By Carol Vaughn —
A $1.2 million grant awarded through the state’s Community Development Block Grant program will help meet urgent needs on the Eastern Shore related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Accomack County Board of Supervisors at the May 19 meeting authorized Accomack County Administrator Mike Mason to execute the agreement with the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development and other related documents and advertisements needed to implement the program.
The money will pay for rent and mortgage relief and reopening expenses for at least 33 small businesses in Accomack County; meals and/or personal protective equipment for 4,170 low- and moderate-income Shore residents; equipment to allow for safe and socially distanced operations at food banks; and computer, software, and technical equipment for Eastern Shore Community Services Board telework and tele-health operations related to COVID-19.
Food assistance includes providing vouchers for local restaurants and farmers markets to 750 low- and moderate-income Shore households; providing boxed lunches for 10 weeks to 220 youth later this summer through the Boys and Girls Club; and establishing food distribution sites and food delivery service of around 3,000 meals for 12 weeks as well as delivering personal protective equipment, supporting around 200 low- and moderate-income households through the ESAAA/CAA.
Additionally, Shore Delivery Corps, which has been delivering food and supplies to residents at their homes during the pandemic, will be reimbursed for mileage.
The county is forming partnerships with several organizations, including the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission, which is administering the program; ESAAA/CAA; Eastern Shore Community Services Board; the Eastern Shore Foundation; and the Boys and Girls Club, to provide the benefits.
Restaurants can receive up to $15,000 to provide food vouchers for lower-income residents, Elaine Meil of the ANPDC told the board of supervisors.
“That particular program will be run by the (ANPDC) and will actually be one of the first ones to start,” Meil said.
Mason also updated the board on several other grant-funded projects.
“We do have a lot of grants going on right now and some of them are very significant,” Mason said.
Two new homes have been completed and construction of a third is awaiting a zoning variance in a housing improvement project, funded through the CDBG program, in the Gospel Temple/Adams Crossing community near Keller. Two additional houses to be built are out on bid.
The first project management team meeting for a Makemie Park community improvement grant was held May 10 and a request for quotes has been issued for soil evaluator services.
Engineer services have been procured for elevation of up to eight houses in another grant program.
The grant period for the Mary N. Smith Cultural Center pre-planning grant was extended to June 30.
Library Construction Update
The board of supervisors authorized staff to execute a change order, in an amount not to exceed $130,000, to replace the existing roof on the portion of the new Eastern Shore Regional Library in Parksley that formerly was a grocery store.
The contractor for the construction project, R.H. Contracting, Inc., asked for the change in order to remove the existing roof and replace it with a new steel roof of the same type installed on the new addition.
The money will come from the contingency amount in the project budget.
Emergency Broadband Benefit Program
The Federal Communications Commission earlier this year established the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, a $3.2 billion federal initiative to provide qualifying households discounts on their internet service bills, according to Mason.
The program is open to households that participate in an existing low-income or pandemic relief program offered by a broadband provider; Lifeline subscribers, including those on Medicaid or accepting SNAP benefits; households with children receiving free and reduced-price school lunch or breakfast; Pell grant recipients; and people who lost jobs and saw their income reduced in the last year.
The program will provide eligible households with discounts of up to $50 a month for broadband service on a temporary basis. It will expire when funds are exhausted or six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares the end of the COVID-19 health emergency.
The Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority and other local broadband providers are participating, according to Mason.
Providers have information about the program on their websites, including how to enroll and apply. Residents who think they are eligible should contact their internet provider.
Customers can sign up by contacting a participating provider, enroll online at https://getemergencybroadband.org/, or sign up via mail. To learn more or get a mail-in application, call (833) 511-0311.
EDA Requests $50K From County
Supervisor Harrison Phillips III, who serves as board of supervisors liaison to the Accomack County Economic Development Authority, updated the board on the EDA’s recent accomplishments and plans and detailed a request from the EDA to increase the annual amount the county gives the authority from $7,500 to $50,000.
“To my knowledge there has been no new construction in the industrial park for at least 14 years, but about a year and a half ago, the EDA, which consists of many new members, sold a lot within the industrial park — it has either broken ground or it’s about to break ground very soon,” Phillips said.
A local company is relocating to the park “and growing its business here in our county, which is exactly what our EDA should be fostering,” he said, adding the business likely would have been “up and running” at the location by now but was held up by permitting and stormwater issues, which have since been rectified.
“Part of what the additional funding will be used for if approved will be streamlining the permitting process for any business that wishes to move into the park,” Phillips said.
He noted the EDA has been working with the county to bring unmanned aerial systems and commercial aviation customers into the Accomack County Airport, which adjoins the industrial park in Melfa.
The EDA is in negotiations to purchase the former Piedmont Aviation, or Lucas, property which abuts the airport on two sides, Phillips said, noting the property includes a hangar, office space, and warehouse space.
The EDA has agreed to pay up to $70,000 from its budget for related improvements on county property, including a service road and widening of an existing gate.
“These potential customers will bring new jobs, increased fuel sales, and generate additional direct revenues to the county,” Phillips said, adding the EDA has been in talks with several commercial and governmental aviation and business prospects for a lease/purchase of the Lucas property hangar should the EDA acquire the property.
Additionally, the EDA has been working with state elected officials to secure funding to build a new hangar on airport property, Phillips said, adding, “That money is expected to be received in July, thanks to Del. Bloxom, who is also a valuable EDA board member, and Sen. Lewis. They were able to get the funding in the final state budget for this coming fiscal year.”
The EDA currently receives $7,500 a year from the county.
Phillips did not ask the board for immediate action on the request to increase the amount to $50,000.
The additional money would help the EDA move forward with purchase of the Lucas property; make improvements to the property to make it ready for customers; clear a lot across from the property; work with the county to create an all-inclusive checklist with all contacts and requirements a business needs to develop a property within the industrial park to streamline the process; create a comprehensive, park-wide stormwater plan; and assist with costs of EDA professional staff.
Pay Raise for County Administrator
The board after going into executive session for a performance review of Accomack County Administrator Mike Mason voted to offer Mason a four-year employment agreement, extending through April 2025, along with a 5% pay raise effective July 1.