The Henry County Board of Supervisors authorized a contract with RiverStreet Networks on Tuesday that would expand internet services to underserved areas in Henry County.
As part of the project, which is largely funded through a $33,571,073 grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development’s (DHCD) Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI), every part of the county will have access to broadband.
Henry County partnered with the West Piedmont Planning District Commission (WPPDC), Patrick and Franklin counties, RiverStreet Networks and Appalachian Power to secure the grant.
The grant funds will be used to supplement construction costs by RiverStreet Networks. In turn, RiverStreet will serve as the primary contractor and will perform, supervise and manage the construction and installation of a fiber-to-the-home network to consist of up to 349.74 miles of fiber optic cable, including necessary hardware and software to provide the internet service.
“In Henry County, this project will provide broadband services to 3,058 locations,” County Administrator Tim Hall told the board on Tuesday.
Approval of the contract marks a significant step in the long march toward broadband for all in the county.
Deputy County Administrator Dale Wagoner previously stated that a local broadband planning team was formed in April 2020, consisting of representatives from government, healthcare, education, industry, and county residents who, he said Wednesday, have “an ambitious goal for broadband.”
This first phase of the effort aims to “provide fiber to the home or business of anyone that currently has no access to broadband,” he said.
The contract with RiverStreet states that “the project shall be completed within three years from the date RiverStreet commences construction,” but no targeted start date is given.
Wagoner, who became County Administrator on Friday, said “once all of the contracts are in place” with Henry, Patrick, and Franklin counties, the WPPDC, Appalachian Power and RiverStreet, “commencement will officially begin. We anticipate that occurring within the next three months. However, the vendors (Appalachian Power and RiverStreet) have already started procuring supplied even though there has not been an official commencement.”
To receive the grant funding, the county must provide a financial match of approximately $3.9 million.
The Henry County School Board previously pledged $1 million of its federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds toward the project, as broadband expansion benefits county students. However, the money was contingent upon the county securing funds from a third local source (other than the county and school board.)
On Wednesday, Wagoner said that the Board of Supervisors committed up to $4 million for broadband. “If a portion of additional funding does not come from other sources,” like the school board or a private foundation, “then the entire match will be covered by the Board of Supervisors.”
Ultimately, “the more local money that we can get committed to this project (from sources like the school board and private foundations), the more likely we will be successful with securing the large blocks of money from state and federal grants that will be needed to implement phases 2 and 3 fully,” Wagoner said. “The county has already submitted a letter of intent to apply to VATI for funding for phase two” which will extend fiber to homes and business with internet but “not very good internet.”
Phase 3, Wagoner said, “will extend fiber to anyone that wants it.”
In other matters, the board:
*Appropriated an additional $540,991 to cover items that exceeded the budget of the Sheriff’s Office. Those items include the cost of housing inmates at other facilities, providing medical care to inmates and fuel.
According to a release from county Public Information Officer Brandon Martin, “one major factor in the construction of the new Adult Detention Center was to avoid costs associated with housing inmates in other facilities. While the ADC opened on March 25, deputies did not complete the transfer of outside inmates until June 8. To cover the costs of the overages … approximately $523,235 will be transferred from other budget-related items, and another $17,756 will be taken from the county’s reserve fund.”
*Appropriated $2,537 received from the Virginia State Police Help Eliminate Auto Theft Program to fund the cost of two deputies to attend the week-long training course.
*Approved an additional appropriation of $24,858 received as reimbursement from the Sheriff’s Office providing security and patrol services. The funds will be used to pay overtime for deputies providing those services.
*Awarded a contract of $157,036 to RK Chevrolet in Virginia Beach for four police-rated 2022 Chevrolet Tahoe vehicles.
*Awarded a contract to J.L. Culpepper & Company, Inc., to supply food for the Adult Detention Center. The contract does not specify a number due to the fluctuation of the number of inmates. Sheriff Lane Perry estimates the cost to be more than $360,000.
*Appropriated the fiscal year 2022-2023 total county budget and school budget.
*Established a capital replacement fund using money that was freed up by using ARPA funds to replace revenue loss during the pandemic. The capital replacement fund will be used to cover expenses related to one-time capital needs by the county.
*Approved a stipend of $1,200 for each full-time county employee, and $600 for each part-time employee, who has been employed with the county for at least a year, as of June 30. Employees who previously received a stipend in November 2021 will not be eligible.
*Approved a performance agreement with VF Corporation that requires the company to invest $10.2 million at its facility in the Patriot Centre and create 82 new jobs.
*Approved a transfer appropriation of $30,000 from the Public Safety Department to the Bassett Volunteer Fire Department to buy additional equipment for an aerial fire apparatus.
*Approved a transfer appropriation of $427,000 to cover overages in the Children’s Service Act Program, legal fees, COVID-19 testing expenses, vaccine expenses and accrued leave payouts.
*Held a public hearing and rezoned approximately 1.8-acres in the Horsepasture District from Suburban Residential (S-R) to Agricultural (A-1). The rezoning will give the applicant the flexibility to keep a recently constructed accessory building.
*Held a public hearing and rezoned approximately 103-acres from Industrial (I-1) to Agricultural (A-1). The applicant wishes to construct a home on the property.
*Held a public hearing and approved the sale of land to the Blue Ridge Regional Airport Authority for the expansion of the airport’s runway.
*Reappointed Michael Ward to the Roanoke River Basin Association for a one-year term set to expire August 31, 2023.
*Approved an additional appropriation of $102,579 to the Henry County School Board’s special grants category from funds received from the Virginia Department of Education. The funds are part of the Students with Intensive Support Needs grant program.
*Approved a categorical transfer from the school board to move $121,429 from the Administration/Attendance and Health budget to the Nutrition budget to provide employee bonuses to eligible school nutrition workers. The schools had enough unused local funding in its budget to provide a bonus of $1,200 for all eligible full-time and part-time employees. The total in excess school funds used to pay for the bonuses equates to $1,493,041