Child safety remains a top priority for the Alexander County Board of Commissioners and the Sheriff’s Office as evidenced by the approval of a 3-year agreement with the Town of Taylorsville to provide a School Resource Officer (SRO) at Taylorsville Elementary School and another at the Alexander Early College and Student Success Center. The two new SROs were in place on Tuesday morning following Monday night’s meeting.
Alexander County Schools received a state safety grant in November 2022, which prompted commissioners to approve six (6) SRO positions for schools not located in the town limits.
Interim Town Manager Aaron Wike said the town has been trying to fill two SRO positions for months, but has had no success; therefore, he reached out to Sheriff Chad Pennell to determine if an agreement would be possible with the county.
Sheriff Pennell said he can have officers in place immediately if commissioners approve the agreement, but he does have some concerns about the officers’ employment after the 3-year agreement ends.
“Safety is our number one priority, so we don’t want to put this off one day if we don’t have to,” said Sheriff Pennell. “But, in three years, where will the SRO be? You can’t have an interim deputy.”
Commissioner Larry Yoder agreed. “What’s going to happen in three years or even this year when the grant runs out? I’m all for safety, but how will it work?”
Wike said there is no intention to terminate the SROs when the agreement ends
Commissioner Kent Herman said, “There’s really no alternative but to do this, as long as the Sheriff is good with it.”
Each SRO will cost approximately $70,000 in salary and benefits, plus equipment, weapons, vehicles, and more. The town will pay all costs associated with the two SRO positions.
Sheriff Pennell said his office employed eight SROs, which increases to 10 SROs following approval of the agreement. The sheriff said he has two available vehicles with equipment that could be used for the two SRO positions, which would expedite the appointments to the schools.
“The safety of our children is paramount, so we must do what needs to be done to protect them during school in this day and age,” said Marty Pennell, Chairman of the Alexander County Board of Commissioners. “We appreciate the willingness of the Sheriff’s Office to take on this added responsibility. We also appreciate the school system for its efforts to secure grant funding for SROs and hope that another round of funding will be awarded. This is another excellent example of teamwork here in Alexander County.”
In other business:
• Commissioners presented a “Key to the County” to Brenda Price who has cared for 200 foster children since 1982. “While DSS has placed 200 children with the Price family throughout the years, we know that there are countless families and children who were changed by knowing Brenda and her husband Sonny,” said Commission Vice Chairman Josh Lail. “We are excited to acknowledge Mrs. Brenda Price for her commitment, determination, and immeasurable heart that she has shared with the children and families of Alexander County.”
• County Manager Shane Fox shared an update on the Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams closure which occurred abruptly on August 26. He said the county has partnered with the Western Piedmont Council of Governments, NCWorks, CVCC, state elected officials, and other agencies to provide valuable services to the hundreds of employees who lost their jobs. He commended everyone involved in planning a career and resource fair on September 12 at East Taylorsville Baptist Church. Fox also said there is some potential grant money to help retrain workers for other careers.
• During public comment, Phil Brown expressed safety concerns about the cove located near the Sandbar Marina & Grill. He asked the county to work with the Wildlife Resources Commission to move the no-wake buoys farther out to slow down boat traffic in that area.
• Commissioners approved the Alexander County Historic Preservation Plan as presented by HPC Vice Chairman Lee Sharpe. The plan is a planning and management tool that assembles information about historic resources to provide the necessary information to responsibly deal with existing issues and future concerns. Sharpe said a historic preservation plan identifies and articulates the county’s preservation goals, lets current and future property owners know how the county intends to grow, helps eliminate confusion about the purpose of the local preservation ordinance, and educates the public about the county’s history and heritage. With the board’s approval, the historic preservation plan will be incorporated into the county’s updated comprehensive and land use plans.
• Commissioners considered a rezoning request from Josh Lail & Co. to rezone approximately six acres of property on Heritage Farm Road from Residential (R-20) to Residential-Single Family (R-SF). Vice Chairman Josh Lail recused himself from the vote as the matter pertains to his company. After hearing details from Planning & Development Director Brian Burgess, the board voted to approve the rezoning request.
• The board approved a rezoning request from Chad and Talisha Logan to rezone one acre of property on Hwy. 90 East in Hiddenite from Highway-Commercial (H-C) to Residential-Agricultural (RA-20).
• The board held a planning retreat on August 8 to discuss updates to the county’s land development ordinance. As a result, Mr. Burgess presented two text amendments at Monday’s meeting for approval. The amendments include lighting standards, temporary signage, updated penalties for zoning violations, nuisances, docks/garages/storage buildings, drinking establishment locations, and subdivision ordinance. The board approved the text amendments.
