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By CATHY DYSON
King George supervisors didn't vote Tuesday on the HELP Center, a proposed complex that would provide services for low-income residents, but a majority favors giving the center county land.
Chairman Cedell Brooks Jr., Ruby Brabo and John LoBuglio said they support giving 5.5 acres in the Government Center on State Route 3 for the complex--with some minor changes to the performance agreement between the county and Project FAITH, the nonprofit organization that will build the center.
Brooks asked County Attorney Matt Britton to add a clause that said no commercial or for-profit ventures would be allowed.
He also asked county officials to survey the property and have a plat recorded so the issue can be voted on in two weeks.
"We've been dealing with this for a long time," Brooks said. "If we're gonna do it, we need to go ahead and do it."
More than three years ago, Project FAITH's director Fronce Wardlaw unveiled a proposal for a 42,000-square-foot center with offices for health and social services, a free clinic, community college classes and a commercial kitchen, all under one roof.
She planned to use grants, low-interest loans and tax credits to pay for the project, whose cost is estimated at between $8 million and $9 million.
No county funds would be spent, although King George offices would rent space in the new complex.
The hearing to give Project FAITH the land was one of four Tuesday during a four-hour session attended by about 50 people.
Eleven residents spoke about the HELP Center, nine talked about the elimination of the FREDericksburg Regional Transit bus service in King George, eight spoke about the county's proposed tax rate and six commented on the budget.
'A VITAL RESOURCE'
Most speakers on the HELP Center echoed resident Maurice Cumberlander, who liked the idea of multiple sources under one roof.
"Consider this as a vital resource for the community," he said.
Ruth Herrink, publisher of the King George Journal, was one of two people who opposed the transaction. She questioned why the county would give away "a prime piece of property" without letting anyone else bid on the chance to provide a building with similar services.
Brooks reminded the group that the county gave land for the King George YMCA, which opened in fall 2008.
"One thing that amazes me is, we talk about property, and right across the field is land we gave to the YMCA, and not one person came in here and said why would you give away this property?" Brooks said.
SEEKING HIGHER TAXES
Koontz Campbell said something governing bodies don't usually hear.
"I'd like to ask you to raise my taxes," she said. "I can contribute 4 cents more on my real-estate taxes to help this county continue to grow."
She and resident Helene Kelly mentioned the need for more emergency-service workers. They referred to comments last month from fire and rescue officials who said the department has "serious issues."
There's no money in the budget for more emergency-services staff. Supervisors said they're waiting for a strategic plan that will address the department's needs.
Supervisors praised the dedication of the county's volunteer and career workers several times Tuesday. Dale Sisson Jr. said comments about a December report on fire and rescue services had been taken out of context in The Free Lance-Star.
He pointed out the state-of-the-art buildings, equipment and apparatus the county has, and acknowledged it didn't have all the staff it needed.
"Part of living in a rural county is you're going to have a rural fire and rescue system," he said.
That's why Campbell said she wanted higher taxes, because "no firetruck ever put out a fire, no ambulance ever saved a life. We have to pay attention to staff or we have just wasted our money on structure."
Kelly, who lives in Dahlgren, told the board that having enough emergency-services works in place is a matter of life and death. "This is shameful to think there could be people who die because of us I mean, [because of] you guys," Kelly said.
No residents spoke against a tax increase, although several asked the county to raise the tax rate 3 cents rather than 4 cents.
County Administrator Travis Quesenberry built his $62.4 million budget based on a 3-cent increase. When supervisors voted to advertise the budget, Brabo suggested advertising a 4-cent increase, just in case the board decided to fund extra positions.
The current tax rate is 50 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Resident Nelson Sample asked for more information about how the extra penny would be used. Richard Lorey encouraged supervisors not to raise taxes just because they could.
John Heffernan endorsed the 53-cent proposal and asked the board to stick with essential services.
But resident Jenni Jones supported a 4-cent increase and thanked supervisors and School Board members for their hard work.
King George High School teacher Dee Strauss said she also supported the 4-cent increase, but would have favored a 10-cent increase had the supervisors requested it.
"We can't just stand still with the tax rate," she said. "Our infrastructure needs support."
Supervisors have several more work sessions before they approve the budget April 30.
NO MORE FRED BUSES
Residents presented two petitions with more than 400 names of people who support keeping the FRED bus service in King George.
Yet the decision already had been made. Supervisors planned to end the service this time last year, then agreed to extend it for one more year.
FRED officials knew the county wouldn't continue funding the system, so they didn't apply for grants for the bus service in King George.
For several years, supervisors have said mass transit is an urban solution that doesn't work in a rural setting. They said the cost didn't justify the ridership.
Supervisors hoped to have other options in place before the buses stopped running June 29, but a committee hasn't found any alternatives that would be ready by then, the board learned earlier this month.
"We need the FRED bus service to stay," Morris Tyler told the board. Cutting it "is going to hurt a lot of people."
Charles Frazier, a FRED driver, said a lot of people will lose their jobs without the bus.
Jim Schaefer, the executive director of the Rappahannock Area Agency on Aging, said his staff has vehicles that can provide rides for disabled people who need therapy or dialysis.
"We'll do the best we can," he said, "but we're not a solution to every rider's need."
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425