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BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS 

ALEXANDER COUNTY

SPECIAL CALLED MEETING

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA

June 14, 2004

PRESENT: W. Norris Keever, Chairman
William L. Hammer, Vice-Chairman
Wesley E. Bolick
Joel C. Harbinson
W. Darrell Robertson
STAFF: Rick French, County Manager
Jamie Starnes, Clerk to the Board
MEDIA: Gary Herman, The Taylorsville Times
Norris Keever, WACB Radio

 

The Alexander County Board of Commissioners held a special called meeting on Monday, June 14, 2004 in the Catawba Valley Community College / Alexander Center Multipurpose Room, Taylorsville, North Carolina.

CALL TO ORDER

Chairman Keever called the meeting to order at 6:00 PM.

RECOGNITION OF FLAG DAY

Commissioner Hammer recognized June 14th as Flag Day and he thanked all the citizens for being patriotic and flying the American Flag, especially during the loss of 40th President Ronald Reagan. 

INVOCATION & PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE

Commissioner Hammer gave the invocation and also led the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag.

***SPECIAL RECOGNITION***

Chairman Keever recognized Russell Greene, Fire Marshal, for his completion of the School of Government’s County Administration Course.

Mr. Greene stated that the course covered all aspects of county government from Social Services to utilities.  Mr. Greene stated that he learned a lot from the instructors and he recommended the program for other department heads.

The Board members conveyed their appreciation for Mr. Greene’s completion of the course.

ADOPTION OF AGENDA

Commissioner Robertson made a motion to adopt the agenda as presented.  Commissioner Hammer seconded the motion.  The Board voted unanimously in favor of the motion.

REVIEW OF 2004-2005 ALEXANDER COUNTY BUDGET

Rick French, County Manager, presented the proposed 2004-2005 budget, which included the following:

        General Fund budget of $24,433,130

        Tax rate of $0.465 at a 95% collection rate 

        Consolidated communications project

        New County garage

        Full-time Economic Development Director

        New ambulance for EMS

        3 new patrol cars for Sheriff’s Department

        New van for Transportation

        Debt for DSS addition totaling $119,000

        Debt for auditorium and field house totaling $587,000

        $4.5 million to Alexander County School System

        2.5% cost of living increase for County employees, effective August 2, 2004

        Pre-Trial Release Program funding of $24,317

        Chamber of Commerce funding of $12,000

        Register of Deeds equipment lease

        Community Grant funding of $10,000

        Medicaid increase of $170,000

        5% water rate increase per thousand gallons

Mr. French stated that there weren’t many new tax dollars included in the budget since growth was less than 1.4%.  He also stated that staff was tracking sales tax very closely and he noted that those numbers seemed to be improving.

Mr. French informed the Board that debt would be increasing from $1,289,349 for the 2003-2004 budget to $1,758,600 for the proposed 2004-2005 budget.  Mr. French stated that most of the debt was for school projects leaving the County’s portion of debt increasing from $205,075 to $316,250.  Mr. French stated that 911 funds would stay the same for a total budget of $267,503.  A water rate increase of 5% is proposed increasing the rate per thousand from $2.66 to $2.79 with no change in the minimum.  Mr. French reported that the increase was to help the County grow its system and address some water extension concerns.  Mr. French stated that fire tax rates would remain the same as in 2003-2004 for all fire departments.  He also stated that there were no fee increases proposed in the Solid Waste Fund totaling $1,357,207.

Commissioner Bolick discussed the Water Fund and inquired as to what the Transfer to Other Funds line item, which was a sizable amount, was used for.  Mr. French stated that those funds were used to cover costs that weren’t covered in the water fund.  He explained that there were no employees budgeted in the Water Fund and that most of the water issues were handled through the Fire Marshal’s Office.

REVIEW OF 2004-2005 PROJECTS

Rick French, County Manager, discussed several of the projects proposed for the 2004-2005 budget.  He stated that the County garage would begin in the old Monitech building and he noted that the building would provide 2 bays and sufficient office space for records and storage.  Mr. French stated that the Automotive Mechanic position had been filled.  He also pointed out that the new employee had 30 years experience and was certified to perform state inspections.  Mr. French felt confident that this project would begin on July 6, 2004.

