HURT, Va. — Hurt Town Council held its monthly business meeting Thursday, July 15, with one of the main outcomes being revision of the town's ordinance (Code Section 10-17) regulating overgrown vegetation on properties within Hurt’s corporate limits.
The action comes after a few months of discussion and review, along with research and preparation of draft documents by Town Attorney John Eller. A public hearing was held for Council to receive feedback on the proposal and following only moderate discussion among councilmembers, the measure was approved unanimously.
Although no one chose to speak about specifics of the ordinance, Jeff Blaesing, who resides on Main Street in sight of the new Staunton River Bridge, voiced concerns about overgrowth along a VDOT easement at his property.
Hurt’s overgrown vegetation ordinance requires property owners to keep non-woody and non-ornamental plants (i.e. grass and weeds) mowed such as not to exceed 12 inches in height. Woody-stemmed plants (e.g. trees and shrubbery), ornamental flowers and agricultural plants are exempt from the 12-inch limitation.
When property is deemed in violation, the owner is first issued a “friendly reminder” − typically in the form of a door hanger notice to inform them of the need to cut vegetation and thus be back in compliance. If the situation is not corrected, then official letters are mailed to the owner. Should the issue remain unresolved beyond that, the town may hire a contractor to cut the overgrowth and then bill the property owner for the expenses plus an administrative fee.
Previously, the above steps were repeated for each separate occurrence at a property during the same year. With the revision, only one official notification letter is required per growing season. Thus, one such letter for a particular property would constitute “reasonable notice” for any number of subsequent occurrences at the same property for the remainder of that season.
The revision does not change the 12-inch maximum or applicability criteria. Instead, it simplifies and expedites the process by which violations are handled. A finalized clean-copy PDF of the revised ordinance is being prepared and will go on the town website in the near future.
During the general public comment period, Blaesing also apprised Council that he is very much concerned about frequent speeding on the bridge in both directions. He described the area as resembling a “drag strip” − worse since the bridge reopened last year − and then noted safety hazards such as a blind curve at the south end of the bridge and a VDOT access being used as turnaround spot or to park and visit the river.
Later and during the public safety report, Deputy Town Manager Mike Jones commended Police Chief Jason Lovelace for ongoing work toward bringing Hurt PD fully up to state standards. He also thanked Lovelace and Vice-Mayor Shirley Barksdale-Hill for their recruitment efforts, which include a new officer scheduled to begin Aug. 1.
Jones also shared that a variety of office security enhancements would likely be forthcoming over the next several months, including staff training for emergency radio use, OSHA lone-worker protocols, and more.
Concluding his report on a very optimistic note, Jones reflected on last week’s groundbreaking event at Southern Virginia Multimodal Park and stated he has “never been so proud” to be in Hurt as he felt that day.
Lovelace presented a mutual aid agreement request from the Pittsylvania County Sheriff’s Department for reciprocity of services between county and town police, and recommended approval to best ensure citizen safety throughout the area. The agreement was accepted with no further conditions or modifications.
Moving to administrative matters and finances, Treasurer Ellen Brumfield advised that the first half of Hurt’s approved allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) has been received into the town’s operating bank account and will need to be transferred to LGIP reserve funds in the near future, where it will yield higher interest income until used.
ARPA, the $1.9 trillion Federal Covid-19 recovery package passed by Congress and signed by President Biden in March to mitigate effects of the global pandemic, contains $350 billion in funding for state and local governments. States allocate their respective shares to localities which in turn can use the funds discretionarily, though only within established guidelines. Hurt’s allocation from Virginia is $600,000.
Clerk Kelsie Sligh provided an update on tax revenue, citing 2020 collections are about 90% compared to a fraction of that for the previous year. Mayor Gary Hodnett recognized Sligh for progress made in this area, recalling that the town previously had a delinquent debt burden running into the six-figure range. After less than a year on the job, she has been instrumental in collecting roughly $18K in overdue balances, he noted.
Sligh also updated everyone that she recently received her notary public seal from the state and has already processed several requests for notary services that are now provided at town hall.
Public Works Coordinator Colleen McGrath reported that she had done something different for her department this quarter by sending out delinquent notices for utility bills plus a letter to overdue accounts reminding them that the Covid-related state moratorium on service cutoffs for non-payment is about to expire.
McGrath informed Council that these steps have resulted in “a lot of action” and her “best quarter yet,” including multiple new payment plans and previous ones paid in full. Statistically, she noted that 89% of the May billing has been collected, and that almost 60% of the delinquent utility debt from the 2016-2020 years (collectively) has been paid.
With an update on water system infrastructure, McGrath advised that the remaining 256 cellular water meters needed to complete the town’s conversion from mechanical meters have been ordered, but will not likely arrive until October due to global supply chain disruptions stemming from the pandemic. The $64K cost is expected to be covered by Federal Covid-19 relief funds.
Lastly she reminded everyone that the annual Backflow Prevention Survey distributed to all water system customers is due by July 31, but to date only about 150 have been returned. Customers are respectfully asked to complete and submit the surveys by the end of next week, as they are an important part of the town’s water quality assurance program.
Public Works Committee Chairman Collin Adams stated that the capital improvement project at Hurt’s pump station, which was to begin by this month, has also been delayed somewhat. Much like the meter project, supply chain disruptions are complicating the process of obtaining all of the necessary materials for such a project.
Adams also expressed a concern that while that contractor is in the area, the town should consider what measures could be taken to prevent severe damage to the pump station in the event a runaway vehicle speeding down East Hurt Road were to cross Ricky Van Shelton Drive and collide with the building.
Lovelace and others advised that while measures do need to be in place for such a scenario, albeit unlikely, there are still VDOT regulations that would have to be followed in the process.
Councilmember Rainy Clay observed that autumn will soon be here and that after the success and feedback from the town’s Memorial Saturday event, another community social function should be seriously considered for the fall. October was mentioned as a likely time frame, with further discussion anticipated next month.
There is one final item to report as a conclusion to this article. Those who follow town events will likely recall that Steve Watson resigned his seat last month for personal reasons.
Thursday evening, Council voted unanimously to appoint Gary Poindexter to his seat on an interim basis until this November’s special election, at which time voters will select a person to fill it for 2022 (the remainder of Watson’s term).