Pulaski County Administrator Jonathan Sweet presented his annual End of Year report to the Board of Supervisors during Monday night’s February meeting of the board.
The report outlines the accomplishments of each department in county government during the past year.
Here in its entirety is his report:
2020 Year End Report – Pulaski County
2020 was one of the most unusual and challenging times I have experienced in my over 20-year career in local government leadership. From dealing with the multitude of unknowns to seizing on new opportunities, it was ironically one of, if not the most intentional and intense year I can remember. We collectively worked hard to respond to and mitigate the effects of the global pandemic, while dealing with the constraints of what we refer to as the COVID-overlay of keeping our employees and the public safe…From instituting regional testing centers, to transitioning to regional vaccination efforts, this was definitely an unusual and unprecedented time for local governments. Nevertheless, COVID-19 and its collateral fall-out did not define Pulaski County or lend us an excuse to stay at home and wait to see what may come next, but rather, it motivated us to work harder and take advantage of whatever challenge or opportunity the novel coronavirus may have yielded us. As you will see from the report I am about to share, our Team did not stay home, but showed up to work in a BIG way and put forth tremendous efforts in service to the citizens of Pulaski County.
Our County Engineering Department worked on or completed several notable Infrastructure upgrades and facility improvement projects to include:
- The completion of the Old Route 100 Bridge over Peak Creek with the replacement of a new waterline crossing on our main line.
- Completed Phase I of a complex Sulfate Study that is important to the Town, Peppers Ferry Wastewater Treatment Facility and our industrial community.
- Phase I of the New River Trail extension project is now 95% complete.
- We began construction on the Riverlawn Trail project on the Smith Farm that will be completed by this spring.
- The County Administration Building interior renovations project in response to COVID-19 is substantially complete.
- The Hatcher Road Re-alignment project funding offer from VDOT was obtained in the amount of $3,366,383 and will be available in FY 25-26.
- Last year we prepared five (5) applications for Smart Scale Funding through VDOT and the CTB. Since then, we have learned that three of our projects have been recommended for funding, including the round-a-bout for the end of Cougar Trail that was precipitated by the need for safety improvements and to service the growing traffic or our growing Volvo, as well as two Rt. 11 enhancements in the commercial area of Fairlawn. This will be the first time Pulaski County has ever been recommended for SmartScale funding and this could represent nearly $15-million in safety improvements and roadway enhancements.
“I would like to commend the entire Engineering Department for the great work and outcomes they produced in 2020 and look forward to all the fruits their efforts will produce in the future – Thank you.”
The PSA has been busy as well, and in 2020 completed the:
- Morgan’s Cut Tank Painting project using a significant amount of state grant funding
- Replaced approx. 500 of our customer’s meters also using a significant amount of grant funding
- Finalized the Water Treatment Plant’s Filter Media Replacement project and funding plan and the project is now underway, it too using a significant amount of grant funding
- We implemented a new Utility Billing system and the project is now 90% complete.
- And we put the Water Treatment Plant Intake project out for bid and will commence prior to the Spring of 2021.
- And applied for and received Virginia Brownfields Assistance Fund Grant of $50,000 for the Dora Highway Convenience Center project.
“I would like thank all of the great men and women who serve the County in the PSA for their great work last year. We know how hard you work each and every day and we truly thank you for it.”
Some notable achievements in Emergency Management for 2020 was the:
- Procurement and deployment into service of a new truck for our Fire-Medic program
- Procurement and deployment into service of a new Tanker for the Fairlawn Volunteer Fire Department
- Up-fit a new High Clearance Utility truck and placed it into service at the Dublin Volunteer Fire Department
- Designed and implemented a county-wide incident reporting system for all our fire departments to use
- Issued laptops using CARES Act funds to all 8 Fire Chief’s in order to improve information sharing and reporting in this new COVID environment
- Obtained $22,500.00 in grant funding to hire a 5 person part-time hazardous fuels mitigation crew for the Spring of 2021
- We partnered with the US Forest Service and the Town of Pulaski to treat 340 acres with a prescribed fire in and around Gatewood Park
- And logged 556 hours towards wildfire hazard mitigation in the IAFC Ready, Set, Go reporting program
“I would like to thank the entire Emergency Management Team for the work they have done in the past, the work they do in the present, and what it means for keeping us safer in the future – Thank you.”
