Gary L Herman
The Alexander County Board of Commissioners heard a report on the NC Opioid Settlement Funding from David Moose, Compliance & Procurement Specialist, at the July 17th meeting.
Moose said that in July 2021, NC Attorney General Josh Stein announced a settlement agreement concerning litigation against several pharmaceutical distributors and manufacturers for their role in creating the opioid epidemic. The national settlement totaled $26 billion, with $750 million awarded to North Carolina.
Alexander County joined the settlement and will receive $5,935,178 in settlement funding over the next 18 years (through 2038). Moose said the funding could increase as additional litigation is settled. The funds can only be used for strategies which address the negative impacts that opioid use has had on citizens.
Moose said that Alexander County has received $425,822 to date and is expected to receive $811,663 in fiscal year 2023-2024.
The Alexander County Substance Use Disorder Coalition was formed in early 2022 and was tasked to become a steering committee to identify effective strategies to battle the opioid epidemic in the county.
Moose said the coalition developed a list of proposed strategies for Alexander County, which include post-overdose response to provide follow-up care for overdose patients, early intervention efforts in middle and high schools, transportation for persons in recovery to access medical resources, and services targeting substance use disorder recovery.
Jeff Sigmon, Alexander County EMS Director, presented additional information about the Post-Overdose Response Team (PORT) Coordinator/Community Paramedic. With the increase in drug overdoses and deaths, Sigmon said he believes this is the perfect time to implement the PORT program using Opioid Settlement Funding. He said fentanyl is the biggest culprit in most overdoses, as it is synthetic, less expensive, and more powerful.
Sigmon said that EMS calls for overdoses have greatly increased since the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of fentanyl use, from 62 calls in 2020 to 90 calls in 2022. So far in 2023, there have been 70 overdose calls, which is expected to reach 120 calls by year end.
“In the past 16 ½ months, there have been 21 overdose deaths in Alexander County. That is really eye-opening to the problem we have here,” Sigmon said. “Everyone of us knows someone with an addiction, and EMS has witnessed these overdoses firsthand.”
The PORT Coordinator/Community Paramedic would visit overdose survivors within 24-72 hours to connect them to resources for addiction treatment, recovery support, harm reduction services, primary healthcare, and other support needed to improve the patients’ health and well-being.
Vice Chairman Josh Lail said, “This position will save lives, but will also have a much broader effect.”
Sigmon said the initial cost for the new position would be $202,000, which includes salary and benefits, vehicle, uniform, equipment, and office supplies.
Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution for 2023-2024 to allocate $202,000 of Opioid Settlement Funding for a Post-Overdose Response Team (PORT) Coordinator/Community Paramedic.
County Manager Shane Fox said, “Moving forward with the PORT program is a great first step in battling the opioid epidemic.”
Fox emphasized that no taxpayer dollars are being used for this program.
In other business:
• Ben Willis, Community & Economic Development Director for the Western Piedmont Council of Governments, presented information during a public hearing about the Community Development Block Grant for Economic Development (CDBG-ED) for Paragon Films in Alexander County. The application will be submitted to the NC Department of Commerce and proposes to provide $222,375 to Paragon Films to assist with the construction of a new spur and refurbishment of an existing rail spur at its manufacturing facility in the Alexander Industrial Park. Paragon has pledged 14 new full-time jobs.
• In the County Manager’s Report, Shane Fox said that long-anticipated software will be coming online for planning, zoning, and building inspections which will streamline the permitting process and enhance customer service. He added that inspections have increased substantially over the past year.
Fox said that planning continues for the NC Hwy. 127 widening project. While final plans are not yet approved, right-of-way acquisition is scheduled to begin in March 2024 with construction to begin in March 2026. Construction is expected to take three years, with completion in 2029.
The “Housing Our Teachers” project is proceeding at 16 West Main Avenue in Taylorsville (former Chamber of Commerce building), which is owned by the county. The project includes retail space on the ground floor, with two one-bedroom apartments on the second floor and storage in the basement area. Fox said the contractors did a walk-through on July 6 and July 12. Bids are scheduled to be opened on August 11, with a recommendation to be presented at the September board meeting.
Fox said that plans are about 60 percent complete for the ARPA Water Line Expansion project, which includes 42,000 linear feet of water lines. The project is scheduled for bids in fall/winter 2023. Plans for a water tank in Bethlehem are also underway.
He said that Zirrus/Yadtel should begin installation of fiber-to-the-home broadband service in the next month or two as part of the recently awarded GREAT grant (Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology).
Fox said that plans for a new county courthouse are still in the programming phase. The courthouse committee is scheduled to meet during the first week of August to discuss the project.
He commended all agencies and volunteers that were involved in the search and rescue during the recent flood event. Fox noted that all roads affected by the flood are now open.
• Commissioners approved the following committee appointments/reappointments: Courthouse Committee – appoint Shane Fox; WPCOG Unifour Home Consortium – appoint Shane Fox; Vaya Health Region 3 Board – appoint Shane Fox; Juvenile Crime Prevention Council – Kaitlyn Gansrow (2 years); Consolidated Human Services Advisory Committee – appoint Chris Howes and Vickie Rogers (3 years) and reappoint Barbara Hayes, Dr. Richard Williams, Dr. Jennifer Hull, Betty Long, Macy Jones, Doug Howes, Phillip Sprinkle, and Crystal Adams (3 years).
The next meeting of the Alexander County Board of Commissioners is scheduled for Monday, August 7 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.