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Franklin County supervisors discuss tornado, taxes

The Franklin County Board of Supervisors ratified a declaration of emergency issued after the tornado that struck the Sontag area April 19.

A tornado categorized by the National Weather Service as an EF3, destroyed at least two homes and downed a number of trees, but no deaths or serious injuries were reported.

Interim County Administrator Chris Whitlow thanked the county’s various public safety agencies for their response. He also praised their collaborative efforts, noting that everyone pitched in, including citizens.

“It was not only VDOT trying to get [U.S] 220 back open, but it was good Franklin County citizens with chain saws going alongside to help their neighbors,” Whitlow said.

Public Safety Director Billy Ferguson said that, despite the emergency declaration, the county is not expected to qualify for state or federal aid.

To receive aid, the cost of the damage must meet certain thresholds at the local and state levels. Because the tornado was an isolated event affecting primarily Franklin County, Ferguson said the damage was “nowhere near” those thresholds.

An emergency declaration allows a locality to forgo procurement requirements to purchase equipment that might be needed to assist in recovery efforts, like a bulldozer, Ferguson explained. That was not ultimately necessary in this case, but he said it was a good precaution to take in case there had been additional tornadoes.

Finance Director Brian Carter said he’d just filed an insurance claim for tornado-related damage on April 24. Whitlow said the board of supervisors would get a full report on the damage at its May meeting.

On April 19, an ambulance on its way back from taking a patient to Martinsville headed straight toward the tornado. Ferguson said its back windows were blown out and the ambulance littered with debris flying at high speeds. The windows were repaired and the ambulance was put back in service later that night, he said.

Franklin County Recreation Park, on Sontag Road in Rocky Mount, was damaged by the tornado. Ferguson said bleachers were lifted from the ground, light poles broken and fencing blown down.

Ferguson said he was grateful the tornado didn’t touch down in a more densely populated part of the county, such as Rocky Mount or Westlake. With more structures in those areas, the damage could have been far worse.

“We dodged a bullet there,” he said.

The board of supervisors also formally adopted its 2019-20 budget on April 23, the original purpose of its meeting.

The supervisors unanimously approved a $143.8 million budget that will go into effect July 1. The April 16 public hearing on the proposed budget drew no speakers.

None of the rates were changed for the coming fiscal year. Franklin County’s real estate tax rate remains at 61 cents per $100 of assessed value.

In a separate action, the board of supervisors unanimously adopted a school board budget for 2019-20. The budget comes in at $87.4 million, a 0.2 percent increase over the current year.

The school board will need to adopt a revised budget to reflect what was approved by the board of supervisors. In March, the school board adopted a $90.9 million operating budget for 2019-20 in which it sought an additional $3.8 million in local funds.

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