Accomack ARPA Funds To Benefit Broadband, Child Care, Fire Companies, and Library Roof

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By Carol Vaughn —

Accomack County officials at a Sept. 15 meeting continued discussion of how to use nearly $6.3 million in federal funds coming to the county as result of the American Rescue Plan Act.
The Board of Supervisors previously identified three priorities for spending for the first of two installments of federal funding: childcare, volunteer fire and rescue companies, and broadband expansion.
The county has received the first installment, around $3.1 million. The second, equal installment is expected next year.
Of the first installment, officials have said $1.5 million will go to broadband, around $215,000 is for a roof for the new library; $630,000 is to go to volunteer fire companies; and $600,000 is to expand child care in the county.
Ann Williams of Children’s Harbor, Karen Downing of Virginia Organizing, and Shelley Strain, director the the Eastern Shore Coalition Against Domestic Violence, spoke during a public comment period about funding needs.
Strain told the board ESCADV recently acquired a facility with room for expansion, thanks to a donor. Still, the property, the former G.F. Horne facility in Onancock, needs renovations, she said, noting, “This is going to be an extensive project.”
Downing said Virginia Organizing supports using ARPA funds to improve child care in the county, but wants to ensure funds are distributed “in an equitable way.”
Williams updated the board on work at the former Fairgrounds restaurant property in Tasley, which is being repurposed for a child care center.
The projected opening date is January 2022, she said.
Wessells said the state gave $250,000 in seed money for the Eastern Shore center, which also has received some other grants.
“Your commitment to child care and trying to increase child care on the Eastern Shore will go a long way,” she told the board, asking for “a good chunk” of the ARPA money. Children’s Harbor will be able to train workers for other centers and preschools, she said.
The board of supervisors reviewed draft guidelines for a child care start-up and expansion grant program and also for a revenue replacement grant program for volunteer fire companies, both funded through ARPA.
Federal guidelines dictate funds to improve access to child care must be targeted to help economically disadvantaged communities, which by definition includes only certain census tracts of the county.
The proposed maximum award is $150,000.
The target date for the grant application to go live on the county website is Nov. 1.
The guidelines for volunteer fire company grants, presented by County Administrator Mike Mason, put the maximum grant award per fire company at $45,000, an amount Supervisor Donald L. Hart Jr. proposed raising to $50,000, with board consensus.
The target date for the application portal for the VFC grants to go live on the county website is January, 1, 2002.
For both types of grants, application could be made online under the guidelines, which the board must approve before they are implemented.
Mason also updated the board on an application made to the state for funds to expand broadband. The $8.37 million application was submitted by the Sept. 14 deadline and, if approved, would pay for 146 miles of new network construction, including 18 miles in Captains Cove.
The county committed to a required local cash match of $929,508, along with a $745,049 match coming from previous projects.
Library Construction Update
The board of supervisors approved a change order for construction management services provided by an architectural firm for the regional library being built in Parksley.
The fee is $23,572 for an additional four months, after the completion date for the library was pushed back to the end of January 2022.
Money for the additional fee is in the project budget.
Avigation Easement Approved at Airport
No one from the public spoke at a hearing to consider granting and accepting avigation easements needed to protect the safety of aircraft approaching and landing at the county airport in Melfa.
The board of supervisors approved a resolution saying the county grants an easement from the county to itself and that the county administrator is authorized to accept avigation easements granted by the Economic Development Authority and by Painter Holdings, LLC, a private landowner.
An avigation easement gives the county a right of flight across property adjoining the airport for the purpose of protecting aircraft approaching or taking off against electronic interference, lighting, glare, and obstructions such as buildings, structures, and trees.
Four-Year University Study Requested
The board of supervisors directed the county administrator to send a letter to Gov. Ralph Northam requesting a feasibility study be initiated “to examine the value and importance of obtaining a 4-year degree on the Eastern Shore,” according to the agenda item.
A draft version of the letter included in the meeting packet notes a business plan for a four-year university on the Shore created by a team from the executive MBA program of Virginia Commonwealth University; commitment from ESCC and NASA Wallops officials to provide facilities for a branch campus in its early years of development; and VCU management’s expressed interest in opening a branch campus on the Shore.
“Now, it is time for the next step,” the letter says, continuing, “The State Council of Higher Education (SCHEV) should undertake a feasibility study that explores the value and importance of obtaining a four-year degree on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.”