By Stefanie Jackson – Exmore has had its share of financial struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic, but managing expenses helped it come out on top when fiscal year 2020 ended June 30.
In another financial matter, the town received $118,000 in relief from the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, portioned out of approximately $1 million in CARES funding received by Northampton County.
Town Manager Robert Duer briefly discussed during the July 6 town council meeting how Exmore could spend its CARES funds.
He would like the local business community to get most of the money and noted that Accomack County has considered using CARES funding for small business grants.
Duer is interested in giving businesses additional discounts on their water and sewer bills, but he must seek approval at the county level before deciding how to distribute the CARES funds.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Virginia’s State Corporation Commission, a regulatory authority, has banned cutting off electricity, natural gas, water, or sewer service to customers who haven’t paid their utility bills.
The ban took effect in mid-March and was intended to last about two months. However, the ban has been extended twice and is now expected to last until Aug. 31.
Duer said that since the ban took effect, about 70 households in Exmore have not been paying their water bills, and a “day of reckoning is coming.”
“You can’t operate a small town without your enterprise money,” he cautioned.
Director of Utilities Taylor Dukes said the National Rural Water Association estimated that small water authorities like Exmore will lose a total of $330 million from customers failing to pay their water bills during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Exmore’s tax revenues have also declined during the pandemic.
In June, the town received about $20,000 in meals taxes, around $9,000 less than it received during the same period last year.
Sales taxes took a smaller hit; they were down $800 compared to last June.
Due to court closures, police fines were also down. Police fines collected in June totaled more than $18,000, or about $32,000 less than the same period last year.
But the fiscal year ended on an overall positive note for Exmore. For example, the town’s investments earned $37,000 in interest. “That paid a salary,” Duer remarked.
Moreover, public works and the police department spent only 79% and 91% of their respective budgets.
Exmore ended FY 2020 in the black. The town had a gross income of about $2.27 million and expenses of about $1.98 million, leaving a net income of more than $284,000.
Police Chief Angelo DiMartino celebrates his 15th anniversary as an Exmore town employee this month. Duer suggested that the only current employee who has been working for Exmore longer is Town Clerk Ethel Parks.
DiMartino said the protest that was held in Exmore Town Park June 6 was a success; protesters marched around the block and everyone stayed safe.
On June 30, Exmore police officers attended training on restraining a subject during arrest and how positional or compression asphyxia can occur. The training was provided by VRSA, or the Virginia Risk Sharing Association, Exmore’s insurance company.
DiMartino said his officers had received this training previously, but the June 30 session updated them on new case law regarding excessive force.
Courts have ruled that restraining a subject for 17 seconds or longer is excessive force, he said. “You’ve got to get them handcuffed and get off of them.”
“Not just the neck, but even between the shoulder blades, compressing the chest cavity,” is unacceptable, DiMartino said.
Following DiMartino’s report, Councilman G. W. Adkins stood and praised the Exmore Police Department.
“We appreciate everything that you all do and everything that you put on the line when you go out for us, and I want you to know it firsthand, in front of everybody that’s here.”
Duer agreed, “They’re very professional.”