Family presented Key to the County, proclamation in memory of longtime leader
In memory of former County Manager Rick French, who passed away on Christmas Eve 2022, the Alexander County Board of Commissioners honored his family with a Key to the County and a framed proclamation. Mr. French’s wife Kathy, two sons Hunter and Parker, daughter-in-law Evie, and three grandchildren Zinnia, Phoebe, and Miller were in attendance at the March 6th meeting to accept the special recognition bestowed by the board.
Commissioner Larry Yoder, who presented the Key to the County, said, “Rick spent a lot of time away from his family with meetings and working for the county. He did so many great things for the county and the community. I would like to say thank you to his family for his accomplishments and dedication.”
Mr. French served the citizens of Alexander County since April 1999, for a total of almost 24 years of service with a long list of accomplishments, from recreational opportunities to infrastructure to economic development projects. In total, he served 46 years as a dedicated local government leader in North Carolina, in addition to his earlier years of local government experience.
Chairman Marty Pennell said that county managers like Rick French are a rarity.
“It’s very difficult to find a county manager who can serve a community for almost 24 years. Rick was a special person who truly cared about Alexander County and our citizens,” Pennell said. “It is our honor to recognize and remember Mr. French tonight. Our thoughts and prayers continue for the family.”
In other business:
• Commissioners adopted a resolution to approve a supplemental agreement for additional opioid settlement funds. County Attorney Ben Faulkenberry said that Alexander County is one of many counties and municipalities in North Carolina that originally joined with thousands of local governments across the country to enter into settlement agreements against opioid manufacturers, pharmaceutical distribution companies, and chain drug stores to hold those companies accountable for their misconduct. He said that Alexander County received its first payment of opioid settlement funds in 2022 which will continue over a 15-year period. Faulkenberry reported that new opioid settlements have been reached with Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, Allergan, and Teva. Faulkenberry said that representatives of North Carolina local governments, the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, and the North Carolina Department of Justice have negotiated and prepared a Supplemental Agreement for Additional Funds (SAAF) to provide for the equitable distribution of the proceeds of these settlements, as stated in the resolution. Payments for the new settlements are scheduled to begin in the second half of 2023. The funds will be used to battle the ongoing opioid epidemic in Alexander County, with more than 100 overdose calls to 9-1-1 since January 1, 2022. Learn more at ncopioidsettlement.org.
• Commissioners voted unanimously to request General Assembly representatives to approve the holding of a referendum in the 2024 General Election to allow voters to select the method of candidacy filing for the Alexander County Board of Education. Chairman Pennell said the board did not approve a resolution a couple of years ago to change the school board to a partisan filing method, but now a referendum is under consideration, pending General Assembly approval. Chairman Pennell said this method allows the voters to decide on this issue.
• Commissioners approved a rezoning request for an 8.5-acre parcel located at 134 Satellite Road, off Rink Dam Road in Bethlehem. The owner, Bethlehem Partners LLC, requested that the property be rezoned from R-20 (residential) to H-C (highway-commercial). Alexander County Planning Director Brian Burgess said the rezoning is consistent with the county’s comprehensive plan and is recognized as a commercial area in the Bethlehem Community Plan. The planning and zoning commission recommended approval of the rezoning.
• The board heard a progress report on the National Register of Historic Places nomination for the proposed Downtown Taylorsville Historic District from Clay Griffith of ACME Preservation Services and Josi Ward of Foreground Consulting. The two firms were hired in November 2022 to conduct research and prepare the nomination for the project, which is a partnership between Alexander County and the Town of Taylorsville. Generally, the proposed historic district includes six blocks from the courthouse to the old hotel building. Griffith said they are currently working on completing an inventory of the buildings. Ward said they will be gathering historic context and crafting a narrative of the history of the downtown area. Griffith said they plan to submit a draft nomination to the State Historic Preservation Office in early June 2023. He said the main purpose of establishing a historic district is to encourage owners to maintain buildings and preserve historic elements, with an opportunity for tax credits. Commissioner Larry Yoder, who serves as chair of the Alexander County Historic Preservation Committee (HPC), commended the HPC members for their hard work and outstanding effort.
• Commissioners approved nine (9) budget amendments, three of which adjusted for pay increases for 9-1-1 Communications, Sheriff’s Office, and Detention Center employees using contingency funds and group insurance funds that are already available in the departments’ budgets. The pay increases will result in a $0 net increase in General Fund expenditures.
• Vice-Chairman Josh Lail reported that work is underway on a new comprehensive plan for Alexander County. He said that a community survey will be released soon and encouraged all citizens to participate to provide input that will shape the county’s future.
• During the public comment period, resident Karissa Miller expressed concerns about the tax reappraisal values. She encouraged the board to adopt a revenue-neutral tax rate for 2023-2024 and change to a four-year reappraisal schedule.
• Duncan Cavanaugh with the Western Piedmont Council of Governments presented the 2023 Alexander County Digital Access Plan. He said that work began on the plan in the fall 2022 after the WPCOG received an $11,000 grant from North Carolina State University. Cavanaugh said the document is more of a prioritized list with a goal of ensuring that the county is eligible for future grant funding. The plan includes demographics, broadband access information, broadband availability, broadband potential, recommendations, and funding opportunities.
