Accomack Board Approves Wattsville Energy Facility


By Carol Vaughn — The Accomack County Board of Supervisors last Wednesday voted unanimously to approve conditional rezoning and a conditional use permit for a battery energy storage facility in Wattsville.

The votes came after two public hearings during the meeting — one to seek comment on the proposed adoption of a revenue share ordinance for energy storage facilities and another on the siting plan for the Wattsville facility.

Jeff Powers, of Bloxom, called the facility a “parasitic plant” and said there could be “legal repercussions” from approving it.

John Schneider, of Olde Mill subdivision, said he is concerned about the “aesthetic aspect” of the project.

Robert Tittle, of Wattsville, also spoke against the project.

Public hearings about the rezoning and the conditional use permit were held previously.
The board also voted to adopt the revenue share ordinance and the siting plan.
Under state law, the county is authorized to impose a rate of up to $1,400 per megawatt, which would be assessed in lieu of traditional machinery and tools taxation.
Revenue share will give the county greater revenue over the life of the facility than traditional taxation methods, according to county staff’s analysis.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Office to Move, Add Staff
The board after an executive session voted to purchase the current Shore Title building in Accawamack Office Center. The building will become the new office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney and the Victim/Witness Assistance Program, according to Accomack County Administrator Mike Mason.

A state mandate requires localities to pay for additional prosecutor positions once any town or Sheriff’s department located in the locality begins using body-worn cameras, Mason said.

“The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office was woefully undersized to begin with but the mandate to bring on additional personnel forces a new office to be acquired, one that not only provides office space for new positions but also provides sufficient space to preserve case records,” Mason wrote in an email.

Supervisors Vote to Use Money Set Aside for Inlet Study to Seek Grants for Beach Parking
Chairman Billy Joe Tarr, of Chincoteague, asked the board of supervisors to consider using $50,000 that was set aside for a federal study of Chincoteague Inlet to try outsource grant application work related to relocating parking at Assateague beach to a more stable part of the island.

“We’ve been talking about this since 2005, and the price, of course, is now $40 million for this parking lot,” Tarr said during the board comment period.

Tarr said the county planning department does not have staff to do the extensive work required to appply for grants for the project.

He made the motion to apply $50,000 no longer needed for the inlet study towards grant processing.

The General Assembly’s action to budget state funds for the inlet study means the money Accomack had set aside for that purpose is no longer needed, according to Tarr.
The motion was approved unanimously.

Auditor Finds Issues
Accounting firm Brown Edwards reported five material weaknesses and three significant deficiencies relating to the audit of the county’s fiscal year 2021 financial statements and two material weaknesses and one significant deficiency related to the audit of federal awards.

It was the first year the firm conducted the audit for Accomack.

The board of supervisors, on Mason’s recommendation, voted to appoint an audit committee.

The committee will have three members: one member of the board of supervisors; one member of the Accomack County School Board; and one citizen member considered a subject matter expert.

Supervisor Reneta Major and School Board Chairman Ronnie Holden will serve, along with a citizen member to be determined.

The committee’s duties are:
To provide a forum separate from management in which auditors and other interested parties can candidly discuss concerns relating to the County’s annual external audit.

To carefully review, upon completion of the County’s annual audit, all audit findings in the annual audit report and consult with the external auditors regarding any irregularities or deficiencies disclosed in the annual audit.

To consider the effectiveness of the internal control system, including information technology security and control, review the effectiveness of systems for monitoring compliance with laws and regulations.

To establish a process by which employees, taxpayers, or other citizens may confidentially report suspected illegal, improper, wasteful, or fraudulent activity.  This is already in place for the County but not in other component units)

To annually present a written committee report detailing how it discharged its duties and any committee recommendations to the Accomack County Board of Supervisors and Accomack County School Board.

To provide reports or conduct investigations requested by the Accomack County Board of Supervisors.

The committee’s oversight and review responsibilities “will extend to all components of the county’s financial reporting entity,” including constitutional offices, the school district, and the department of social services, according to Mason.

The Government Finance Officers Association recommends that all county governments have an audit committee, according to Mason.

State law requires that all Virginia counties, cities, and towns with populations greater than 3,500 have their accounts and records audited annually by an independent certified public accountant.

Supervisor Robert Crockett said some of the findings in the 2021 audit could be related to the change in auditors and noted, “There are a lot of entities included in this audit that we have no control over.”

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