Gary L Herman
The Alexander County Board of Commissioners heard a report from Alexander County Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hefner and Sheriff Chris Bowman regarding possible grant funding to assist with providing School Resource Officers (SRO) at five elementary schools which currently do not have an SRO. The school system has applied for a 2022-2023 School Safety Grant from the NC Department of Public Instruction in the amount of $220,000.
The total cost for five additional SROs is $750,000 for the first year. For each new SRO, initial costs would include a fully equipped patrol vehicle for $70,000, $15,000 to fully equip a new officer, and approximately $65,000 for salary and benefits. If the grant is awarded, Alexander County Government would have to provide approximately $530,000 for the first year and an estimated $325,000 annually after the first year. “The safety and security of staff and students on school campuses have always been at the forefront of the minds of parents and citizens alike,” Sheriff Bowman said. “In light of recent events which have occurred across the nation, the importance of having law enforcement resources immediately available during times of crisis on school campuses has become even clearer. With the possibility of this grant funding, now is a good time to address this.”
Sheriff Bowman said the sheriff’s office currently employs four full-time SROs, with two positions at the middle school campuses, one position shared between two elementary school campuses, and one DARE officer that works at all seven elementary schools.
Dr. Hefner informed the board that the grant application was submitted by the August 31st deadline, with the award announcement expected this month.
“We would like to have a full-time School Resource Officer at each elementary school. I’ve been having conversations about this with Sheriff Bowman since early 2021,” Dr. Hefner said. “The Uvalde, Texas situation got our attention and our parents’ attention. We don’t live in the same time as when we were in school. It’s time to have a serious conversation about having an SRO at each school.”
Dr. Hefner said that because Alexander County has been classified as a low-wealth county by NCDPI, the grant is a 4-to-1 matching grant instead. She said the school system can also apply for additional grant funding for 2023-2024.
Commissioner Larry Yoder asked, “What happens if you don’t get the grant? What happens then?” Dr. Hefner replied, “I’ll be back to ask again and again, because this is real.” Vice Chairman Marty Pennell said, “The real question is what price can you put on the safety of the kids of the county? I don’t think you can put a price on that.” “This is a lot of good information and when we hear back from the grant, we’ll meet again and make our plans for moving forward,” said Chairman Ronnie Reese.
In other business:
• Commissioners held a public hearing to allow discussion about the proposed schedule of values to be used for the 2023 revaluation as presented by Tax Administrator Doug Fox and Jimmy Tanner of the Tanner Valuation Group. During the public hearing, a citizen inquired about the revaluation process and how increased property values will negatively impact senior citizens. It was noted that there are state exemptions in place for those who are age 65+ and are permanently disabled. The schedule of values will be presented for adoption at the October 3rd meeting.
• Commissioners approved a resolution in support of Operation Green Light for Veterans, which encourages counties to illuminate buildings with green lights to show support for veterans who are transitioning from active service to civilian life. Alexander County Veterans Service Officer Cherry Kilby presented information about the program to the board. She said the county plans to light up the Alexander County Services Center and Courthouse Park building. Kilby encourages citizens and businesses to join in the initiative to show their support for local veterans by burning a green light during the week of November 7-13. The Operation Green Light program began in New York, was adopted by the National Association of Counties (NACo), which then encouraged counties across the nation to participate.
• Commissioners approved an agreement with the Western Piedmont Council of Governments to provide administrative assistance with the $650,000 Rural Transformation Grant that was awarded to Alexander County by the NC Department of Commerce for the “Housing Our Teachers” project. The project involves the renovation of county-owned property at 16 West Main Avenue, providing ground-floor retail space and two second-floor apartments that will be leased to public school teachers. The WPCOG will receive $32,500 for its services.
• Commissioners approved a resolution to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the NC Administrative Office of the Courts to install cable in the courtrooms necessary to operate audio/video equipment to allow remote proceedings. Alexander County will pay a total of $17,226 as well as any necessary electrical upgrades, with NCAOC covering the cost of the equipment and installation.
• Thomas Mitchell, Social Services Director, presented information regarding the Alexander County DSS grant application for the Enhanced Mobility of Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities Program, which requires a 10 percent local match. Commissioners approved submitting the grant application.
• In the County Manager’s Report, Rick French made note of several upcoming events, including the Hiddenite Celebration of the Arts on September 24, the Vertical Night Challenge on October 1, National Night Out on October 4, a Fleetwood Mac tribute band concert on October 8, the Taylorsville Apple Festival on October 15, the Run for the Dogs on November 5, the Veterans Parade on November 11, and the Christmas Parade on December 3.
CONSOLIDATED HUMAN SERVICES BOARD MEETING
Following the regular commission meeting, the board convened the Consolidated Human Services Board meeting.
• Health Educator Kimberly Edmisten reported that the Alexander County Health Department passed the accreditation process with honors. Edmisten related that state health officials said the accreditation was exceptional, especially considering the pandemic and having new leadership. Since the last accreditation, the health department added an administrative building, expanded the clinical lobby, added three clinic rooms and an immunization room, added a behavioral health clinic, and more. She said the state was also impressed with the commissioners’ role at the Consolidated Human Services Board. Edmisten also reported that the health department will be conducting the 2022 community health assessment survey this fall.
• Emily Vick, Communicable Disease Nurse, presented the 2021 communicable disease report. Besides COVID-19, the top three reported communicable diseases in Alexander County were chlamydia (68 cases), gonorrhea (28 cases), and hepatitis A (12 cases). There were 4,576 cases of COVID-19 in 2021 with 83 deaths reported as a result of the virus. She also noted that the health department will be offering a drive-thru flu shot clinic every Friday in October from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.
• Kristy Hunt, Senior Center Director, said participation numbers are on the rise with 75 people in attendance at the recent ice cream social and 130 people at the recent health fair. She noted that the senior center will celebrate its 30th anniversary on October 7 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. with refreshments, music, socializing, and sharing memories. Hunt said the center continues to save money for local seniors by working with them on finding the best Medicare drug plan. So far in 2022, $147,836 has been saved, with open enrollment beginning in October.
• Thomas Mitchell, Social Services Director, said that DSS vacancies have decreased from 27 percent when he started as director to 12 percent, having hired 17 new employees since June and promoting three employees. He said that produce from a local farmer is available throughout the week free of charge. Mitchell said he has been working with Emergency Management Coordinator Garrett Huffman on emergency shelter preparedness. DSS is also working on improving its playground with a fundraiser to begin in late September. He said the number of children in foster care has decreased from 68 to 63, with 19 children available for adoption.
The next meeting of the Alexander County Board of Commissioners is set for Monday, October 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 www.youtube.com/alexandercountync.