January 20, 2003
The Alexander County Board of Commissioners held its regular meeting on Monday, January 20, 2003 in the Commissioners Room of the Alexander County Courthouse, Taylorsville, North Carolina.
CALL TO ORDER
Chairman Robertson called the meeting to order at 6:00 PM.
Chairman Robertson noted that Commissioner Odom would not be present at the meeting because his father, Harold Odom, Sr., would be undergoing quadruple bypass surgery on the morning of January 21, 2003. Chairman Robertson requested that the Board and staff remember Mr. Odom and his family in prayer.
INVOCATION AND PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE
Commissioner Bolick gave the invocation and Commissioner Hammer led the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag.
ADOPTION OF AGENDA
Commissioner Hammer made a motion to adopt the agenda as presented. Commissioner Keever seconded the motion. The Board voted unanimously in favor of the motion.
DISCUSSION WITH LOCAL DELEGATION CONCERNING UPCOMING SESSION OF THE NORTH CAROLINA GENERAL ASSEMBLY
Chairman Robertson welcomed Senator R.B. Sloan and Representative Edgar Starnes to the meeting and asked each to speak on goals and objectives for the upcoming session of the General Assembly.
Representative Starnes informed the Board that he had spoken with David Prox, Head of the Fiscal Research Division in Raleigh, in regards to the State budget. Representative Starnes stated that it was too early to determine how the State budget would look but he noted that it would greatly depend on withholdings, estimated income tax, and even the stock market which had a major affect on State revenues. Representative Starnes also stated that any military action would affect State revenues. If troops are deployed, sales tax and income tax revenues will decrease. Representative Starnes stated that the State was still looking at a $2 billion shortfall as of July 1, 2003 and he noted that there was an $850 million hole that would need to be filled because the State had spent non-recurring monies on recurring expenses. Representative Starnes discussed several other items that would affect the budget including the expiration of the States half-cent sales tax on July 1, 2003, increases in the child tax credit, and the elimination of the marriage penalty tax which would total an approximate $400 million loss for the State budget. Other costs include $150 million due to the increase in enrollment in schools, $150 million contribution to the State Employees and Teachers Retirement Plan, and a $150 million increase in Medicaid. Representative Starnes noted that Medicaid costs had increased from $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion within a 2-year time period. Representative Starnes felt that it was wrong for Governor Easley to balance the State budget on the counties and cities backs and he promised to do all he could make sure this action did not happen in the next budget year.
Commissioner Keever asked Representative Starnes if he had discussed with Mr. Prox the impact on the State if the proposal for the removal of the double taxation on dividends was approved. Representative Starnes replied that that issue was not discussed with Mr. Prox; however, Representative Starnes felt that, if approved, the proposal would cause an extremely negative impact on the State budget.
Commissioner Keever also asked if the half-cent sales tax passed which North Carolina counties were allowed to enact would expire on June 30, 2003. Representative Starnes stated that it was his understanding that the counties would be allowed to continue the half-cent sales tax after June 30, 2003.
Commissioner Bolick made the comment that North Carolina had taken a tremendous hit by unemployment and he asked if the legislature in Raleigh was taking any steps to replace the jobs lost in furniture, textiles, and manufacturing. Representative Starnes stated that the State legislature was very concerned because North Carolina was losing its traditional industry and manufacturing base which was difficult to replace. Representative Starnes informed the Board that the General Assembly had passed economic incentive packages to encourage new industries to locate in North Carolina. Representative Starnes also felt that it would be beneficial to lower the corporate income tax. North Carolina currently has the highest corporate income tax in the southeast and one of the highest in the nation. Representative Starnes stated that businesses and industries located in other states because of the high corporate income tax.
Commissioner Keever inquired about the proposal to tax all service businesses in the State. Commissioner Keever felt that such action would be detrimental to the State. Representative Starnes stated that he was not inclined to support that proposal.
