By Carol Vaughn —
The Accomack County Board of Supervisors Wednesday approved a new program intended to attract businesses to the county.
The resolution passed by the board, 8-0, establishes an economic development investment program, including a way to award grants to qualified businesses.
Supervisor Harrison Phillips III was absent.
Localities according to the state constitution are hindered from making direct grants to businesses, but the economic development authority is authorized by state law to do so, according to Accomack County Administrator Mike Mason.
Under the program, the board of supervisors may appropriate money to the EDA, and the EDA board of directors may accept the funds and use them to award grants to qualified businesses.
Mason described the county’s partnership with the EDA as vital.
“I think it’s a good program,” said Supervisor Robert Crockett, who made the motion to adopt it.
Grants may go to new businesses locating in the county for the first time; businesses relocating within the county; and businesses that are expanding.
The program does not include businesses within incorporated towns.
Businesses outside the county airport or the industrial park must meet three criteria to be eligible:
Taxes and other revenue generated by the business and collected by the county have to exceed the grant amount no later than 80 months from when the business begins operations in the new, relocated, or expanded facility.
For every grant dollar received, the business must spend $23 on capital investments, with at least half expended within a year of receiving the grant.
For every $10,000 received in grant funds, the business must create at least one new, permanent, full-time job in the county, or must create at least 10 new jobs with a year of receiving the grant.
Businesses at the airport or in the industrial park only have to meet one of the criteria.
Applicants must provide financial statements.
The EDA will administer the grant program, but the county administrator must review all grant applications, which then will be presented to the board of supervisors for approval.
Library to Receive CARES Act Funds
The board of supervisors approved giving $20,000 in federal CARES Act funds to the Eastern Shore Public Library too help with expenses related to the coronavirus pandemic.
All expenditures will be incurred before Dec. 30, as the act requires.
The money will go to help all three libraries in Accomack County, including in Accomac, Chincoteague, and the Muddy Toes Library on Tangier.
Pandemic-related expenses include for cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment, plastic bags used for curbside pickup of books; book trucks to hold books in quarantine for one week after return; and sneeze guards and other larger barrier units.
Rebalancing the Budget
The board approved changes to the fiscal year 2021 budget passed in the early days of the pandemic last spring.
At the time, the board deferred employee raises, additional school funding, and some capital spending and approved quarterly appropriations rather than the typical annual appropriation, in light of budgetary unknowns related to the pandemic.
After a better than expected unassigned fund balance reported in the county fourth quarter financial report and the fact that the general assembly’s state budget adjustments did not significantly impact state aid to localities, Mason made recommendations to rebalance the 2021 budget, which the board approved Wednesday.
The action rescinds the quarterly appropriation process; eliminates four planned non-critical capital improvements (parking lights and an automatic gate at Sawmill Park, a fire suppression system for the clerk’s office, and exterior painting of the county administration building); replaces previously budgeted pay raises with one time, $600 bonuses for employees, effective Dec. 15; and leave the local share for the public school district as originally adopted.
County will Pursue Local Cigarette Tax
The board by concensus gave county staff the go ahead to look into imposing a local cigarette tax of up to two cents per cigarette or 40 cents per pack, after the general assembly passed legislation allowing counties to do so. The state measure takes effect July 1, 2021.
The tax could bring in at least $422,000 to the county, Mason said, adding the amount could be double. He noted northern Accomack County, near the Maryland state line, is a destination for cigarette sales.
“We are in a unique location for this,” Mason said.
The board will discuss the tax during its budget deliberations for next year’s budget.
The measure would require additional resources in the commissioner of revenue office, which would be charged with administration and enforcement of the tax, Mason said.
County to Hire Firm to Collect Delinquent Taxes
The board voted to contract with Taxing Authority Consulting Services to help collect delinquent property taxes. The firm is paid through a 20% fee that can be added onto the tax bills, so collection is at no cost to the county.
The treasurer’s office also will continue its own collection efforts, including DMV holds, delinquent notices, and others.
The board also voted to increase the courthouse security fee from $10 to $20, after a public hearing with no speakers.
Boat Ramp Parking Fees Approved
The board approved parking fees at county boat ramps after a public hearing at which no one spoke.
Accomack County taxpayers are exempt from the fees.
Two ramps, Queen’s Sound and Kegotank Landing, were removed from the list of facilities where fees will be charged because of land ownership at those facilities.
Violation of the parking fee requirement will be a class 4 misdeameanor with a fee of $75 per violation. Supervisor Robert Crockett noted court costs of $75 would also be charged, making the total expense to violators $150 per violation.
A daily permit will cost $7 per vehicle and/or boat trailer and an annual permit, for a 12-month period starting July 1, will cost $40.
For people with a Virginia saltwater recreational fishing license, reduced fees will be charged: $5 for a daily permit and $30 for an annual permit.
The permits may be purchased online or at the Accomack County Treasurer’s Office.
Accomack taxpayers will be issued an annual parking permit for each vessel and its trailer assessed with personal property tax by the county.
Other owners exempt form the fees may obtain an annual permit at no charge by applying to the treasurer.
Cellphone Tower Rezoning Approved
The board approved conditional rezoning from agricultural to general business of around 14 acres between Keller and Pungoteague to allow for a Verizon cellular tower.
The project still must be approved by the Board of Zoning Appeals for a special use permit.
The board voted to send a letter to the Department of Community Housing and Development, Del. Rob Bloxom, Sen. Lynwood Lewis, and Gov. Ralph Northam objecting to a determination that a challenge made by DNG, a wireless internet provider, to Accomack and Northampton counties’ grant application is valid.
In August, the two counties partnered to submit a regional application for state funds for broadband expansion in several communities.
The Virginia Telecommunications Initiative Grant, administered by the DHCD, is a major state funding mechanism for broadband internet improvements in localities.
DHCD in its finding noted “more than 10% of serviceable units for the proposed project area were identified as receiving service by DNG.”
Still, Mason said members of communities in the area proposed for the projects “overwhelmingly supported the application” made by the county, including petitions representing “just about every resident” of the communities.
“If this continues, it will be very difficult for us to get a grant from this program,” Crockett said, making the motion to send a letter to elected officials and the DHCD.
The county in its application requested $460,820 from DHCD for a regional broadband project including two projects in subdivisions in Accomack County and six in Northampton County.
The areas in Accomack County include Deer Point, which would serve around 49 residences, and Red Bank Road, which would serve around 30 residences.
The amount requested is 80% of the cost, with the remaining 20% to be paid by Charter Communications, according to the grant application.
The VATI program requires a partnership between a political entity and a private sector company.
By Carol Vaughn —