Town Council welcomes optimistic economic development news

By Debbie Adams

Members of Vinton Town Council met via Zoom on August 18. Their intent is to keep meeting electronically as much as possible as long as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, and routine business can be conducted in that manner.

Two previous meetings in July were held in person in the Council Chambers at the Municipal Building out of necessity as Mayor Brad Grose, Vice Mayor Sabrina McCarty, Council members Laurie Mullins and Keith Liles, and Vinton Police Chief Fabricio Drumond needed to be sworn into office in person and their documentation signed.

The agenda for the August 18 meeting dealt with some routine business matters that council had been briefed on extensively in prior meetings. Council adopted resolutions approving the amended Title VI of the Civil Rights Act Implementation Plan and the new Town of Vinton Employee Handbook.

They also adopted an ordinance permanently “abandoning, vacating, and deeding” an unnamed 12-foot by 200-foot right-of-way to Longwood Apartments, LLC. The Midway property is to be sold and records were unclear as to whether the right-of-way had been formally vacated in 1977 and concrete proof was needed of the action.

Vinton Financial Services Analyst Brandon Gann briefed council on updates proposed for the town’s purchasing policies, last revised in 2013. There are two purposes for the change: to maximize the competitive environment by which the town procures goods and services and to allow for efficient and timely decisions to be made to ensure the best value for spending taxpayer dollars. The current policy is very restrictive and takes up staff time procuring smaller purchases which could be purchased with just one quote.

The proposal meets state guidelines and would allow the threshold for small purchases to be set at $100,000 for goods and services and remain at $30,000 for professional services. Purchases greater than $100,000 would be procured through formal bidding and requests for proposals as required by the state.

Purchases of $5,000 or less would be made without obtaining quotes. Purchases between $5,000 and $20,000 would be accomplished through two attempted telephone, written, catalog, or electronic quotations. Purchases between $20,000 and $50,000 would require three quotes electronically or in writing and those between $50,000 and $100,000 would require four electronic or written quotes.

Council will take action on the policy at the next meeting.

Acting Town Manager Pete Peters had much good news to share with council. CARES Act funding has increased. As a “sub-recipient” of Roanoke County, the town initially received $700,000 for costs incurred due to COVID-19. An additional $700,000 has brought the total to $1.4 million. The funds must be spent by December 30, 2020.

He thanked Finance Director Anne Cantrell, Brandon Gann, Human Resources and Risk Management Director Donna Collins, and Assistant Public Works Director Bo Herndon in particular for their efforts in coordinating the procurement process.

Possible uses for the funding include purchase of more PPE, more office dividers for front line staff, a generator for the Vinton War Memorial so it could be used as a shelter during emergencies, improvements to Police Department and Public Works locker rooms to provide more space, upgrades to financial software and purchase of more laptops to facilitate teleworking, replacement of water meters with ones that can be read remotely and more efficiently, improvements to Council Chambers to enable it to be cleaned adequately for public meetings, and hazard pay for front line employees.

Peters reported that Farmburguesa has expressed an interest in purchasing the vacant lot owned by the town between the restaurant and the Municipal Building on Pollard Street. They would like to expand their facilities to accommodate more customers and expand sales. The investment would also benefit the town with an increase in visitors, tax revenue, and reduced maintenance expenses.

Plans include constructing a service window for to-go and curbside delivery, addition of a brick paver patio with an enclosed wooden awning, installation of an outdoor kitchen, and seating for 46 additional patrons. They also propose adding an ABC license. The town purchased the property in 2008 as blighted property.

Vinton Town Council received the news that Farmburguesa would like to purchase the property between their restaurant and the Municipal Building on Pollard to expand their popular business by adding outdoor dining.

Peters also shared updates on the Gish Mill project. In June the historic structure received preliminary historic designation approval for the National Registry of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register. The Part II application has been submitted. Also in June, a grant application was submitted to DHR for $250,000 from the Emergency Supplemental Historic Preservation Fund to stabilize flood damage to historic properties. And in July an application for $600,000 was submitted for an Industrial Revitalization Fund grant to rehabilitate the structure for mixed-use commercial development. If all goes well, construction could begin in January 2021.

Peters told council that the Vinyard Station project with developer Dale Wilkinson is on schedule and on budget. One anchor tenant has been secured— the restaurant Joe Goodpies Brick Oven Eatery. The kitchen and restaurant area for the business is almost complete. Owner Jack Winston plans to hire 35-40 employees, with a job fair to be scheduled after Labor Day. The restaurant plans to open in October 2020. Work on the parking lot curbs, gutters, paving, and landscaping will begin soon. Multiple additional tenant negotiations for the space are underway.

Joe Goodpies Brick Oven Eatery is on track to open in October at Vinyard Station. The Vinyard Station Project under development by the Wilkinson Group is on schedule and on budget.

The Billy Byrd annex was also discussed, including an EPA Assessment Grant funding an Environmental Phase I survey.

Police Chief Drumond briefed council on the most recent Joint Public Safety/Highway Safety Committee meeting. A resident has requested that stop signs be placed at the intersection of 2nd Street and Cedar Avenue and 2nd Street and Cleveland Avenue, which would make both intersections four-way stops. The Police Department has installed digital speed limit signs on 2nd Street. Public Works improvements to the area include double yellow striping of the road, speed limit signs on 2nd Street (north and south), and a stop bar on 2nd Street.

A VDOT representative pointed out to the committee that while it seems four-way stops would help alleviate traffic problems, in fact, they often stress issues further. The committee recommended that placement of pneumatic strips on both 2nd and 3rd Streets to measure the quantity of traffic on the roadways should be undertaken. Those streets are used as commercial vehicle routes in addition to other traffic.

Finance Director Cantrell presented the May Financial Report which indicated revenues up and expenditures down in both General and Utility Funds. The town has $6.4 million in cash and investments. She also talked about the Utility Cut-Off Program which has not been used since February 2020 but may start up again in September. Delinquent balances have doubled. Cantrell also mentioned that optional insurance for water and sewer lines is becoming available for Vinton residents.

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