• Thomas Mitchell, DSS Director, presented a resolution regarding the 5310 Rural Transportation Grant, which provides transportation to those ages 65 and older and adults with disabilities. Commissioners approved the resolution as presented. The grant totals $194,592 with a $19,460 county match.
• In the County Manager’s Report, Mr. Fox showed a framed certificate that was received from NC Division of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Wayne Goodwin to commend the Alexander County License Plate Agency for providing superior customer service. The agency was nominated by a customer from a neighboring county.
Fox reported that Alexander County and Spectrum are the recipients of a Completing Access to Broadband (CAB) grant in the amount of $919,437.35. The county’s match is only $1 in ARPA funds. More than 150 households will have access to high-speed internet when the project is completed.
He said there is a courthouse programming meeting this week. Fox emphasized this is just the initial planning phase to understand the needs and cost of a potential new courthouse, if the board decides to proceed.
The PORT (Post-Overdose Response Team)/Community Paramedic position has been filled by Shannon Childers, a seven-year employee with Alexander County EMS.
• The October meeting of the Board of Commissioners was rescheduled for Monday, October 16 at 6:00 p.m.
• Commissioners approved five budget amendments, including four amendments to increase the budget for additional revenues.
• Commissioners approved the following appointments/reappointments: ABC Board – reappoint Judy Caywood (3 years); Western Piedmont Regional Transit Authority Board – appoint Shane Fox and David Moose (3 years); Consolidated Human Services Advisory Committee – appoint Dr. Jonathan Goodnight, Dr. Robbie Sheffield, and Lauren Kiziah (2 years); Region E Aging Advisory Committee – reappoint Angela Johnson (2 years); Jury Commission – reappoint Dale Fox (2 years); and Animal Control Advisory Board – appoint Shakira Ballin (2 years) and reappoint Dr. Hannah Schaffer, Billie Walker, Jason Moore, Mike Deal, Garrett Davis, and Maggie Dahlstrom (2 years).
Consolidated Human Services Board meeting
Following the regular meeting, Chairman Pennell convened a quarterly meeting of the Alexander County Consolidated Human Services Board.
Billie Walker, Health Director, said the health department is fully staffed except for an Environmental Health Specialist, which has been posted for a year.
She also congratulated Mallory Chapman, Preparedness Coordinator/Epidemiology, for completing the Certificate in Field Epidemiology program at UNC-Chapel Hill. Only eight participants were chosen for the program.
Walker said plans are being drawn for a new covered entrance at the main building to help shield clients from the weather. The renovation will be paid using state COVID-19 funding.
She said the health department continues educational outreach efforts at numerous events and festivals.
Emily Vick, Communicable Disease Nurse, presented the 2023 Communicable Disease Update. She said the health department’s primary role is prevention, early detection, and control of communicable diseases. Aside from COVID-19, the top communicable diseases in Alexander County in 2022 were chlamydia (67 cases) and gonorrhea (15 cases), both of which decreased from 2021. Vick said flu vaccines will be offered at a drive-thru clinic each Friday afternoon in October. The health department will also offer Prevnar 20, the new pneumonia vaccine.
Thomas Mitchell, DSS Director, said the department has 10 vacancies, but has several interviews scheduled. Six employees have been hired since June. Staff is gearing up for the state’s Medicaid expansion, which will begin once legislators approve a state budget. Alexander County is expected to have 3,000 expanded cases. He said there are currently 11 children free to adopt, with 19 official adoptions in the past year. There are 48 children in foster care. DSS also teamed up with NCWorks to help displaced workers from Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams.
Andra Robinson, Child Support Supervisor, presented a child support report for Alexander County DSS. She said there are more than 1,200 cases, with collections of $1,722,235 for the past fiscal year. Overall collections have increased by 10 percent and arrears collections have increased by more than 30 percent in the past month.
County Manager Fox presented the Alexander Senior Center update. He said participation continues to climb, with bingo, birthday parties, and other activities being very popular with local seniors. The center recently held an ice cream social in Taylorsville and Bethlehem, with a total of 115 participants. The center will host a health fair on Friday, September 15 from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at East Taylorsville Baptist Church. The overnight trips through Diamond Tours Company are also very popular. Medicare Open Enrollment is October 15 through December 7, which is the time to review and choose a Medicare drug plan. The center will kick off open enrollment on Friday, October 13 with a Spooktacular event. From January to June, the center helped local seniors save $254,517.
The next meeting of the Alexander County Board of Commissioners is scheduled for Monday, October 16 at 6:00 p.m. at the CVCC Alexander Center for Education (room #103). 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.