By Stefanie Jackson — Exmore has been approved by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development to receive a maximum $1 million Community Development Block Grant for the town’s sewer project, successfully competing against other applicants for a total of $8.8 million in available funding.
“We’re not through. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we’re closer than we were last year” to having the sewer project fully funded, said Town Manager Robert Duer during the July 12 town council meeting.
He is currently estimating the project will cost $16 million.
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have offered Exmore low-interest loans and grants totaling more than $16 million.
However, the town is seeking to maximize the grant awards it can receive and minimize the amount it will borrow to pay for the sewer project, a complete replacement and expansion of Exmore’s collection system.
Duer said the project might be fully funded if costs hadn’t risen sharply due to COVID-19 and other factors.
Director of Utilities Taylor Dukes noted the cost of pipes had risen 300%. “It’s terrible” but “we’re going to make it,” Duer said.
Exmore has about 18 months to get its sewer-related financial affairs in order. The Hampton Roads Sanitation District plans to break ground on a sewer force main Jan. 1, 2022, and complete construction in one year.
Exmore Fire Chief Greg DeYoung reported that a grant received by the local fire department helped recruit more volunteer firefighters, but there are still “not enough” to fill the community’s need.
When the department is able to send out a truck, it is often operated by just one or two people, DeYoung said.
It’s not just Exmore that’s affected. Neighboring communities like Nassawadox, Painter, Wachapreague, and Melfa depend on Exmore’s firefighting assistance, DeYoung pointed out.
Every fire department in Northampton County is 100% volunteer, but the Exmore fire department is considering creating a part-time, paid position to help fill its staffing needs, he said.
Duer later said that Exmore will work with its fire department on the issue but “we cannot fund the fire department and the county needs to know that.”
Exmore’s real estate tax rate is 12 cents per $100 of assessed value, which every property owner in town pays on top of Northampton County’s real estate tax rate of about 83 cents per $100 of assessed value.
For every cent charged per $100 of assessed value, Exmore receives about $8,000 but Northampton County receives about $163,000, Duer said.
In the “economies of scale,” Northampton County “can raise the money because there’s a so much bigger pocket to pull from,” he said.
Duer asked Town Council members if they believe Exmore should purchase ransomware protection for the computers owned by the town and used to conduct official town business.
Ransomware is a type of malicious software or virus that can block access to personal data or threaten to publish personal data unless a ransom is paid.
Duer did not need a vote before he could proceed, but he wanted the Town Council members to be informed of the situation and have a chance to voice their opinions. They agreed purchasing ransomware protection would be in the best interest of the town.
The service would cost Exmore approximately $100 a month or $1,200 a year.
Duer recommended purchasing the protection because “all it takes is one attack” – one demand of $100,000, and the protection would be worth 100 years of payments, he said.
He admitted the odds of a ransomware attack in Exmore were probably slim but “my job is to protect the town’s assets. I think we need to do it.”