2021 in Review
Fire, Rescue, and Public Safety
Pittsylvania County’s overall fire and rescue and public safety operations saw some significant changes and improvements in 2021. Some of the highlights included steady improvements from volunteer fire and rescue agencies, increased support from the Board of Supervisors, continued growth of the Pittsylvania County Public Safety Department, and additional oversight and guidance from the Fire and Rescue Commission.
"Many agencies are at 90% or better response rates, and most fire agencies provided 100% coverage," said Chris Slemp, Pittsylvania County Public Safety Director. "These numbers show we are headed in the right direction and the hard work of our volunteers and investments of our county leaders in our Public Safety system is paying off."
During FY 21 (which runs from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021), nearly every Pittsylvania County volunteer EMS agency improved its response rate - or the amount of calls it covers compared to the number it is dispatched to. On average, Pittsylvania County volunteer agencies increased their response rate by about 14%, bringing the total volunteer response rate to 89%. This increase comes despite the Pittsylvania County 911 Center receiving 1,400 more EMS calls in FY 2021 than the previous year.
Some agencies saw drastic turnarounds, while others saw moderate increases, and other high-performing agencies saw barely any change. For instance, Tunstall Fire and Rescue maintained the same 99% response rate, whereas Chatham Rescue Squad jumped from a 25% response rate in FY 2020 to an 82% response rate in FY 2021.
Many of those that saw major turnarounds – as well as some of those that didn’t – have had to revert to paying volunteers in recent years. These payments range from increased stipends to paying volunteers hourly to be available at the departments.
Pittsylvania County also launched several campaigns to help encourage new volunteers to join the ranks. Public Safety kicked off a volunteer of the week social media campaign in late 2020 that has continued successfully through 2021! At this point, almost 50 dedicated volunteers have been featured. Additionally, an online interest form led to over 40 people indicating that they would like to begin volunteering to help their community agency.
Significant changes to the public safety system were brought about by the Pittsylvania County Fire and Rescue Commission – an advisory body made up of citizens and fire and rescue representatives that works with Public Safety, the Board of Supervisors, and each of the volunteer fire and rescue agencies – in 2021. Primarily, this commission created a new funding structure that bases the portion of county funding to each agency on call volume. As a result of the fundamental shift of the formula, some agencies - like Mt. Hermon Fire and Rescue, Brosville Fire and Rescue, and Cascade Fire and Rescue - saw substantial increases in their annual funding. For instance, Mt. Hermon's annual funding jumped by $24,801 to a total of $83,000; Mt. Hermon was responding to a lot of calls, but hadn’t received proportionate county funding.
This new funding structure went into effect on July 1.
Pittsylvania County has continued increasing its investments in volunteer fire and rescue. Some of this money – approximately $1,097,500 in FY 2021 – goes to the general operating budgets of each agency while another portion goes toward apparatus purchases. The Fire and Rescue Commission has also worked diligently in 2021 in creating a formal apparatus replacement schedule.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government passed down two stimulus bills that impacted Pittsylvania County: the CARES Act and ARPA. With money from both of these bills, Pittsylvania County made investments into volunteers and volunteer agencies. From the CARES Act, Pittsylvania County purchased several ambulances for volunteer stations and bought a significant amount of personal protection equipment for the agencies to use.
From the ARPA funding, Pittsylvania County is investing $1.15 million into fire and rescue, with agencies able to apply for the funds. The exact process for those applications is still being determined. Additionally, active volunteers that have responded to more than 6 calls in 2021 and receive a COVID-19 vaccine are eligible to receive a $500 stipend.
Pittsylvania County’s Department of Economic Development made strides in each of its three primary focus areas – business retention, expansion, and attraction – this year.
During the course of 2021, it was announced that three new companies would open operations in Pittsylvania County (or in a Danville industrial park that is jointly owned by Pittsylvania County).
Two of those announcements came in June: first Walraven, Inc. announced that it would locate into the Cane Creek Centre, making a capital investment of $7.15 million and creating 46 new jobs. Then just a few days later MEP, LTD announced that it would locate into the Cyber Park in Danville, creating 45 jobs and investing $6.4 million.
