Town will undertake hotel market study

VINTON–Members of Vinton Town Council were briefed by staff during Tuesday night’s meeting on a collaborative project with Roanoke County to conduct a Comprehensive Hotel Market Study.

Town Manager Chris Lawrence told council that one business void the town needs to fill is a hotel to serve visitors to the four full service wedding/meeting/special events venues in the immediate area (the Vinton War Memorial, Woodland Place, and Boxtree/Braeloch) and over 200 sporting events held annually at local recreation facilities like Vinyard Park. The proximity of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Explore Park are also factors in the need for local lodging and the subsequent opportunity for economic development.

Lawrence explained that there are hotelier groups who concentrate on hotel construction in smaller areas partnering with local private investors.

The county will share the cost of $8500 with the town to conduct the study with the town’s funds coming from the Economic Development budget. The study will determine whether there is in fact a need for lodging and what type, style, and brand of hotel would be best suited to the area. Projections would be made for occupancy, daily room rates, and sales revenue. Five identified available sites of both public and private property would be evaluated.

Finance Director Barry Thompson said that the town’s current hotel occupancy tax is 3 percent compared to7 percent in surrounding jurisdictions and that council might need to take action to raise the tax rate proactively as part of the study.

Council gave Lawrence the go-ahead to accept bids for the market study.

Council was also briefed on adding Vinton Museum part-time employees as Town of Vinton employees. For several years the museum has employed two part-time workers at the museum which is open for four hours each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

The workers were paid by the Vinton Historical Society on a contractor basis. They paid their own FICA taxes and were not covered by workman’s compensation or liability insurance. The two employees resigned their positions recently as a result of the dilemma over their classification as independent contractors rather than part-time employees, but continue to volunteer at the museum.

Workers in local museums in Salem and Blacksburg are considered to be town employees.

At the conclusion of the briefing, council directed Lawrence to prepare a proposal for consideration of adding the history museum employees as part-time Town of Vinton employees, working less than 20 hours per week with no benefits. They would be supervised by the Vinton Special Programs Director.

In other business, council proclaimed October 4-10 as Fire Prevention Week with the theme “Hear the Beep Where You Sleep.” Citizens are reminded to maintain working smoke detectors and to test smoke alarms on a monthly basis. Batteries should be replaced annually and smoke alarms should be replaced when they are ten years old.

Statistics indicate that residents may only have one to two minutes to escape a burning house once a smoke detector sounds and that half of all home fire deaths occur between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. Smoke alarms cut the risk of dying in a residential fire by almost half. The root cause for smoke alarms failing to alert residents is missing, disconnected, or dead batteries.

Vinton Fire Captain Chris Linkous told council that studies indicate that children do not respond to smoke alarms as a general rule as they sleep more deeply than adults. Vocal smoke alarms which alert with a human voice are more effective with children—especially alarms programmed with their parents’ actual voices.

After a public hearing, members of council approved a Special Use Permit for Zizi LoFaro to operate Healing Solutions, LLC–a counseling services office–at 36 West Cleveland Avenue. Council had been briefed on the proposal in a previous meeting and the request was unanimously approved by the planning commission after their public hearing.

Counseling services are defined as “providing counseling, guidance, recuperative, or similar services for persons requiring rehabilitation assistance as a result of a mental illness, alcoholism, detention, or similar conditions for only part of a 24 hour day.”

Council added conditions to the special use permit which preclude the business being used as a methodone clinic, for intensive substance abuse treatment, for partial residential or day treatment services, or for overnight treatments and/or stays.

LoFaro, a licensed counselor with a Master’s Degree in Counseling and Human Development from Radford University and years of experience in mental health services, said that she chose Vinton for the site of her business because of a lack of counseling services in the immediate area.

She will work with clients of all ages depending upon the needs of the community. She plans to initially be open on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. and on alternating Saturdays from 10 to 2. Once her business is established she hopes to add hours on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9 to 6.

Vice Mayor Matt Hare delivered the Financial Report for July. The data is somewhat fluid because it represents the first month of the fiscal year. Revenue from cigarette taxes continues to decline. Statistics indicate that the Vinton War Memorial improved its financial position in July with a profit of approximately $15,000.

Council discussed how to assist Vinton Baptist Church with improvements to their parking lot. Mark Thomas represented Vinton Baptist at the council meeting. Lawrence said that the church generously allows citizens visiting businesses in the downtown area to use their parking lot throughout the week and permits the town to use the property extensively during special events such as the Fall Festival and Dogwood Festival. The church also serves as a voting precinct.

There was also discussion during the meeting about the auction of Holdren’s Country Store, the historic site of Gish’s Mill which is scheduled for September 18. Council went into closed session to determine if the town might locate a source of funds to place a bid on the property and the amount of those funds.

Lawrence told council that a facilitator has been hired for their annual Fall Retreat strategic planning session scheduled for October.

The Council meeting scheduled for October 6 has been cancelled because several members will be attending the Virginia Municipal League (VML) conference in Richmond.

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