On Monday, the McDowell County Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted a resolution asking for more local authority in handling the COVID-19 response. The resolution adopted by the board specifically mentions church services that are not taking place and local businesses that are struggling due to the governor’s order.
“It’s time to move on,” said Commission Chairman David Walker. “It’s time to open this place up for business.”
The resolution was adopted at another special Monday meeting by the Board of Commissioners held at the Universal Advanced Manufacturing Center. The commissioners held their weekly meeting with County Manager Ashley Wooten, Social Services Director Lisa Sprouse, County Attorney Fred Coats, Emergency Management Director William Kehler, Finance Director Alison Bell and Clerk to the Board Cheryl Mitchell.
The resolution reads as follows:
“Whereas, McDowell County, the State of North Carolina, and the United States have been impacted greatly by the spread of the novel coronavirus and the associated disease now known as COVID-19; and
Whereas, the McDowell County Board of Commissioners have responded to COVID-19 by declaring a State of Emergency, activating the Emergency Operations Center, and by holding weekly briefings with Emergency Services and Public Health staff; and
Whereas, Emergency Services and Public Health have done an excellent job of providing the Board of Commissioners and the general public information regarding COVID-19; and
Whereas, the Board of Commissioners have taken steps to ensure the health of the employees of McDowell County Government as well as the residents of McDowell County by adjusting operations of county facilities when warranted; and
Whereas, the Board of Commissioners have strongly encouraged the people of McDowell County to practice best practices recommended by the Centers for Disease Control including social distancing; and
Whereas, the Board of Commissioners acknowledge that Governor Roy Cooper has enacted several Executive Orders in response to COVID-19; and
Whereas, these Executive Orders have been applied uniformly across the State of North Carolina regardless of county population size or density; and
Whereas, the Board of Commissioners sent a letter to Governor Cooper on April 21, 2020 requesting that Executive Order 121 be rescinded and that local governments be given authority to decide how to safely reopen their communities; and
Whereas, while the Board of Commissioners believe the impacts of the Executive Orders on personal liberty and the local economy have been tremendous; and
Whereas, the Board of Commissioners acknowledge there has not been a prohibition on worship services in any Executive Order, services are effectively banned due to the maximum gathering limit of ten persons; and
Whereas, all churches are afforded their rights under the North Carolina State Constitution in Article 1: Section 13 — Religious Liberty: All persons have a natural and inalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences, and no human authority shall, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience; and
Whereas, the Board of Commissioners have been contacted by numerous businesses who will struggle to stay in operation if the Executive Orders remain intact.
Now, therefore be it resolved that the McDowell County Board of Commissioners do hereby formally request that Governor Roy Cooper rescind any Executive Order that restricts the ability of local governments to implement appropriate and safe restrictions for their own communities.”
Before adopting this resolution, the commissioners talked about how the governor’s order is affecting small locally owned businesses and there should be more local control. Commissioner Lynn Greene said a barbershop, for example, should be able to open and take care of customers by appointment. But a major retail chain like Walmart can still operate without having customers make appointments.
“Some of our small businesses are not going to survive,” said Greene.
In other business, the commissioners heard a update from Sprouse about the DSS office building. She said Public Services Director Terry DePoyster’s staff has worked to clean the DSS building in preparation for her staff going back to work there around the first of June. The DSS employees are learning new cleaning procedures and will have the option of wearing masks.
“You have weathered the storm and you are performing well,” said Walker to Sprouse.
Kehler also gave the latest numbers about the COVID-19 cases in McDowell. As of Monday, there are 33 positive cases in McDowell. A total of 660 people have been tested and 593 of them came back negative. Thirty-four test results are pending.
Kehler said his agency and others are expanding opportunities for testing in the county. McDowell’s number of positive cases remains low compared to surrounding counties like Burke and Rutherford.
“Our numbers have shown a clear downward trend,” said Kehler to the board. “We have increased our testing. We went eight days without positives.”
If a person wants to be tested, they can call the COVID-19 hotline for more information.
Kehler’s agency is still closely monitoring nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
Along with COVID-19, McDowell Emergency Management is keeping a watch on the forecast for heavy rain this week, which can cause flooding and landslides. This is also EMS Week.
In other business, the McDowell County Commissioners:
Heard a report from Wooten about coronavirus relief for McDowell. Counties in North Carolina will receive $150 million directly in state funding to cover immediate expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic. And of those, McDowell will get $994,465. Wooten said this is not a blank check and it has to be used for an expense related to COVID-19. A decision about how to use this money was not needed on Monday. The county will have to submit a plan by June 1.
Approved an agreement with the city of Marion for the 911 dispatching. Currently, the dispatching staff work in the lower level of the Marion Police Department building. Kehler said 911 dispatching should become its own entity and someday have its own building.
Heard an update about the 2020-21 budget. Wooten said he will present the budget for next fiscal year on Monday, June 1 and a public hearing will be held June 15.