In late August, Tyson Foods announced that it would develop a new, state-of-the-art, 325,000 square foot facility in the Cane Creek Centre, investing $300 million and creating 376 new jobs in the process. State, local, and company officials attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the site, which is expected to be operational in early 2023, just a few months later.
Construction began on two other large projects that had been announced in 2020 and 2019, respectively. Also in the Cane Creek Centre, AeroFarms broke ground and began construction on what will be the world’s largest vertical farm in the world in April. First announced in 2019, AeroFarms is investing over $53 million and creating 92 jobs. Just a few months later, Staunton River Plastics broke ground and began construction on a new, 250,000 square-foot facility in Hurt. The company is investing $34 million in the project, where approximately 200 people will be employed. This was first announced in May of 2020.
There were five major economic development projects involving Pittsylvania County in 2021, and two of those were companies already here expanding their operations. In January, Intertape Polymer announced that it would invest $45 million to expand its operation in the Ringgold West, creating an additional 50 jobs. Then in March, J&J Truck Sales, located along Route 29, announced that it would invest over $5 million and create 27 new jobs with a new 45,000 square-foot facility.
Largely in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pittsylvania County’s Economic Development Department administered a small business assistance grant program that provided County businesses with as much as $15,000 for things like rent and mortgage payments and other costs associated with COVID-19. This program was targeted to the tourism, retail, restaurant, and personal services sector.
Approximately 23 small Pittsylvania County businesses received assistance through this program.
The funds in this program came from a $330,000 block grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.
Pittsylvania County Economic Development staff maintain strong relationships with the employers in our area that help so many residents provide for their families. Morgan Olson, a delivery-van manufacturing company, donated a $175,000 air utility vehicle to Pittsylvania County. In major emergencies, this vehicle will benefit Pittsylvania County and the City of Danville.
Pittsylvania County, Pittsylvania County Schools, and RiverStreet Networks leaders announced a partnership and signed a memorandum of understanding in September of 2021, agreeing to pursue additional funding opportunities that allow for every Pittsylvania County resident to be reached. The first phase of this partnership will involve a $75 million fiber-to-the-home network that is expected to reach more than 11,985 unserved locations in approximately three years. The majority of the funding from this project is coming from a $39.5 million grant from the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, which was awarded in mid-December.
Pittsylvania County is investing $11 million in the project, with $6.5 million of that coming from ARPA funds and another $4.5 million coming from revenue-sharing agreements. Pittsylvania County Schools is also investing $5.5 million in ARPA funds while RiverStreet Networks will provide a $19.6 million match.
While this project is an unprecedented investment, this does not represent the end of Pittsylvania County’s involvement and commitment. In partnership with RiverStreet Networks, Pittsylvania County is committed to leveraging additional state and federal funds, as well as other grant opportunities, to continue expanding internet access across our communities.
"This Board of Supervisors understands that reliable and affordable internet access is no longer a luxury; it's a utility that every resident of Pittsylvania County should have available to them. We are committed to expanding access to fiber networks to all of our residents and businesses through every resource at our disposal. Through this significant investment and lasting partnership with RiverStreet, we will continue to leverage other funding opportunities to give more of our community the ability to get online." -Bob Warren, Chairman of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors.
As defined by the FCC, broadband access means download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second and upload speeds of 3 megabits per second. This is often referred to as speeds of 25/3. While this is the bare minimum speed for broadband, the majority of customers on RiverStreet’s Network are expected to have speeds that significantly exceed the broadband threshold, with the majority of them having speeds of 100/100.
Pittsylvania County first announced a partnership with RiverStreet Networks in March of this year for a joint fixed wireless project. That was always seen as a stopgap before fiber coverage could be provided, which is why those funds are being rolled over into this fiber network expansion. Now that additional funding opportunities are available, Pittsylvania County and RiverStreet Networks are focused on expanding the fiber network, which will provide the highest speed and reliability for county residents.
During 2021 Pittsylvania County continued to improve financial health and responsibility. The County made good use of federal stimulus funds while increasing annual funding for education and public safety and justice services.