Mr. French stated that the consolidated 911 Communications budget totaled $293,204 and included 3 new employees.  Mr. French also noted that one employee would be moved from the Sheriff’s Department into 911 Communications and he stated that the project was to begin July 1, 2004.  Mr. French stated that there was a great need for a new console and other equipment because the current equipment was very outdated.  He felt that this was an area that needed to be considered as more revenue was accumulated.

Hayden Bentley, Sheriff, was present at the meeting and made several comments about the consolidated 911 Communications system as well as the Sheriff’s Department budget.  The discussion was as follows:

Mr. Bentley stated that the consolidation of the communications system would cause a total reorganization of the Sheriff’s Department and remove one employee.   He also felt that the consolidation would cut services.  Mr. Bentley explained that once consolidated, 100 to 150 calls would be transferred from 911 Communications to the Sheriff’s Office, which allowed more possibilities for mistakes to be made.   Mr. Bentley also felt that the consolidated system could not take effect July 1, 2004 because the trained personnel and the needed equipment would not be in place.  Mr. Bentley stated that he simply wanted to go on record stating that he objected to the consolidation.

Mr. Bentley discussed the salary line item within the Sheriff’s Department budget, which he felt was $41,651 less than it needed to be.  Mr. Bentley explained that by taking the base salary of each employee, adding in benefits provided by the County, and subtracting what had actually been budgeted showed a shortage of $35,586.  Mr. Bentley stated that another $6,065 was needed to cover training for employees which equaled approximately 20 hours per person that was covered by part-time employees.  Mr. Bentley felt that this line item needed to be increased in the case that an employee should happen to use the benefits provided to them by the County and he requested that the Finance Committee review these figures once more to determine if any adjustments could be made.

Mr. French stated that the budget proposed had been based on the current budget as well as the fact that only one employee would be transferred from the Sheriff’s Office to 911 Communications instead of 4 employees, which was originally proposed.

Commissioner Harbinson compared the 2003-2004 Sheriff’s Department budget with the proposed 2004-2005 budget and pointed out that there was an $80,000 reduction proposed.  Mr. French explained that $75,000 had been removed from the Sheriff’s Department budget for automobiles as well at $50,000 for the maintenance and repair of vehicles due to the development of the new County garage.  Mr. French replied that there would actually be an increase in the Sheriff’s Department budget when comparing the current budget with the proposed budget.

Commissioner Harbinson asked Mr. Bentley how many officers were on staff during the weekends.  Mr. Bentley replied that 2 officers were on staff during the day and 3 at night during the weekends, which he noted was not enough coverage for the county.  Mr. Bentley explained that one officer worked the upper part of the county and one worked the lower part of the county.  He stated that a part-time officer was called in if both officers were involved in a serious situation.

Commissioner Bolick asked how many officers were on staff during the week.  Mr. Bentley replied that 3 officers were usually on staff during the day. 

Commissioner Bolick asked if Homeland Security could address the need for more officers.  Mr. Bentley replied that most Homeland Security funding was not specified for officers.

Mr. Bentley discussed the need for deputies by giving the Board an example of a domestic violence call where children were in the home.  Mr. Bentley explained that an officer had to remain at the residence until a DSS social worker arrived, which could take up to 4 or 5 hours.  Mr. Bentley also stated that officers were taken off the road for 2 to 3 hours when making an arrest due to the paperwork involved.

Commissioner Bolick asked how many officers worked on lake patrol.  Mr. Bentley replied that the Sheriff’s Department had only patrolled Lake Hickory 3 times this year.  He explained that a part-time officer was called in to take the place of the full-time officer while he was on lake patrol.

Commissioner Harbinson asked Mr. Bentley what he felt he needed to be able to run the Sheriff’s Department efficiently.  Mr. Bentley responded that he needed 4 officers on duty during nights – 2 officers in the upper part of the county and 2 in the lower part.  Mr. Bentley stated that this would allow for one officer to remain on staff to answer calls if another officer made an arrest and he also noted that additional officers could provide assistance for domestic calls instead of one officer having to answer the call alone.  Mr. Bentley also explained that EMS could not respond to a shooting or a stabbing until an officer arrived on the scene, which increased valuable response time.

