By Carol Vaughn —
A representative from Team Brianna, Donna Leonard, made a presentation at Monday’s Chincoteague Town Council meeting thanking the council for their assistance during the planning and creation of Brianna’s Kindness Park and presenting the council a check for $48,602.76, raised through fundraisers.
Team Brianna asked to remain involved in the planning process for the park as it nears completion and asked that the donation be earmarked to be used for projects already discussed for the park, including adding shade, a “hangout” section for teens, and a handicapped accessible area.
Team Brianna “would be happy to step up to the plate” should funds needs to be raised for future projects, Leonard said, adding, “The town has done a commendable job on this project.”
Downtown Murals Comment
Resident Patricia Farley during the public comment period said the idea of creating murals downtown, mentioned at a recent council meeting, is exciting.
She was involved in numerous public art projects in Pittsburgh, Penn.
“What I want to encourage council to do is think about ways that you can bureaucratize the process of reviewing and approving murals,” she said.
“We are blessed with an island full of artists and we have art everywhere, but we don’t have a lot of art in the public realm,” she said.
She noted two popular examples, the mural in Watson Park and the Misty statue downtown.
Farley said she was “thrilled” when she heard Mayor J. Arthur Leonard speak at a recent council meeting about revitalizing the downtown area.
“Artists and art always have a positive impact on economic stability. … (Art) says to the community and to the visitors — particularly here — we love this town, this is our history, this is something that we value — and right now, downtown is in great need of some love.
It does not look loved right now, for a number of reasons,” Farley said.
She noted Princess Anne, Md., recently held a mural competition.
“Money is available. National arts organizations love murals and there is money available. There are also buildings available; I know of two that would love to have a mural on them,” she said.
To install murals downtown, some review process would need to be established, she said.
Town Wells Status
Town Manager Mike Tolbert reported that the latest test results from NASA Wallops Flight Facility for the filtration plant for the town’s water show the water before treatment “still contains PFAS, five to 25 times the EPA advisory level for drinking water of 70 nanograms per liter.” After filtration, all samples were lower than three nanograms per liter or undetectable, which means the process is working, he said.
The system has been in operation for nearly a year and has treated more than 38 million gallons of water.
The town’s wells are on NASA property.
“As you know, NASA would like us to move our wells from their property,” Tolbert said.
Proposed federal legislation would fund relocation of the town wells, providing up to $14 million for the relocation over a five-year period. The legislation is pending before Congress.
The town purchased property south of the NASA Wallops main base and drilled some test wells there to see if it is a suitable site to locate town wells. Initial tests did not show the volume required to meet the town’s demand.
Still, a geologist said the property still could work out.
The town now has a chance to add comments and suggested changes to the proposed legislation, according to Tolbert.
“One of the things that we intend to ask for is … some more time,” he said, adding he and Public Works Director Harvey Spurlock spoke to a geologist who works for the Department of Environmental Quality, who said five years likely is not sufficient time to do what needs to be done.
Secondly, town officials would like “to look seriously at an RO plant, a reverse osmosis plant,” Tolbert said.
NASA Wallops officials have offered to facilitate a meeting between town officials and the Virginia congressional delegation staff to discuss inserting language in the legislation that would allow alternatives to ground water wells and would extend the funding window.
The meeting is expected to happen in the next two weeks, Tolbert said.
Marijuana legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2021 “had a recommit clause in it and the General Assembly this year failed to do that,” Tolbert said.
As result, localities do not have the authority to act on the legislation passed last year — either to hold a referendum or to adopt parallel ordinances based on the state ordinances.
“Long story short, we have to wait for the next General Assembly session. Hopefully they will pass something that we can act on,” he said.
Meals and Hotel Tax Revenue Up
Chincoteague’s general fund revenues are higher than normal at this point in the year, mainly due to meals and transient occupancy tax revenue “significantly exceeding their budgeted values,” according to Tolbert’s report.
Although both were down slightly from April 2021 figures, meals tax revenue of $52,866 still exceeded the three-year average by $12,751.
Transient occupancy tax revenue collected in April, $41,515, exceeded the three-year average by $5,479.
Harvey Spurlock, Director of Public Works, is retiring after working for the town since 2009.
Spurlock “has served the Town loyally since August of 2009. He has overseen some very large projects and changes for the Town during his tenure and his expertise will be missed. Harvey will continue his career at Wallops Flight Facility with Jacobs and has promised to lend his support to the Town during the search and transition for his replacement,” Tolbert said in his report.
The position and the civic center director position have been advertised.
The seven-day positivity rate for COVID-19 testing as of Monday was 9.8%, according to Bryan Rush, Chincoteague Director of Emergency Services.
A month ago, the rate was 4.3%.
Last year, in May 2021, the rate was 4.6%.
“So again, we’re starting to see a little climb,” Rush said.
Reporting of cases by ZIP code stopped on March 14 this year, with Chincoteague’s total at that point being 481.
2023 Budget Public Hearing
No one spoke at the 2023 budget public hearing.
Highlights of Chincoteague’s fiscal year 2023, $9.8 million, budget include the town taking on the Chincoteague Civic Center fund.
Additionally, the Virginia Retirement System employer contribution increased by 2.81%.
The budget also includes a 5% increase for employee health insurance and two new positions in the Chincoteague Police Department.
Capital improvement highlights in the budget include rebuilding the boat ramp at Memorial Park; replacing a backhoe; purchasing a patrol car for the police department; replacing the Cropper Street water and storm sewer lines, as well as pavement and sidewalks; and replacement of the final wooden pier at Curtis Merritt Harbor.
The general fund budget is nearly $7 million.
The harbor fund budget is $1.135 million, about half of which is for capital improvements.
The trolley fund budget totals $262,652, including replacing a trolley.
The water fund budget totals $1.144 million.
The civic center fund budget totals $438,194, which includes proposed capital improvements.
The council at its last meeting approved lowering the real estate tax rate from 7 cents to 5.9 cents per hundred dollars of value, after the 2022 Accomack County assessment showed increased values.
The council will consider approving the budget at its work session May 19.