February 5, 2015
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer
Henry County is showing a trend toward positive net job growth, according to County Administrator Tim Hall.
Hall led an annual planning session Monday during which the Henry County Board of Supervisors reviewed its goals for the previous year and set new goals for the future. The session followed a trip to Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre (CCBC), where the supervisors observed grading work underway at the future industrial park.
The planning session, held at Henry County Public Safety on Dupont Road, focused on five main points: economic development, education, public safety, law enforcement and quality of life.
Since 1991, Hall said, there have been only six fiscal years in which Henry County has seen a net gain in jobs, and two of those years were the last two: 2012 and 2013. In fiscal 2013, he said, the county showed a net gain of 798 jobs.
“From 1991 to 1998, we only saw two years of positive job growth,” he said. “And those were considered the ‘good old days.’ How about the ‘good new days?’ We’ve got two in a row that show positive job growth. People need to know that things are going better. Are we finished? ... No. But we’re trending, and people need to be aware of that.”
Additionally, Hall said, between 2013 and 2014, the county’s unassigned general fund balance jumped from about $18.5 million to a little more than $21 million. In 2002, he said, the figure was less than $600,000.
Hall attributed the fund balance to smart fiscal decisions made by the supervisors and county staff.
Last year, Hall said, the supervisors’ economic development goals included beginning the grading project at CCBC and supporting the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC). Since then, he said, grading began at CCBC in April 2014 and is set to be completed in January 2016.
Additionally, he said, the EDC was funded at a consistent level, which has resulted in new industries committing to the area, such as Kilgour Industries and Hardide Coatings, and also the expansion of existing industries, such as Monogram. There also has been a small uptick in retail and a 2.3 percent increase in tourism spending in Henry County from 2012-2013, according to the Virginia Tourism Corporation.
Over the next year, the supervisors indicated, they plan to continue supporting the EDC; increase the marketing of CCBC to major industries; preserve the fund balance to aid in economic development incentives; and make plans to ready Patriot Centre at Beaver Creek industrial park’s Bryant property for industries that might want to locate there.
On the education front, one of the board’s main goals last year was to support New College Institute (NCI) and Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) in their industrial recruitment and workforce readiness efforts, a goal the board will continue to support.
Hall said that the supervisors soon will have to consider whether or not to move forward with a long-discussed project to build a new school in the Collinsville district to consolidate students from the aging John Redd Smith Elementary and Collinsville Primary schools. Hall added that he anticipates some more detailed proposals for that plan will be discussed at a Feb. 17 joint meeting between the supervisors and the county school board.
“We are hopeful that if you choose to go forward with this project, we will be able to handle it without any extra burden on our citizens through a tax increase,” Hall said.
The supervisors plan to continue supporting education efforts for pre-K-12 education, including continuing initiatives to bring cutting-edge technology into classrooms.
Over the next year, the supervisors plan to fund a study to determine the best way to cope with the county’s overcrowded jail, whether through the construction of a new jail or entering into a regional partnership to construct a jail.
Lt. Col. Steve Eanes with the Henry County Sheriff’s Office said that the Henry County Jail is the second most overcrowded jail in Virginia, second only to Pittsylvania County.
The jail is rated to hold 67 inmates, he said, yet as of Monday, there were 186 people in the jail, with an additional 56 inmates farmed out to nine different jail facilities at a cost of $670 per day.
Over the coming year, the board plans to continue to support recreational activities and tourism, improve curb appeal and decrease litter in the county. Another necessary quality-of-life improvement, Hall suggested, would be a re-assessment of wages and benefits for county staff.
“Our folks are underpaid,” he said. “It used to be that when you worked for government, your pay was not to market, but your benefits were above market. That’s no longer the case.”
Before the meeting, the supervisors took a field trip to CCBC and spoke to Doug Lawrie, project manager for Blythe Development Co., which is overseeing the grading project at the industrial park.
Lawrie said that the total project requires Blythe to move about 3.5 million cubic yards of earth, and so far, the earthwork is about 45 percent complete.
When the weather cooperates, he said, Blythe is able to move about 20,000 cubic yards of earth per day, and the approximately 60 employees at the site often work 10-12 hours per day, six or seven days per week.
The grading project is on target to be substantially completed by January of next year, Lawrie said.
Also at the evening meeting, the supervisors heard two presentations: one from Henry County Parks and Recreation Director Roger Adams on the current state of Philpott Marina, and one from Hall on public safety. More information on those presentations is planned in Wednesday’s Bulletin.
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