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The municipal council talks light, sun, data centers

The Fredericksburg City Council broke through its regular session Tuesday night, the last before it reconvenes in late August. But not before we addressed the elephant in the region.

After approving a brief consent agenda, Mayor Kerry Devine turned the conversation to data centers and suggested Fira Virginia South as a possible site for such a facility in Fredericksburg.

“Data centers are all around us at this point and a lot of us have gone to look at some in the region to try to get a better understanding of what it would mean for Fredericksburg to have a data center in there,” Devine said. “About 20 million square feet are planned in Stafford, Spotsylvania, Caroline, King George — all around us. And literally billions of dollars are going to be invested in these data centers and that means… there’s going to be millions of dollars flowing into these communities.”

Devine stated that data centers can significantly lower tax rates and improve economic development for these localities. Citing Stafford County’s recent agreement with Amazon on a water reuse program for its data center, Devine said some of the data center concerns are being addressed.

“What I would like to request is that we direct staff to explore Celebrate Virginia South as a potential data center development,” she said.

And most on the council agreed it was time to consider the options.

“I think it’s incumbent on all of us to find ways to diversify our revenue streams and not rely so much on property taxes. So I’m all for your request and support it,” said Ward 3 Councilor Tim Duffy.

Ward 2 Councilman Jon Gerlach said he advocates for city officials to find other sources of revenue to ease the burden on taxpayers. Gerlach said as the city grows, the need for services will increase.

“If there’s a way to have a data center celebrate the South in an environmentally responsible way, I’d be all for it,” Gerlach said.

Vice Mayor Chuck Frye Jr. said the data center could be a positive move for the city. Councilor Will Mackintosh noted the effect on employment that comes with the development.

“I know they’re not huge job creators but it takes quite a number of highly educated and well paid people to run one of these things,” Mackintosh said.

Mackintosh said he hopes the city’s schools and Germanna Community College take the initiative to develop training programs so local students can join the region’s workforce.

“I’m very excited about this development in our region as a source of employment for our young people and making sure we build the education pipelines for that,” he said.

Proclamations and resolutions

In other business, retiring Police Lt. Scott Worley and Fredericksburg Arts Commission Chairman Kenneth Lecky were recognized with announcements thanking them for their years of service to the community.

Mackintosh was named to the elementary school naming committee at the request of the school board. That motion passed 6-0. Councilman Jason Graham was absent due to a family emergency, Devine explained.

David Brown, Deputy City Manager, gave the council an update on sustainability initiatives in the city. The conversion of lights in some public buildings to LED fixtures is complete. The energy-efficient lights are installed in the police department, the Bass-Ellison building, the library, Dixon Park, the Dorothy Hart Community Center and the city store. The project cost about $200,000.

Brown also noted that the same contractor is developing cost estimates for the installation of solar panels in the city. A contractor evaluates energy use in urban buildings to discover potential adjustments to reduce overall use.

Brown said the conversion of the city’s vehicle fleet to hybrids hit a snag as manufacturers cut back on the number of hybrids they produce. Brown noted that the city is shopping for more fuel-efficient vehicles, such as those that use EcoBoost systems.

“We still have a hybrid fleet,” he said. “But we will still continue to look for opportunities where we can get either electric or hybrid vehicles.”

The request for proposals for a closed landfill solar project in partnership with Stafford County closes July 31, Brown said, before highlighting some new projects in the works.

A pilot program with Dominion Energy will evaluate street lights in the Mayfield area to upgrade 91 high pressure sodium lamps and four mercury lamps to full LED. The lights range in wattage from 70 to 250 watts, Brown said. A completed plan will be presented in August.

Frye asked Brown about the height of the street lights, noting that many are blocked by the tree canopies.

“The area is full of trees and I wonder if you look at the actual height of the lights, on the poles,” Frye said.

Brown noted that the poles are owned by Dominion and that this project only focuses on the bulbs, but selective pruning may be recommended in places where the bulbs are blocked by limbs.

Brown concluded by saying that the Environmental Sustainability Coordinator position has been advertised again, and staff is reviewing applications.

Mackintosh asked Brown about future locations for electric vehicle charging stations.

“We’ve been trying to work and look with some outside agencies to create supplemental stations for this purpose,” Brown said. “One entity that we had presented to, there were some issues with the language in terms of contracts. That was with our previous city attorney and they haven’t gotten back to us.”

Brown stated that staff is also looking at creating permanent methods for homeowners to charge vehicles at the curb. But since the wires would cross a public sidewalk, it would essentially create a private parking lot on a public street.

Resolutions to transfer capital funds related to asphalt rehabilitation passed 6-0, as did a resolution to amend the budget to reflect three grants awarded to the Fredericksburg Police Department. The council made appointments in the circuit court’s equalization board and made decisions about administrative refunds from assessment adjustments.

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