Mr. Bentley informed the Board that Alexander County had a Sheriff’s Department staff of 33 personnel for a population of 34,000.  He stated that Wilkes County had a population of over 64,000 and had 107 Sheriff’s Department employees.  Chairman Keever noted that Wilkes County was much larger than Alexander County.  Mr. Bentley agreed but noted that Wilkes County also included the Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro Police Departments which provided more law enforcement officers.

Commissioner Hammer asked if investigators could answer calls if needed.  Mr. Bentley stated that there were 3 investigators that could respond to calls if they were available.  However, he noted that the investigators worked on a regular schedule and were out of the office working in other counties most of the time.

Commissioner Harbinson asked Mr. Bentley what problems he foresaw with a consolidated communications system.  Mr. Bentley stated that he expected a major problem with accurate record keeping.  He also stated that he was concerned that citizens calling 911 would not be given the correct information because the dispatchers would not have law enforcement training.  He also mentioned that no one would be in the office to meet people face to face when entering the Sheriff’s Department after hours.  Mr. Bentley stated that the 911 Communications Center would be allowed to keep records involving criminal history, driver’s license information, etc. instead of the Sheriff’s Department but he noted that he would be responsible for those records if a mistake was made, which he felt was a great possibility.  Mr. Bentley explained that with the consolidation, one of the 2 jailers staffed would have to run records and greet the public coming into the Sheriff’s Department, leaving only one jailer to watch over 30 plus inmates.  Mr. Bentley stated that most other agencies had a desk sergeant on staff after hours to meet the public which Alexander County did not have.  Mr. Bentley also noted that the arrest warrant process would take much longer with the new system.

Mr. Bentley stated that the consolidation looked good on paper but he felt that there were not enough people on staff to make the consolidation work effectively.

Commissioner Hammer disagreed with Mr. Bentley’s comments and stated that all new projects ran into problems in the beginning.  Commissioner Hammer gave an example of the new County garage and he stated that staff would run into some problems that would have to be addressed.  Commissioner Hammer felt that the consolidation would be more effective than the current system and would also provide more security for the courthouse.  He also noted that more staff would be considered if it was determined that more was needed in the future.

Mr. Bentley stated that the difference in a County garage and a 911 communications system was that you weren’t dealing with people’s lives.  Mr. Bentley made the comment that he was not aware of any Board member ever visiting the communications center to see for themselves how it really worked and what really went on there.

Mr. Bentley also discussed the Board’s wishes for courthouse security.   Chairman Keever stated that the Board did not want individuals simply walking into the courthouse after hours.  He stated that a camera should be placed outside the building to allow staff to determine if that person could access the building through doors that would remain locked until access was granted.  Commissioner Robertson stated that authorized personnel such as the Sheriff or officers could have direct access to the building, just not individuals off the street.

Commissioner Harbinson asked how private warrants would be handled.   Mr. Bentley stated that he assumed the individual would have to buzz in at the locked door to inform staff why they were there before the doors could be unlocked and the individual let into the building.

Chairman Keever suggested putting the entire system under Mr. Bentley.   Commissioner Bolick asked Mr. Bentley if he was objecting to taking total control over the communications system.  Mr. Bentley replied that he was only objecting to the consolidation.

Commissioner Robertson agreed that the consolidation would not be ready to implement July 1, 2004 because of the equipment needs.  Commissioner Robertson also felt that this project needed to be monitored and that the Board needed to be kept informed on how the system was operating on a quarterly basis so that it could be determined if the system was working well.  Commissioner Robertson felt that this should be determined as part of the budget ordinance when adopted.

Commissioner Bolick felt that the Sheriff’s Department should be top priority and he noted that more funding could be appropriated to the Sheriff’s Department if sales tax revenues increased.

Chairman Keever stated that details of the project would have to be worked out and he noted that the Board would evaluate the needs as the project progressed.

