McDowell Commissioners move ahead with courthouse renovation, opioid abuse litigation

FILE PHOTO

The McDowell County Commissioners are moving ahead with the ongoing renovations of the courthouse, completed in 1923, and the County Administration Building, completed in 1976.

McDowell County is moving forward with the renovation and upgrades for both the courthouse and the County Administration Building.

On Monday, the McDowell County Commissioners talked again about this ongoing effort. The county is now waiting for approval from the state’s Local Government Commission regarding the financing for the project. This waiting period comes after the commissioners recently approved a contractor for the work.

At a special meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 27, the commissioners considered the bidding and the financing for remaining upgrades for the courthouse and County Administration Building. The project’s scope will include the replacement of windows in the courthouse, the replacement of the heating and cooling systems with more modern and efficient units and the building of the third courtroom.

Other improvements planned consist of updated carpeting and lighting in court offices and the relocation of a lower level restroom inside the courthouse. The administration building will have the top parking deck repaired to eliminate leaks. In addition, the exterior of the courthouse will be cleaned and the administration building will be cleaned and painted, according to County Manager Ashley Wooten.

At the Feb. 27 meeting, the commissioners awarded the project to Beam Construction of Cherryville, which submitted the low bid of $6,662,300. The commissioners voted unanimously to finance $5,654,000 of that amount with BB&T over a 15-year period.

The remainder of the cost will be paid from the county’s fund balance, which is the undesignated part of the county budget set aside for unforeseen problems or events.

Now, the county is waiting for the Local Government Commission to give its approval for the financing package. The LGC will meet on April 10 to consider it, said Wooten on Monday.

County officials said this project will improve both buildings.

“We’re thinking long term as a board,” said Commission Chairman David Walker.

At Monday’s meeting, the commissioners also agreed unanimously for McDowell County to take part in a statewide lawsuit over opioid abuse. This legal action will be taken against several manufacturers, distributors and associated firms connected with opioid abuse and addiction.

The impact from this problem has been felt in the Department of Social Services, McDowell EMS, the Sheriff’s Office and by the state agencies including the court system and the probation and parole offices, said county officials.

Wooten said several counties around the state have hired law firms to represent them in a legal action over this problem. “The basis for the lawsuit is that those companies have not been monitoring the amount of drugs that have been introduced to those communities, therefore creating a public health crisis,” reads a memo from Wooten.

A consortium of legal firms has offered to represent McDowell County. Walker, Commissioner Matthew Crawford, Commissioner Lynn Greene, County Attorney Fred Coats and Wooten have met with their representatives on several occasions. The legal firms are offering to represent communities in the lawsuit for a percentage of any damages awarded. The fee would be 25 percent, plus expenses. “They make it clear no county funds would be sought in the event of a favorable or unfavorable ruling,” reads a memo from Wooten.

This would be similar to the landmark multi-billion dollar settlement reached between four of the biggest tobacco companies and 46 states in the late 1990s. That resulted in the establishment of the Golden LEAF Foundation in North Carolina.

“There’s heavyweights pursuing these cases,” said Coats to the board.

The commissioners voted unanimously to approve a resolution about the opioid crisis and take part in this legal action.

“Our children are suffering because of this and the only way to stop the suffering is to cut it off at the head,” said Greene.

In addition, the commissioners approved Monday a lease with Foothills Industries that will provide office space for the county’s new Transportation Department. This office will be located at 302 Rockwell Drive in the county’s industrial park. Both Transportation Director Randall Conley and Maintenance Director Terry DePoyster looked at the available office space at Foothills Industries and recommended it for the new department’s use.

The lease is $9,535 per year and a portion of that amount will be paid with N.C. Department of Transportation money.

“I’m proud to see the transportation system up and running,” said Commissioner Tony Brown to Conley.

In other business, the McDowell County Commission:

• Heard a presentation about the upcoming Senior Games from Brenda Monosso. The event will take place in April and May and is open to people 50 and older.

• Heard a presentation from Emergency Services Director William Kehler about the many activities of McDowell EMS. “We’re seeing a decline in call volume and helicopter usage is down,” said Kehler. In October 2017, the EMS reached seven years without a lost time incident. Kehler talked about how the community care program has reduced the number of transports by paramedics of people to the hospital’s Emergency Department. This has saved lives and cut down on the department’s time and costs. Kehler also introduced some of the high school interns with the EMS.

• Held a public hearing about the county’s watershed ordinance. The county has had a watershed ordinance for many years that covers the Buck Creek area around the city of Marion’s intake. The ordinance must now be revised to include the section of the county that is now considered part of the Lake James watershed. After the hearing, the commissioners voted to approve the revised ordinance.

• Heard an overview of the dams that exist in the Muddy Creek watershed, as presented by Evan Crawley with the McDowell Soil and Water Conservation District. Several decades ago, several flood control dams were constructed watershed and they were designed and built to reduce the frequency of flooding in those areas. The county is responsible for the maintenance of these structures. The McDowell Soil and Water Conservation District supervises the maintenance work. Crawley talked about the dams so the commissioners would have an understanding of the responsibility the county has in maintaining them for future generations.

• Heard another update about the proposed shooting range. On Tuesday, Feb. 27 Commissioner Brown and county staff attended a meeting of the state Wildlife Resources Commission Lands Committee. The committee discussed the proposed shooting range on county property. County officials said the committee was very positive about moving forward. The committee did ask state Wildlife Resources Commission staff and the county to seek additional money from other sources to help with the project costs, specifically the entrance road. A request for assistance has been made to N.C. Sen. Ralph Hise’s office as well as to state DOT representatives.

• Heard an update about the Stacy Hill Road water line project. The construction bids were opened on March 1 and the lowest bid was approximately $1.3 million, which is higher than the estimated cost of approximately $1 million. The engineer for this project is currently reviewing the bids and will make suggestions on bringing the cost down.

• Heard an update on the county’s section of the Catawba River greenway. Thanks to the state funding, the trail length is now planned to run for about a mile from Old Greenlee Road to Roby Conley Road. Due to the additional design, permitting, and supervision, the engineer for this effort gave the county a contract for the additional work, which is expected to cost $113,640. A large portion of that is flood modeling/permitting that is required due to the construction of a bridge over Nix Creek, according to Wooten.

• Approved hiring the engineering firm of Withers and Ravenel to design the replacement bridge at the greenway which runs along Spaulding Road.

• Took action on the use of county-owned land at the Universal site. The document approved Monday gives the Board of Commissioners control over parcels that may be carved out of the large county-owned tract.

• Heard from two people during the citizen comment portion of the meeting. Marilyn Foreman and Ramona DeAngelus both spoke to the commissioners about the welfare of animals in McDowell. DeAngelus asked them to consider having volunteers help at the Animal Shelter.

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