Senator R.B. Sloan informed that Board that the Republican Senators Caucus had met recently to discuss some of these issues. Senator Sloan discussed the sales tax on services and stated that the proposal was for a revenue neutral 2% tax on all services. Senator Sloan stated that there were several programs in the State budget that had not been evaluated in years. The State simply tacked on an extra percent every year for these programs. Senator Sloan explained that the Senators Caucus had discussed a "zero based budget" where each program would be evaluated to possibly prevent the addition of funding. Senator Sloan stated that the caucus would like to form a group of citizens with expertise in many areas of the budget to examine the State budget and each area of service to determine what expenditures could be cut without lowering services. Senator Sloan also discussed the unemployment situation and felt that action needed to be taken to keep existing businesses here and attract new businesses to the area. Senator Sloan stated that North Carolina was slowly developing a service economy and he felt that the legislation should strive to keep the manufacturing base which provided better incomes for citizens. Senator Sloan urged the Board to contact him with ideas or comments in the future.
Commissioner Keever discussed a bill which was passed last fall to authorize unlicensed retailers to sell heating and cooling equipment similar to the way they sell refrigerators. However, the State requires those that contract this type of equipment and service to have a license. Commissioner Keever felt that this allowed unfair competition and he requested that Senator Sloan and Representative Starnes review the bill.
Chairman Robertson discussed water quality and stated that several years ago, several counties and municipalities involved with the WPCOG joined together to protect the upper part of the Catawba River and to address runoff and pollution. Chairman Robertson stated that when the concerns were sent to Raleigh, they recommended the Nuese River Plan for implementation which could not be enforced for the Catawba River due to the differences in topography and soil. Chairman Robertson felt that the protection of the Catawba River needed to be addressed separately.
Chairman Robertson discussed the air quality in Alexander County caused primarily by drift from higher elevations and automobiles. Chairman Robertson noted that if the ozone level was not lowered, it would result in higher inspection requirements for vehicles and more expensive fuel. Chairman Robertson felt that it was inaccurate and unfair to determine the air quality county by county because of the drift problem. Chairman Robertson stated that Alexander County did not generate these high ozone levels and should not have to suffer the consequences.
Chairman Robertson requested that Senator Sloan and Representative be mindful of health services when considering cuts in the State budget.
Commissioner Hammer felt that the State should perform an investigation and a study to determine where different sources of water originated from. Commissioner Hammer felt that this type of study could help to reroute water flow when surface water dried up. Commissioner Hammer also requested that Senator Sloan and Representative Starnes do their best to see that the western part of the state gets a fair share of the grants.
Commissioner Keever informed Senator Sloan and Representative Starnes that a resolution was passed during the Legislative Goals Conference last week requesting the State to have a budget including amendments completed by June 15, 2003 in order to allow time for counties to adopt a budget.
Senator Sloan asked if the Board anticipated any local bills in which he and Representative Starnes would need to prepare for. Chairman Robertson replied that there were no bills anticipated at this time but he noted that there could possibly be at a later date.
Chairman Robertson thanked Senator Sloan and Representative Starnes for attending the meeting and for their support for Alexander County.
CONSIDERATION OF NORTH CAROLINA CRIME COMMISSION GRANT
Hayden Bentley, Alexander County Sheriff, presented a request to apply for a grant from the North Carolina Crime Commission for 2 multipurpose dogs. Sheriff Bentley explained that a dog could not be trained to sniff out narcotics and explosives. This grant would allow for one narcotics dog and one explosives dog.
Sheriff Bentley informed the Board that the Sheriffs Department currently used tracking dogs from Ronnie Robinette at the Department of Corrections stationed in Caldwell County and drug search dogs from the Iredell County Sheriff's Department. Sheriff Bentley stated that it took approximately 2 hours for the DOC officer and the dog to arrive in Alexander County once requested.
Sheriff Bentley explained that one dog would be placed on the day shift and one on the night shift. Sheriff Bentley stated that these dogs would not only make the Sheriffs department more self sufficient, they would also be trained to protect officers and to track which would be an added benefit to the County.
