South Boston Town Council received updates on the Riverdale boat landing and hazard mitigation projects at a Monday evening work session.
Council also heard a report on the town’s use of its American Rescue Plan Act funds and mulled strategies for employee recruitment and retention.
Construction on the Greene’s Crossing Landing, near the Tucker C. Watkins Memorial Bridge in Riverdale, is well underway. The project is expected to be completed by the first of July. To date, Raab said the town has expended $370,000 in grant money for the project and has received back $71,000.
“It’s going to be a good thing and something that we’ll all be proud of,” South Boston Town Manager Tom Raab told council at Monday’s meeting.
J. Grey Walker Construction Inc. from Buffalo Junction is the prime contractor for the project. The boat landing itself has been completed and crews are working to place an aggregate base to the entrance of the landing area in preparation for the asphalt pavement surface to be added. Just above the riverbank is a large parking area.
Once completed, Raab said the parking area would be large enough to accommodate 50 vehicles with trailers. He noted the boat landing would be 60 feet wide, large enough for two boats to launch at the same time.
As Raab shared with town council, the goal of the Greene’s Crossing boat landing is to attract river recreation enthusiasts to South Boston while also paying tribute to a significant event in South Boston’s history — Gen. Nathanael Greene’s “Crossing of the Dan” during the Revolutionary War.
“We’re working with the Historical Society, the Sons of the American Revolutionary and the Daughters of the American Revolution. We’re going to name it Greene’s Crossing Landing to try to pull in the tourism appeal to Gen. Greene crossing the Dan and basically winning the Revolutionary War for us. He ended up defeating (Gen. Lord Charles) Cornwallis,” Raab related.
Another initiative underway in Riverdale is the flood hazard mitigation project. The town of South Boston was awarded a $2.45 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for that project, to be administered through the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. The town qualified to apply for the grant after the presidential major disaster declarations following Hurricane Florence and Tropical Storm Michael in 2018.
The town has acquired most of the properties in the flood-prone area of Riverdale between the Tucker C. Watkins Memorial Bridge and the Huell Matthew Highway/U.S. 58 intersection, with plans to turn that area into greenspace.
“We had 14 properties we were going after,” Raab told council. “We’ve gotten 12 so far. We may get one more.”
Responding to a question from Councilwoman Sharon Harris, Raab said the other Riverdale property owners have until October to let the town know whether or not they wish to sell their property.
To date, Raab said the town had spent more than $1,050,000 of its grant funding on the Riverdale flood mitigation project and has received back $815,000.
Councilman Tommy Elliott asked when the demolition would begin on the Riverdale properties acquired by the town. Raab replied that three of those buildings are in need of asbestos and/or lead paint removal and that abatement work would take place within the next couple of weeks, prior to the demolition of the properties.
“It seems that as the boat landing comes to a completion, the Riverdale cleanup is going to come right along behind it,” Elliott remarked.
At Monday’s work session, council also received an update by assistant town manager Dennis Barker on the town’s use of its coronavirus relief funds. The town received a total of $7.8 million in ARPA funds and to date has expended approximately $2.5 million of those funds, Barker shared in his report. Plans for the remainder of the funding must be in place by Dec. 31, 2024, and all of the funds must be expended by Dec. 31, 2026, the assistant town manager said.
Among the purchases made and projects completed or nearing completion with the use of ARPA funds are the remodel of the South Boston Police Department, the purchase of two new garbage trucks and new garbage cans for town residents at a cost of $441,604, the purchase of a new fire truck at a cost of $578,616, and the Westside Trailer Park/subdivision project, at a cost of $480,660.
The town’s work on the Westside Trailer Park project includes improving the roads in the subdivision, installing new lighting, purchasing the land, planning construction, purchasing all new mailboxes for the residents, and removing the large dumpsters and supplied each resident with his/her own trash can with trash pickup by the town, Barker related. The town is working with the Southside Planning District Commission to apply for an additional $1.25 million for the Westside project.
Barker added projects in the planning phase for the use of ARPA funds are the Merritt Hills stormwater project and the Seymour Area stormwater project.
Employee retention and recruitment
The town’s human resources/payroll specialist Terri Rowland updated town council on the handbook for town employees. This is the first time the town employee handbook has been updated since 2003.
Rowland highlighted employee recruitment and retention strategies, including a new education bonus stipend policy, updates to vacation and sick leave time, and the advertising of new job openings at job fairs, on job boards and through various forms of media.
“Recruitment is a struggle right now in every industry,” Rowland told council members. She noted recruitment in public safety is a particular struggle in the South Boston area because of the age demographics of the region, with a higher-than-average percentage of residents over the age of 50.
South Boston Fire Chief Steve Phillips shared in a recent interview with The Gazette that he is three firefighters short of a full staff.
The South Boston Police Department currently has an education bonus stipend policy, but the policy in the new employee handbook would apply to all town employees. Raab noted the policy would award the same education bonus stipend to all employees across the board, with police department members already receiving a larger stipend under the old police department policy grandfathered in. Under the new policy, town employees with an associate’s degree would receive a $300 stipend, bachelor’s degree, $600, master’s degree, $900, and doctorate degree, $1,200.
Councilman Joe Chandler suggested raising the amount of the education stipends.
“I think particularly for master’s and doctorate, the figure should be a little higher than what it is,” Chandler said, adding, “With the value that everybody places on education, an employee that has a good education is a benefit to the town all the way around.”
Mayor Ed Owens also voiced his view that the amount of the education stipends should be raised, particularly for the purpose of recruiting new officers for the town’s police department.
“In today’s time, if a person gets a bachelor’s degree and becomes a police officer, $600 is not going to do it (to attract them to the South Boston Police Department),” Owens stated. “I don’t want to put us at a disadvantage.”
Councilman Brian Burton, president of J.E. Burton Construction Company, brought up the idea of giving bonuses to new employees who stay with the town for a certain length of town. He said it is a practice that he has implemented in his company. Burton also noted referrals are central to his company’s hiring process.
“I think bonuses are very important. And referrals,” Rowland responded. “That does help. It’s a very good idea.”
Council members agreed to add the review of the new town employee handbook as an action item on the agenda for their June meeting.