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Carroll pool closing questioned at hearing

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Listening to just one objection to closing the county pool didn't seem to make much of a splash with the Carroll supervisors at the May 18 public hearing for the proposed 2009-2010 budget.

Projected to cost about $50,000 more to operate than the revenue it would bring in, the pool is the only county service that faces being cut out of the budget completely.

Balancing the budget — $32 million for general county operations and $42.7 million for schools — required sacrifices. Revenue is expected to drop due to the recession, county officials have said.

Janie Waters said at the hearing that the pool is the main summer activity for her 9-year-old daughter and she wondered if anything could be done to keep it open.

"I take her to the pool every day, because that's like her summer," Waters said. "I think a lot of parents may be in that position... especially this year. We can't really afford a vacation or anything."

She doesn't plan to take her daughter to an indoor pool, like the one at the Carroll Wellness Center.

The only other option would be R-J Ranch, but that's quite a trek, she said. The rising cost of gas makes the drive even more of a concern for her.

Waters wondered if there was any chance of federal stimulus money meant to fight childhood obesity going to fund the pool.

"Is there any way or is there no way?" she asked.

Supervisors' Chairman David Hutchins responded that county officials were there to listen to citizens at the public hearing and not make comments. He promised to take the comments into consideration before adopting the budget.

Waters also said day cares come to the pool in the summer.

County Administrator Gary Larrowe took the opportunity to turn in petitions to keep the pool from closing. The signatures on the petition totaled more than 150, and the supervisors received the papers without comment.

Two others, Pam Hall and Sandra Knott, both spoke in support of Brain Injury Services for Southwest Virginia.

Hall, an employee at the Wytheville office serving Carroll County, did not make any specific budget request, only thanked the supervisors generally for any support they could give.

She provides direct services to clients with traumatic brain injuries. She's been in contact with a brain injury survivor, Karen Osborne, and they are working together to start a support group at Twin County Regional Hospital.

(For more on Osborne's story, see the related article in today's edition.)

The office has been open for two years and continues to grow, Hall said. She has approximately 32 clients on her case load and about a fourth of those are from Carroll County.

Hall introduced Knott, a client of Brain Injury Services, to share how the place helped her.

Knott explained that she had been in a head-on collision in 2004. As a result, she lost all her memory and had to relearn everything.

She went to counseling with Mount Rogers and they recommended Brain Injury Services for help. "I felt that someone understood me and I wasn't all alone."

This gave her hope she could have a half-way normal life.

Knott's medications are expensive, and Brain Injury Services has helped with those costs.

More people with these kinds of injuries are out there. "It could easily turn into one of y'all on your way home — someone could hit y'all head-on."

The supervisors also heard a budget-related comment from Mary Lee McGrady during their regular May meeting, about ending the practice of taxing farm equipment.

She wanted to see the same kind of relief for farmers, like what surrounding counties provide, McGrady told the supervisors.

About 80 percent of the farm equipment in Carroll is only used seasonally. "It's sitting there idle three to six months out of the year and not income-producing."

The assessment used for farm equipment isn't realistic either, she said. Farmers still have to pay taxes on a 40-year-old piece of farm equipment that's kept out behind the barn, for example.

"Profit for farmers is almost nonexistent at this time," McGrady said.

She thought it only reasonable that farmers in Carroll get the same treatment as those in neighboring counties.

Hutchins responded that it was too late to make changes to the projected revenues for next year, but that staff would look into it for the following budget.