Pennington Council Approves 2% Meals Tax Increase

PENNINGTON GAP – The Town of Pennington Gap held public hearings for a proposed 2% increase to the Town’s meals tax and budget amendments for the 2016-17 budget at their regularly scheduled meeting this past Monday, June 19, 2017 at 6 p.m. in the Pennington Gap Town Council Chamber at 528 Industrial Drive.

The mayor and all council members were present, as were Town Manager Keith Harless, Town Treasurer Tina Rowe, Town Clerk Angela O’Dell, Town Attorney Greg Edwards, and PGPD Chief Jacob Kilbourne. Others present were Mr. Jeff Cochran of The Lane Group, Mr. Rick Watson of Powell Valley News, Mr. Woodrow W. Grizzle III of The Lee Daily Register, and citizens Mr. Josh Ely, Ms. Courtney Ely, Ms. Roberta Thacker, Mr. Bill Wireman, Mr. Jimmy Smallwood, and Ms. Roberta Smallwood.

Mayor Holbrook called the meeting to order at 6 p.m. Pastor Angela O’Dell offered the invocation prayer, which was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, also led by Ms. O’Dell.

Mayor Holbrook then called to order the public hearings and asked for public comment. No comments were made, and the public hearings were then closed at 6:04 p.m. Council later approved the 2% increase on meals tax and the 2017-18 budget. Voting was unanimous for the budget approval, but Mr. Pope dissented from an otherwise unanimous vote to approve the 2% meals tax, citing his reticence to further increase taxes as other burdens have been recently placed on citizens’ pocketbooks. The Town meals tax rate will now be 7%, which is comparable to other municipalities in our region. Mr. Pope remarked that Virginia Beach has the highest meals tax in the Commonwealth at over 10%.

Council then approved the agenda for the current meeting, the minutes of the council meeting on May 15, 2017, the May 31, 2017 public hearing on the 2017-18 budget, and the June 8, 2017 emergency called meeting, as well as paying the bills.

Citizen’s Recognition

Mr. Josh Ely took the floor and thanked the council for their support in providing the Community Center for his SAT/ACT test prep workshop that will take place this Saturday, June 24 at 10 a.m. Mr. Ely also spoke about his new business, Appalachian Test Prep LLC, which is geared toward preparing area students for success in higher education.

Mr. Ely said that 20 students have now pre-registered for Saturday’s SAT/ACT workshop, noting that a number of those students are from out of state. He said that he was somewhat surprised by that result, but he is happy to know that students will be traveling to Pennington Gap from other areas to take advantage of this beneficial workshop.

Ms. Carson said that she and Melanie Jorgensen have been working with Lee High School students for some time to get them interested in higher education, and that she is glad to see what Mr. Ely is doing and would like to speak with him further on how to work together.

Department Reports

Police Department – Chief Jacob Kilbourne

Chief Kilbourne started by saying that, contrary to reports, the police department does not have a drone.

He said that the PGPD is interested in setting up a blood drive and asked if the Council would have a problem with PGPD sponsoring a blood drive. He added that the blood would be used locally. Council approved and said that they had no problem with that.

Chief Kilbourne also reported that there have been numerous meth labs found in garbage cans, and he commended the sanitation workers for reporting those discoveries.

Chief Kilbourne reported that PGPD recently received a JAG grant, and that he wants to purchase new side arms for PGPD with that money. The guns he wants to buy are Glock .40 semi-automatic pistols. PGPD currently uses older-model Glock .45 semi-autos, which are different from, and do not have interchangeability with, the side arms currently used by Lee County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) and the Virginia State Police (VSP), who carry Glock 40’s. Kilbourne stated that having the same firearms could be very beneficial, should PGPD become involved in a shoot-out situation along with LCSO or VSP; if they have the same weapons and ammo, they will be able to share with fellow officers. Chief Kilbourne said that the old Glock .45 side arms would be offered back to officers for personal purchase or to pawn shops to help recoup some of the funds from buying the new guns. Council unanimously approved the purchase of new Glock .40 side arms for PGPD.

Chief Kilbourne also reported that they have received only one application for school resource officer, and he asked council to consider hiring for the position. Council voted to consider the matter further in closed session.

Lee Theatre

Greg Edwards reported that Lee Players would not be able to do monthly performances and keep quality and ticket sales up at the same time.

Keith Harless reported that he had spoken with Don Williams, who asked the Town for a sponsorship of Lee Haw V, which will occur in August. In the past, the Town has always kept concession proceeds and half of the ticket sales, with the other half going to Lee Players. The sponsorship would be $100. Council voted unanimously to approve the sponsorship and to continue the past tradition of keeping concession money, while splitting ticket proceeds 50-50 with Lee Players.

