Culpeper Star-Exponent: U.S. House approves $1 million for Culpeper projects

CULPEPER STAR-EXPONENT, ALLISON BROPHY CHAMPION

The U.S. House of Representatives this week approved more than $1 million for Culpeper projects related to law enforcement, education and parks and recreation.

U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, submitted earmark requests for the projects as part of the FY2024 appropriations process; the U.S. Senate was slated to vote on the package later this week.

The $1,012,777 slated to come Culpeper’s way includes $380,000 for a new “critical incident vehicle” for the Culpeper Police Department, $500,000 for auditorium improvements at the Carver Center and $132,777 to make Lenn Park more accessible.

The police vehicle would allow law enforcement to safely conduct operations during critical or emergency situations within the community, while providing real-time intelligence to keep Culpeper safe, according to a release from the congresswoman’s office.

The critical incident vehicle, to include a drone launch pad, would be a base of operations during police response to violent crime and search-and-rescue missions of children and adults. It will also be used to support large-scale, community-oriented activities throughout Culpeper, according to the release.

“The citizens of the Town of Culpeper will greatly benefit from awarding this funding to our Culpeper Police Department,” said Mayor Frank Reaves Jr. in a statement. “This vehicle, along with the technology that will come with it, will provide our officers with the tools to ensure public safety in our great town.”

The vehicle will provide the Culpeper Police Department with a level of technology that will provide for greater efficiencies on major events in town, added Chief Chris Settle. He said the funding would also provide support to law enforcement partners in the region and beyond.

Currently, the police department shares a critical incident vehicle with the sheriff’s office and county emergency services. But it’s a 20-year-old RV that’s more of a shared command post and not equipped with all that is necessary for a true emergency response, Culpeper County Sheriff Tim Chilton said in a phone call Thursday.

“It’s a piece of junk,” he said of the old RV, set up regularly at community events like CulpeperFest.

Chilton said the agency would like to get a new one, but it’s not in the budget right now. Since becoming sheriff in January, he has taken a close look at vehicles in the former sheriff’s fleet, including a mid-sized bus purchased for $100,000 in 2019 for jail transports Chilton said doesn’t get used often.

He also discussed the military armored vehicle his predecessor obtained for free in 2013, through a federal government Pentagon program.

“That thing has been an interesting conversation lately,” Chilton said. “It’s starting to get a lot of break-downs and I have to make a decision on it pretty soon.”

It’s going to cost an estimated $15-$20,000 to fix the air-conditioning in the armored vehicle, he stated.

“We don’t have the budget money to put in that thing, it’s starting to get old and fall apart, parts are obsolete, it’s almost harder to keep it,” Chilton said.

“We can give it back.”

The sheriff added his agency would be interested in replacing the tank with a smaller, easier to repair armored vehicle, if available through the federal program.

Regarding this week’s U.S. House appropriations approval for Culpeper, Spanberger secured $500,000 to improve the original auditorium at the Carver Center, site of the historic George Washington Carver Regional High School.

The center is a hub for educational, nonprofit and agricultural organizations in Culpeper and surrounding counties, including the Carver Agricultural Research Center, Virginia Cooperative Extension offices, 4-H Club programming areas and metalworking CTE courses, according to the congresswoman’s release.

Upgrades to the auditorium, which also serves as a polling location, will include additional fixed seating, lighting, stage repairs and audio-visual improvements.

In 2022, Spanberger secured $200,000 through the local earmark process for a new roof on the 75-year-old school building, a former regional school for Black students during segregation.

Culpeper County Board of Supervisors Chairman Paul Bates thanked her for working to get funding for needed community projects across the 7th District.

“The Carver Center is important not only to Culpeper County, but the region,” he said. “The renovation of the auditorium will create an exciting amenity that our residents can utilize and enjoy.”

Cedar Mountain District Supervisor thanked Spanberger for being an advocate for the Carver Center.

“With these funds we can continue revitalizing and improving this historic community resource for all our residents to enjoy,” he said.

Finally, the House-passed appropriations bill includes $132,777 to pave the parking lots and walking trails at Lenn Park in Stevenburg. Currently gravel and crushed stone, the upgrades would make the county park more accessible and in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Lenn Park is a community resource we are all proud of,” said Stevensburg District Supervisor Susan Gugino. “Making this park, as well as others, accessible for all our residents is a priority for both our Parks and Recreation Department and the board. We are thankful that these funds can be used to further those goals.”

Keeping communities and neighbors safe and supporting local law enforcement should be a top priority of all elected officials, Spanberger said in a statement.

“Public officials should always be responsive to the unique needs of the communities they serve, and I’m grateful to the Culpeper administrators and leaders who brought these projects to our attention and worked directly with my office to move these investments forward,” she said.

Also approved by the U.S. House in the budget, per Spanberger’s request, is $450,000 for the Madison County Sheriff’s Office to purchase new equipment to provide reliable emergency radio coverage at Madison County Public Schools.

This investment would allow for the purchase of a new bi-directional amplifier system to install in four public schools to improve communication between the sheriff’s office and 911 center to keep students, faculty, deputies and other first responders safe in an emergency situation, according to a release.

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