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County Holds Public Hearing on American Relief Plan Funds

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by Blake Proctor

Bladen County Commissioners held a called meeting on Monday, September 20th for a public hearing to receive comments and proposals from citizens regarding potential uses for the funds from the federal American Relief Plan Act (ARP).

Commission Chairman Charles Ray Peterson called the meeting to order at 5pm; Commissioner Cameron McGill provided the invocation, and County Manager Greg Martin led the Pledge of Allegiance.

Before the Chairman opened the floor for comments, he informed those in attendance that the County’s portion of the ARP will total $6,355,865; he stated that these funds do not include ARP money granted separately to the county’s municipalities.

He also advised participants that this was a public hearing designed to gather input on the matter from citizens; therefore, while the Commission would listen, there would be no replies nor comments made by commissioners on any proposals presented this evening.

Thomas Davidson was the first of five citizens who had signed up to be heard. He affirmed that “people are the most valuable resource” in the county; he wants to ensure that the officials reach out to all those people who may be in need, including small businesses that are undergoing economic hardships.

Aaron Cox spoke in behalf of the Spaulding Monroe Cultural Center (SMCC), a 501(c)(3) organization of the Spaulding Monroe Alumni Association in Bladenboro. He opined that ARP’s focus meshes exactly with what SMCC is already doing at this time. 

He stated that ARP funding will help expand SMCC’s current activities in the community, including adding such activities as a fitness center, a walking trail, and perhaps a tennis court. Funds could also assist the SMCC in upgrading its current facilities. In closing, he asked for the Board’s consideration of ARP assistance.

Anthony Thomas of Thomas Consulting and Training believed funding should be allocated to after school programs to help students progress and obtain good jobs. He believed that county health workers could be trained to become “mobile social workers.” His other areas of concern were homelessness and food pantries.

Dennis Troy stated briefly but emphatically that the Commission as a whole, needed to “do what is right for Bladen County” in allocating these moneys.

Finally, Pastor Keith Graham of Men & Women United for Youth and Family spoke at length of the success story of their organization, which has focused since 2008 on three programs: workforce development; provision of scholarships annually, averaging $9,000 every year; and agricultural entrepreneurship.

This third program is one of its most successful, teaching skills in agricultural/business management to the county’s youth – much of the produce sold at the Elizabethtown Farmer’s Market is grown and sold by students in their Ag Entrepreneurship program.

Other proposals had been submitted via the internet:

·         Actions Pathways requested consideration in behalf of Second Harvest Food Bank;

·         Crystal Moore had a varied list of innovative proposals, from aiding small businesses, to transportation for the elderly, to helping ailing churches;

·         E&G Development Corporation requested consideration for a Countywide Food Feeding Program;

·         Mary Council asked that residents on River Road be provided with county water;

·         United Way sought $502,000 to distribute through their annual allocation process to nonprofits, civic groups, and educational institutions;

·         Margaret Lawrence sought funding for Kelly Storm Shelter repairs, and a park for children;

·         Bladen Smart Start asked for $103,000 as the county’s 19% match for grant funds to ensure all children up to 5 years old have an equal and fair opportunity for success.

All Commissioners had an opportunity to submit funding ideas and requests; in five broad categories, these include:

· Address COVID public health issues;

· Address the economic impact of COVID;

· Replace lost small business revenue due to COVID;

· Pay Premium Pay to COVID workers;

· Invest in local infrastructure.

There were of course a number of suggestions from County departments, from personnel-related issues to equipment; from Bladen’s Bloomin’ to tourism promotion; from expansion and renovation of buildings to 26 additional water lines.

With an abundance of input pleas and ideas in hand, the Public Hearing was closed and the meeting adjourned at 5:38pm.