05:34pm, 09/17/14
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Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Updated 9/17/14 @ 5:10 pm

One man arrested, another sought in August robbery:
(Henry County, Va.) -- Henry County investigators have arrested one man in connection with an August robbery and are seeking a second suspect.
      31-year-old George Koulouris and 29-year-old Joshua Lee Cloud -- both of Martinsville -- are charged with robbing the Village Market in Basset on August 7.
     According to police, two men entered the store around 10 p.m., one armed with a handgun. Both were wearing masks and gloves and took money from the register and a purse belonging to one of the clerks before fleeing on foot.
     Both face robbery and firearms charges.
     Koulouris is being held in the Henry County Jail without bond. Police are still searching for Cloud and say he should be considered armed and dangerous.
        He’s a white male, 5’8”, 150 pounds, with tattoos around his right eye, neck and throat. Anyone with information should contact Crime Stoppers or the Henry County Sheriff’s Office at 276-638-8751    

Higher education cuts likely to spare Va. students:
(Richmond, Va.) (AP) -- The $90 million in cuts the McAuliffe administration is seeking from Virginia's public colleges and universities this fiscal year and next are likely to spare students.
     Instead, the savings will be achieved by keeping vacant unfilled positions, through energy conservation, deferred maintenance and other measures.
     While no layoffs are expected in the first round of cuts, higher education officials say they can't be ruled out next year when $45 million will be trimmed anew.
     Cuts in financial aid are off the table, and Gov. Terry McAuliffe is discouraging tuition increases.
     The cuts are aimed at filling an $882 million budget shortfall. Other measures include dipping into the state's so-called rainy day fund and making cuts to various agencies and local governments.
     The higher ed cuts are due in Richmond Friday.

More Pittsylvania Co. schools meet benchmarks:
(Chatham, Va.) -- Final scores from spring SOLs show 16 of 18 schools in Pittsylvania County are fully accredited. That’s up from 13 a year ago.
     The increase is in contrast to the statewide numbers. In 2013, 77% of schools were fully accredited.  This year, only 70% made the grade.
     Hurt and Kentuck Elementary are now listed as “Accredited with Warning.” All four county High Schools qualified under the Graduation Completion Index.
     In Danville, 3 of the 11 schools are fully accredited.  Galileo, GW High School and Forest Hills Elementary met all of the benchmarks.
     Also, Danville’s Alternative School at Langston will remain under what’s called “focus school” status, meaning students scored in the lowest five-percent of Virginia’s Title-One Schools. That requires that the Focus Center hire a turnaround specialist to help boost test scores.

Police expand search for missing UVA student:
(Charlottesville, Va.) (AP) -- Police are expanding their search in Charlottesville for a missing University of Virginia student after an eyewitness reported seeing her around the time she disappeared.
     Police Capt. Gary Pleasants said Wednesday searchers are canvassing businesses in the city's Downtown Mall where an eyewitness reported seeing Hannah E. Graham early Saturday morning. He said police also have a second video that shows Graham running down a street.
     Police said Tuesday that another surveillance video showed the 18-year-old Graham walking outside a bar.
     Graham's friends reported her missing Sunday. They last heard from her Saturday morning, when she texted a friend after leaving a party and said she was lost.
     Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo has scheduled a news conference to update the investigation and to release videos showing Graham.

NC police: ASU died about the time she disappeared:
(Boone, N.C.) (AP) -- North Carolina police say an autopsy on an Appalachian State University coed who was the subject of a search died not long after she was last seen earlier this month.
      Boone Police Chief Dana Crawford said Wednesday the autopsy on 18-year-old Anna Smith of High Point found signs of suffocation and no injuries to the head, neck, chest, or pelvic area. Crawford said while Smith did not appear to have been killed, investigators continue to look for any clues pointing to homicide.
      The police chief said previously that a letter apparently written by Smith was found near her body, which was discovered Saturday in a heavily wooded area off campus. Authorities, family and friends had searched for Smith since she was reported missing from her college dorm on Sept. 3.

 


Apartment building on Marshall Terrace (2013 photo)

Zoning frustration at City Council:
(Danville, Va.) -- A zoning debate Tuesday night before Danville City Council ended in frustration for a local developer.
     Madison Whittle got a permit last year to revive a six-unit apartment complex on Marshall Terrace. But the property lost its multi-family zoning after it was vacant for several years during the housing crunch.  As a single-family lot, Whittle has to provide off-street parking, something that’s impossible at the site.
     City Manager Joe King called it an unintended consequence. Every member of council agreed this was a "glitch" in the code. Despite their unanimity, council could offer no relief over the short-term. Councilman Fred Shanks called it an unintended consequence of zoning changes dating back a decade.
    But with tenants ready to move in immediately, Whittle asked the city to turn the lights on ASAP.  Whittle needs a variance to bring the building into compliance. Only the Board of Zoning Appeals can do that, but not until October 16th.


Hurt backs regulatory relief bill:
(Washington, D.C.) -- A large package of bills targeting small business regulatory relief cleared the house Tuesday. It includes a provision introduced earlier this year by a local lawmaker.
     Fifth District Congressman Robert Hurt calls the Promoting Job Creation and Reducing Small Business Burdens Act a vital step in removing unnecessary federal regulations and allowing small companies to innovate and expand, creating new jobs.
      He says smaller companies are spending tens of thousands of dollars or more complying with a regulation requiring them to provide better access to investors. He says less than 10% of investors actually use the system.
      Hurt co-sponsored the Small Company Disclosure Simplification Act, making that reporting requirement mandated by the SEC optional for small companies.
     The package of bills now goes to the Senate.


