Column: Help is available for our businesses, citizens, and city priorities remain in place while we deal with the coronavirus crisis

Barbara Henley [The Independent News]

PUNGO — Even though we are still not able to have regular meetings, and the monthly Princess Anne District Forum was again canceled this past month, there is work being done and issues to be discussed.  

The budget for fiscal year 2020-2021 was adopted in May, but with the clear understanding that it will have to be carefully monitored for the next several months to make sure that revenues meet the projections required to fund services as adopted. We need your continued feedback to make certain that we are making the right choices and assuring that the most necessary work gets done.  

There are several programs particularly important during this difficult time which will provide assistance to those individuals and businesses most adversely impacted by this pandemic. 

For those who have lost their jobs or had their income severely impacted, opportunities for assistance are available and should be utilized. 

Senior citizens and persons with disabilities may be eligible for real estate and personal property tax relief, and now is the time when applications need to be filed or updated. That deadline has been extended to the end of July. 

If you are in this category, please review your status because some changes in your financial standing or the requirements of the program might now make some people eligible who did not previously qualify. The Commissioner of Revenue’s office oversees that program and can be contacted at (757) 385-4385 if you have questions.

City Council established a new program especially for persons who have suffered income loss by the Covid-19 crisis and are having difficulty paying their public utilities and public works city services bill. The details for administering the program are now being developed and information will be provided soon. The Virginia Beach Department of Human Services will administer this program.  Do not hesitate to call and ask about assistance if you have this need. Human Services will also be administering a locally funded real estate tax relief program for persons other than those who qualify for the senior or disabled citizens program. Details about this assistance also will be published soon. 

The city will be administering the federal CARES Act programs, which will include rental assistance relief for people who have temporarily fallen behind in their rent because of the pandemic. These opportunities will be administered by the Virginia Beach Department of Housing and Neighborhood Preservation.  A second round of applications for this assistance will be opened on Monday, June 8, and must be done electronically. Details and qualifications for that program will be announced shortly before June 8.  If someone is experiencing severe issues with inability to pay rent and is in danger of becoming homeless, they should call the Regional Housing Crisis Hotline at (757) 227-5932.

Small businesses were particularly hard hit by the shutdown and continue to have difficulty because of their loss of income. City Council expanded the Economic Development Investment Program to allow grants to small businesses to help with rent, utilities and other general costs while they try to recover and reopen their operations. The Virginia Beach Economic Development Office is administering that program and can be reached at (757) 385-6453. We as individuals can also help as our small businesses reopen and try to reestablish their customer base by patronizing our local operations. 

To further help in the recovery, additional time to pay taxes has been allowed. The real estate and personal property taxes normally due on Friday, June 5, can be paid by Saturday, August 1, without penalty or interest.  It has been a testament to the caring generosity of our people to see the outpouring of donations for the Foodbank and other support organizations. 

Thanks to all who have found so many ways to help out, and please help spread the word about these opportunities for assistance to your friends who are struggling with finances at this time.  

Of course, there are all of the regular services that we depend on to assure the quality of life we expect. Providing services while respecting social distancing and other requirements for controlling the spread of the virus will be a real challenge. As we are gradually able to open in other areas, such as our libraries and recreational spaces, you will see adjustments that we will need to make. This will not be without inconvenience, and we will all be asked to change some of our ways of doing things, but, if we are to assure the health and safety of all of our people, it will be worth the effort. We may even be able to make some improvements to our processes along the way.

We know that the issue of recurrent flooding and sea level rise has been one of the chief concerns for this area. Mother Nature has helped us out this spring by sending northeast winds which made for a cooler spring, but, with fewer southerly winds, we have had less flooding – so far, anyway.  

Our adopted budget does include funding to begin a project to acquire some properties that will help provide a buffer from flooding, and, I hope, allow us to leverage that funding with other grants which may become available. Also, we will complete the work that Virginia Tech has been doing to help us identify the properties that will be the most critical to maintain for a conservation buffer. Please stay involved as we go forward with this work, which is so important for the southern areas of the city.

The knowledge that we already gained from the Virginia Tech study regarding the role of forestry in flood control will also be valuable as we institute the policy which City Council adopted this past week to require the city to replace any trees which are destroyed on city property. We hope to get a reforestation program underway this fall with a project for tree planting on a portion of the property which was formerly planned to be developed as a part of Ashville Park.  More information will be forthcoming as we plan this project and offer opportunities for participation.   

No doubt, this has been a tough year, and it looks as if there are more sacrifices to come. We miss so much not being able to have our Memorial Day observance at the Senior Resource Center, with our Boy Scouts leading the service of remembering those who served our country. We will certainly miss the great 4-H Livestock Show and Sale, which our 4-H youth do so well to culminate their months of work in raising their animals. 

It just doesn’t seem right to not have potlucks, musical shows, hugs and church services. But if this is what it takes to defeat this virus, we will just have to stay six feet apart, wear masks and wash our hands over and over and over. We might not like it, but we can do it. 

In the meantime, take care, stay safe, and be kind.

Henley represents the Princess Anne District on the Virginia Beach City Council. The district includes much of the main coverage area of The Independent News. This was adapted from a note to her constituents.

© 2020 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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