Notable accomplishments for our Public Safety Department in 2020:
- Our Emergency Services crews Responded to 5,737 calls for assistance.
- We added a new ambulance to our fleet, replacing a 2007 model with high mileage and engine failure.
- We added 4 Mechanical CPR devices to our inventory, allowing all first run ambulances to have access to this new life saving technology.
“A Big thank you to the entire Public Safety Department for their courage and for their dedication in service to our citizens, particularly this past year. The job is already difficult and hazardous, and the pandemic brought on additional challenges and they did well to overcome them – Thank you.”
In Economic Development:
The Economic Development Office processed 28 Total Prospect RFIs and we had 19 submittals to compete for projects totaling 4,469 jobs and over $1.48 billion of capital investment.
Although we did not have a direct announcement in 2020, primarily due to complications led by the COVID-19 pandemic, we worked diligently to support previous announced projects and advance new projects for potential announcements in 2021 – All I can say at this juncture is – stay tuned!
The Board of Supervisors in concert with the EDA also developed and launched its first ever Office of Tourism and hired its first director Ms. Peggy White. The County funded the position using a portion of lodging taxes collected from our local hotels. The Office will provide enhanced support for hospitality, retail, and service industries and increase offerings to our small business community through robust tourism, marketing and quality of life strategic programing. The investment in this new department will yield a greater rate of return for both our private enterprises and the County’s coffers at a time when revenue stability is critically important to both the private and public sectors.
“I want to commend the Economic Development Team and the EDA for all the results you see, and primarily for all the work behind the scenes you don’t. It is a difficult to navigate and an ever-increasing competitive marketplace, yet I am confident that our hard work and creative efforts have successfully positioned Pulaski County to be a long-term winner in this post COVID world. – Thank you for this.”
HR has been extremely busy to say the least this past year due to our employer response to COVID-19.
- We processed 63 COVID-19 Emergency Sick Leave requests
- We processed 2 COVID-19 Emergency FMLA requests
- Created new COVID-19 personnel policies, Infectious Disease Control Plan and all related employee forms
- We developed a tracking and reporting system for all COVID-19 testing and 1b employee vaccinations
- We processed 43 FMLA applications
- Prepared and advertised 51 job openings
- Conducted 88 new hire orientations
- Processed 106 resignations/terminations
- Uploaded and fully implemented the new DMV Driver Alert Program
- And completed the monumental task of updating the County’s Personnel Policy as well as the legal review, and “look forward to presenting this to the Board for your consideration and adoption in 2021”
“I want to commend the HR Department for the way they handled all the nuance brought about by the new laws and regulations surrounding the CARES Act, and thank them for all the assistance they provided to our county staff throughout this pandemic – Thank you.”
Our Planning and Zoning Department has several notables as well. Outside of their normal scope of plan review, permitting and GIS support, in 2020 our Planning and Zoning Department worked on:
- The Claremont School Project to promote the redevelopment of the former school into rental housing.
- Partnered with the Town of Pulaski on the Pulaski Works ARC Planning Grant to explore the concept of maker space and a training center in downtown Pulaski. (The Final report should be out soon.)
- Partnered with the Pulaski County School System on a Safe Routes to School Mini-Grant to develop an action plan for improving bike and pedestrian connectivity for the new Pulaski County Middle School. The Final Draft report was just delivered to the Board this month.
- They worked with the Fairview Home Board on the Fairview Home Pocket Park project to explore the concept of a new neighborhood pocket park.
- Worked with County Administration to be one of only three in Virginia to achieve the Solsmart Gold Designation and distinguish the County as a “Gold standard solar friendly community”.
- Completed land use table updates and zone district improvements to the Pulaski County Unified Development Ordinance that were approved in May 2020 that will pay dividends to development in 2021.
- GIS staff worked diligently with VDOT to install a record number of road signs in a single year.
