August 07, 2020

County Commission discusses water line projects, COVID-19

The current water line extension project in Alexander County is approximately 60 percent complete and should be finished in 45 to 60 days, according to R.J. Mozeley, Project Manager for McGill Associates. Mozeley presented an update to the Alexander County Board of Commissioners at their July 20, 2020, meeting held via Zoom.

He said the current project involves the installation of 71,090 linear feet of water lines on portions of Fox Court, Zeb Watts Road, Liberty Grove Church Road, Dula Loop, Ned Herman Road, Poly Bowman Road, Deal Farm Lane, Kirkpatrick Lane, Espie Little Road, Icard Ridge Road, Teague Town Road, and B&T Lane.

Mozeley said the contractor, Buckeye Bridge, has three crews working on the project. Fox Court is complete and residents on that road can now connect to the water system. As of July 10, the area of Liberty Grove Church Road, Dula Loop, and Zeb Watts Road is approximately 80 percent complete.

In April, commissioners approved an additional water line extension project which involves the installation of 12,250 linear feet of water lines on unserved portions of Sanchez Road, RZ Bowman Road, William Reece Road, Clouse Road, Friday-Cockrell Road, Rabbit Hollow Road, AL Fox Road, Crowson Road, Outrigger Road, and Drum & Hammer Road. This project will begin when the current project is complete.

“It’s amazing how many water lines have been installed in the last 15 years,” said Ryan Mayberry, Chairman of the Alexander County Board of Commissioners.

To assist residents who live in these areas, tap fees have been reduced to $541, for a savings of $602 per tap. The fee reduction will expire on June 30, 2021. If you live in an area where water lines are being installed, contact the City of Hickory at (828) 323-7427.

In other business:

• Leeanne Whisnant, Consolidated Human Services Director, presented an update on COVID-19 in Alexander County. She said the county has a cumulative total of 221 confirmed cases, with 75 people in quarantine and one in the hospital. There have been two deaths associated with COVID-19. She noted that Governor Cooper extended phase two for three more weeks until August 7.
“We are certainly seeing a rise in our number of cases, but compared to neighboring counties, we are doing OK,” Whisnant related. “Our community is doing a great job. I want to encourage everyone to wear a mask, because they do make a difference.”

Whisnant said the health department is conducting drive-thru testing on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and other days as needed. Their highest testing day was approximately 50 tests. She said the department has a good supply of test kits, masks, and hand sanitizer, but is still experiencing a shortage of medical gowns.

Billie Walker, Assistant Health Director, noted that contact tracing is very time consuming as staff must interview a positive case using a nine-page document. Staff then has to contact those who have potentially been exposed to that person and encourage testing and/or self-isolation.

Whisnant also provided some demographic information for Alexander County’s confirmed cases. Approximately 60 percent of the cases are female, with approximately 40 percent male. In terms of race, 58.3 percent are White, 18.2 percent are Hispanic, 2.6 percent are Black, 1 percent are Asian, and 19.8 percent are unknown (didn’t answer the question). Those ages 35-54 comprise the majority of cases at approximately 30 percent.

Whisnant said she believes that trends (positive cases, hospitalizations, deaths) are beginning to level or decline across the state. She said that Alexander County’s numbers are very similar to the state’s trends.

The subject of public school reopening in August was discussed as the health department has been consulting with local school leaders.

“They have a huge challenge ahead of them. They’re working on the best and safest plan possible. I’m fine with children being in school. I think they have a great plan,” Whisnant said. “It’s a very difficult time for parents, students, employers, and employees.”

Chairman Mayberry said, “It’s going to be a tough road, so I’m glad you’re helping our school system folks. I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes right now. I know they have a tough job and we’ll try to help them any way we can.”

Doug Gillispie, Director of Public Services, said that Alexander County EMS is experiencing a significant increase in call volume for those with COVID-19 symptoms. He also expressed his concern about EMS employees.

County Manager Rick French said the state has released an additional 4 percent of CARES Act money to counties. Chairman Mayberry said he is very disappointed in the state House and Senate as well as the Governor as they have essentially seized $2 billion that should be distributed to counties to help the state’s budget.

• Commissioners approved an ordinance to allow alcohol sales to begin at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays. The action was considered due to a request from a local restaurant, The Vault. County Manager French said this approval doesn’t automatically allow restaurants, bars, and other businesses to sell at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays; the business must contact the NC ABC Commission to amend its license. Commissioners’ approval of this “brunch bill,” which was passed by the state in June 2017, does not apply to businesses in the Town of Taylorsville.

