Army Corps agrees to fund Put-In Creek dredging study

Charlie Koenig - Posted on Aug 25, 2010 - 04:15 PM

Plans to dredge Put-In Creek to attract boaters to the Mathews Court House area may still have some life, after the Mathews Board of Supervisors gave the go-ahead Tuesday night to an Army Corps of Engineers’ study.

A total of $100,000 in federal money has been set aside for this study. County Administrator Stephen K. Whiteway said that his office received a call about two to three weeks ago informing him that the funding had become available.

This news comes on the heels of the county’s own initial feasibility study for dredging the creek, conducted by Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, which suggested that costs associated with disturbing wetlands would be prohibitive.

For several years, Mathews has sought federal interest in the Put-In Creek project through the Corps of Engineers, but to no avail.

"It is ironic that funding has become available after we have completed our initial feasibility study," Whiteway wrote in his report to the board. "However, if the board is interested in continuing to pursue the Put-In Creek project in a meaningful way, this Corps study is crucial."

"This is one more opportunity to take a hard look at it," said Whiteway. "There’s never been a doubt … it would be a benefit to the county" to have a boat turning basin in Put-In Creek, attracting visitors to the Court House area, he said. "This is the Corps, and you do need their support to make it happen," the county administrator said of the project.

Supervisor O.J. Cole said that he has spoken with a number of avid sailors and local business owners, all of whom believe this project would be beneficial to the county, letting people know there is another tourist destination in the region.

Supervisors unanimously approved the study, with the first $100,000 to be funded with 100 percent federal money. If the study costs more than that amount, any additional funds would be split 50/50 with the county. However, the county would be consulted before the $100,000 figure is exceeded, so that a local decision can be made regarding funding.

Whiteway indicated that he hopes the Corps would be able to use some of the data already gathered by VHB, thereby controlling costs.

According to a cost-sharing information table provided by the Army Corps of Engineers, the first $100,000 in construction costs (if the project moves forward) would also be provided by the federal government, but eventually costs would be shared on a 90 percent federal/10 percent non-federal basis. Costs associated with operation and maintenance of the project would be covered 100 percent by the federal government. The feasibility phase is expected to take 2-3 years, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

New cable company

In other news, the board was informed that Comcast, the firm that owns and operates the cable system in Mathews, will be selling its assets in the county to MetroCast Communications. It is expected that this transfer will take place sometime before the end of the year.

According to Whiteway, MetroCast operates largely in rural areas and the firm has plans to upgrade the county’s system with fiber optic wiring, offer broadband, voice and other services. "The communities where MetroCast does operate are very pleased" with the service they receive, Whiteway said. "I think this is a very positive thing for our community."

Representatives from MetroCast will be present at the board’s Sept. 28 meeting to answer questions. Comcast is currently operating under a 1987 franchise agreement that requires county approval for this transfer in ownership.

Personal property tax

By a 3-2 margin, supervisors set the Personal Property Tax Relief Act rate for 2010 at 34 percent. The rate represents a decrease from last year’s PPTRA rate of 47 percent.

According to Commissioner of the Revenue Raymond A. Hunley, total personal property value for cars and trucks in Mathews has increased by 11.22 percent from 2009, while the reimbursement from the state to Mathews remains frozen at approximately $1 million.

Under the state tax relief program, the first $20,000 in value of a personal use vehicle will be eligible for 34 percent relief. "This is done on the state formula," Whiteway said, explaining the drop in the tax relief rate from 47 to 34 percent. "Basically, our hands are tied," supervisor Neena Putt said.

Putt made the motion to approve the accompanying resolution. After a few moments of silence, Cole "reluctantly" provided a second, calling it a "no-win situation."

Dog license fees

The board also resumed a discussion from last month’s meeting about kennel license fees. Putt said that she initially brought the matter up after a resident contacted her with concern that an individual with three or four dogs could pay more in license fees than someone with 20 dogs and a kennel license.

For a kennel operator with up to 20 dogs, the yearly fee in Mathews is $25. A Mathews dog license for one year is $10; $5 if the animal is spayed or neutered.

"I would like to see it more equitable," Putt said. "The fairness is the issue, not the amount of money that’s generated."

Whiteway’s office prepared a comparison of dog/kennel license fees with several area localities. Many were similar to Mathews, in that the kennel fees ran on average $25 for up to 20 dogs. Putt was interested in Gloucester’s approach, which has a graduated scale ($50 for 5-10 dogs; $100 for 11-20 dogs; $150 for 21 to 30 dogs and $250 for 41 to 50 dogs).

"Personally I don’t see a problem with what we have right now," chairman Charles Ingram said. "If it’s not broken, don’t fix it."

The board eventually agreed to allow Putt and Cole to work out a proposal and bring it to the next board meeting.

In a related matter, the board increased its rabies clinic fees to $10 per dog and $10 per cat. Last year, the county charged $5 for dogs and $8 for cats, with clinic expenditures running about $35 more than revenues.

The county’s annual rabies clinic will be held from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Oct. 23, at the county’s Liberty Square complex.