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Bladenboro Commissioners Meet, Revisit Previously-Covered Ground

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By Blake Proctor

The Bladenboro Commissioners held their regular monthly meeting Monday evening at 6pm. After Mayor Rufus Duckworth gaveled the meeting to order, an invocation was offered and the Pledge to the Flag was given.

During the Open Forum, Mr. Jeremy Richardson was present to introduce himself as a new business in Town, providing property rehabilitation services on foreclosed properties, for their eventual resale. While there, he enquired about State and Town regulations regarding his son operating a mobile brick-oven pizza truck in Town.

The five-item consent agenda, comprising normal housekeeping matters, was quickly dispensed with by a single unanimous vote, and the Board got into the meat of the agenda.

First on the program was Roger Merritt from the County’s Census Committee to explain where the County stood on the Census, considering there were only two weeks left in the Count.

He declared that with enumerators personally knocking on the doors of those who hadn’t responded to the Census mailouts, the State’s response level has increased from some 60% to over 86% over the last two weeks alone; by the same measure, Bladen County has improved from under 50% a month ago to 68%, still, however, a lackluster and frustrating response level.

The Town was still having difficulty hitting that home run to get the softball field built at Clarence McLain Park on J.R. Britt Road: First, DG Jackson Construction, which had originally been awarded the contract, backed out following a dispute on specifications for sodding the outfield; then, Zyvek Civil, the next-best bid, declared that they would not be able to provide a solid time frame to complete the project.

Further discussions had been held the previous week with Mr. Jackson; however, the Commission, at Monday’s meeting, voted instead to award the project to Lee Jackson of PAL-J Farms LLC at a turn-key price of $53,145 to build and sod the field; Mr. Jackson stated that he could begin the project “immediately.”

An agenda item to once again discuss the closure of Milligan Street and a portion of Birch Street, in the Village Street neighborhood, along with a resolution to provide that closure was tabled for additional study by the Town’s administrative staff.

Town Administrator Oryan Lowry informed the Board that funds in addition to the original $20,000 requested from the Coronavirus Relief Fund Agreement are available. The Town needs to merely update the Agreement and can then receive an additional $15,000 to provide computer tablets that will allow the Board, Administrator and Clerk to each have one to be able to hold virtual meetings. This update was quickly approved by unanimous vote.

The Commission then considered and again unanimously approved a resolution adopting the Bladen, Columbus, Robeson Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan; the thrust of the resolution was to include Mr. Lowry as the new Administrator. The Plan will be in effect from June, 2020 to June, 2025 prior to requiring another update..

Chuck Heustess of the Bladen County Economic Development Commission has requested that the Commission consider adopting a resolution to be a co-applicant along with Bladen’s Bloomin’ for a US Economic Development Administration grant that is needed to continue the Downtown Revitalization Program.

At the present time, the actual amount of funds that need to be requested is uncertain. The project will consist of the demolition of those buildings on the west side of Main Street between Railroad Street and the old Housing Authority building; the town received $200,000 from the NC Legislature last year for downtown demolition, the first of which has recently been to take down the Hester Building on Main Street.

Continuing with housekeeping matters – literally, in this instance – the Board awarded a $2,600 contract to Lumber River Quality Builders out of Pembroke to tear out and replace the handicapped ramp behind the Commission Chambers; it was discovered that this ramp had extensive termite damage. The project will be completed by the end of September.

To finish the evening’s open session, the Commission discussed suggestions for this year’s Powell Bill street paving program. Up for consideration were Juniper Street, which received three inches of crush and run in 2019, Poplar Street, Cypress Street, and Edwards Street.

After all agenda items had been addressed, the Commissioners went into a lengthy closed session to discuss personnel issues. Upon exiting closed session, the Board adjourned at 8:15pm without further discussion.