The Alexander County Board of Commissioners gave the go-ahead to hire an architect to draw plans for a new county courthouse at their meeting on Monday night, Sept. 19. Commissioners also heard a request from Sheriff Chris Bowman and Alexander County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hefner to add School Resource Officers to five elementary schools in the county.
An architect will be selected and plans will be drawn for a new county courthouse building so that, when funds become available, the project will be “shovel ready” and can proceed.
The estimated architect fees will be $500,000. Budget Amendment #8 was approved Monday evening to provide the funding through these revenues: $325,000 of fund balance, $100,000 from Article 39 sales tax, $25,000 from Article 46 sales tax, and $50,000 from investment.
The current courthouse was built in 1970 after the previous courthouse was claimed by fire in 1967.
School Resource Officers requested
Sheriff Bowman and School Superintendent Dr. Hefner told the county commissioners that although several school safety measures are and have been in place for some time now, the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting has brought safety to the forefront of many residents’ minds.
An increasing number of local incidents, including fugitives from the law who were near school zones, drugs, and weapons being brought to school, have prompted both Bowman and Hefner to
seek funding for adding school resource officers for all elementary schools in the county.
Currently, the Sheriff’s Office employs four full-time school resource officers: one permanently assigned to each of the two middle schools, one position shared by two elementary campuses, and the final officer is responsible for teaching the anti-drug DARE curriculum in all seven elementary schools in the school year.
In order to achieve the officers needed, Bowman and Hefner noted the total first year cost for five additional officers would be $750,000. The school system has applied for $220,000 in state grant funds for the first year but would also need County local funding for equipment, uniforms, and vehicles. The cost includes about $70,000 to place a fully-equipped patrol vehicle in service, $15,000 to equip a newly-hired officer, $41,000 starting salary, and $24,000 benefits.
Bowman said second and subsequent year costs would be drastically less, due to no need to replace vehicles or equipment. Going forward, the five new SROs yearly salaries would total about $325,000.
Dr. Hefner stated that the school system has applied for a 2022-2023 School Safety Grant from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction in the amount of $220,000. Staff should be informed later this month if Alexander County Schools will be awarded the grant.
Dr. Hefner said that because Alexander County has been classified as a low-wealth county by NCDPI, the grant is a 4-to-1 matching grant instead. She said the school system can also apply for additional grant funding for 2023-2024.
Commissioner Larry Yoder asked, “What happens if you don’t get the grant? What happens then?”
Dr. Hefner replied, “I’ll be back to ask again and again, because this is real.”
Vice Chairman Marty Pennell said, “The real question is what price can you put on the safety of the kids of the county? I don’t think you can put a price on that.”
“This is a lot of good information and when we hear back from the grant, we’ll meet again and make our plans for moving forward,” said Chairman Ronnie Reese.
Public Hearing held on land revaluation
Commissioners held a public hearing at Monday’s meeting on the topic of the Schedule of Values for property revaluation, which will be effective for the 2023 tax year. Doug Fox, Tax Administrator, and Jimmy Tanner, of Tanner Valuation Group, LLC, presented information for the public hearing.
The only person to speak from the audience regarding the revaluation was Vicky Martin, Alexander Senior Center Assistant Director, who asked how seniors with tight budgets could get relief from property tax bills.
It was noted that there are state exemptions in place for those who are age 65 and over and are permanently disabled. The Schedule of Values will be presented for adoption at the October 3 meeting.
Transportation grant application set
Thomas Mitchell, MSW, Alexander County Dept. of Social Services Director, presented information at a public hearing regarding the DSS grant application for the Enhanced Mobility of Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities Program (Federal Section 5310). Alexander DSS is proposing to use grant funds to provide transportation for older adults and individuals with disabilities. Commissioners approved submitting the $155,674 grant application, which requires a 10 percent local match.
Road names approved
Rick French, County Manager, presented information at a public hearing, asking approval for the following road names: Old Sam House Lane (off Hopewell Church Road) and Robert Deal Drive (off Daniels Lumber Road). Commissioners approved these road names.
Operation Green Light aims to help veterans
Cherry Kilby, Veteran Service Officer, presented a resolution supporting Operation Green Light for Veterans. She noted that a recent movement called Operation Green Light asks local residents and businesses to use a green light remind veterans who are experiencing difficulty in civilian life that they have a “green light” to seek help, similar to the green light for paratroopers jumping from an airplane. Commissioners approved the resolution.
All sympathetic persons and businesses are urged to light a single green bulb or lamp, visible in a window, during October 1 through November 11 (Veterans Day).
Courtroom upgrades set
David Moose, County Compliance and Procurement Specialist, presented a Resolution by Governing Body of Alexander County Authorizing Memorandum of Agreement for Courtroom Audio Video Equipment Upgrades. This resolution acknowledges the intent of the County to enter into a Memorandum of Agreement with NCAOC (North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts) for the cabling installation and authorizes County Manager French to enter into that agreement, thereby satisfying the documentation requirement of the MOA.
