The Alexander County Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted the 2022-2023 county budget at the June 20th meeting. The budget totals $53,653,167 and includes no local tax or fee increases, except for a 3 percent increase in water rates by the City of Hickory.
The proposed budget was presented at the May 16th meeting by County Manager Rick French. A public hearing was held on June 6 and a budget work session was held on June 13.
“We considered lowering the property tax rate in this budget, but with the uncertainty of the national economy and rising inflation, we ultimately decided to wait until the 2023-2024 budget after the county has gone through the revaluation process,” said Ronnie Reese, Chairman. “Alexander County is in good financial condition, and we want to ensure that it remains that way so we can serve our citizens to the best of our ability.”
Mr. French said the budget includes a 5 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for county employees and an increased allocation to Alexander County Schools.
The budget also includes several new positions: Assistant County Manager, Planner, Accounting Assistant, License Plate Agency staff position, Paralegal, Environmental Health staff position, Dental Assistant, Animal Control Officer, Park Assistant, as well as part-time/seasonal parks & recreation positions for Wittenburg Access Area and Alexander County Courthouse Park. In addition, a part-time office assistant in the Soil & Water department will be reclassified to a full-time position.
The budget includes funding for numerous capital items such as fiber/internet networking, vehicle replacements, 9-1-1 radio system/equipment, replacement of a boiler at the courthouse, an ambulance remount, a power lift for EMS, and replacement of the roof on the sheriff’s office evidence building.
In addition to the fire district property taxes already in place, the budget includes $63,000 from the county’s general fund for each of the county’s eight volunteer fire departments. Mr. French said the county hopes to provide increased funding to the fire departments each year, especially if a ¼-cent local sales tax is approved.
In other business:
• Pamela Bowman, Education Coordinator/Administrative Specialist with the Alexander County Soil & Water Conservation District, said the department has been awarded a $384,805 grant from the Streamflow Rehabilitation Assistance Program (StRAP) to assist with the cleanup from the November 2020 flooding. She said there were approximately 35 people who signed up for funding from the StRAP money totaling $2.4 million, but the awarded amount will only help with the top three or four sites. Commissioners voted unanimously for the county to sponsor the StRAP funds for stream debris removal and then be reimbursed 100 percent from the grant funds.
• Commissioners unanimously approved an agreement with Hyper-Reach to provide emergency mass notification services for Alexander County. Fire Marshal Mark Earle said that Hyper-Reach will replace the OnSolve/CodeRed system that the county has used for the past several years. He said the new emergency notification system provides additional services and a more user-friendly interface for a cost of $8,200 per year for three years, which is savings of approximately $1,000 per year. Earle said the system is used in multiple nearby counties and comes highly recommended. He said the only drawback is that citizens and businesses will need to register again to receive the notifications.
• Commissioners held a public hearing to consider approval of a tax-exempt loan from First Community Bank to the Stony Point Volunteer Fire Department (SPVFD) for the purchase of a 2024 Pierce Saber fire truck. Fire Chief Scotty Abernathy said this is the first truck to be purchased by the SPVFD since 2008. The board unanimously approved the request.
• Zack Shepherd, Vaya Health Community Relations Regional Director, presented an update to the board. He said that since Vaya and Cardinal Innovations consolidated, Vaya now serves an additional nine counties in the Piedmont area for a total of 31 counties. Vaya serves four regions, with Alexander County in Region 3. County Manager Rick French serves on the Vaya Health Board of Directors. Shepherd then presented information regarding the NC Department of Health and Human Services Child & Family Specialty Plan (CFSP), which would greatly increase the populations served in the foster care program. He said Vaya has some concerns about the CFSP and hopes some changes will occur before the plan is rolled out.
• In the County Manager’s Report, Mr. French said the county has received a Rural Transformation Grant from NC Commerce in the amount of $650,000 for the renovation of county property located at 16 West Main Avenue in Taylorsville. More details will be discussed at the July meeting.
Consolidated Human Services Board Meeting
Following the regular meeting, commissioners held a Consolidated Human Services Board meeting with updates from the health department, senior center, and department of social services.
• Dorian Maltba presented several updates for the health department. Maltba said that since Leeanne Whisnant’s retirement, Billie Walker has been named Interim Health Director and that she has been promoted to Director of Nursing.
Health Educator Kimberly Edmisten presented an update on the health department’s accreditation progress, noting that 92 percent of local data was submitted by May 31. The dates for final local data submission are August 30-31. A hybrid reaccreditation survey is scheduled for September 1.
Edmisten also presented the 2021 State of the County Health Report (SOTCH), which is required each year between Community Health Assessments. The 2021 SOTCH was submitted to NCDHHS on February 8 and was approved on April 12. The report is available online at https://alexanderhealth.org.
• Kristy Hunt, Senior Center Director, said that local seniors are enjoying games, gatherings, and birthday lunches at the senior center once again with participation up at all three locations. The center continues to assist with Medicare plans with savings of $46,772 so far this year. A Senior Celebration was held on May 27 with live music, lunch, a fun walk, games, and door prizes.
• Thomas Mitchell, DSS Director, said that employee recruitment is improving from a vacancy rate of 23 percent to only 7-8 percent, noting that DSS is now as fully staffed as it has been in the past three years.
In terms of foster care, he said the majority of children being removed are in Taylorsville, with no foster parents in Taylorsville. The fewest removals are in Bethlehem where the majority of foster parents are. Mitchell said that the DSS staff wants to keep foster children as close to their home and school as possible, so they are working on foster parenting classes in the Taylorsville area.
The new director also wants to provide improved communication services for DSS staff in the field, especially in areas of the county with little or no cell service. DSS employees will be issued a Verizon cell phone so everyone has the same cell coverage, plus the department plans to purchase several satellite phones which will provide coverage in areas with no cell service. He said that the safety of social workers in the field is of extreme importance.
The Alexander County Board of Commissioners typically meets on the first Monday of each month at 6:00 p.m. in room #103 at the CVCC Alexander Center for Education. The next regular meeting is set for Monday, July 18 at 6:00 p.m. Regular meetings are recorded and can be viewed on the county’s Government Channel on Spectrum channel 192 or on the county’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/alexandercountync. Meeting agendas, minutes, videos, and more are available on the county’s website at https://alexandercountync.gov/commissioners.