blairs," said Ron Scearce, Vice-Chairman of the Board of Supervisors. "We listened to our citizens' concerns and are confident that this ordinance addresses them."
With the updated ordinance, any music festival organizer will be required to submit thorough plans - that must be approved by Pittsylvania County and other regulating agencies such as the Virginia Department of Transportation - regarding everything from transportation, safety, light and sound, facilities and sewage, and a comprehensive site plan. For a permit to be granted, each of those plans would be signed off on by the regulating agencies, and the entire permit would need to be approved by the Board of Supervisors.
During an afternoon finance committee meeting, the Board of Supervisors discussed alternative revenue streams and taxation options that Pittsylvania County isn't currently utilizing. The end goal of these discussions is to ensure that a disproportionate tax burden is not placed on property owners through the real estate tax.
"It's time for Pittsylvania County to stop always putting the burden of taxation on real estate and homeowners,” said Bob Warren, Chairman of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors. “It's time to find other avenues… with these taxes, we're letting outside sources pay for some of our services. That's what successful localities do."
The Board of Supervisors recommended that public hearings take place for the following two items in July:
"As your local governing body, we are looking for ways to raise revenue to maintain and improve services and fairly compensate our employees, but the last thing we want to do is overburden our landowners," said Ron Scearce, Chairman of the Pittsylvania County Finance Committee. "We are exploring every tax we are allowed to enact as a way to avoid placing a disproportionate financial burden on our property owners.”
Some of the other options presented at the Finance Committee Meeting included enacting a new cigarette tax and a marijuana tax. Each of these options, if enacted, would generate varying levels of revenue with the goal of reducing the tax burden on landowners. The Board of Supervisors recommended that staff continue researching the cigarette and marijuana tax options to bring back at a later date.
Another alternative revenue option that doesn’t just fall on Pittsylvania County landowners is a 1% sales tax increase specifically for School renovations and repairs – an item that will be on the November ballot.
"This 1% sales tax would generate millions of dollars for school renovations and repairs that need to happen, and this is yet another way for us to avoid passing all of our upcoming costs onto the landowners," said Bob Warren, Chairman of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors.
The Board of Supervisors officially approved a new agency funding plan that guides how much county funding each volunteer fire and rescue agency will receive in fiscal year 2022. This new agency funding plan is based on the call volume that each agency receives.
While several agencies received a reduction in their allocation from FY 2021 to FY 2022 due to the new framework that focuses on call volume, every agency has seen significant increases in the past few years.
"It is a significant increase to every agency on here if you go back three years ago to what these agencies were receiving,” said Bob Warren, Chairman of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors.
In fact, the annual contributions to Pittsylvania County volunteer fire and rescue departments have increased by more than 75% in the past five years. A few examples of what that looks like:
The new agency funding plan makes some significant adjustments to how funds are allocated to the individual agencies for future years, which led to some changes in the percentage of funding that each agency is slated to receive. Basing the annual amounts on call volume led to some shifts in allocations, but county staff believe it is the fairest way to compensate departments for the invaluable service that they provide.
"We know how much time and energy the volunteers at each of these departments spend to not only respond to calls, but to keep their stations running and raise funds. That's why we have worked with the Fire and Rescue Commission and our Public Safety Staff to make sure that each community agency receives a fair proportion of funding. The Board of Supervisors will continue to do everything in our power to increase the investments that we make in our volunteer stations." - Ron Scearce, Vice-Chairman of the Board of Supervisors.
The Board discussed the importance of – and the options for – adequately funding fire and rescue services in Pittsylvania County.
"We can't expect our volunteer agencies to pay for trucks that cost somewhere between $600,000 and $1 million with raffles and stews,” said Pittsylvania County Administrator David Smitherman.
Smitherman went on to talk about a paradigm shift that may need to take place in the future where Pittsylvania County government would fund the purchase of new apparatus and rely on the volunteer agencies to raise funds for their operating costs. Currently Pittsylvania County contributes to operating costs for each agency and provides $140,000 to two agencies toward apparatus purchases each year, but Smitherman believes that kind of shift might alleviate some discontent among departments like Ringgold, which have expressed displeasure with seeing a $4,000 reduction in their annual county contribution despite their nearly $30,000 increase over the previous three years and the fact that, as of their most recent tax form, had over $470,000 in the bank.