In other news:
• County Manager French presented an Agreement between the Western Piedmont Council of Governments and Alexander County for the Provision of Administrative Assistance North Carolina Department of Commerce Rural Transformation Grant, Alexander County – Housing Our Teachers (HOT), October 1 – December 31, 2022. This is for the rehabilitation of the county-owned property located at 16 West Main Avenue in Taylorsville. Commissioners approved the agreement, which provides $650,000 in grant funding and a $100,000 local match, coming from Article 44-524 sales tax revenue.
• Commissioners agreed to appoint Zack Shepherd to the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council to fill a vacancy through June 30 of next year.
• Commissioners approved Budget Ordinance Amendments #7 – #13 and the NC Community College System Budget FY 2022-23. Amendment 7 was the above HOT grant. Amendment 8 is the courthouse architectural plans grant. Amendment 9 increases the Economic Development budget for $12,500 from the Town of Taylorsville for its 50 percent share of the proposed consultant fee for research and preparation of the National Register of Historic Places nomination for the Downtown Taylorsville Historic District; increases the Courthouse Facility budget $9,000 for estimated costs of courtroom technology cabling; increases the County Park budget $25,000 for Courthouse Park event expenses that are more than original budget estimates, due to this being the first year the park is open; increases the CVCC-Alexander Center budget $10,000 for adding exterior cameras to the Early College and Applied Tech buildings, per a recent CVCC request; and increases the Library budget $1,500 for receipt of a Library Services and Technology Act scholarship grant, so a staff member may attend the Assoc. of Rural and Small Libraries conference.
Amendment 10 increases the Health Department budget for $166,206 in grant funds from the Duke Endowment received last fiscal year but not spent by June 30 and for $14,375 in unspent Blue Cross/Blue Shield Foundation private grant funds received in fiscal year 2021. Both funds will be used for expanding the school-based oral health program.
Amendment 11 adjusts the Health Department budget for Communicable Disease local receipts of $105,636 carried forward from the prior year; $837 of donations to Behavioral Health carried forward; and Care Management for High Risk Pregnancy receipts of $32,054 carried forward from last year.
Amendment 12 budgets $190,000 for the school system’s use of Repair and Renovation Lottery Fund money for classroom renovations at Alexander Central High School.
Amendment 13 budgets $123,000 for estimated expenses and revenues resulting from the County contract to sell water to EnergyUnited Water Corp.
The Community College item budgets $32,000 for CVCC-Alexander Center.
Consolidated Human Services Board Meeting
Following the regular Commission meeting, the board convened the Consolidated Human Services Board meeting.
• Health Educator Kimberly Edmisten reported that the Alexander County Health Department passed the accreditation process with honors. Edmisten related that state health officials said the accreditation was exceptional, especially considering the pandemic and having new leadership. Since the last accreditation, the health department added an administrative building, expanded the clinical lobby, added three clinic rooms and an immunization room, added a behavioral health clinic, and more. She said the state was also impressed with the commissioners’ role at the Consolidated Human Services Board. Edmisten also reported that the health department will be conducting the 2022 community health assessment survey this fall.
• Emily Vick, Communicable Disease Nurse, presented the 2021 communicable disease report. Besides COVID-19, the top three reported communicable diseases in Alexander County were chlamydia (68 cases), gonorrhea (28 cases), and hepatitis A (12 cases). There were 4,576 cases of COVID-19 in 2021 with 83 deaths reported as a result of the virus. She also noted that the health department will be offering a drive-thru flu shot clinic every Friday in October from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.
• Kristy Hunt, Senior Center Director, said participation numbers are on the rise with 75 people in attendance at the recent ice cream social and 130 people at the recent health fair. She noted that the Senior Center will celebrate its 30th anniversary October 7, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., with refreshments, music, socializing, and sharing memories. Hunt said the Center continues to save money for local seniors by working with them on finding the best Medicare drug plan. So far in 2022, $147,836 has been saved, with open enrollment for Medicare beginning in October.
• Thomas Mitchell, Social Services Director, said that DSS vacancies have decreased from 27 percent when he started as director to 12 percent now, having hired 17 new employees since June and promoting three employees. He said that produce from a local farmer is available throughout the week free of charge. Mitchell said he has been working with Emergency Management Coordinator Garrett Huffman on emergency shelter preparedness. DSS is also working on improving its playground with a fundraiser to begin in late September. He said the number of children in foster care has decreased from 68 to 63, with 19 children available for adoption.
The next meeting of the Alexander County Board of Commissioners is set for Monday, October 3, at 6:00 p.m. at the CVCC Alexander Center for Education (room #103). Regular meetings are recorded and can be viewed on the county’s Government Channel on Spectrum channel 192 or the county’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/alexandercountync. Meeting agendas, minutes, videos, and more are available on the county’s website at https://alexandercountync.gov/commissioners.