By Debbie Adams
Vinton Town Council held its annual retreat on March 24 at the Roanoke Higher Education Center. All council members attended including Mayor Brad Grose, Vice Mayor Mike Stovall, and Council members Sabrina McCarty, Laurie Mullins, and Keith Liles. Town Manager Pete Peters emceed the all-day event.
In addition to Town Council members, the town’s leadership team also participated in the retreat, making presentations on current, recently completed, and upcoming projects in their individual departments.
Retreats are considered to be a powerful tool for helping local government focus on the town’s core values, mission, vision, and strategies to help decision-making on a daily basis. They allow elected officials and staff members to leave behind the day-to-day routine and focus on the big picture.
The session was facilitated by Charles Hartgrove, Director of the Virginia Institute of Government at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. Anna Bentson, Assistant Director of Economic Development for the City of Lynchburg, delivered a presentation on Place Making during the morning as well.
Hartgrove emphasized the importance of local government, calling it the most important of all levels of government because it is most responsible for service delivery to citizens. He talked about Vinton’s Council-Manager form of government in which Town Council determines a vision for the community and the town tanager and staff facilitate and implement the policies and ideas of council– turning them into reality.
Hartgrove interviewed all members of Town Council prior to the retreat and noted that Vinton is fortunate in that there is little gap between the visions and strategies of council and those of town management. Town Council members work well together and respect the town leadership.
He also noted that local government is facing more and more challenges, being asked continually “to do more with less,” but that the Town of Vinton is doing quite well in navigating the challenges. In the past year, the town has become basically debt-free thanks to the sale of its water and wastewater system to the Western Virginia Water Authority and the judicious use of state and federal funding from the pandemic. In addition, the sale of the utility systems has allowed town staff to focus on quality of life goals and projects rather than concentrating funding on water line repairs.
Hartgrove identified many advantages the town has economically with Rosie’s Gaming Emporium thriving within the town, the addition of several unique non-franchise restaurants in the downtown area, the innovative branding which has defined Vinton, and its proximity to the Blue Ridge Parkway and Smith Mountain Lake. The town continues to focus on expansion with a hotel project and plans to build up, not out, with businesses being encouraged to concentrate on retail on first floors with residential space above.
In her presentation, Bentson commended Vinton for “putting all the tools in place to be the best you can be,” and shared some short-term and long-term strategies Lynchburg has used to foster growth.
Pete Peters then reviewed the town’s 2020-2025 Strategic Plan, including its mission, vision, and the three goals selected to enhance growth when the plan was developed. Those goals include: enhancing the town’s infrastructure and livability, maintaining an efficient and high performing government, and ensuring the town’s continued financial viability by actively pursuing quality economic development. Council thanked Roanoke County for collaborating with the town, “embracing us as true economic partners,” and working to make Vinton the urban center of Roanoke County.
The retreat agenda then moved on to accomplishments and future goals of individual departments presented by department leaders.
Jamie Hurt, who leads the Building Maintenance and Capital Projects Department, updated those present on several projects including the Walnut Avenue parking lot, expected to begin construction in May, adding over 80 parking spaces in downtown Vinton near the Farmers’ Market, and helping to revitalize Walnut Avenue.
Hurt shared details on the $1 million Multi-Generational Community Park planned for the site of the former Vinton pool. Pool demolition and site preparation are anticipated this summer with Phase 1 construction of a playground in 2024, athletic courts in 2025, and building of a shelter in 2026. There is potential to include a skateboarding area in the plans. The town plans to spend $15,000 to renovate the present playground at the War Memorial for continued use while the community park is being built.
War Memorial building controls have been upgraded to reduce humidity in the building. Another project will allow the town to utilize available technology and improve efficiency through implementing a work order management system.
The HIVE building in downtown Vinton is being renovated for office space for several town employees with an estimated completion date of June 2023. Much of the work is being completed by town staff, saving about 30% on costs.
Community Programs Director Chasity Barbour reported increased bookings for events at the Vinton War Memorial and the Charles R. Hill Community Center, renovations at the Farmers’ Market resulting from damage caused by frozen pipes over the winter, and an increase in the fireworks budget for the Fourth of July event which has been nothing less than spectacular in the past two years.
Barbour has worked diligently to expand the reach of the town– collaborating with organizations in Roanoke, at Smith Mountain Lake, and throughout the region. She, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Angie Chewning, and RVTV have revolutionized business relationships in the town with production of “All Things Vinton” videos highlighting local businesses in a comedy format.
Economic Development (and Communications) Specialist Marshall Stanley shared some details about a $1 million redevelopment project in the works on Cleveland Avenue which will potentially result in redevelopment of a blighted site into mixed-use development with both retail and residential space.
Stanley also updated council on redevelopment of the downtown area affected by the fire in July 2022 which involved seven properties. Since he was hired last fall, he has worked to develop a monthly e-Newsletter highlighting business, community development, and events in Vinton. The town has also been able to offer a CodeRED emergency alert system to citizens and businesses. The town is expanding its social media presence in an effort to more effectively illustrate community projects, as well as attract visitors to Vinton and keep those who already live here informed.
Human Resources/Risk Management Director Donna Collins answered the question “How does a department assist with meeting strategic goals when they have little to no interaction with citizens?”
Her answer is “supporting those individuals who do interact with citizens, by recruiting quality candidates, supporting those who are employed by the town, training them and retaining them.”
Planning and Zoning Director Anita McMillan briefed those present on a host of projects, including Glade Creek Greenway Phase 2B (to be completed in 2023), Walnut Avenue Phase 1 Connector (June 2023), Walnut Avenue Phase II Connector (August 2023), Walnut Avenue Phase III Connector (with VDOT beginning May 2026), the Gus Nicks Boulevard Crosswalk Project (June 2024), the Hardy Road Crosswalk Project (August 2024), and the Woodland Place Stream Restoration Project (December 2023).
Planning and Zoning also reminded council of the monumental task undertaken to encourage home ownership with the painstaking overhaul of the Zoning Ordinance which took effect last year.
The Vinton Police Department shared its goals for the year:
- Continuous evaluation of law enforcement resources needed as the community grows: specifically, RADAR Eagle 3, BWC and In-Car Cameras, AVL Mapping, an ammo trailer, vehicles, patrol bikes, and renovations to the Sally Bay
- Increasing the law enforcement footprint of valley-wide mental health response and crisis within communities with discussions of mental health hotspots, CITAC, the George Mason Center for Evidence Based Crime Policy, and the Marcus Alert
- Implementation of a valley-wide violent crime and drug task force for proactive crime reduction and accountability through the Star City Violent Crime and Drug Taskforce, CITAC, Internet Crimes Against Children, and the Roanoke County School Safety Task Force.
- Incorporate innovative community outreach programs that fortify relationships with Vinton residents: TRIAD, Drug Take Back, supplemental School Resource Officers, community business/civic/religious partnerships, and events such as National Night Out, the Summer Reading Program, Hot Chocolate with Police, Coffee/Pizza/Pancakes with a Cop, Shop with a Cop, and the Thrasher Church Daycare tours.
- Yearly evaluation of department organization and deployment of personnel: through accreditation, PowerDMS, personnel restructuring, and grants.
- Completing a comparative analysis of pay in relation to neighboring localities.
The remainder of the Vinton Town Council Retreat focused on a review of revenue and expenditures, the capital improvement plan, and an overview of the FY24 budget.