By Ryan Kushner
The Smithfield Town Council is looking at a real estate tax increase to pay off nearly $300,000 in debt service for large town projects undertaken last year.
At the town’s first budget work session Tuesday, Town Manager Peter Stephenson presented the Council with the need to address impending debt service payments for a $5 million loan taken out by the town last year to fund restorations to Windsor Castle and the Joseph Luter Jr. sports complex.
“We made commitments to these projects without dedicating revenue to them,” said Stephenson to the Council, three of whom were absent at the meeting. Not present were Denise Tynes, Andrew Gregory and Mike Smith.
The debt service would need to be paid in the fiscal year 2018, in the amount of $277,472.
“It would be hard to find that much expense to cut,” said Town Treasurer Ellen Minga.
Minga added that one cent on the real estate tax rate brings in about $108,000.
Stephenson said that he believed Windsor Castle and the sports complex would begin generating revenue on their own in the future, but can’t bank on any money from the projects in the next fiscal year.
Council member Connie Chapman asked if the town would receive any revenue from the sports complex at all, as it is slated to be managed by the Smithfield Recreation Association, a private nonprofit, when it is completed.
With still no lease agreement between SRA and the town, Council members said it was not clear yet.
According to Stephenson and Smithfield Parks and Recreation Director Amy Musick, no cost analysis has been done as to whether the sports complex will generate revenue to the town.
Council member Randy Pack brought up a possible real estate tax to pay off the debt service, or doubling the town’s business license fee.
“That’s about as unpopular a tax there is,” said Pack of a real estate tax. “We have to talk about it if nothing else.”
Minga presented three budgetary options to the Council, one of which contained no new positions or raises for town staff.
“If we’re falling short in revenue what happens if we go with the unpopular position of no raises, no new positions?” asked Pack, acknowledging that no one would want to do that. “What happens if you tell your staff, ‘Sorry guys, love you all, suck it up for a year, we’re tight?’”
Stephenson said that such an option would mean putting money into facilities and not employees.
“I don’t think the reaction would be very favorable,” said Stephenson.
As the town pays for 100 percent of employee health insurance, and 50 percent of employees’ family coverage, Chapman inquired about no longer covering employee families.
“I’m going to be the one to ask it,” said Chapman.
Minga said that such a move would leave some town employees $6,000-$7,000 in the hole.
Council member Milton Cook said that the town would able to begin selling lots at Pinewood Heights, which could generate some money.
Council members joked about other ways to find the revenue, including holding bake sales and more ticketing.
The Town Council Finance Committee will meet Monday, April 24 at 4 p.m. at The Smithfield Center.
Medical research next up for Foods
By Diana McFarland
Smithfield Foods is looking to turn hogs into more than just ham and bacon.
Foods announced last week that it plans to use hog byproducts for medical uses, such as organ transplants and creating tissue to be used in humans.
Smithfield Bioscience will support a range of biotechnology solutions in areas of human therapeutics, tissue fabrication and regenerative medicine.
The company plans to collect pig hearts, kidneys and livers for study in making those organs compatible for human transplantation.
By Ryan Kushner
SURRY—With most of its conditions to be met by the county, minus annual payments of $200,000, the Surry Town Council voted to move forward with its decision to transfer its wastewater treatment systems to the Hampton Roads Sanitation District.
The Town Council had previously voted to deed its sewer systems to HRSD following a public hearing held in March, but with the prerequisite that the county keep several previously undisclosed agreements with the town.
The conditions were later revealed in a letter to the county to include cutting the town’s grass, emptying trash cans in “Oaks Park,” and annual payments of $200,000.
The Surry Board of Supervisors agreed earlier this month to comply with four of the town’s five conditions to deeding its systems, rejecting only its request for the annual payments.
By Diana McFarland
Cameras have allowed the public to see how an encounter with police actually unfolds.
If the encounter ends in an arrest, both the prosecution and defense can use the video to aid their case in court.
But all that video, from body cameras and car cameras, must be uploaded, put on CDs and watched by prosecutors. The average length of a DUI video is 45 minutes, and often there is more than one, said Isle of Wight County Commonwealth’s Attorney Georgette Phillips.
The increased workload has led Phillips to ask for two new positions in her office — another attorney and an administrative assistant.
Isle of Wight County Administrator Randy Keaton said he’s seen this request in other localities, a direct result from the increased use of cameras by law enforcement.