- Elaine Holeton our Zoning Administrator achieved the American Institute of Certified Planners credential in 2020 and Markie Quesenberry obtained the Permit Technician Certification.
- Our Building Official successfully completed ALL of the state required testing and is now officially our certified Building Official
- Excitingly, the Community Development Department has also been working on converting to Energov Online Permitting. The Development of the online permit and plan review applications, the necessary trainings, and the converting of our paper processes over to the online platform is expected to be completed and rolled out this summer – 2021.
“I want to commend our Planning and Zoning and Community Development Departments for the extra efforts that went into all of these accomplishments and thank them for their dedication to uninterrupted service to our customers and citizens during these challenging times – Thank you.”
The Finance Department worked hard in 2020 and we have successfully went live with Tyler Technologies-Munis Human Capital Management software. We have enhanced this finance and human capital investment through improvements in Payroll and Personnel records with new Kronos timekeeping software recently purchased through CARES Act funding and scheduled to go live in April 2021.
Our Finance Department enjoyed the addition of a new Assistant Director of Finance. With this added capacity, and new software, we continue training and the reorganization of the department to further increase efficiencies and capabilities in the important and complex annual budget process the audit process. We are continuing the training of all applicable team members to become more proficient with the financial accounting software package and will add new modules like Utility Billing and EnerGov in the near future that will feature Customer Service Modules for ease of public access to utility and community development information and records.
“Thank you to the Finance Department for undertaking this herculean feat of software conversion and thank you in advance for what these investments in time and resources will mean for the County’s financial operations.”
In 2020 our IT Department:
- Prepared and implemented VPN’s and issued laptops for our new Telework capabilities in response to COVID-19
- Signed our newest MOU for IT services with the Town of Dublin to support their IT needs and subsequently upgraded their Network systems
- Installed 3 new broadband hotspots at Robinson Tract Community Center, Draper Park and Little Creek to temporarily serve the internet access needs of those communities
- Substantially upgraded the Dept. of Social Services internet bandwidth from 3 Mbps to 500Mbps
- Worked on the downtown WIFI deployment project collaboration between the Town of Pulaski and County of Pulaski in response to COVID-19
- Redesigned the Pulaski County Library website (pclibs.org)
- Launched the new Pulaski County tourism web site (visitpulaskiva.org)
- Completed the judicial courthouse security system upgrade
- Moved Town of Pulaski billing office’s technology and equipment to Skyline Bank building due to COVID-19 response
- Replaced network switches at both of our Courthouses, the Administration Building, Dublin Library and at the Registrar’s Office
- Installed a County Firewall upgrade
- Numerous network upgrades at the Business Center (switches and WIFI)
- Completed 1,325 helpdesk requests that were logged into our new Munis projects system
“We resourcefully utilized the IT Department’s latent capacity to provide services by way of MOU’s to several political subdivision and NGO’s within the county, and effectively turned that capacity into $117,533.99 in revenues to the county for charges for services and support.”
“I want to commend the IT Department for getting so much done for both the County and our community partners, and thank them for the work they have done to make County operations more efficient through technology and better prepared to tackle tomorrow’s challenges – Thank you.”
Even Code Enforcement has been dialed-up:
In 2020 County Administration established a well-organized system for reporting, investigating, documenting and the following-up of complaints related to code violations across the county. Working in conjunction with the Sheriff’s Office Warrants Division, we are now able to be more efficient and maximize usage of these officers to enforce county code violations while they are out in the community serving civil warrants. The consistency and frequent follow-up by these deputies has resulted in most all of the reported violations being remedied within the allowed code time line, which is generally 30 days for corrective action. Because of this new program approach, we have successfully brought into compliance 54 code violation complaints.
“I want to thank the Sheriff’s Department and the County Administration Team for their efforts in developing such an effective and professional program in response to code violation complaints and for their willingness to tackle this difficult and unpopular task – Thank you.”
