By Carol Vaughn —
The Accomack County Board of Supervisors Wednesday approved a 5% meals tax for Accomack County businesses outside incorporated towns.
The proceeds will be used to pay overtime instead of giving compensatory leave time to all nonexempt county employees, at an estimated annual cost of $241,000.
If the tax produces additional revenue, it will go into the general fund.
No one spoke at a public hearing about the tax, which will affect 68 businesses.
The board delayed implementation of the tax until January.
Discussion of imposing a meals tax in the county was prompted by anticipated costs associated with the General Assembly’s enactment of the Virginia Overtime Wages Act, which required overtime pay instead of comp time. Still, in a special session earlier this year, legislators changed the act to define wages and pay to include the award of comp time.
Gov. Ralph Northam signed the amended budget into law in August, but the provisions about comp time could change again, as they expire with the budget at the end of the fiscal year.
Northampton County has a 4% meals tax, which produced $329,000 in revenue in fiscal year 2020.
Accomack County towns with a meals tax include Onancock, 5%, Chincoteague, 5%, Parksley, 4%, and Onley, 4%.
Grant Approved for Eastern Shore Microbes Expansion
The board of supervisors approved awarding a $76,087 grant to Eastern Shore Microbes,
The grant award is contingent upon execution of a performance agreement between the Economic Development Authority and the company.
The business currently is located in Belle Haven, but needs room to grow, founder Russell Vreeland said in a presentation to the board.
Eastern Shore Microbes is a biotech company that treats wastewater sustainably, using a method they call Halophilic Evaporative Application Technology, or H.E.A.T.
“We are the only source (in the world) of this kind of technology for treatment and disposal of salty wastewater. … We are entirely green,” Vreeland said.
Industries including the meat packing industry can use the company’s technology to reduce the amount of wastewater stored in acres of lagoons.
“We are actually treating things that no machines can treat,” Vreeland said.
The company has five projects either in review or awaiting final approval — the value of the first four is around $40,000 per month, according to Vreeland. Another one, a major electric utility project, could generate $167,000 per month for 20 years, he said, noting all the revenue comes from outside Virginia.
The company expects to hire between 15 and 17 employees with the expansion.
Sawmill Park to Get New Entrance, Dog Park
Improvements to Sawmill Park included in the fiscal year 2022 budget include a new entrance road, additional parking for the Voter Registration office, and a dog park.
The board of supervisors approved the plan.
Relocating the entrance road will eliminate vehicles entering the park through the Voter Registration parking lot, according to Stewart Hall, deputy county administrator for Public Works and Facilities.
Improvements also will reconfigure a drive-thru for the secure ballot box located outside the Voter Registration office.
A dog park, likely with separate areas for small and big dogs, will be created northwest of the new road and will be near the tree line to provide afternoon shade, Hall said.
Bonus Pay for First Responders
The board directed staff to prepare a resolution giving a one-time bonus to county-employed first responders not covered by a similar state measure.
The board must approve the resolution at a future meeting for the bonus to take effect.
The state Compensation Board last month approved funding for each sheriff’s office and regional jail to give a one-time, $3,000 bonus to Compensation Board-funded positions, including sheriffs, deputies, regional jail superintendents, and corrections officers.
The action will result in $161,475 in Compensation Board-funded bonuses going to certain Accomack County Sheriff’s Office employees.
The board of supervisors in August directed staff to look into the cost to expand the bonus eligibility criteria to include Department of Public Safety positions and temporary, part-time Sheriff’s Office first responders. Those bonuses likely would have to be paid for using local money.
Supervisor Robert Crockett said he brought up the idea of giving bonuses to additional first responders to address inequities related to Department of Public Safety employees not receiving a bonus when Sheriff’s Office first responders do.
“It would be a tremendous morale problem,” he said.
Sheriff Todd Wessells in a Sept. 8 letter asked the board to expand the bonus eligibility to include his civilian staff, but the board action Wednesday included only first responder positions.
Supervisors Paul Muhly and Reneta Major spoke in favor of extending the bonus eligibility to other county employees, saying employees at the landfill, convenience centers, in civilian positions at the Sheriff’s Office, and in county offices all dealt with the public regularly during the pandemic.
“This pandemic changed everything,” said Muhly, noting the the county’s convenience centers never shut down.
“To me, all of them … have risked being exposed to this virus just as well as the first responders have,” said Major.
Employees to receive bonuses include court security and animal control employees and part-time sworn officers in the Sheriff’s Office, according to the motion made by Crockett and approved by the board.
Accomack County Administrator Mike Mason said a funding source for the expanded bonus eligibility will need to be identified.