Town Council foresees no tax increase, considers Gish Mill feasibility study

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The March 7 Vinton Town Council meeting was relatively uneventful. The best news to emerge during the evening was that Vinton real estate and property taxes will not be increasing next year although the real estate tax assessments increased by 0.93 percent.

Wayne Strickland, executive director of the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission, presented his annual update to council. He detailed many of the projects the town and the commission have partnered in over time. The Town of Vinton has been a member of the RVARC for 48 years.

Mayor Brad Grose thanked Strickland and the commission for “improving the quality of life” in the region, which covers an area the size of Rhode Island.

As budget season is now underway, representatives from Mountain View Humane and the Vinton Volunteer First Aid Crew presented their funding requests to council.

Mark Brittain, the executive director of Mountain View Humane, asked council to maintain its $500 contribution to the organization in the upcoming budget cycle. Mountain View’s purpose is to end pet overpopulation in Southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia.

The Roanoke clinic opened in 2012 and has performed about 600 spay and neuter surgeries for Vinton residents, subsidized for low-income residents through the Prevent Another Litter Subsidy (PALS) program. The clinic proposal for the fiscal year ending in June 2018 will allow identified clients to pay just $20 out of pocket for the surgeries for cats or dogs. This clinic hopes this reduced price will enable clients to be able to pay $12 for required vaccinations.

Vinton Volunteer First Aid Crew Chief Wayne Guffey asked council to maintain the yearly contribution to the squad, which also relies on donations from area residents in a fundraising campaign. Town funds will be used for training, uniforms, dues and subscriptions, emergency cell phone and wi-fi usage, medical equipment, and vehicle repair.

Guffey, who has served on the squad for 31 years, reported that the First Aid Crew now has 51 members, with five in the process of becoming members. He is especially pleased that several of the new and prospective members are under 18 years of age— building a crew for the future. He noted that the volunteers and the career staff have built a great relationship of mutual respect.

Deputy Fire and EMS Chief Chris Linkous asked council to adopt a resolution appropriating $866 received from the sale of outdated equipment at the Fire/EMS Department to purchase and install a washing machine designated for washing turnout gear that becomes contaminated during the course of fighting a fire. This will reduce the staff’s exposure to harmful carcinogens.

Linkous said that when he first began working as a firefighter, it was a “badge of honor” to wear gear blackened from fighting fires. A recently attended cancer symposium emphasized the importance of washing gear after each use. Staff should not take gear home to wash, where their families would be exposed to harmful chemicals. He also said that purchasing the washing machine is much less costly than buying a second set of gear for firefighters, which costs around $2,500 per person.

Assistant Town Manager Pete Peters briefed council on a proposed Gish Mill Redevelopment Feasibility Study that he will present for action at the March 21 council meeting. The town purchased the Gish Mill property in 2015 to salvage one of the town’s founding buildings. The plan is to rehabilitate the structure “for potential commercial or civic use while preserving its historic character.”

The cost of the feasibility study is estimated to be $25,000 and will provide a Structural and Building Assessment (the internal bones of the building), an Historical Inventory, and information on Land-use and Zoning (what the site and structure can accommodate), Flood Mitigation and Design (what floodway challenges exist and how to address them), Concept Plan and Rendering Development (to identify uses and eventual look of the property), citizen input meetings, and cost estimates.

Funds are available for the study in a “local match” line item within the Economic Development Department budget. Staff is also working on an application for a Local Assistance Planning Grant with the Department of Housing and Community Development, which would reimburse the town for all or a part of the study’s expense. In addition, staff is considering applying for an Industrial Revitalization Fund (IRF) grant.

According to Peters, “The IRF would restore the building to a point and then allow the final end user or developer to complete the build out.”

Vinton Police Chief Tom Foster took the opportunity on his one year anniversary in his position with the town to thank council for giving him the opportunity to serve and his staff and the Vinton leadership team for their assistance in his first year.

Councilwoman Janet Scheid commended Foster for instituting the Safe Exchange Zone (SEZ) in the Municipal Building parking lot for custody and e-commerce exchanges. RVTV reports that its programming on the SEZ program has garnered 45,000 hits so far, with other communities interested in establishing similar programs. Scheid said she has received many positive comments from the community as well.