• Commissioners heard an update on Vaya Health from Zack Shepherd, Community Relations Regional Director. He said that Vaya Health manages publicly funded mental health, substance use disorder, intellectual/developmental disability, and traumatic brain injury services. The organization serves a 31-county region, including Alexander County. In December 2022, Vaya launched Tailored Care Management integrated care. In October 2023, Vaya will become a Prepaid Health Plan for behavioral health clients, and then the organization will begin branding as Vaya Total Care. Learn more at vayahealth.com.
• Commissioners made the following appointments: Juvenile Crime Prevention Council – Christy Harrington, 2 years; Library Board of Trustees – David Murphy, 3 years; Animal Control Advisory Board – Billie Walker, fulfill unexpired term through September 2023; and Planning & Zoning Commission – Joey Price, 3 years.
Consolidated Human Services Board Meeting
Following the regular meeting, commissioners convened a meeting of the Consolidated Human Services Board.
• Health Director Billie Walker presented a Public Health report to the board. She said the department received its plaque for earning “Reaccreditation with Honors.” Plans are already in place to work on the 2026 reaccreditation process. The Substance Abuse Coalition and Healthy Alexandrians Coalition are continuing to meet.
Mallory Chapman, Preparedness Coordinator, presented information about the Community Health Assessment that was recently completed. The survey received 525 valid responses, with approximately 77 percent female and 23 percent male respondents. The top age group was 40-44 followed by 45-49. Almost 72 percent resided in the 28681 zip code. There were four focus areas in the survey: affordability of care, access to care, depression/mental health, and overweight/obesity. The top six areas of improvement from the survey are drug/alcohol prevention, anxiety/stress management, childcare and parenting, exercise and fitness, managing weight, and elder care, which were converted to four county goals: mental health/depression, healthy living, childcare/parenting, and elder care. Public health staff and focus groups will gather to work on these areas of improvement and goals.
Daniel Fox, Emergency Management Coordinator, presented information about a recent Integrated Preparedness Planning Workshop. The purpose of the Integrated Preparedness Plan (IPP) is to document overall preparedness priorities and activities for Alexander County. He said this is the first IPP for the county, which will be updated every year. Through collaboration, surveys, and meetings, the following threats, hazards, and risks were identified (ranked in order): flooding, tornado, winter weather, pandemic, large fire, and others. The plan also addresses the identification of equipment needs, such as backup power for the health department and Emergency Operations Center (EOC), radio upgrades, and more. The plan also addresses potential training and exercise opportunities throughout the county increasing information sharing and multiagency involvement. The next steps are to continue to develop a multi-year training calendar, develop the IPP, schedule trainings and exercises, and reassess annually and make continual improvements.
Walker reported on several renovations at the health department, including a new climate-controlled storage building for supplies, the administration conference room being updated, the lab area increasing, the electronic sign being updated, and a covered entryway being planned. Environmental Health now has e-FileCabinet that allows records to be scanned and easily accessed.
Walker also presented an updated fee schedule for dental, clinic, and lab fees, which were approved by the board.
• Kristy Hunt, Senior Center Director, presented a center update. She said the center receives $84,247 from the state with a $9,361 local match. She said the NC Senior Tar Heel Legislature is recommending funding priorities to the NC General Assembly. George Holleman, local delegate for the Tar Heel Legislature, said he is going to Raleigh this month to present the organization’s priorities and lobby for additional funding for senior centers, social services, and long-term care.
Hunt said the senior population is growing in Alexander County, from 15.3 percent in 2010 to 20.6 percent in 2021. The center continues to offer a wide variety of activities for local seniors, including exercise classes, needlework, woodcarving, line dancing, arts and crafts classes, games, seminars, music, and more. The center is also offering overnight trips later this year, with a trip to Nashville, TN, in August. They are also planning several day trips. The center is also hosting AARP tax preparation service on Saturdays through April 8. For 2022, the center saved 922 seniors more than $593,000 in Medicare drug costs. General participation has increased this January to 1,332 as compared to 773 in 2022.
• Thomas Mitchell, Social Services Director, said the department is down to only seven (7) vacancies after hiring six (6) new employees since October 2022. DSS continues its efforts in employee engagement with a recent “Super Bowl Friday” and a “Bingo Bash.” He said that Medicaid expansion is expected to pass in the NC General Assembly, which would result in an additional 2,300 Medicaid cases in the county. Mitchell said the state’s public health emergency ends on May 11, which will result in discontinued or decreased supplements/assistance. He said the department continues to work on emergency shelter plans, with quarterly trainings and equipment training by the American Red Cross. The new playground and picnic tables are installed and in use. Currently, there are 16 children free for adoption with 46 children in foster care. He said there have been 12 adoptions in the past year.
The next regular meeting of the Alexander County Board of Commissioners is set for Monday, April 3 at 6:00 p.m. at the CVCC Alexander Center for Education (room #103). Regular meetings are recorded and can be viewed on the county’s Government Channel on Spectrum channel 192 or the county’s YouTube channel at youtube.com/alexandercountync. Meeting agendas, minutes, videos, and more are available on the county’s website at alexandercountync.gov/commissioners.