McDowell County Commissioners approve 2017-18 budget

A public hearing for the 2017-2018 budget was held during a regular meeting for the McDowell County Commissioners Monday, which included talk of a potential IT director position in the works.

During Monday’s meeting, the commissioners held a public hearing for the general fund budget and any final items for discussion before approving for the fiscal year. Under the budget of $40,612,169, there are no calls for a property tax rate increase. The county’s property tax rate will stay at 55 cents per $100 valuation, the same rate that it has been since the fiscal year 2004-2005.

The major item for discussion concerning the budget was IT services and the amount paid to outside contractors for work. According to County Manager Ashley Wooten, the average paid out for IT services during the last five years was $66,470. Most departments, according to Wooten, rely on staff with no formal IT training to maintain their computer systems or contract with outside companies. In an effort to minimalize yearly costs, the idea was suggested of an IT director to handle county services, with a starting salary between $40,000 and $45,000, plus insurance, as opposed to outside contracting with hourly rates.

“I like the fact that you can have this person come into your office and you tell them to do without the clock ticking,” said Commissioner Matthew Crawford. “Typically, we’re paying by the hour, and that cost keeps going up each time.”

The board agreed and approved a motion to appoint an IT director position. There were no public comments regarding the 2018 budget, which the board approved after the public hearing was closed. In discussing amendments to the acting 2017 budget, three project ordinances were approved for the jail/courthouse project, the community food hub project and the Universal water line project.

In other business:

• Emergency Services Director William Kehler gave the commissioners an overview of the upcoming EMS Safety Camp, running June 20-22. The camp, according to Kehler, will be in its eighth year and closed registration minutes before Monday’s meeting.

• Library Director Marlan Brinkley spoke in regards to the county library’s summer reading program, while requesting that the commissioners waive late fees on children’s cards in an effort to promote further participation for families concerned about fines. The commissioners agreed to waive fees for the next two months until the end of the program.

• In old business, the commissioners discussed updates on the Catawba River greenway. Qualification statements were received from several engineering/design firms for beginning of Phase III. Staff agreed to choose McGill Associates in Asheville and began work on a contract proposal last week. There are no designs at this time, but there was discussion of a future bridge that would cross Tom Johnson Camping World as well as future trail extensions to the east. A contract will be ready for the July meeting.

• The Board unanimously voted for James Washburn for reappointment to the McDowell Tech Board of Trustees and Larry Lytle for reappointment to the Jury Commission.

• Work has begun on drawing bids for expansion to the McDowell County Courthouse, with plans to add an additional courtroom and replace windows and heating/air systems. Financing on the large portion of the work will need Local Government Commission (LGC) approval, which stops financial requests at the end of August and restarts in January. The board agreed that drawings would not be complete and bids would not be received by the LGC’s August deadline, so bidding will need to be ready by December and financing approval sought in early January. Chairman David Walker ensured on record that, “The Board of Commissioners is not dragging its feet, and we’re going to move forward from this process as soon as possible, while making sure it’s done properly.”

• Plans for a public shooting range in the Ashworth Road area continued as Wooten addressed an email by N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission applauding the board for their efforts. According to Wooten, Wildlife is looking at the best way to access the property’s right-of-way on the road to make sure it suits travel needs.

• Discussion on a water line on Stacy Hill Road in Nebo continued, with the design and permitting process to go underway. Construction on the water line is set to begin no later than August.

• In new business, the commissioners approved the funding for the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council plan, with allocations to include administration, Project Rise, sex offender treatment, temporary shelter and Project Challenge.

• Paving escrow agreements were approved by the board for developers of the Peninsula subdivision. With the board’s approval, funds will be held until paving is complete.

• There were no citizen comments.