Mr. French discussed a Water Production Study recently completed for the City of Hickory, the City of Newton, and Catawba County.  Mr. French stated that the study examined those systems and how they worked with Alexander County.  Based on the study and current operations, the City of Newton’s cost of water production is twice that of the City of Hickory on a cost per thousand basis.  Mr. French stated that Newton’s cost was projected to be 25% to 35% higher than Hickory and he noted that Hickory’s water plant was at 32 million gallons per day where Newton’s plant was only at 8 million gallons per day.  Mr. French also pointed out that the study looked at the water demands for the area until the year 2020.

Mr. French stated that the Antioch Church Road water line testing was completed on June 3, 2004 and he noted that residents could contact the City of Hickory for tap and connection information.  Mr. French informed the Board that the Liledoun Road CDBG water project was being wrapped up and he stated that grant announcements would be received in August for the Ellendale grant application to the Rural Center

Mr. French stated that staff had been working with McGill Associates regarding future projects, especially in the Rocky Springs / Rocky Face area.  Mr. French explained that McGill Associates had recommended the Sugar Loaf system be strengthened to achieve success in the Rocky Springs / Rocky Face area.  Projects to be prioritized to accomplish the strengthening include installing a water line on Wilkesboro Extension, installing a water line on Walker Foundry Road, replacing a section of 6-inch water line on Little River Church Road, reworking the pump station on Little River Church Road to allow water flow to the McDuffie Court tank, constructing a connection between Highway 16 North and Old Wilkesboro Road, and connecting a 12-inch line on Three Forks Church Road to Highway 16 North via Highway 90.

CONSIDERATION OF 2004-2005 ALEXANDER COUNTY BUDGET ORDINANCE

Chairman Keever presented the 2004-2005 Alexander County Budget Ordinance for consideration.

Commissioner Robertson made a motion to adopt the 2004-2005 Alexander County Budget Ordinance as presented.  Commissioner Hammer seconded the motion.

Chairman Keever called for any further discussions from the Board.

Commissioner Harbinson stated that this was his 6th and final year of handling the County budget and he noted that he was in the majority of the Board the first 4 years and in the minority the last 2 years.  He stated that the County budget was always a very tough process to go through and he noted that the Board was always criticized.  He pointed out that he, along with John Watts and David Odom, were criticized 2 years ago by some people currently sitting on the Board because of the budget that was approved and he noted that those individuals had said that the Board “needed to get a grip on county spending.” 

Commissioner Harbinson commended the current Board for maintaining a tax rate of 46.5 cents; however, he stated that he, Mr. Watts, and Mr. Odom were criticized by those individuals 2 years ago when that tax rate was set for “overtaxing the people of the county.”   Commissioner Harbinson felt that it was ironic that the same tax rate had been used the last 2 years by the majority.  Commissioner Harbinson stated that the 2002-2003 budget included expenditures of $21,591,668 but he pointed out that the 2004-2005 proposed budget included expenditures of $24,433,130 which equaled a 13% increase in expenditures over the last 2 years.

Commissioner Harbinson stated that County debt was another area that he, Mr. Watts, and Mr. Odom were criticized about in the past and he pointed out that it had been stated that they were “putting the County in terrible financial shape.”  He stated that $1,453,753 in debt was paid 2 years ago when he was in the majority from funds coming from general revenues such as property taxes.  He pointed out that the amount had more than doubled to $3.2 million for the new auditorium, field house, and the DSS expansion for 2004-2005.  He again stated that he found it ironic that he, Mr. Watts, and Mr. Odom was criticized for the prison that would provide approximately 500 jobs; yet, the DSS expansion will cost about the same and provide no jobs.  He stated that the new CVCC / Alexander Campus cost County taxpayers less than what the field house would cost.  Commissioner Harbinson stated that it was these things that he had a problem with, which is why he didn’t feel that this Board had achieved “getting a grip on county spending.”

