By Charlotte Smith
In the past year Bladen County has suffered a lot, but difficult situations are not stopping the Mother County. The message of hope and overcoming was presented to the Elizabethtown-White Lake Area Chamber of Commerce by Bladen County Manager, Greg Martin. The issues with the White Lake water, the hog industry trials, GenX, and Hurricane Florence were all mentioned by Martin as challenges Bladen County residents have been dealing with over the past year or so.
Martin began his comments with a series of praises. The first praise Martin shared about the county was the fact the Health Department receiving their required inspections. The Bladen County Health Department was accredited with honors.
Under the leadership of the new Bladen County Health and Human Resources Director, Terri Duncan, Bladen County has been awarded proficiency ratings in 144 of 147 categories.
Duncan, who was not in attendance at the meeting, gave the credit to the employees. “The animal shelter did exceptional with the management from Karen Suggs,” Duncan said in a later discussion.
The second praise Martin announced about the county was an award for being Bladen’s Best of the Best in the Best Place to Work category.
He said, “It starts with the leadership of the County Commissioners.”
Martin listed numerous ways the Commissioners and employees are improving the county.
“One of the best strengths is the working relationships,” Martin said.
Martin also said groups working to improve the county are making a difference. The Opioid Task Force is led by Commissioner Charles Ray Peterson. The task force has received two grants and assisted in creating a jail diversion program. The group meets the second Tuesday of every month at the Health Department at 2 p.m.
All in attendance were encouraged by Martin to have employees receive the training for how to deal with Dementia through the Dementia Friendly Initiative. Kelly Robeson with the Division on Aging is leading the Dementia Friendly Initiative.
He said, “If we all embrace it, it would make a positive difference on the impact of Dementia.”
Roadside litter is a growing issue in the county. Unfortunately, the state has limited their litter clean up to highways 701 and 87 in Bladen County and people are still littering along other roadways, according to Martin.
Sheriff Jim McVicker has started a roadside clean up project using inmates with assistance from Commissioners. The project, utilizing help from the county’s inmates, has started cleaning up litter from the side roads in the county.
Martin also told the group about how Hurricane Florence devastated Bladen County. He said the faith-based community here in Bladen County has stepped up. Pastor Jason Williams and Rev. David Foster have organized the Bladen Disaster Recovery Team to assist with the current destruction and help prepare the county for when disaster strikes again.
“I can’t say enough to thank them for their leadership,” Martin said.
In Kelly, the White Oak Dike, built in the early 1900s has experienced issues since the storm. A community meeting is scheduled for next Tuesday to talk about the issues.
“It’s really going to be federally supported,” Martin said.
There is also more good news for the county, as well. Martin announced there will be a new expansion phase with a one million dollar grant funded program to replace water meters in the county. The phase will start in the near future.
In 2017, Bladen County sold the county’s home health business for 1.9 million dollars, according to Martin’s report. He said the Commissioners decided to invest the money in economic development to construct a speculative building.
Martin quoted the saying, “You can’t sell out of an empty wagon.” He said it is a true statement in reference to the need for the new construction.
Before closing, he briefed those in attendance on the economic growth in the county. Smithfield is growing and the first tax payment is being paid this week.
“We are glad Smithfield made the investment,” Martin said.
He added, there is a Clarkton facility on highway 701 with a new business now employing 60 people with the goal of growing to 100 employees.
He mentioned the new business incubator in Elizabethtown has opened to encourage small businesses to grow.
Martin continued by reporting the Public Safety Training Center, which was once a prison near White Lake, has received a great deal of renovations. The center has received 300,000 dollars in grant funding. Team Rubicon has been doing work on the dorm and kitchen. The dorm will house 60 people.
“It’s a great asset to our county,” Martin said.
The center pulls in revenue for Bladen County due to all the training opportunities offered at the facility. Bladen Community College is also working with the center on the vision of having a driving pad made out there. It would serve truck drivers, law and emergency agencies for training opportunities.
Before the meeting ended, Dawn Maynard, Director of the Elizabethtown-White Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, announced the upcoming summer concerts.
Mayor Goldston Womble asked the Chamber and others for a resolution to support the traditional school schedule for Bladen County students due to the proposed calendar change to a year round schedule. The new year round schedule was presented and tabled at the last Bladen County Board of Education meeting, according to Mayor Womble. He sited support for the resolution should be made due to the risk of negative affects to the economy if students were in school instead of being able to work during the summer.
Commissioner Ray Britt spoke about Chemours and the state investigation. Britt promised all those in attendance the Board of Commissioner’s are keeping a close eye on the investigation. He added, Chemour’s promise to fulfill their agreement for environmentally sound business practices.