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Broadband authority approved

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Suppervisors also approve new animal ordinance

By John Barnhart

Bedford County’s supervisors voted, Monday night, to create a broadband authority with the board of supervisors serving as the authority’s board. The measure passed 4-3.

    The purpose of the broadband authority is to create a public-private partnership that will extend Internet broadband service to areas of the county that don’t currently have it. According to Frank Rogers, the county’s assistant county administrator, the county has received a $55,000 grant from the Tobacco Commission. The grant requires a local match of $5,000.

    Rogers said an authority is necessary because it can use state assets. This can reduce capital costs because it could eliminate the need to construct towers. The authority will also solicit owners of other existing towers or tall structures for the possible location of antennae.

    The supervisors had originally considered naming the county’s economic development authority (EDA) as the broadband authority. Rogers said the ordinance was drafted to name the supervisors as the authority’s board because they had expressed a desire to dissolve the authority once the work has been completed. Once an authority has been established, only the authority’s board can dissolve it.

    “We are not in the business of being a broadband provider,” said Rogers.

    According to Carl Boggess, the county attorney, any debt the authority issues will consist of revenue bonds, like those the EDA issues. These are revenue bonds for the private sector issued through the authority for the private sector and paid for by the project.

    “I want to express my support for broadband and the broadband authority," said Gary Ayers, speaking at the public hearing on the ordinance. “It’s important to the community.”

    “We have absolutely no service in our area,” said Conrad Hodges, who presented a petition that he said was signed by 80 of his neighbors. He said the phone service there is so bad they can’t even get dial-up Internet service.

    Considerable debate among the supervisors ensued.

    “There is some reluctance to start something that can’t be stopped,” commented District 1 Supervisor Dale Wheeler.

    “I do have heartburn about authorities,” said District 5 Supervisor Steve Arrington. Arrington wanted a sunset clause added to the ordinance specifying a date when the authority will dissolve.

    “We start some things we can’t seem to get finished,” he commented.

    Several supervisors felt the sunset clause was unnecessary. District 2 Supervisor Chuck Neudorfer said that they will have the ability to dissolve the authority at any time.

    County Administrator Kathleen Guzi said that county staff is not able to say, up front, what a reasonable time to dissolve the authority would be. She said the sunset clause could make them ineligible for some grants if the time line for the grant went past the sunset date.

    “We might be limiting ourselves before we get started,” she said.

    District 7 Supervisor Gary Lowry, District 6 Supervisor Annie Pollard, Neudorfer and Board Chairman John Sharp voted in favor of the ordinance. District 3 Supervisor Roger Cheek and Wheeler joined Arrington in voting against it.

    The supervisors also voted, 6-1, to adopt an ordinance on licensed pawnbrokers. The ordinance sets a limit on how many can operate in Bedford County and the maximum interest rate they can charge. Boggess said that the interest limit language came directly from the Code of Virginia. The ordinance requires a background check for the pawn shop owners and employees.

    Supervisors expressed concern that keeping track of pawn shops will increase the Sheriff’s Office’s workload. Boggess said that the license fee the county will assess is to help the Sheriff with the increased demands, which Boggess estimates at several man-hours a week.

    Cheek wanted to reduce the number of permitted pawnbrokers from five to two.

    “That walks all over my libertarian feet,” commented Wheeler, who felt that the ordinance should not contain a limit at all. He also objected to setting an interest rate limit.

    Cheek, Arrington, Pollard, Lowry, Neudorfer and Sharp voted for the ordinance, with an amendment requiring the pawnbrokers to supply the Sheriff’s Office with the serial numbers of items, if available. Wheeler voted against the measure.

    In other business, the supervisors adopted an ordinance, by a 5-2 vote, that gives county animal control officers more authority to deal with problem animals.

    Wheeler opposed the ordinance. He worried that it did not provide the opportunity for appeal by the owner of an animal accused of killing another animal. He wondered how the ordinance can allow an animal, that is habitually at large, to be destroyed when the county has no leash law. Furthermore, he felt it fails to define what constitutes property damage and a definition of when an animal will be considered to be intimidating a person. Wheeler said the ordinance’s language applies more to a city than a rural county.

    During the public hearing for the ordinance, William Bowyer spoke on why he felt the ordinance is needed. He said that he has had problems with a neighbor that, at times, has had as many as 10 pit bulls. The pit bulls have come on his farm  repeatedly and killed his chickens and killed his cattle. Once, he said, three dogs attacked his brother and his brother’s wife. His brother shot two of them. Bowyer said that he is unable to walk to his mailbox on the road without being harassed by the dogs. Once, five came after him.

    “I have to drive on my place to be safe,” he said.

    “These dogs are coming in my yard and tearing up something I paid for,” said Wanda Bowyer, his sister-in-law. She said she and her husband have suffered significant property damage from the dogs’ raids.

    Others spoke about problem dogs.

    “I’ve handled German Shepherds since I was a dog handler in the Marine Corps,” said Travis Overstreet.

    “Something has got to be done about it, and I love dogs,” he said.

    During debate, Wheeler noted the size of Bedford County and said that they will have to hire 22 additional animal control officers if this ordinance passes. Neudorfer, however, commented, that animal control is already getting the calls. They are just asking for the authority to do something.

    Sharp said the ordinance is necessary. He said people are being terrorized by dogs, or their animals are being killed on their front porch by a neighbor’s dog.

    “I have asked county staff to give us an ordinance so animal control can do something about it.”

    Sharp said animal control officers can’t do anything about it because the supervisors have not given them the authority to act.

    Neudorfer, Cheek, Pollard, Arrington and Sharp voted for the ordinance. Lowry joined Wheeler in voting against it. Lowry said he opposed it because it had not come through the supervisors’ animal control committee.

    In a final piece of business, the supervisors approved a skateboard park at Falling Creek Park. The ordinance states that it will be paid for by private funds and local skateboard enthusiasts have already raised $304,000 of its $512,000 cost. Once completed, it becomes county property.

    The skateboard park will not be attended. Rogers said that he understands that having an attended skateboard park increases the county’s liability.

    Pollard initially introduced a motion to deny the resolution for the park. She said that she doesn’t think the county should have a facility that will only be use by a small percentage of the population.

    Her motion failed with only Arrington joining her in the vote.

    “I work with young folks all the time,” said Lowry. “We have some people who would probably like to get rid of young people.”

    Lowry said that the skateboard facility belongs in a public park. He also noted that this one will be right across Falling Creek Road from the Sheriff’s Office.

    “What better place to put it than right across the street from the Sheriff’s Department?” he asked.

    “It’s probably safer than skateboarding on the street,” said Wheeler.

    “It’s not something we are paying for,” he added.

    Wheeler said that Falling Creek Park has a little bit of everything in it.

    “I know I heal too slow to skate board,” Wheeler said, stating that, nevertheless, he knows others who like it.

    The skateboard park was approved with Lowry, Wheeler, Neudorfer, Cheek and Sharp voting for it. Arrington and Pollard voted against it.