Grant to upgrade 911 system

Published 9:37 am Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Franklin’s City Council voted 6-0 with one abstention during its Monday meeting to accept a state grant of up to $138,080 to upgrade the city’s 911 emergency communications systems. They also voted unanimously to pass resolutions in support of two other grants the city is pursuing.

According to City Manager R. Randy Martin, the state grant will be used primarily to upgrade the city’s 911 dispatch software and computer-aided mapping, but would not have any impact on the gaps in communications tower coverage. The other two grant applications in the works are an open space and parks category grant from the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation and another U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Division grant.

The open space and parks category grant would pay up to 50 percent of the cost of purchasing vacant property that abuts the Blackwater River and Business Route 58. The city proposes to acquire the property for use as a riverwalk park.

The USDA grant would be used to help the city purchase one or more new police cars. Last fiscal year, the city was approved via this grant for one vehicle. This year, the city intends to seek funding to replace two more vehicles.

The abstaining vote on the state grant came from Councilman Greg McLemore, who questioned whether first responders in the city had actually had any difficulties in locating addresses of calls using the current equipment and software. Vince Holt, the city’s chief of emergency services, explained that the issue was the current software’s incompatibility with the city’s geographic information system.

“Me and my neighbor actually had to switch addresses,” Holt said. “If you tried to order something, it would show up that that was not a valid address. Now it’s officially Trail Road, which it should have been all along. When some of the map layers were added in there, it just didn’t work out.”

Following the items requiring votes, Martin briefed the council on the recommendation Southampton County’s courthouse committee made to the county’s Board of Supervisors, which was to proceed with a referendum on moving the courthouse to a site on Camp Parkway, just outside the city limits of Franklin.

Martin explained that at the time the committee voted, they had been considering three options: renovating the existing courthouse on Main Street in Courtland; building a new courthouse on the Camp Parkway site; or building a new courthouse at a site just outside the town limits of Courtland near the interchange with U.S. 58.

The committee voted in favor of recommending the Camp Parkway site on the grounds that it would be the least expensive of the two proposed new construction sites, and that the costs of renovations were not substantially lower than the cost of building new.

Mayor Frank Rabil said that the need to either renovate or relocate the courthouse came about as a result of state laws requiring additional protections for judges. He added that the Southampton County Board of Supervisors were scheduled to vote on the recommendation that night, and that, should the recommendation pass, the final decision on whether or not to relocate the courthouse to the Camp Parkway site would be put to a referendum to be voted upon by the public in the November general election.

McLemore asked whether any plans have been put forward for repurposing the existing courthouse building if the county were to proceed with the relocation. Rabil said he knew of discussions regarding the repurposing of the original, historic part of the building, which was constructed in the 1830s, but that he was not aware of any specific plans.

McLemore then asked what, if any, equity the city could claim to have in either the existing courthouse or a new facility, and if either could be considered a city asset when council goes for bonds. Councilman Benny Burgess also felt that if the city was contributing 30 percent of the cost of the current courthouse’s upkeep that they should have some stake in the matter.

However, City Attorney H. Taylor Williams IV said that whether the supervisors ended up renovating the current courthouse or building a new one, the facility would still be considered a county asset rather than belonging to the city.

“The [existing] courthouse was built in the 1830s; the town of Franklin wasn’t even incorporated until 1876,” he said. “We never had any equity in that building; it was already there.”

He added that any further discussion on whether it would be more desirable for the city to have one option over the other bordered on advocating, which state law prohibits government agencies from doing when a referendum is put forward.

The council concluded by discussing the city’s ongoing issues with mailing residents’ electric bills on time and their efforts to pursue grant funding through the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization to improve the intersection of Route 258 and Business Route 58.

“What we’re looking at is trying to mirror some of the improvements made at the Route 671/U.S. 58 interchange, but you have to justify that with an engineering analysis [for the grant],” Martin said. “I think anyone who has driven it will realize it was not designed for the amount of truck traffic it receives.”