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Bladenboro Board holds discussion on inmate labor

The Bladenboro Town Board met on Monday and discussed the possibility of hiring inmate labor. Town Administrator John O ’Daniel presented to the board the costs the town could expect if they chose to hire inmates.

O ’Daniel told the board the County is the one that provides transportation for the inmates from the prison in Tabor City to Elizabethtown, White Lake and County offices. He added the town will have to have state approval for the County to drop off inmates in Bladenboro.

O’ Daniel said that he had spoken with town staff at White Lake and was told it took them six months to go through the process to get approved to participate in the program.

Commissioner Sarah Jane Benson said, “I want somebody from the Department of Corrections to come and talk to us.” She added it is the State Department of Corrections responsibility to drop off and pick up the inmates. Benson noted the inmates are not County employees. She said the County has a contract with the Department of Corrections.

“They ride a bus that brings them to and from the County. They are dropped off by the Department of Corrections,” said Benson.

Commissioner Billy Ray Benson said that it is his understanding the County has a contract with the state and they are a priority. He added the town would need to be added to the contract with the County.

Commissioner Gene Norton said he thought the town ought to forget about inmate labor and instead purchase a compact tractor with a brush on the front and bush hog on the back.

Commissioner Billy Ray Benson said the town has purchased sweepers before and they eventually sold them.

Mayor Rufus Duckworth said the town has used inmate labor in the past. He asked Public Works Director Andy Coleman what happens if the inmates become sick. Coleman replied that the town staff had to transport the inmate back to the inmate camp.

Commissioner Sarah Jane Benson replied that was not her understanding and that she was prepared to show the board the contract and would ask Kip McClarey to speak to the board if necessary. She also requested the board go into closed session to further discuss the matter.

Town Clerk Melanie Hester told the board they could not discuss the matter in closed session as it does not meet the criteria for a closed session.

Commissioner Sarah Jane Benson asked Mayor Duckworth if he had received a telephone call from the County regarding whether or not the town wanted to participate in the inmate labor program.

Mayor Duckworth replied that he received a telephone call and then contacted Coleman and asked him if it was a problem when the town used inmate labor in the past.  He added the board has let department heads run their departments and make decisions in the past.

Commissioner Sarah Jane Benson told Mayor Duckworth is was not up to him to make the decision for the board.

Commissioner Cris Harrelson said there appeared to be a lot of unanswered questions regarding the program and he was interested in hearing more about it.

A motion was made and seconded to be table the matter until the next meeting or a special called meeting providing the board has all the information needed to proceed. It was approved to bring the item back at the April meeting.

In other business:

*Shane Todd, with Boost the Boro asked the board to approve the placement of flag poles on the lot on the corner of Main Street and Seaboard Street. The board approved the addition.

*The board approved the 2016-17 Audit contract with Thompson, Price, Scott and Adams.

*The board received one bid for the concession stand at Wateree Park and no bids for the concession stand at McLean Park. The only bid received was from Rayne’s Italian Ice for Wateree Park only. The bid was approved.

*The board voted to approve a Grass/Littering Ordinance. The ordinance would only apply to those streets with storm drains. Town Administrator John O’ Daniel said that it does not apply to items that are left for leaf and limb pick up by the town. The ordinance was generated to prevent residents from blowing grass clippings and other lawn debris into roadways and it ending up in the town’s storm drains. The board approved the measure.

*The board approved an agreement with Dixie Youth baseball for the use of the ball field.

*The board voted to hold a public hearing during its April meeting regarding placing of one three way stop sign and two four-way stop signs on Ashe Street in order to the slow the traffic. The issue was discussed during the board’s February meeting, and the board members agreed adding the stop signs seemed like a reasonable solution to the problem of speeding vehicles.

*In a related matter, the board was updated by Mayor Rufus Duckworth the NC Department of Transportation and CSX Railroad were studying the feasibility of creating an emergency exit from the Pine Ridge Subdivision. He said currently, Hurricane Matthew had depleted the funds of the DOT. Mayor Duckworth said it appears that the town will have to wait to discuss the matter further until they hear from DOT regarding funding.

*The board approved a new employee and department head evaluation form.

*Mayor Duckworth asked if any of the board members had budget concerns for the upcoming 2016-17 budget year. Items that were offered were the addition of lighting for McLean Park, the paving of Elm Street especially in front of the Community Building and a request for O’Daniel to research USDA grants and the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant to prepare an application for funding for improvements to McLean Park.

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