Engineering Projects

Greenway Trail Update

Jeff Cochran of The Lane Group reported that TVA has completed a survey that will allow work on the Greenway Trail to continue. He also said that next week he will be discussing some changes and specific terms in that contract noting that some budget items will need adjustment: some up, some down.

Leeman Field Projects

Mr. Cochran commended the Town for the success of the permit office opening on May 30, and he said that DCR (the agency funding the project) was impressed with both the facility and the event. He said that is currently working on the drawdown of funds and hopes to close that project up within the next 30-60 days. Mr. Cochran added that DCR’s Synthia Wamack was very positive about her visit to Pennington Gap and all the Town’s current projects.

Wastewater Treatment Plant

Mr. Cochran said that The Lane Group will begin designing the new facility soon to submit to DEQ (Va. Department of Environmental Quality) for approval. He added that they will advertise requests for bids shortly (about 30 days or less), and he expects construction could start as soon as in 120 days.

Treasurer’s Report

Tina Rowe apologized to Council for her report not being in their packets due to computer problems. She said that she would need a motion for Council to approve the low bid for a loan not to exceed $300k from Powell Valley National Bank for the water project. Council so moved and voted unanimously to approve.

Ms. Rowe reported that the VML insurance quote for this coming year reflected a 27% increase over last year. That increase amounts to $28,692 added expense for the Town’s insurance. The increase in premiums is due largely to the claim for the major fire that destroyed Town offices as well as the addition to the new permit office being added to the policy. Town Manager Keith Harless also added that the Town discovered that some of their vehicles had been inadvertently left off the policy in previous years and that those vehicles were now added.

Ms. Rowe presented several options for reducing the premium quote, and Council decided by unanimous vote to go with “Option 1”, which was a change to $2,500 as a property deductible and otherwise to accept the VML quote.

Ms. Rowe also told Council that she had met with Beau Blevins of Virginia Investment Pool about an opportunity for the Town to earn money on investments with ancillary funds. She said that the money could be transferred into the investment pool to earn a higher interest rate, and then transferred back into the checking account when desired. Ms. Rowe advised that Council would have to pass an ordinance to do this, and Council voted unanimously to hold a public hearing on July 17, 2017 at 6 p.m. to discuss an ordinance to that effect.

Council also unanimously approved the 2017-18 budget.

Town Manager’s Report

Keith Harless reported that the two submitted bond counsel bids were reviewed. These bids were from Glenn Feldman and Spilman, Thomas & Darby. The committee ranked Spilman’s bid higher than Feldman’s in terms of feasibility and cost-effectiveness. Councilman Terry Pope moved that the Council accept Feldman’s bid because they had always done good work in the past and have, at times, saved money from original estimates. However, after further discussion on the matter, and reiteration that Spillman’s bid scored higher than Feldman’s (by about 10 points), Pope withdrew his motion, saying “if it’s apples to apples, then let’s go with less money.”

Council voted unanimously to approve hiring Spillman, et. al.

Council also unanimously approved authorizing Mr. Harless to sign paperwork and address decisions about the Housing Rehab Project.

Mr. Harless announced a DEQ award of principal forgiveness in the amount of $700k to go toward wastewater treatment plant upgrades. The Town has been awarded over $1M in grant funding since March, Harless added.

Mr. Harless also announced a 62-mile bicycle race to take place on July 15, 2017. Organized by Josh Terry and John Raeside, the Gap to Gap bike race will start at Leeman Field, go to Chadwell’s Gap near Caylor, and return to Leeman Field for the finish.

Finally, Mr. Harless addressed developments in the Town’s bear problems. The Town currently has no ordinance stating citizens must put their garbage in containers, and that trash left out in bags is a major attractor of bears. Harless noted that bear-proof containers are expensive, but that there are grant funds available that might pay for them. He hopes to explore those options and find a way to pay for those bear proof containers for the Town’s citizens.

Town Attorney’s Report

Mr. Edwards produced a definition of hazardous waste to the town and advised that a public hearing would be necessary to adopt the formal definition.

Mr. Edwards also provided to Council definitions of “recreational burning” and “non-commercial preparation of food”.

Mr. Pope moved that Council approve a public hearing to amend Town ordinances on burning and solid waste to include the definitions Mr. Edwards presented. Mr. McElyea seconded the motion, and Council approved the advertising of a public hearing to take place July 17, 2017 at 6 p.m. in Council Chambers.

