South Boston Town Council set a public hearing on the town’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2020-2021 at its Monday work session.

The public hearing on the $12,463,814 budget for fiscal year 2020-2021 is set for May 11 at 7 p.m. The location will be announced at a later date, but likely will be held at the Washington Coleman Community Center, where the town council has been meeting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This budget is balanced. There are no tax increases,” said town manager Tom Raab. “We’ve had a very good year, and the town council should be proud that the fund balance is good and we should be able to weather the storm.”

Raab added that while he expects the COVID-19 pandemic to have an impact on the town’s revenues, in particular the meals tax and occupancy tax, he still expects the town to meet its budgeted projections for the current fiscal year.

In other business, council voted unanimously in favor of an ordinance to close three public streets and an alley within the Poplar Creek Homes Project site and transfer them to the Southside Outreach Group for the project.

The town is partnering with the Southside Outreach Group on the project, which entails the construction of 16 duplex units and a total of 32 apartments for low-to-moderate income families. Council at its April 13 business meeting had agreed to transfer 8.17 acres of town-owned land to the Southside Outreach Group for the project.

South Boston fire chief Steve Phillips also gave the fire department’s report for the year 2019 to council at Monday’s meeting.

“We could not do what we do without the support of each one of you,” Phillips told council.

Mayor Ed Owens, in turn, praised Phillips for his leadership of the fire department.

“Good followers need good leaders, and I want to commend you for being a good leader,” Owens said.

The fire department responded to 2,384 calls last year, including 269 town fire calls, 97 county fire calls, 1,732 town EMS calls and 286 county EMS calls, according to Phillips. Fire calls include brush fires, structure fires and motor vehicle crashes. Phillips noted that the number of calls typically increases each year. The department’s average response time for a call was 4.06 minutes.

“How quick we get there is because we have paid people at the station ready to go when the (fire call) tone goes off,” Phillips said. The fire department has 12 paid staff and 15 volunteer firefighters.

Phillips also reported an increase in the number of drug overdoses in the past couple of years. The department responded to 35 overdose calls in 2019, an increase from 24 overdose calls in 2018 and 16 overdose calls in 2017. Phillips said the department already has responded to several overdose calls this year.

The fire chief discussed the department’s fire safety education outreach, as well. Last year, Phillips reported the department educated nearly 941 children and 214 adults on fire safety at various locations in the community and gave numerous station tours.

Following Phillips’ report, deputy chief Dwight Spangler gave the fire official’s 2019 report to council.

“Since 1999, the fire official for the South Boston Fire & EMS Department has been responsible for the enforcement of the Virginia Statewide Fire Prevention Code in our town,” Spangler’s report states. “It is our firm belief that with the ability to enforce this code, we can hopefully reduce the number of accidental fires through the inspection process.”

Last year, the fire official conducted 63 inspections and cited 268 violations, including 46 electrical violations and 27 storage violations. The department also conducted an investigation of two fires last year. A Jan. 16 fire at 119 Meadow Drive was determined to be accidental, and the cause of a fire at 5018 Quail Roost Road was undetermined. An estimated 25.5 structure fires were intentionally set in 2018, a 13% increase from the previous year, Spangler reported.

Spangler also shared information about the department’s Knox Box Program, which gives first responders immediate access into secure buildings, campuses, residences and commercial properties when responding to a fire call.

Miranda Baines is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at mbaines@gazettevirginian.com.

Miranda Baines is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at mbaines@gazettevirginian.com.