Supervisors hear from public, too

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By John Barnhart

    The Bedford County Board of Supervisors heard from a group of area residents, at its regular meeting last week, urging the board not to close Moneta Elementary School.
    The meeting was held on a Tuesday night, rather than the usual Monday night, because of the Memorial Day holiday. The supervisors hold a citizen comment period at the beginning of each meeting.
    Some speakers brought up economic issues. Polly Lyons, a realtor, told the supervisor to consider the economic impact of closing the school. She said people looking for houses want to know where the schools are.
    George Aznavorian, a developer, said he has a plan to save Moneta Elementary. He said he has spoken to businesses who want water and sewer and the Bedford Regional Water Authority (BRWA). He believes it will cost $300,000 to bring BRWA water and sewer lines to Moneta Elementary and he said he is willing to put up $100,000 of that amount. Aznavorian said the school is an “engine” that brings people to nearby businesses.
    Michelle Wills, who said she has a son at Moneta Elementary, said the school’s administrators and teachers form a very strong team.
    “It’s like a well-oiled machine over there,” she said.
    Wills said she experienced being moved to a new school as a child and she withdrew into a shell.
    “It won’t be beneficial to anyone,” said Erica Martin. “I would like you to consider keeping Moneta Elementary open.”
    “I don’t want to see any schools closed,” said Charlotte Maxey.
    At the end of the meeting District 2 Supervisor Curry Martin suggested the board of supervisors come out in favor of closing Body Camp Elementary School, rather than Moneta. He said both schools are in his district and bussing the children, currently attending Body Camp, to Moneta would not involve as long of a bus ride as bussing some Moneta students to Goodview Elementary School.
    Board Chairman John Sharp didn’t want to weigh into the decision.
    “Quite frankly, I can’t take a position on one school over another,” Sharp said. “I would recommend we stay out of this one. I think the school board needs to make that decision and go from there.”
    District 5 Supervisor Steve Arrington, District 6 Supervisor Annie Pollard and District 7 supervisor Tammy Parker also wanted to stay out of providing input to the school board on this decision.
    “I should not go down the road of trying to influence their decision,” Arrington said.
    “I’m going to leave it to the school board,” Pollard said.
    “No one is going to come out of this happy,” Sharp concluded.
    Sharp believes the school board is going to have to close some schools. He said the efficiency study states that the county’s elementary schools are at 70 percent capacity and 80 percent of the savings the study identified will come from closing schools. He also said not closing elementary schools, as the study recommends, will give the General Assembly an excuse to cut the $6 million per year that Bedford County Public Schools is slated to get for the next 14 years as a result of Bedford’s reversion to town status.
    “If we give them any excuse to cut this money, they will do it,” he said.
    In the business portion of the meeting, the supervisors voted to move $1.5 million from the county’s undesignated fund balance to the capital improvement plan for the purchase of radios for emergency services personnel due to the conversion of the regional radio system, of which Bedford is a part, to a new radio system. The radios currently being used will no longer work when that happens.
    The original request was for $2.5 million but the supervisors felt more comfortable with transferring $1.5 million at this point. This would allow the county to have the local match that a FEMA grant requires. Jack Jones, the county’s chief of fire and rescue, said the lower amount wouldn’t delay the purchase of radios and Sharp noted that the supervisors can revisit the issue if more is needed.
    “If we need more, we’ll come back,” said County Administrator Mark Reeter.
    The supervisors also voted to advertise a public hearing to raise the landfill’s commercial tipping fee from $38 to $43. Sheldon Cash, the county’s director of public works, said the $38 fee has been in effect for 21 years and is one of the lowest tipping fees in the area.
    Two items that are a result of Bedford’s reversion to town status last year were approved. One corrects errors in the boundary line between the area annexed by Bedford when it reverted to town status. Part of this involves 20 acres of the Harmony project which becomes part of town as a result of the vote. Town Council had approved the boundary line adjustment at their meeting earlier that evening.
    “I’m not ready to give them any more,” Pollard commented.
    “Hold your nose,” Sharp urged Pollard when she hesitated casting a vote.
    The measure also brings the county an additional $250,000. This is for personal property tax collected in Bedford in 2013. Bedford had assessed this tax, and reverted in the middle of the year. The money represents half of the tax, minus Bedford’s cost of billing.
    “I’ll just say, now you’re talking my language,” Pollard commented.
    Pollard voted yes, making the supervisors’ vote unanimous.
    The other measure dissolved the joint City/County Economic Development Authority. The joint Authority’s board voted to dissolve on May 8. All of this authority’s money and leases go to the Bedford County Economic Development Authority.