Our 2020 Access to Community College (ACCE) Program Update:
In 2020 the Pulaski County Board of Supervisors began the first annual fully funded ACCE program for Pulaski County High School graduates attending NRCC. Students in the ACCE program are required to complete 80 hours of community service each semester by working in some capacity in Pulaski County. Through a volunteer coordinator, we established an organized system of recruitment of work sites and placement of ACCE students throughout the County to perform their free hours of labor. A total of 60 students were in the ACCE program in 2020. Many of those students volunteered in a variety of capacity in various departments of county government and throughout the community. A robust plan for these ACCE students to work our large summer camp and Parks and Recreation programs was in place but COVID-19 disrupted those plans and forced these students to be placed at other worksites. However, we still used several of these students for numerous months on labor-intensive improvement projects in our local community parks.
The Parks and Recreation:
“During this past year, we made one of the biggest investment in Capital Improvement Projects within the Parks and Recreation Department. The following are the numerous investments made in repairs and upgrades to our current recreational assets and facilities:”
- In 2020 we completed our first ever Parks and Recreation Master Plan which began in 2019. We implemented many of these recommended changes immediately in 2020.
- We fully automated our Parks and Recreation sign ups process with new website and online registrations – This came in extremely handy with COVID
- In 2020, we had a major renovations completed at Central Gym
- We replaced the roof and parapet wall. We did this so cost effectively and under budget, that we converted the remaining funds to then:
- Complete a professional makeover of the gym floor
- Complete a new paint job of the ceilings and walls of the entire gym, bathrooms and side rooms using our recreation department staff who were freed-up due to the pandemic
- We also used the savings and our staff to install all new FFE’s such as a: scoreboard, trash cans, side goals, baseboards, upgraded electrical outlets
(We have just a few remaining improvements left such as the completing the installation of a commercial kitchen.)
“We have heard from so many of our citizens praising the quality of the work that we have done at Central Gym and so many of our folks both young and old are enjoying this renewed community asset.”
At Randolph Park in 2020:
- We upgraded the Basketball and Tennis Courts with the:
- Installation of colored Rubberized surfacing
- Painted all new court lines to include pickle ball lines to the tennis courts
- Painted all the fencing
- Installed new durable high-grade glass basketball backboards and goals
- Installed new tennis court posts and nets
- At the Baseball/Softball Complex, we:
- Painted all backstops
- Installed all new backstop padding on each field
- Installed new gates at each entranceway for securing facility and crowd control
- Installed removable outfield fences for younger age tournaments
- Installed new artificial “Jox boxes” to eliminate holes in the batters boxes
- Installed new speaker system for entire Randolph Park complex
- Had all ball fields professionally laser graded and infield mix added for much improved drainage
- We have begun installing covered dugouts on each field (to be completed this March 2021.
- Purchased new Toro infield prep machine for professional and safe playing surface (will be used in all parks)
- Purchased all new foul ball poles
- We are preparing for the installation of spectator safety netting and shade structure
“These ball park improvements will help position us to attract and host next-level bat and ball tournaments here in the County which will be a benefit to our youth as well as a boon for our small businesses and our hospitality industry.”
- At our Outdoor Pool Facility we:
- Installed new electronic staff log in/out system for time keeping
- Installed all new flooring inside pool building
- Had large slide repaired and professionally repainted
- Repaired and repainted all existing pool toy features and small slides
- Installed professional speaker/public announcement system
- Purchased new lounge and standard chairs on pool deck
- At our Disc Golf Course we:
- Added new poured concrete tee-pads for all 18 disc golf holes
- Repaired and upgraded all new disc golf directional signage
- In addition to these specific upgrades, at Randolph Park:
- Our IT Department Installed public WIFI throughout the park.
- We purchased large capacity elevated bleachers for the football/soccer field (to be completed spring of 2021)
- Put new trail mix on the entire trail system in the park
- Installed new outdoor trash receptacles
- Purchased new benches and picnic tables to add throughout the park
- Installed new wood fencing in front of park
- Completed RFP process for roof re-coating to be completed in spring of 2021
- Installed new parking lot at DHS shelter
At Loving Field we:
- Installed a new parking lot
- Filled in large dip area of outfields in baseball complex for players’ safety
- Fixed major drainage issue in baseball complex to increase playability
- Began the planning for a Dog Park to be added in 2021
Looking ahead, we continue the Completion Planning of O’dell Park and Draper Park by:
- Forming a planning group for O’dell Park and have engaged contracts to install the remaining amenities and improvements such as the walking track which should be completed by or before April.
