IW supervisors discuss stormwater, radios and firearms

Published 1:09 pm Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors discussed the possibility of creating a Stormwater Advisory Committee and received an update on the county’s public safety radio system upgrade during a work session on Thursday at 6 p.m. in the board room of the Isle of Wight County Courthouse complex.

Also on the agenda for the evening was a presentation by Jeff Terwilliger, chief of emergency services for the county, on the current procedures the county’s EMS personnel use to bill patients for medical transport services, and a discussion of proposed changes to the county’s noise ordinance, which was tabled until the board’s next regular scheduled meeting.

The proposed creation of a Stormwater Advisory Committee comes as a result of a presentation the board received during a previous meeting summarizing the impacts of the county’s termination of its Virginia Department of Environmental Quality municipal storm sewer system (MS4) permit.

The county’s MS4 permit, which was officially terminated in the spring of 2016, imposed environmental protection regulations on the county’s sewer system and a specific timeline for their implementation. The requirements were lifted after the county determined last year that it does not own or operate an MS4 within its regulated area, and the DEQ agreed with the county’s assessment.

Now, with the MS4 requirements and timeline lifted, the county is looking into alternative methods of managing its sewer system assets, which included a proposal to create a Stormwater Advisory Committee and/or a community stakeholder group for stormwater matters.

According to a presentation by Don Jennings, the county’s director of utility services, even with the county’s MS4 requirements lifted, significant resources will still be necessary for stormwater programs and the county will remain committed to preserving and improving Isle of Wight’s natural resources and environmentally sensitive lands and waters.

According to Jennings, the county utilities staff are currently working on a stormwater infrastructure assessment. The Stormwater Advisory Committee they are proposing would be loosely based on the model used by James City County’s stormwater committee, and would include two Board of Supervisors members and citizen representation for the remaining Isle of Wight voting districts. The committee would have a rotating chair and vice chair and may also invite the county’s planning and zoning director and economic development director to participate.

The creation of such an advisory committee was a requirement of the county’s MS4 permit but is now optional. Another proposal by the utilities staff is to reduce the county’s stormwater fee by 10 percent now that the MS4 permit is terminated.

Board Chairman Rex Alphin spoke out in favor of the creation of such a committee.

“The general citizen does not know what they’re stormwater fee is used for,” he said. “I don’t think they feel like they have a voice in it. I think it would be wonderful for them to be part of determining how it would be used.”

Smithfield representative Dick Grice was also in favor of the committee.

“A lot of people think these revenues from stormwater can be used for other purposes and that’s not the case,” he said. “I would also like to see additional integration of the stormwater programs with the planning and zoning permit process so [people] are not waiting an indefinite amount of time to pick up a permit. I think another thing we should look at is whether or not to apply a stormwater fee to churches, synagogues and mosques.”

One word of caution that Jennings expressed was that the county must be careful to find ways of paying for stormwater projects without owning them so not to put themselves back into the MS4 category.

During the presentation on the county’s progress in upgrading its public safety radio system, Chief Terwilliger said that the time had come for the county to device how many portable radios to purchase.

According to him, the new portable radios will likely cost $3,000 apiece. The county’s current fire and EMS portable radios are not public safety grade, can be found on eBay for between $85 and $300, can be programmed by anyone, and have no maintenance costs. The new radios will be public safety grade, can only be programmed with a key, and come with a warranty period of three years. Once the warranty expires, they will carry a monthly maintenance cost of $15 per radio. The estimated number of radios that the county’s fire and EMS departments will need is 259 units, which accounts for $770,000 or 77 percent of the total cost of the radio system upgrade.

Terwilliger concluded his update by saying that in a best case scenario, the new radios would be in place by December of this year.

He also presented a brief overview on how the county EMS department bills insurance companies and patients for medical transports, which he said was all done in-house, and suggested the board may want to consider applying with the federal Office of the Inspector General for safe harbor, which would allow the county not to bill its citizens for EMS services provided the county can demonstrate that its EMS department has sufficient funding to survive without collecting on those bills.

Next up to present was Amy Ring, the county’s new director of planning and zoning, who gave a brief update on the timeline for creating a new comprehensive land use plan for the county, which she expected to be able to be adopted by March 2018.

The board followed with a discussion of what authority the county had to prohibit visitors from carrying a firearm, open or concealed, on the Courthouse Complex, during which the board was informed that the Code of Virginia does not currently allow localities to adopt or enforce any ordinance governing the purchase, possession or transport of firearms, ammunition or components other than those expressly authorized by statute. According to County Attorney Mark Popovich, the board does not currently have the authority to prohibit open or concealed carrying on or in the courthouse complex.

“I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen someone in a 7-Eleven walking around with a holstered firearm and it’s a little unnerving, but you have to get used to it,” Popovich said.

The board tabled their discussion of revisions to the county’s noise ordinance due to the absence of Newport District Supervisor William McCarty and concluded by going into closed session.