Sheriff Bentley presented the following financial outline for the 2-year Crime Commission Grant:
Chairman Robertson asked if the Catawba County Sheriffs Department had their own dogs. Sheriff Bentley replied that the Catawba County Sheriffs Department did have dogs and he noted that the Alexander County Sheriffs Department had used them in the past but had quicker response from Iredell County. Sheriff Bentley noted that Iredell County had more dogs than any other Sheriffs Department.
Sheriff Bentley informed the Board that the dogs would also enhance asset seizures and would actually pay for themselves through the asset seizures in a very short period of time.
Commissioner Bolick asked if a fee was paid to the Iredell County Sheriffs Department or the Department of Corrections for the use of their dogs. Sheriff Bentley replied that no fee was paid to either organization.
Commissioner Keever asked how often the dogs were needed or would be used. Sheriff Bentley replied that the narcotics dog would be used quite often to assist in searches of vehicles and residences and he gave an average use of 3 to 4 times per week. Sheriff Bentley also noted that at the present time some searches would take an officer 3 to 4 hours to complete but only 30 to 40 minutes to complete with the assistance of a narcotics dog.
Commissioner Keever inquired about the cost of each dog after the 2-year grant. Sheriff Bentley estimated a cost of $1,000 per year for feed and vet visits for up to 5 or 6 years (average life of a narcotics dog).
Commissioner Bolick asked how often the explosives dog would be used. Sheriff Bentley replied that an explosives dogs would not be used very often, only during incidents such as bomb threats at the schools.
Commissioner Hammer asked when the funding would be required. Sheriff Bentley replied that the funding would be needed in the 2003-2004 budget.
Commissioner Bolick stated that he had a concern with appropriating $9,230 for dogs when there was uncertainty with the State budget. Commissioner Bolick felt that Sheriff Bentley may ask for additional officers during the 2003-2004 budget and he noted that personnel was more important than dogs.
Chairman Robertson stated that his concern with approving the request for the dogs was also the budget situation. Chairman Robertson felt that these dogs were need but he noted that the Fund Balance was at 2.1% and needed to be at 8%.
Sheriff Bentley stated that he understood there was an uncertainty in regard to the State budget and he informed the Board that he could apply for just one dog at half the cost. Sheriff Bentley noted that the narcotics dog would be more useful than an explosives dog and he stressed that the narcotics dog would not only provide protection for the officers but also assist in drug searches and asset seizures which would greatly benefit the County. Sheriff Bentley stated that a four-wheel drive vehicle was just seized and turned over to the Sheriffs Department for use as an undercover vehicle. Sheriff Bentley also noted that he did not foresee any request for additional personnel in July 2003.
Chairman Robertson asked what type of funds were usually generated from asset seizures. Sheriff Bentley stated that the Drug Task Force concept had been started back up and staff had been working with Catawba County and the FBI Drug Task Force. Sheriff Bentley informed the Board that the Sheriffs Department had just completed a case that would result in $8,000 to $10,000 coming back to the County from asset seizures. Chairman Robertson asked if the cost of the grant could be paid from asset seizure funds. Sheriff Bentley replied that it could eventually be paid with asset seizure funds as they came in. Sheriff Bentley mentioned that the Sheriffs Department had recently used approximately $2,000 of asset seizure funds to make some drug purchases and currently had approximately $2,000 left in those funds.
Commissioner Keever made a motion to authorize Sheriff Bentley to apply for one narcotics dog through the North Carolina Crime Commission Grant. Commissioner Bolick seconded the motion.
Chairman Robertson asked for clarification on whether the Countys share of the grant funding would be taken out of the General Fund or from asset seizure funds. Commissioner Keever stated that the funds would initially come out of the General Fund and then out of asset seizure money if determined to be self sustaining.
The Board voted unanimously in favor of the motion.
SCHEDULE WORK SESSION ON MINIMUM HOUSING ISSUES
Chairman Robertson requested the scheduling of a work session to discuss the Minimum Housing Standards and some other issues.