- Working with existing Draper Park Committee to plan and finalize adding and installing the remaining amenities to park such as the pavillion and a playground. Both should be completed by or before this summer.
“I want to say thank you to the Parks and Recreation staff who took the challenge of the pandemic to work hard and turn the crisis into one of the biggest opportunities we have had to upgrade many of our Parks and Recreation facilities. You went above and beyond in 2020 and this is most evident when you visit anyone of our many community parks or recreation facilities – Thank you.”
Report on our more direct response to COVID-19 and CARES Act Funding:
- Above our original CARES Act allocation, we successfully applied for and received $391,277.00 in grant funding from a Broadband Grant made available by the state through a portion of their federal CARES Act funding. The grant funding is being invested as I speak in the construction of two new dual-purpose communications towers, one in Hiwassee and one in Snowville, to attach fixed-based wireless equipment to deploy broadband services to approximately 900 residential serviceable units, as well as provide enhanced relay communications capabilities for our local police, fire and rescue. Please Note, we have experienced a few delays due to COVID-19 complications and weather, but we look forward to these towers coming on-line this spring and providing our citizens with new pathways to telework, tele-learn and access telemedicine.
- We also used CARES Act funding to rapidly conduct a survey and complete a comprehensive study necessary to establish clear and present demand for a SCC Pilot Project Grant in partnership with Appalachian Power and private ISP’s, that would allow us to buildout middle-mile fiber throughout the un- and underserved areas of Pulaski, Bland and Montgomery Counties. The project could provide access to bandwidth greater than 25 down and 3 (Mbps) up to approximately 15,000 new un or under-served citizens. We are working with our partners to submit the grant this year with great optimism due to the results of the study.
- The County also partnered with All Points Broadband to make over $55,000 worth of broadband equipment upgrades on both the Peaks Knob and Colyd Mountain antennas to provide 4G LTE service that we can push out all the way to the Little Creek community.
- The County’s Building and Grounds Department worked around the clock to quickly install more than $40,000 in safety measures and facility upgrades to all of our public touchpoints to help keep both the public and our employees safe from the spread of the coronavirus.
“I want to take just a moment to thank these guys for the professional work that they did and the craftsmanship and skill they employed in these safety features that will long outlive the coronavirus. The Employees and the Public thank you.”
- We participated in the NRV Regional Task Force to provide a regional response to COVID-19 with both our professional human capital as well as CARES Act funding in the tune of $560,000. This is how Pulaski County and the NRV has been able to outpace the state and other health districts with PPE, testing, vaccinations, implementation of our own regional call center, the establishment and operation of our Business Continuity Team and many other community support programs and initiatives. This has truly been a team effort and I would like to commend my fellow administrators and managers throughout the New River Valley as well as Doctor Bissell and her exceptional team within the NRV Health District.
- We have resourcefully used CARES Act funding to equip the County with new telework equipment and needed capacities that we have never had before and are now using to safely provide redundancy in county services and operations, coupled with the development of our first telework split-schedule to ensure continuance of government operations.
- We used CARES Act funding to increase outdoor seating capacity at all of our community parks in response to COVID-19 by way of the purchase and installation of additional benches, picnic tables and bleachers for the public’s use.
- We have invested in a Public Health Readiness Evaluation, a regional housing study update (as heard tonight), and various other analytics to better assist us with strategic positioning and with our response to the pandemic.
- We invested in the NRV Crisis Center Expansion Project in response to COVID-19, to leverage regional resources that will be used to assist our citizens in need of mental health services as well as unencumber our law enforcement officers when executing temporary detention orders.
- We invested CARES Act monies in the expansion and facility up-fit of the Pulaski Community Youth Center, a county owned facility in Fairlawn, so more of our youth could be served with programming and have access to the facility due to occupancy load restrictions and physical distance requirements imposed by executive orders due to COVID-19
- We invested CARES funding in needed facility improvements, upgrades and technology within the courthouse, county administration building and the newly acquired Business Center, in response to the spacecial and new technology demands placed upon us by executive orders and to adhere to health and safety guidance as it relates to COVID-19.