Commissioner Harbinson stated that $589,000 (or $1,600 per day) of sales tax revenues for the 2004-2005 year would be spent to pay for an auditorium and field house and he pointed out that the loan for the DSS expansion over 15 years would have a total payback of $7.74 million.  He explained that $7.74 million divided by the 34,000 citizens in the county over 15 years equaled the typical family of 4 paying over $1,000 just on that loan. 

Commissioner Harbinson conveyed his displeasure with the continued reduction in funding for local education.  He stated that Alexander County had the lowest per pupil funding in the state as well as the lowest scores and highest dropout rate when he was elected to the Board in 1998.  Therefore, he, Mr. Watts, and Mr. Odom increase the funding for local education to $3.3 million and then later to $4.72 million, which he explained was the result in teacher supplements being increased from 1% to 6%.  Commissioner Harbinson stated that the funding for local education was decreased for the first time in history last year under the current Board’s tenure to $4.5 million and he noted that the same amount was proposed for the 2004-2005 year, which was $440,000 less than 2 years ago when he was sitting in the majority.

Commissioner Harbinson discussed another concern he had with the budget which was water line expansion.  He pointed out that no funding was budgeted last year for water line expansion nor was any funding proposed for 2004-2005.  Commissioner Harbinson found it ironic that some individuals on the current Board ran on a political platform of getting water to everyone in the county; however, no funding was budgeted for that water.  Commissioner Harbinson stated that during his tenure in the majority, along with Mr. Watts and Mr. Odom, the County received over $2 million in grants for water line expansion.  He stated that the County had not received any grant funding under the current Board’s administration but he noted that water bills had increased 8% this year and would increase 5% during the next fiscal year if the budget was approved as recommended.

Commissioner Harbinson stated that the Solid Waste Enforcement Office was created during the current year’s budget process to house a “trash cop” with a budget of $34,099.  He stated that this department was located in the Health Department instead of at the Solid Waste Department where it should be.  He also pointed out that this employee took almost 60 days of sick leave within the 2003-2004 budget year, which was the equivalent of 3 months that this one person department was closed during the year.  Commissioner Harbinson felt it was a shame that this department was even being considered after hearing the needs at the Sheriff’s Department from Sheriff Bentley.

Commissioner Harbinson stated that the last area he had a problem with and the reason he would be voting against this budget was the gate entry fee or “trash tax” that was put into effect at the convenience centers during the last budget process.  Commissioner Harbinson stated that it took less than a penny on the tax rate to keep the citizens from having to pay that fee, which now cost citizens over $100 a year if they used the convenience center once a week.  Commissioner Harbinson stated that people that used the convenience centers the most were the people located in the most rural areas of the county and were the last people to get roads and water.  He felt that the least the Board could do for those people would be to allow them to throw out their trash for free. 

Commissioner Harbinson commended the Board for handling the tough issues that every board does.   He stated that each Board member had different perspectives and priorities and he simply stated that these were his.  He thanked Rick French and Jennifer Herman for their work on preparing the budget as they were instructed.

Commissioner Robertson stated that the Board controlled the ad valorem taxes which generated approximately $9 million in revenues.  He stated that the tax rate had remained the same for several reasons including the fact that growth had not increased as much as expected, which hurt the revenue side of the equation.  He also noted that the Board was trying to increase the fund balance from 2.1% to 8%.  Commissioner Robertson stated that the DSS expansion would not generate any new jobs as Commissioner Harbinson pointed out but he noted that the expansion was desperately needed to improve working conditions at DSS.  He also stated that construction and interest rates were at an all time low which benefited the County rather than waiting until later to proceed with the project.   Commissioner Robertson stated that the placement of the gate fee at the convenience centers had generated approximately $200,000 in revenues for the County.  He stated that he agreed that citizens in the more rural areas of the county used the convenience sites more but he noted that one cent on the tax rate would greatly affect the farmers who have higher land values in lower populated areas.  Commissioner Robertson stated the he understood the points made by Commissioner Harbinson but he felt that no budget would ever be perfect and would address every single issue that needed to be addressed.