Council Member Reports

Jill Carson reported that she recently met with Bonnie Elosser and women interested in a therapeutic pool in Pennington Gap. Ms. Carson said that as she spoke with them, she presented the idea that the Town might be more amenable to the idea if it were enlarged to include not just a therapeutic pool, but also a wellness center, which would have other offerings. Ms. Carson suggested that the group approach Stone Mountain Health Services to explore potential for partnership.

Ms. Carson also reported that she and Mr. Harless attended a FOIA/COIA conference in Roanoke earlier this week. She said that she learned that Council had been unnecessarily restricting itself, stating that committees of up to three (3) council members can meet to discuss issues without fear of violating the Sunshine Law. The Sunshine Law governs what governmental agencies must not do away from the public eye and guarantees transparency. Ms. Carson added that committee meetings do not fall under the same legal consideration as council meetings. Ms. Carson also stated that Council members are not required to file Statement of Income (SOI) paperwork for Conflict of Interest (COI) compliance because Pennington Gap’s population is under 3,500 people.

Gary McElyea reported positive response to the recent Neighborhood Watch meeting, but he felt that the next meeting should be better advertised.

Jeff Martin remarked that the lawnmower pulls and drag strip activities are doing great, and that people are loving what they are seeing—both here and abroad. He added that in a recent conversation with WCYB’s Olivia Bailey, Bailey told Martin that she was impressed and that “this little town is moving forward fast”.

Terry Pope asked the Town Attorney to check with Karen Mullins in Wise County to see about possible courses of action insofar as continuing property maintenance problems are concerned. Mr Harless advised that the Town can go in and clean up certain properties, but the problem is the cost: sometimes the Town ends up spending more on cleaning the property up than the property is worth. This becomes a financial problem because the Town is spending more on properties than they will recoup from property taxes in any near term.

Mr. Pope added that he is still working on getting Pennington Gap added to government access television.

Also, Pope mentioned that there has been no decision as of yet regarding trademarking a name for Stone Mountain Trail.

Mr. Pope suggested that the Town develop a policy for FOIA requests that sets up procedure and cost.

Additionally, Mr. Pope said it would be nice to online reservations for renting pavilions and the permit office, as well as to consider looking into solar panels as a means for the Town to save on electricity costs.

CLOSED SESSION

Council voted to go into closed session at 7:30 p.m. Before going into closed session, council members and citizens took a few moments to rest and to visit and catch up with one another. No council business was discussed, but it was a nice opportunity to speak with Council and Town officials while everyone is together.

After going into closed session Council returned to open session at 9:05 p.m. After verifying that nothing was discussed in closed session except those things stated and allowed under the Code of Virginia, the following reports and votes were made.

Mr. Harless advised that Council needed to approve one bill that was mistakenly omitted from the list of bills to be paid. The omitted bill was for $12k to Glass Equipment for asphalt work. Mr. Pope moved to approve the added bill. Mr. McElyea seconded the motion, and Council voted unanimously to approve.

Mr. Martin moved that Council approve a lease/purchase agreement for real estate. Mr. Warner seconded the motion, and Council voted unanimously to approve.

Mr. McElyea moved to approve hiring a school resource officer. Council voted 4-1 to approve, with Mr. Pope dissenting. Ms. Carson abstained.

Terry Pope stated that he does not consider it a Town responsibility to provide a service for a County school. Pope added that he thinks the County should provide more assistance.

Jimmy Warner moved to direct Town Manager Harless and PGPD Chief Jacob Kilbourne to attend the upcoming Lee County School Board meeting to request additional funds for a School Resource Officer. Mr. Pope seconded the motion, and Council voted unanimously to approve.

Gary McElyea moved to give Chief Kilbourne permission to hire the officer discussed in the first part of the meeting’s open session as School Resource Officer. Jeff Martin seconded the motion, and Council voted 4-1 to approve, with Mr. Pope dissenting. Ms. Carson abstained.

Jeff Martin moved to recess until July 28, 2017 at 11 a.m. for the Organization Meeting. Ms. Carson seconded, and Council voted unanimously to approve.

Council recessed at 9:20 p.m.

 

——TOWN of PENNINGTON GAP OFFICIALS——

Mayor:  Mr. Larry W. Holbrook

Council Members: (in alphabetical order)

Ms. Jill Carson

Mr. Jeff Martin

Mr. Gary McElyea

Mr. Terry K. Pope

Mr. Jimmy Warner

Town Manager:   Mr. Keith Harless

Town Treasurer:   Ms. Tina Rowe

Town Attorney:   Mr. Greg Edwards

Town Clerk:   Ms. Angela O’Dell

Police Chief:   Mr. Jacob Kilbourne

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