A lawsuit against the state gets tossed, Augusta raises taxes, unemployment drops and a new vaccine clinic goes up.
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1775- That was the year Patrick Henry delivered his famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech. Plenty of us grew up learning about that in history class. What some may not know is that he gave the speech at Henrico Parish, now known as St. John’s Church, in Richmond.
Virginia’s Unemployment Rate Keeps Falling
Some good news on the economy front, as Virginia’s unemployment numbers keep dropping. The numbers released Friday show that the Commonwealth ended February with 5.2% unemployment. That’s better than the national average, which remains at 6.2%.
“While our unemployment rate is moving in the right direction, the economic impacts of this pandemic continue to challenge workers and businesses in Virginia and across the country,” Gov. Ralph Northam said in a statement. “Our administration remains committed to providing additional relief to those most in need, helping Virginians return to the workforce, and making targeted investments to build back key sectors of our economy.”
Now to be clear, there’s still some work to do. Yes, the number of unemployed residents dropped by 7,187 in February. And yes, it shows continued growth as the vaccine doses pour in. The last time Virginia’s February unemployment rate was 5.2% was in 2014. However, that 5.2% unemployment is actually 2.7% higher than it was at the end of February 2020.
Also, the news wasn’t all good. The leisure and hospitality industry lost 86,500 jobs from the same point in 2020. That’s 20.5% of their employees. Government agencies also lost workers year over year, dropping 35,700 from the same time last year.
U.S. District Court Tosses Bell Garden Lawsuit
The U.S. District Court in Roanoke tossed out a lawsuit against the state this week. Actually, as court officials pointed out, the problem has already been solved. In early March, Belle Garden Estate filed a lawsuit against Gov. Ralph Northam, asking the court to give them an injunction against the state’s COVID-19 restrictions.
Bell Garden is a wedding venue in Franklin County, one of several in the state whose owners say they haven’t been treated fairly. The wedding industry took a major hit from COVID-19 restrictions over the last year, as people canceled their plans due to guest limits. By March 1, Virginia still allowed no more than 25 people to attend an outdoor event.
That changed however on Tuesday, as Northam increased the limit to 100 people outdoors and 50 inside. Court officials felt that addressed the lawsuit’s concerns.
Certain Taxes Will Go Up July 1 in Augusta County
A few months from now, it’ll be more expensive to eat a meal or stay at a hotel in August County. By a 5-2 vote on Wednesday, Augusta supervisors agreed to increase the meals and lodging taxes. Both fees will go from 4% to 6%.
But as we point out earlier in today’s Download, the hospitality industry across the state lost 20.5% of employees over the past year. Supervisor Scott Seaton pointed out during the meeting that maybe now wasn’t a good time to raise taxes, which in turn for many places means a raise in prices.
Seaton and Mike Shull were the only two that opposed the increase. The rest of the group argued it was needed to create “equal taxation” between the independent cities of Staunton and Waynesboro and the county. Also, board members said people had a choice if they wanted to pay or not.
“People have the choice whether or not they want to go out and have a meal,” Supervisors Vice Chair Butch Wells said at the meeting.
The new tax rates take effect July 1.
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Amazon Partners With Arlington For Vaccine Clinic
Another mass vaccine clinic will go live next week. This one’s in Arlington County, set up at the Amazon HQ2 site, 2100 Crystal Drive. Doors open Monday at 9 a.m., but just like the others, you can’t walk up and ask for the vaccine. You have to pre-register through the state’s vaccinate.virginia.gov site and only eligible people will get access. That means people in Phase 1A and 1B right now.
In addition to providing the location, Amazon staff members will be working in the vaccine clinic. Arlington County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said it’s a big help.
“[The extra staff] is a force multiplier, allowing us to staff more clinics. We appreciate Amazon’s willingness to step up and offer assistance in this critical public health effort.”
Sentara Reaches $15 Minimum Wage
Nearly two years ago, Sentara Healthcare promised they would offer a minimum wage of $15 per hour by 2022. On Friday, the company announced they were speeding up the timeline, launching the increase this coming May. By comparison, the federal minimum wage is set at $7.25 per hour.
In addition, the company on Friday announced plans to invest $43 million in team members. What does that mean? It’ll translate into 3% pay raises and market adjustments for employee salaries.
As a final gift, employees will also get a bonus, ranging from $750 to $1,500 for their work during the pandemic.
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Arlington Deputy Charged in Federal Case
Also on Friday, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service announced an Arlington County deputy faces fraud charges. India Middleton was indicted this week in Georgia on one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The agency declined to provide more information.
Arlington County officials also released a statement, acknowledging the indictment.
“The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office is committed to holding ourselves accountable to the highest professional standards to ensure the public’s trust,” said Sheriff Beth Arthur. “Once we became aware of the allegations, we cooperated with the United States Postal Inspection Service and upon arrest, we immediately initiated an internal administrative investigation. We take any and all allegations of staff misconduct seriously and can ensure the public that a comprehensive internal investigation will be conducted.”
Middleton has been with the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office since September 2015 and recently had been working in court security. Arthur said
She has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal administrative investigation.