Supervisors return to face COVID-19 issues

By Heather Michon

The Fluvanna Board of Supervisors returned from a month-long break on Wednesday (Aug 5) to tackle many of the same COVID-19 related issues they were debating before the hiatus.

The difference is, now they have more federal money to put towards relief.

With the release of a fresh tranche of CARES Act funding, Fluvanna will receive  another $2.38 million, for a total of around $4.8 million since the bill was passed by Congress in late March.

Small business relief

At least part of the money will go to the FROM: Fluvanna Small Business Grant program.

Economic Development Coordinator Bryan Rothamel said 79 local businesses met the qualification for the grant program and were invited to apply, along with seven nonprofits. This would use up much of the $450,000 originally earmarked for the program.

“Do we want to close the grant program,” he asked, “or do you want to open a second round of applications on a first come-first, serve basis?”

Supervisors voted 5-0 to add an additional $450k the program.

Funds for Protection and Sanitation

Rothamel and his intern, Austin Katstra, also requested $1,000 in CARES funding for hand sanitizing stations for local businesses.

In talking with business owners, they found a high demand for sanitizing dispensers. “The biggest thing about recovery that we’re finding out is [building] consumer confidence, and the more cleanliness you give, it’s a big help,” said Rothamel.

The supervisors decided to increase the funding to $3,000, which could provide up to 20 dispensers and four gallons of sanitizing gel.

Later in the meeting, they approved a request for $2,500 per fire station for personal protective equipment and sanitizing supplies.


Along the same lines, Fluvanna County Public Schools is requesting $300,000 in CARES funding for protective equipment, sanitizing supplies, and medical equipment. This would include 10,000 face masks and face shields, 7000 canisters of bleach wipes, a dozen new handwashing stations, and 18 isolation cots for sick children, and PPE and supplies for nurses.

They also want to purchase 200 thermometers for lower-income families. FCPS Executive Director Don Stribling told supervisors that they will request parents do a symptom check and take temperatures in the morning before schools, and want to make sure all families have a thermometer on hand.

During discussions later in the meeting, supervisors heard more from county staff about ways to increase broadband access to underserved parts of the county, particularly the Fork Union area, and Parks and Recreation Director Aaron Spitzer briefed them on potential locations for daycare programs for the children of working parents under FCPS’s planned hybrid schedule. Both issues are likely to come back on the agenda in the coming weeks.

Socially distanced meeting space

Also under discussion was the need for a new meeting space.

Supervisors and other committees and commissions have long utilized the county courthouse for meetings. That building was closed to the public in the spring. For months, meetings have been held in the County Administration Building’s Morris Room, which can only hold ten people under social distancing guidelines. With the access to the courthouse limited for the foreseeable future, County Administrator Eric  Dahl and his staff have found limited alternative spaces for public meetings.

Dahl introduced two options: use CARES Act funds to refurbish the basement in the County Administration Building at a cost of $477,000 or purchase a prefabricated building and install it at Pleasant Grove for around $1.3 million.

The basement option would result in seating for around 75 people, while a new building could hold up to 150, and could be utilized for other purposes when the health emergency is over.

Dahl’s concern was that a freestanding building, even a prefabricated model, might be hard to accomplish using CARES Act funding before the current Dec. 30 deadline. While it is likely the deadline for using the funds will be extended, he warned that, if it was not, the county would be responsible for the full cost of a new building.

“This can be built if we’re dedicated,” said Supervisor Donald Weaver (Cunningham). “If you’re going to start out with ‘it can’t be done,’ it’s not going to be done.”

Supervisor Mozell Booker said she would rather see money put to enhanced broadband and health services.

After debate, they voted 4-1 to approve renovation of the County Administration building basement, with Supervisor Weaver voting no. Chair Mike Sheridan (Columbia) said he want to revisit the discussion of the deadline for use of the federal funds was extended.

Report on fire trucks

One of the few non-COVID related items on the agenda was a budget transfer of $1,500 for a three-person team from the Virginia Fire Chiefs Association to assess and report on the county’s fire engines and other apparatus.

Supervisor Tony O’Brien (Rivanna) welcomed the idea of the study to help guide this and future boards in navigating the complex and expensive process of updating and replacing the county’s fire and rescue fleet. “I don’t want to say there isn’t a strategic plan, but there isn’t a strategic process,” he noted, later adding that for all they knew, the report might recommend they spend more money and replace vehicles more frequently.

John Lye, chief of the Lake Monticello Water Rescue said he and other chiefs weren’t opposed to the study, but argued that the County Fire and Rescue Association (FRA) already had a strategic plan that they updated regularly.

Supervisor Booker was skeptical about the need for a report. “We already know what we need,” she argued.

“I disagree Mozell,” said Supervisor Patricia Eager (Palmyra). “I think it never hurts to have someone else take a look at it,” citing the difficulties they have had as a board deciding on funding replacement vehicles. “I don’t know what makes a good fire truck, and I just felt I’m more comfortable if I have someone overseeing that that could come back to our firemen and we’ll have a discussion. We’re going to listen to [our] fire chiefs. And they may be surprised that they’re doing better than the average, which I assume they are.”

The motion to fund the study passed 3-2, with Booker and Sheridan voting no.


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