Chairman Robertson informed the Board that Rick French, County Manager, had suggested discussing the Minimum Housing Standards at the February 3, 2003 Commissioners Meeting since there was a very light agenda. However, Chairman Robertson suggested holding a work session separate from the scheduled Commissioners Meeting.
Commissioner Keever suggested meeting with the Planning & Zoning Commission during their regularly scheduled meeting on February 6, 2003. Commissioner Bolick stated that he had planned to be out of town during that time but could work around his schedule to be present at the meeting.
Commissioner Keever suggested holding a work session February 10, 2003 at 6:00 PM at the County Administration Building with the Planning & Zoning Commission. The Board agreed.
APPOINTMENTS AND REAPPOINTMENTS
Chairman Robertson presented the following appointments and reappointments:
Appoint Jan Schoeppler 3 years
Appoint Max Smith 2 years
Appoint Shirley Mayes 2 years
Appoint Bill Shepherd 2 years
Reappoint Janice Jones 3 years
Appoint Sallie Hartis 3 years
Appoint Eric Burgess 3 years
Appoint Crystal Sain 2 years
Appoint Hayden Bentley 2 years
Reappoint Barbara Carrigan 2 years
Reappoint Susie Barkley 2 years
Reappoint Tammy Lippard 1 year
Reappoint Ingrid Townsend 1 year
Reappoint Tony Jones 1 year
Reappoint Rick French 1 year
Reappoint Kimberly Taylor 1 year
Appoint Commissioner Hammer
Appoint Ray Combs 3 years
Reappoint Lloyd Jarvis 1 year
Reappoint Don Harrington 1 year
Reappoint Coy Reese 2 years
Also included were commissioner appointments to:
Chairman Robertson explained that the Board had planned to study all County boards and committees during the time between the last Commissioners Meeting on January 6, 2003 and this meeting but had not done so. Chairman Robertson stated that Commissioner Hammer had agreed to look at the citizens serving on the boards and committees and their length of terms and to also determine if any boards and committees could be eliminated. Chairman Robertson asked Commissioner Hammer to complete this task by the February 3, 2003 Commissioners Meeting.
Commissioner Keever stated that the Board had an interest in reinstating the Solid Waste Task Force and felt that this committee should involve several individuals involved in businesses and County government. Chairman Robertson asked Commissioner Hammer to bring back a recommendation for approximately 7 appointees to the Solid Waste Task Force.
Rick French, County Manager, noted that an appointment for the LEPC Chairmanship was included. Mr. French asked Chairman Robertson if he wanted to move forward with that appointment. Chairman Robertson stated that the current chairman could continue to serve until an official appointment was made on February 3, 2003.
Commissioner Keever made a motion to table the appointments and reappointments until the February 3, 2003 Commissioners Meeting. Commissioner Bolick seconded the motion. The Board voted unanimously in favor of the motion.
BUDGET AMENDMENTS #26-#29
Rick French, County Manager, discussed the purpose of Budget Amendments #26, #27, #28 and #29 which included the following information.
Commissioner Hammer made a motion to approve Budget Amendments #26, #27, #28, and #29 as presented. Commissioner Bolick seconded the motion. The Board voted unanimously in favor of the motion.
The following items were discussed during Other Business:
CLOSED SESSION N.C.G.S. 143-318.11(a)(5 & 6) CONTRACTUAL & PERSONNEL
Commissioner Hammer made a motion to enter into Closed Session at 7:41 PM to discuss contractual matters and personnel issues pursuant to N.C.G.S. 143-318.11(a)(5 & 6). Commissioner Keever seconded the motion. The Board voted unanimously in favor of the motion.
There being no further business, Commissioner Bolick made a motion to adjourn at 8:45 PM. Commissioner Hammer seconded the motion. The Board voted unanimously in favor of the motion.
W. Darrell Robertson, Chairman Jamie C. Millsaps, Clerk to the Board