By Blake Proctor
The October 19th County Commission opened with a bang as Chairman Ray Britt gaveled the meeting to order at 6:30pm. The Reverend Sam van Slyke, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Bladenboro provided the invocation and County Manager Greg Martin led the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. The 14-item Consent Agenda was unanimously approved.
Chairman Britt invited Ms. Peggy Kinlaw of Bladen County United Way to the podium as he requested Clerk to the Board Maria Edwards to read a resolution proclaiming the United Way Week of Caring in Bladen County. The Chairman then presented Ms. Kinlaw with a formal copy of the resolution.
Finance Officer Lisa Coleman addressed the Board regarding the County’s financial position. The bottom line was that the County’s General Fund Balance for the first quarter of the Fiscal Year was in surplus by $4,294,128; this compares favorably with the first quarter of last year, when the surplus for the first quarter was $2,992,062.
Expanding on her report, Ms. Coleman presented the financial position of the County’s Federal inmate program as it relates to the county’s expanded jail: The total expenses of the Federal program, including debt service on the jail expansion, is budgeted at $1,469,125, as contrasted to estimated revenues of $1,724, 625 from the program. This provides a $255,500 operating cushion to the County.
Sheriff James McVicker was present to request consideration of a vehicle storage building to store his three recently-acquired military vehicles – two 4×4 cargo trucks valued at $352,000 each, and a 4×4 utility vehicle valued at $89,000 – for use in weather- and disaster-related emergencies.
Previously-donated surplus military vehicles had been left in the elements and had quickly deteriorated to the point of unservicability. A 50’×30’ building with a concrete floor suitable to house these vehicles was estimated to cost $45,500; the Sheriff stated, however, that he would conduct a formal bid on this project.
After extensive conversation, Commissioner David Gooden moved to authorize the Sheriff to proceed with this project; the motion was seconded by Commissioner Charles Ray Peterson, and was approved, with Commissioner Michael Cogdell voting nay. This reporter attempted to contact Commissioner Cogdell for comment, but he had not responded by press time.
Tax Administrator René Davis appeared before the Board regarding a Tax Appeal from Cypress Creek Renewables LLC of Santa Monica, CA. This company and its subsidiaries own five solar farms in Bladen County whose combined assessed tax values are $27,130,175. The company believes “the 2020 assessed values are in excess of fair market value and not equitable to comparable properties.”
Upon consultation with the NC Department of Revenue, Ms. Davis stated it was that Department’s opinion that “the 2020 Cost Index factors were appropriate and reflected true market value when applied to the taxpayer’s historical cost.” Their recommendation was there be no value change. The Commission agreed and no further action was deemed necessary.
Dr, Terri Duncan, Director of Health & Human Services provided her twice-monthly pandemic update; the second report this month was not as rosy as the one from October 5th, as increased incidences both statewide and locally have been observed; there were, however, no further deaths in Bladen since the last meeting.
Dr. Duncan asked the Board’s consideration of approving an Internship Placement Contract for a Public Health Studies Program with UNC-Wilmington. This internship will be for the Spring Semester beginning January1, 2021 through May 31st; the student will be covered by UNCW liability insurance. This request was unanimously approved.
She then requested consideration of approving a contract with Nutrition Plus of Greenville, NC to provide dietetic consultation and clinical nutritional assessments for Bladen County HHS. At $50 per hour, the contract total is to be no more than $6,400 for the contract period. This contract was approved unanimously.
Robin Hewitt, Director of Computer Operations, came to the dais to inform the Commission about cybersecurity activities in county operations; and that, especially in these uncertain times, computer hackers and fraudsters were proliferating. He has initiated a program to educate and inform County staff about preventing “phishing attacks.” He believes his information program has been successful with employees.
Mr. Hewitt cautioned that fully 90% of all successful computer breaches are caused by human error. In addition, 92% of malware is delivered by email, and phishing attacks are increasingly coming from Social Media messages.
He is appearing now to inform the Board and the public about several steps that will help in resisting computer phishing: First, of course, is to be cautious whenever using email; with incoming email, look for spelling and syntax errors; look for “urgency and deadlines” in what the email is asking; verify links by hovering your mouse over the link to see actual destinations; look at the “Sender” address to ensure legitimacy of the sender; and lastly, always suspect emails requesting any personal information.