Hurt man guilty on two counts:
(Chatham, Va.) -- A Pittsylvania County man will be sentenced later this year on two lesser counts filed after an incident last year at Leesville Lake.
      In May, Dontay Pannell was found not guilty of the most serious charges from what prosecutors called a gang-related attempted car-jacking last summer at Leesville Lake. The jury deadlocked on charges of participating in gang activity and attempted car-jacking.    
     Pannell was convicted on those counts this week. The jury  recommended nine years in jail. Sentencing is set for November.


Last quota buyout checks headed to tobacco growers:
(Pittsylvania County, Va.) -- A local extension agent says Pittsylvania County farmers have already made the changes needed to adapt to a world without government price supports.
     The final checks from a decade-long, $10 billion quota buyout will be mailed next month.    
      Steve Barts says it’s a new era, but farmers have already operated without a safety net for the past several years, when they switched to direct contracts with tobacco companies. He says "it's not untraveled ground, but it is a bit of a change." Barts says it marks a "change in the way farmers do business," but adds that growers are extremely adaptable. And Barts says the changes are forcing local farmers to rely more heavily on overseas markets for their leaf.
       He points out that there is more tobacco acreage in the county today than was the case a decade ago, when farmers' quotas were bought out and the price-support program came to a close.

Local Republicans say cuts were necessary to keep bond rating:
(Richmond, Va.) -- A Southside Senator says Democrats and Republicans may not have agreed on Medicaid expansion, but they were able to come together to fill an $882 million budget gap and preserve the state’s AAA bond rating. Sen. Frank Ruff points out that New Jersey failed to respond and that state's bond rating fell as a result.
     Ruff says by acting now the General Assembly may have averted deeper cuts down the road.
      The cuts are still steep. Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and state lawmakers agreed to cuts of $192 million to state agencies, $90 million for higher education, and $60 million for aide to local governments over the next two years.  
     The budget plan won't affect K-12 spending and will not include any increase in fees or taxes.
        Danville Del. Danny Marshall says the bond rating service "liked the fact that (Virginia) made structural changes and not just short-term gimmicks." He added that this is "a bi-partisan issue... and Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate all came together to fix this."
      McAuliffe praised GOP lawmakers for their willingness to work with him to address a projected $882 million shortfall over the biennium, saying the bipartisan approach was needed "to send a signal to Wall Street" and preserve the state's sterling bond rating.
      The budget plan calls for using $705 million from the state's rainy day fund during the next two years. The fund currently holds about $940 million.


Va. hospitals lament limited health care expansion:
(Richmond, Va.) (AP) -- With an expansion of Medicaid in Virginia all but pronounced dead, the state's hospitals and health care systems are bracing for tough decisions on how to balance their budgets.
      State lawmakers are holding a special legislative session on the topic starting Thursday, but there's been no sign that Republican opposition to Medicaid expansion has wavered.
      And Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe has conceded that he lacks the executive power to expand the federally funded program on his own.
      Not adding 400,000 low-income adults to the rank of Virginia's insured has left the health care industry with some painful decisions that they say could have lasting impacts on the communities they serve.
      Others say expanding Medicaid is too big a risk for taxpayers and that, overall, Virginia's hospitals are financially healthy.

Herring sues world’s biggest banks:
(Richmond, Va.) (AP) -- Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is suing some of the world's largest banks for $1.15 billion in damages related to the housing market crash.
     Herring said at a news conference Tuesday that the banks misled the Virginia Retirement System about the quality of certain loans while selling mortgage-backed securities.
     He said the VRS was forced to sell those securities because of the junk mortgages at a loss of $383 million. Herring is suing for three times the actual damages.  
     The lawsuit was unsealed Tuesday in Richmond Circuit Court. Herring said it is the largest financial fraud lawsuit ever filed by Virginia.
     The Democratic attorney general said nearly 40 percent of the 785,000 mortgages backing 220 securities purchased by VRS were of significantly higher risk than the banks had represented.

     
The new home for the New College Institute

New College Institute moves into new home:
(Martinsville, Va.) -- The New College Institute in Martinsville isn’t “new” anymore, but the school does have a new home.  This weekend featured grand opening festivities for the three-story, 52,000-square-foot building on Baldwin Block.
     It houses NCI’s administrative offices and programs that have been established, or are evolving, in advanced manufacturing, entrepreneurship and health care technology. 
     The $18.5 million project took nearly a year-and-a-half to complete.

Danville leaders target three projects for state aid:
(Danville, Va.) -- Danville leaders are asking for the State’s help in adding a third lane to South Boston Road, running from the Airport to the Danville Expressway.
     That’s one of three projects expected to be included in the city’s application for Revenue Sharing funds from the Virginia Department of Transportation.
     City officials say that extra lane is needed to help traffic more safely slow down and exit on to the Expressway.
     The city’s application will also include a request for money to do sidewalk widening and streetscape improvements on Craghead Street, from Main to the Community Market. 
     The city will also ask that the state put in a permanent Emergency Traffic signal at the corner of Craghead and Colquhoun to help with fire engines leaving the new Public Safety Center. Right now, they have a temporary signal.


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