By Carol Vaughn —
The Accomack County Board of Supervisors Wednesday approved guidelines for a child care startup and expansion grant program.
The program will award up to $150,000 each to child care operations, using a total of $600,000 set aside from federal American Rescue Plan Act money given to the county.
Accomack County Administrator Mike Mason said the guidelines were vetted by the Department of Social Services. Three major changes were made from a draft version of the guidelines previously presented to the board.
A requirement for an applicant to submit a formal business plan was dropped and replaced with a requirement to provide estimated revenue and expenses for the first year of operation, along with fee structure.
A requirement was added requiring an applicant for a grant to expand services to provide services to at least 10 additional children from what they now serve at the location.
The original condition at grants be used primarily to improve access to childcare for people in communities disproportionately negatively impacted by the pandemic was changed to align with final U. S. Treasury rules. Funds now must be used to improve access to childcare for those negatively impacted by the pandemic, which is broader in reach. The federal rule considers low- and moderate-income household to have been negatively impacted by the pandemic.
Applicants must complete an application and meet other requirements, including submitting two letters of support from the community on official letterhead.
The application will be available on the county website Jan. 28. The deadline to apply is March 18. Awardees will be selected by April 8.
Costs incurred between March 3, 2021 and June 30, 2023 can be claimed under the grant.
School Superintendent Report
Accomack County School Superintendent Chris Holland told the board the school board decided to continue requiring mask wearing despite Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order ending the mask mandate in schools.
The school board’s decision was in compliance with SB 1303, he said, adding, “They need to wear a mask in school.”
Holland said administrators in August created the Return to School Task Force, noting, “Our schools were open when many schools were not.”
The school district began the year with 4,359 students and as of Jan. 11 had 4,824, he said.
Sixty students are enrolled in the Virtual Virginia program.
The district has 958 employees.
Four new assistant principals and four mental health counselors were hired this year.
“Our teachers and administrators have worked hard. … Our school board has made some difficult decisions,” Holland said.
The district last summer had a “rigorous” summer school program and plans are in the works for a “Learning on Wheels” program, with two special education buses — one for the northern part of the county and one for the southern part — being outfitted to take technology and other resources into communities.
The program is planned to operate all year long, including weekends, according to Holland.
Additionally, the district purchased 400 hotspots for students needing internet access and 76 Chromebooks for instructional assistants.
The district is also doing maintenance and making improvements to its facilities, including installing metal roofs on three schools, a “facelift” at Tangier Combined School, and new HVAC equipment at three schools.
Eastern Shore Public Library Director Cara Burton told the board the library system in cooperation with the Eastern Shore Health District distributed 2,160 free at-home COVID-19 test kits since mid-November under a state program.
The supply ran out and the program is paused for now.
No Vote Yet on Proposed RV Ordinance
The board postponed until February a vote on proposed changes to the zoning ordinance that would affect the use of recreational vehicles as residences.
Planning staff last fall, at the request of the Board of Zoning Appeals, began work on amendments to the ordinance to limit extended habitation in travel trailers.
The current ordinance allows people to live in travel trailers by special use permit issued by the BZA.
The proposed change would limit that use to one year unless the BZA permits it to be extended.
Most of the recent cases before the BZA relate to people living in a travel trailer on the property during construction of a home, resulting in the planning commission recommending tying long-term habitation in travel trailers to construction fo a residence and that the travel trailers must be licensed and inspected for safety.
The current ordinance also regulates short-term use of travel trailers (keeping an RV on property for camping) in the agricultural and residential districts by special use permit — no changes to that part are proposed.
RVs in RV parks or campgrounds would not be affected.
Three people spoke at a public hearing about the ordinance.
Ace Seybolt said he was speaking as a property manager and trailer park owner.
“The inference in this proposed ordinance change is all travel trailers not associated with new residential construction are not permitted,” he said.
The special use permit process costs around $1,000, he said.
“All housing expenses, speaking as a property manager, have greatly increased over the past few years. We need to encourage homebuilding and not create restrictive ordinances that increase costs for new home construction,” Seybolt said.
He also cited the lack of affordable housing in the county.
“The proposed ordinance does not address the majority of existing occupied travel trailers by those who can not find affordable housing, who are living in poverty with nowhere else to live,” he said.
He recommended the board table the ordinance change “if you can not determine the extent of those who could be impacted, especially those who lack affordable housing and a travel trailer is their only means for accommodation.”
If the amendments are approved, Seybolt asked the board to consider providing exemptions for family hardship, caregivers, and agricultural workers.
Steve Mallette, of Locustville, also spoke against the changes, noting the two Eastern Shore counties “have the dubious distinction of having poverty rates of over 30% over the last 40 years.”
He said the county needs to look at long-term, “strategic-type” things to reverse that.
Mallette said of the proposed ordinance, “I think you’re missing the point.”
He suggested when someone applies for a building permit, they should have the option to have a travel trailer on site for two years, without the added expense of having to go before the BZA for a permit.
“We’ve really got to focus more on customer service,” he said.
Additionally, Mallette said many people are living in travel trailers “because they’ve got no other place to go to.”
He also asked how much additional cost the county will incur by hiring people to enforce the ordinance and what the cost will be for economically challenged families who are displaced.
“There is no affordable housing in the Shore now,” he said, adding, “We don’t want to cause hardship to people who can’t afford it.”
Glen Smith, of Onancock, said he favors hiring additional county employees to enforce the existing regulations.
“Travel trailers and sheds are not intended to be lived in,” he said.
He said he knows of at least four locations where people are living illegally in a travel trailer behind a business.
“You folks are here to protect the residences of the county,” he said.
Smith, a 41-year firefighter, cited safety concerns with people living in travel trailers.
Rich Morrison, deputy county administrator of building, planning, and development, said the BZA heard 14 requests related to living in travel trailers from 2011 to June 2021, eight of which were tied to home construction.
“They were granting these permits and people were not doing the work in the time allotted,” he said.
The BZA asked for support through an ordinance to “strengthen their ability to review and kind of hold the line on these things,” he said, noting the permit application cost is $400.
“I don’t doubt that we have an affordable housing issue. I don’t know that travel trailers are the right answer to that,” he said.
Supervisor Ron Wolff said the pandemic has complicated the issue.
“The dilemma that we are facing is very multi-faceted. We’re in the middle of a pandemic.
People are out of work. People don’t have housing. People are living in trailers. We’re not enforcing that they can’t do it because we don’t have staff enough to go around and look at every camper that’s located on somebody’s property. … Are we going to put people out of whatever home they have, roof over their head, in a time when, one, we don’t have affordable housing in the county to meet all the need; two, we don’t have people to go out and inspect and enforce the code, the ordinance, that are already on the books. Sometimes we’re turning our heads to allow this to happen.”
Supervisor Robert Crockett, who made the motion to postpone a vote on the ordinance, said he would like more clarity on the effects.