Commissioner Hammer addressed Commissioner Harbinson’s comments regarding the Solid Waste Enforcement Office and clarified that the employee’s correct title was Solid & Hazardous Waste Inspector instead of “trash cop.”  Commissioner Hammer reviewed a report provided by the Solid & Hazardous Waste Inspector for activities taken place over the last 13 or 14 months, which included 261 complaint investigations, 288 follow-up site investigations, and 803 conclusive contacts.  Commissioner Hammer also stated that the Sheriff had the same amount of jailers on staff for the last several years and he pointed out that he never received additional jailers under the previous administration.

Chairman Keever felt that the County’s hands would be tied somewhat until the sales tax revenues were improved and he noted that more sales tax would be produced if the economy improved.   Chairman Keever addressed Commissioner Harbinson’s comments regarding some individuals on the Board running on the platform of getting water to everyone in the county by clarifying that those individuals ran on an idea of presenting a plan for expansion of water lines, which he stated would take anywhere from 2 to 5 years.  He pointed out that engineers were working on that plan at the present time.  Chairman Keever also thanked Mr. French and Ms. Herman for their work on the budget.

Commissioner Bolick thanked Mr. French and Ms. Herman for preparing the budget as well as the department heads for always accepting the budget as approved.  Commissioner Bolick stated that the Board had applied for numerous grants for water lines but he noted that grants were not available like they were when Commissioner Harbinson was in the majority.  He also stated that he referred to the “trash tax” as a user tax and felt that people that wanted to use the convenience center should have to pay for that service.

Commissioner Robertson encouraged those looking to Raleigh for their next political appointment to seriously consider urging the General Assembly to assume full responsibility for Medicaid reimbursements.  Commissioner Robertson stated many other things could be addressed if that funding could remain in the county.

There being no further discussion, the Board voted 4 in favor of the motion (Commissioners Bolick, Hammer, Keever, and Robertson) and one against the motion (Commissioner Harbinson).  The motion carried.

CANCELLATION OF JUNE 21, 2004 COMMISSIONERS’ MEETING

Chairman Keever stated that staff felt that the meeting scheduled for June 21, 2004 need not be held since the additional meeting to adopt the budget had been held tonight. 

Commissioner Hammer made a motion to cancel the June 21, 2004 Commissioners’ Meeting.   Commissioner Harbinson seconded the motion.   The Board voted unanimously in favor of the motion.

Chairman Keever informed everyone that the next meeting would not be held until July 26, 2004.

RESOLUTION IN SUPPORT OF AMENDMENT ONE SELF-FINANCING BONDS

Chairman Keever presented a Resolution in Support of Amendment One Self-Financing Bonds for consideration.  Chairman Keever explained that the tax revenue developed by future development would pay off these bonds.

Commissioner Hammer made a motion to approve the resolution.  Commissioner Bolick seconded the motion.  The Board voted unanimously in favor of the motion.

OTHER BUSINESS

Rick French, County Manager, discussed the following issues during Other Business:

A.      The Foothills Area Program Board approved Universal Mental Health as provider for outpatient services in Alexander County.  Mr. French stated that notices had been sent to all facilities.

B.      Mr. French requested that several pieces of equipment and various lamp posts and globes be declared as surplus.

Commissioner Robertson made a motion to declare the items as surplus as requested.  Commissioner Bolick seconded the motion.  The Board voted unanimously in favor of the motion.

CLOSED SESSION – N.C.G.S. 143-318.11(a)(1, 5, & 6)  TO PREVENT DISCLOSURE OF CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION, CONTRACTUAL, & PERSONNEL

Commissioner Bolick made a motion to enter into Closed Session at 7:29 PM to prevent the disclosure of confidential information as well as to discuss contractual matters and personnel issues pursuant to N.C.G.S. 143-318.11(a)(1, 5, & 6).  Commissioner Robertson seconded the motion.  The Board voted unanimously in favor of the motion.

ADJOURNMENT

There being no further business, Commissioner Robertson made a motion to adjourn at 8:08 PM.   Commissioner Bolick seconded the motion.   The Board voted unanimously in favor of the motion.

 

                                                                                                           

W. Norris Keever, Chairman         Jamie M. Starnes, Clerk to the Board