• County Manager French presented a report on sales tax revenues. While there was some concern about how COVID-19 might affect sales taxes, French said the county has received $4,408,302.82 in regular sales tax through March, which is a 10.10 percent increase from last year at this time and a 14.47 percent increase from the same month last year. New sales tax (reserved for economic development, public education, and community colleges) totaled $1,357,594.34 through March, which is almost a 7 percent increase from last year.

• Commissioners approved a rezoning request from Frank Ball, CEO of Farmers Oil Company, for a 3.06-acre parcel on NC Hwy. 90 East in Hiddenite. Ball requested the property be rezoned from RA-20 to Highway-Commercial. He plans to open a used-car lot on the property. Seth Harris, Zoning Administrator, presented the information to the board, noting that the rezoning request is consistent with the 2008 comprehensive plan and the future land use map.

Consolidated Human Services Board Meeting

• Billie Walker, Assistant Health Director, presented the 2019 “State of the County” health report to the board, which is required during the three interim years between “Community Health Assessments.” The report tracks priority issues identified in the assessment, identifies emerging issues, and highlights new initiatives.

In 2016, the leading causes of death in Alexander County were cancer, diseases of the heart, and Alzheimer’s disease. In 2018, which is the most recent data available, the leading causes of death remained the same except that chronic lower respiratory disease replaced Alzheimer’s disease.

The Healthy Alexandrians Task Force selected improving overall health of the population as a health priority, a program entitled “Healthy Lifestyles.”

The first focus area for the 2018 community health assessment was mental health, as it continues to be a complex and challenging issue in the county. Alexander County’s suicide rate is higher than the state average.

The report also noted concern about vaping, which increased nearly 900 percent among high school students from 2011-2017. The health department is partnering with Alexander County Schools to help address the issue.

In 2018, motor vehicle deaths entered the top 10 causes of death in Alexander County for the first time in three years. Alexander County’s average exceeds the state average.

Deaths related to Alzheimer’s disease saw a significant spike in 2015, with the county average exceeding the state average since 2010.

Copies of the “State of the County” health report are available at the health department, county administration building, and county libraries, or online at www.alexanderhealth.org.

• Walker also presented an update on the health department’s Behavioral Health program. The clinician has performed 12 assessments this year, with eight current clients. She said that COVID-19 has had a major effect on behavioral health. She believes the program has already saved two lives by providing a safe space to access mental health services.

• Walker said the health department has hired a new mid-level provider, Lauren Hall, who is a physician’s assistant. She will provide care to clients by diagnosing and treating acute illness, chronic illness, infections, minor injuries, and more. Hours are Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and 1:00 to 5:00 p.m.

• Linda Clements, Assistant DSS Director, provided a social services update. She said that child protective services (CPS) cases have decreased approximately 40 percent, most likely due to schools being closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, since schools are the primary reporter of child issues. Clements said that adult congregate and home-delivered meals quadrupled in June.

Clements also mentioned several quality improvement projects being implemented at DSS, including an Employee Retention Quality Improvement Team to focus on the hiring procedure, new employee orientation, reasons for employee turnover, and more. DSS has also established a Community Value Quality Improvement Team to focus on community awareness of the department and improved customer service.

DSS staff is also working on reducing on-site records storage to allow for more efficient use of the department’s limited space. They are also developing a records retention policy and the use of electronic storage to reduce physical storage and allow for easier access to data.

She also noted that the next foster parent training session will be held at the end of August.

Commissioner Marty Pennell said he toured the DSS facility recently to view the renovations that have been done so far. He commended those involved with the project, and believes the space will be much more inviting to the public.

• Leeanne Whisnant, Consolidated Human Services Director, presented a budget update to the board. She said that the health department, DSS, and senior center all came in under budget by a total of approximately $1,230,000.

The Alexander County Board of Commissioners typically meets on the first Monday of each month at 6:00 p.m. in Room #103 at the CVCC Alexander Center for Education; however, the next meeting is set for Monday, August 3, at 6:00 p.m. Regular meetings are recorded, and can be viewed on the county’s Government Channel on Spectrum channel 192 or on the county’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/alexandercountync. Meeting agendas, minutes, videos, and more are available on the county’s website at www.alexandercountync.gov/commissioners.

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