The Amherst County Board of Supervisors’ first meeting of the month now will have a later start time of 3 p.m. starting in February.
The board instituted the change with a unanimous vote at its Jan. 9 meeting. The first Tuesday meeting of the month for many years has started at 1 p.m.
Prior to those meetings the Amherst County Service Authority’s board, which consists of supervisors, meets at 11 a.m. The authority board is expected to discuss at its February meeting bumping the meeting time to 1 p.m.
Tom Martin, the board’s newest member who took office in January, recently suggested the change. He has said the move could be advantageous in allowing more residents to attend the later meeting.
Also during the Jan. 9 meeting, Amherst County Commonwealth’s Attorney Lyle Carver presented a report to supervisors on his office’s functions and activities. He said the office’s caseload is increasing based on the work of law enforcement officers he described as excellent.
In 2018 there were 561 indictments that passed through Amherst Circuit Court. In 2019 the figure increased to 612, according to Carver, who first took office in 2015 and was reelected to a second term in November.
“Our numbers are going up rapidly,” Carver said to supervisors. “Our caseload has increased every year. I expect that to continue. We are extremely short-staffed based on our numbers.”
He said he doesn’t consider an increase in crime as a driving factor behind the rise in case work, adding different approaches in law enforcement have yielded results. Methamphetamine use is an issue in the county, he said, pointing out an influx in drug cases is getting worse everywhere and not just in the county.
His office of five prosecutors recently added an extra assistant prosecutor position due to a need to review more body camera footage from officers. The board in 2019 expressed displeasure for the state mandating the additional position without providing money for it.
Carver said body cameras are a major help for prosecution of cases and pointed to the recent conviction of Trevor Dawson Ewers as an example. A jury in September found the 24-year-old Monroe resident guilty of two counts of attempted capital murder of a law enforcement officer and aggravated malicious wounding of an officer, along with several other firearm-related charges, in a September 2017 traffic stop that turned chaotic. Ewers, heavily intoxicated during the stop, pulled a gun on the officers while outside of the vehicle and during a scuffle to the ground Amherst sheriff’s deputy Jason Meador was wounded and another officer shot Ewers in the shoulder.
Meador survived though he still suffers from effects of his injuries, Carver said. A judge sentenced Ewers in December to 108 years in prison.
Carver said Ewers’ emotionally charged trial was significantly impacted by the body camera footage and audio that gave an account of what took place. The tool is helpful in clearing officers of wrongdoing in such incidents, he said.
“It was very powerful evidence,” Carver said of the footage. “You want a body camera in those situations.”
The Amherst Commonwealth Attorney’s Office qualifies for another secretary, paralegal and prosecutor, according to Carver’s presentation. Chairwoman Claudia Tucker asked if there is enough space in the courthouse for the added positions if they are implemented. Carver said adequate space would be a challenge and his office is working on plans on where the added staff could be placed if those positions were to come to fruition.
Also during the meeting, the board approved a resolution supporting action by the Virginia General Assembly to increase county authority to be equal to that of cities and towns. Meals, cigarettes and admission taxes are examples of taxes counties could tap into additional revenue if allowed by the state, according to the Virginia Association of Counties. Counties have to pass a referendum for a meals tax, which is limited to a rate of 4%, and transient occupancy tax is capped for counties at 2% without special enabling authority according to VACO.
Opening up the tax options would reduce counties’ reliance on raising real estate taxes to generate revenue, according to the resolution. Increasing the taxing powers of counties to equal cities and towns would not lead to tax hikes but only add to options counties have for raising necessary funds, a staff report to supervisors on the matter states.
Amherst County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Arnold brought a similar resolution before the county school board during its Jan. 9 meeting for review and potential action at a later date.
In other news:
- After a closed session discussion, supervisors decided to interview county residents John Boon, Teresa Ray, Warren Smith Jr. and Wesley Woods on Jan. 21 for two citizen appointments to the Amherst County Service Authority board. Supervisors recently opened the ASCA board, which for more than 60 years has been made up entirely of the board of supervisors, to a pair of upcoming citizen appointments. Those interviews will be held in open session rather than behind close doors, the board decided. Former county supervisors John Marks and Ray Vandall and former ACSA director Dan French, who retired in 2017, also applied for citizen appointment but are not scheduled for interviews, according to the board’s action.
- The board reappointed David Wall to the District 4 seat on the Amherst County Economic Development Authority’s board and appointed Patrick Dreher, a 28-year resident of Amherst to fill a vacant at-large seat on the EDA.