- We are investing in the installation of back-up generators for each of our County Fire Departments to better equipment them for emergency response in the case of a variety of natural disasters and other catastrophic events.
- We equipped our EMS with over $85,000 worth of new LUCAS CPR Devices (the Stryker PRJ), which is a contactless technology that will replace the outdated units we previously used and provide a better and safer emergency response for both our responders and the public.
- In partnership with the PSA, we have invested $85,000 in a refuse collection compactor that was required to process the significant increase in residential refuse brought about by the shift to a stay-at-home life-style as a result of the pandemic.
- We invested, along with the Town of Pulaski and other non-profit community members, $100,000 to establish a centralized community food distribution program equipped with mobile food delivery capabilities to help feed those here in our community who are in need. Our $100,000 of CARES Act funding was leveraged to bring more than $250,000 of total investment to help feed our people in need.
- The County directly allocated $767,000 to the Town of Pulaski and $230,000 to the Town of Dublin that they utilized on their respective responses and mitigation efforts to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Beyond what the Board of Supervisors and County Administration has accomplished with these funds, CARES Act monies help support our constitutional offices with deed book digitization in the Clerk’s Office, Free on-line processing for tax collection to our citizens within the Treasure’s office, and technology and safety improvements in the Registrar’s office that helped us with conducting a safe election.
“Of all the things we have done with our CARES Act funding, with maybe the exception of our broadband deployment efforts – perhaps finally solving that riddle, I am most proud of the Board’s focus on the small business and non-profit communities. Small businesses are owned by people, they employ people, and they serve people – our people. So helping them is both directly and indirectly helping the people of this county.”
- The Board, in conjunction with the EDA, invested $1,082,000 in Small Business Recovery grants to our local small businesses and non-profits. This equated to 217 direct grants that went out to support our people in their biggest time of need. I am proud of the EDA, the Economic Development office and the County Administration Team to rapidly develop a program and quickly implement it at the height of the confusion and challenge brought on by the pandemic. We have heard so many stories of how these resources were timely and critical to keeping many of our small businesses and non-profits afloat.
- Lastly, but not least, the County invested over $90,000 to support our childcare facilities and help our community’s children and parents with direct grant funding targeted at out-of-school programming and childcare services necessitated by required closures and physical distancing demands brought about by COVID-19.
…All this while going through a 6-year reassessment and 10-year Census count…
Please let me conclude by saying that the totality of what we as a Team got done in 2020 and what we continue to work to achieve in 2021, almost all has a common thread. That thread is a strategic and concerted effort to advance Pulaski County forward and better position us to survive and thrive in a post-COVID world and in this new and highly competitive economy. Our vision of 40-by-30, having 40,000 people call Pulaski County home by the year 2030, can only be possible if we continue to work hard to make our county a safe, affordable, enjoyable and opportunity rich community. I feel confident that the focus and significant investments the Board has made in supporting the small business community, our public education system, infrastructure upgrades and quality of life amenities will go a long way to retaining and attracting talent to Pulaski County that will fuel our employers, grow our economy, and make us a next-level community.
I want to thank this Board for your leadership and support that helped propel us through 2020 and for your continued leadership and support that will maximize our output in 2021.
I would also like to thank the men and women who make up the Pulaski County Team and made the choice to employ their talents in service to the public – for their hard work, dedication and courage throughout 2020 and beyond. It is these hardworking individuals that are responsible for getting so much done in 2020, despite everything the pandemic had to throw at us – Thank you.
Lastly, I would like to extend my appreciation to the citizens and taxpayers of Pulaski County who entrust us with so much. It is my privilege and pleasure and the privilege and pleasure of all our County employees to serve you and we strive to do so at the highest level possible. 2020 was a difficult year, but perhaps one of the most rewarding from a production output standpoint and a strategic positioning in the marketplace standpoint, but also from a community unifying and inspiring standpoint. With the leadership of this Board and the momentum that we have managed to muster, I am hopeful that 2021 will be another productive and blessed year for local government and Pulaski County.