Pittsylvania County received funds from the CARES Act in 2020, but many projects were completed with these funds in 2021. The County focused on making investments that will benefit residents and County government in the long-term. Some of the highlights include:
- The purchase of five ambulances to benefit our volunteer stations and Pittsylvania County Public Safety
- The renovation of the new Pittsylvania County Elections and Training Center and the ECC Auditorium as the new Pittsylvania County meeting room
- The development of a new EMS station in Hurt for Pittsylvania County Public Safety staff.
- The purchase of approximately 6,000 Chromebooks and 1,000 internet hotspots for Pittsylvania County Schools
Pittsylvania County also received approximately $11.7 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) in 2021. Those funds are being put to use on major projects that will positively impact tens of thousands of county residents, as well as county employees and fire and ems volunteers. The vast majority of these funds have been allocated in three primary areas:
- Internet Expansion ($6.5 million)
- Water System Improvements ($1.83 million)
- Fire and Rescue ($1.15+ million)
The FY 22 budget also included continued growth in key investment areas. Since fiscal year 2018 the Board of Supervisors has increased annual funding to Pittsylvania County Schools by $2.5 million, bringing the total to more than $19 million annually. Public Safety investments have also increased substantially in the past several few years as the Board has increased funding to the volunteer fire and ems stations and implemented a pay study to bring law enforcement salaries up to par with the surrounding areas. Roughly 14% of all general fund expenditures are for the payment of debt, the majority of which comes from the 2007 $70 million high school and 2001 $39 million middle school construction bond referendums.
In total, 71% of the general fund budget goes towards those three categories—public safety (29%), education (28%), and debt (14%).
With the goal of reducing the real estate tax burden on the County’s landowners, the Board of Supervisors has sought other revenue streams. During 2021, the Board increased the meals tax from 4% to 6% and created a transient occupancy tax – two options that are meant to balance the tax burden and collect revenue from those visiting our locality.
Over the course of 2021 Pittsylvania County has also made continued progress with solid waste funding. Pittsylvania County first began utilizing the landfill to generate revenue in January of 2020 with a contract for approximately $450,000 annually. Beginning in 2021, Pittsylvania County Public Works began generating approximately $1.4 million in annual revenue from a contract with First Piedmont Corporation, which brings trash from Martinsville and Henry County. Pittsylvania County is not responsible for collecting this trash, just burying it in the landfill once it arrives.
The revenue generated from these agreements is being utilized to cover payments for a $9 million financing option from the Virginia Resources Authority (VRA). Some of the projects that are being paid for through these contracts with outside trash haulers include:
- The development of three new convenience centers
- The move from one cell of the landfill into the next
- Landfill equipment such as a compactor and a waste handler
- Improvements to several existing convenience centers
"Pittsylvania County taxpayers should be thrilled with the way that this Board of Supervisors has capitalized on outside revenue to fund needed improvements and projects, the cost of which would otherwise be passed on to our own citizens," said Ron Scearce, Vice-Chairman of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors. "We owe it to our constituents to find every avenue to maintain and improve services without putting too much of a financial burden on our citizens, and we believe the way we are handling solid waste capital expenses does just that."
Pittsylvania County completed its first ever internship program during the Summer of 2021. Approximately 15 high-school and post-graduate students participated in the program, gaining valuable work experience and providing value to various departments and organizations. Nine of these interns worked directly with six Pittsylvania County departments, while several others worked with Pittsylvania County Schools and the private sector.
This program was the result of collaboration between Pittsylvania County Schools, the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, Pittsylvania County Community Action, the West Piedmont Workforce Development Board (WPWDB).
Over the course of the program, Pittsylvania County’s interns were able to get real life work experience and learning opportunities in different career fields, all while providing great service to Pittsylvania County. The interns worked with customers, maintained Pittsylvania County Parks, conducted research, wrote staff biographies, and visited construction sites, among other things.
“Work-based learning experiences such as job shadowing, internships and apprenticeships, are critical to helping youth explore career opportunities and gain experience,” said Dr. Julie Brown from the Institute. “These opportunities also provide employers with access to the emerging talent pool and are an effective low-risk recruitment strategy.”