The Board then removed their collective Commissioner hats and donned their dungarees and straw hats to sit as the Bladen County Water District Board of Directors.
General Services Manager Kip McClarty provided the Board with an update on the County’s Phase IV Water System Expansion Project.
In the water main contract, Mr. McClarty reported that
- Grimsley Farm Rd. should be complete in four to five weeks;
- on Grimes Rd. water is anticipated to be available within six to eight weeks;
- on Lesane Rd./Nathan Robinson Rd. water is also anticipated within six to eight weeks;
- on Mercer Mill, all pipe is installed except under the road near the Rosindale Rd. intersection;
- the Airport Rd. is 90% complete with pipe installation;
- Old Highway 20 is 40% complete with pipe installation;
- all directional bores for the project have been completed;
- the tap installation crew is set to start next week on the Grimsley Farm Rd.
His report on the production well contract updated the Board that
- available water quantity is greater than the targeted capacity;
- based on initial sampling, there are concerns with quality without filtration;
- an additional pump test at a lower flow rate is expected within two weeks;
- additional samples will be pulled and analyzed before continuing with construction.
He informed the Board in his meter replacement report that
- approximately 2,600 meters (40% of the total meter changeout) have been replaced thus far;
- the contractor is working closely with both staff and the billing provider during transition.
With thanks to Mr. McClarty for the information provided, the Board exited its Water District role and reverted to its normal Commission format.
Emergency Services Director Nathan Dowless was next up to the stand to discuss the condition of the E9-1-1 hardware system currently in use; this equipment is now ten-plus years old, and will soon become obsolete.
He is seeking to replace this equipment using a combination of an already-approved $334,938 grant from the State 9-1-1 Board, with a $247,000 match to come from the County’s “9-1-1 Fund” Fund Balance, and with a remainder of perhaps $75,000 from the County. The Commission approved the request for Mr. Dowless to continue with this 9-1-1 equipment replacement project.
The Commission unanimously reappointed Harold Daniel and Cathy King to the East Arcadia Fire Service District Committee.
On appointments of twelve members to the EMS Advisory Council, Commissioner Peterson moved to replace Beth Singletary with Jeff Kulp, to replace Donald Bryant with James Greene, to add Hollis Freeman as an additional member, and to reappoint all other expiring members. This motion was unanimously approved.
Ms. Kathleen McGurgin was unanimously appointed to a full term on Keep Bladen Beautiful.
It was noted that Advisory Board appointments for the Bay Tree Lakes Fire Service District Committee (2 appointments), the Clarkton ETJ Advisory Committee (2 appointments), and the Clarkton Fire Service District Committee (3 appointments) would be made at the November 21st meeting.
To close out the evening, County Manager Martin first updated the Commissioners’ calendar for the remainder of October and for the month of November.
He then recognized the following twelve employees upon their years of service:
Employee Department Tenure
- Willie McLaughlin Central Service 30 years
- Chad Simpson D S S 5 years
- Vickie Smith D S S 20 years
- Lisa Nance D S S 30 years
- Jeff Kulp Emergency Service 5 years
- Brian Storms EMS 5 years
- Beverly Parks Register of Deed 25 years
- Carol Cain Revenue 15 years
- Hester Kilpatrick BSO – Detention 5 years
- Kimberly Jones Communications 25 years
- James Daniels BSO 5 years
- Cory Thomas BSO 5 years
He updated the Board on the County’s new Employee Supplemental Insurance Program, and stated that he has received positive employee feedback. He said newer employees are not aware of how much smoother the system is now than before, but more tenured employees see a much better system.
In years past, stated Mr. Martin, employees have been feted with a party, generally each November; this year, of course, the Covid19 pandemic prohibits that, and he requested input for alternatives.
Commissioner Ashley Trivette proposed giving each employee two hours off at their and the County’s mutual convenience any time between December 1st and next June 30th. With minimal discussion, agreement was forthcoming. Upon a motion by Commissioner Trivette, seconded by Commissioner Peterson, her proposal was adopted unanimously.
The meeting then quickly adjourned at 7:26pm.