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Commissioners consider consolidating human service agencies

SALISBURY — The Rowan County Board of Commissioners received a variety of plans for consolidating human service agencies at its meeting Tuesday afternoon.

The presentation was a response to a request made by Vice Chairman Jim Greene, whose request came from a concern about a lack of communication between commissioners and the Environmental Health Department, which is housed under the Health Department. Due to employees retiring and, as county officials say, a string of bad hiring decisions earlier this year, the Environmental Health Department has been short-staffed and behind on inspections. 

“We’ve had an issue with environmental services and the time frame of getting inspections done on septic systems was somewhere in the 8-10 week range, which is not acceptable,” Greene said.

The Board of Commissioners approved increased signing bonuses for the department to fill those vacant positions at a meeting last month. That decision appears to have panned out, as almost all of the positions have been filled. New workers will begin to chip away at the backlog this month.

Even though the board seemingly fixed the issue, Greene still wants commissioners to consider plans to ensure that a similar problem doesn’t happen again.

“The county commissioners could not and should not run every aspect of the county,” Greene said. “I never wanted to do away with boards. I wanted to see if we could find ways where we could be more responsive when a problem arose.”

County Manager Aaron Church presented the Board of Commissioners with nine different plans for consolidating agencies. Several of the plans included the Rowan County Board of Commissioners assuming the powers and duties of the health board and social services board, which would then be consolidated.

Commissioner Craig Pierce said he favored option 1C, which would have the Board of Commissioners become the health board and require the formation of a health advisory committee. It would also leave social services separate.

“I just want to make sure we don’t combine social services with the health department,” Pierce said. “I want to keep the health department separate and let the commissioners have control over how it’s run. That, to me, is the efficient area we have with these two departments. DSS has done a great job and I don’t see the need to combine the two.”

Commissioner Mike Caskey voiced his initial support for option 3C, which would have the Board of Commissioners create a consolidated human services agency and assume the power and duties of that board, which would include the health board and social services board. He said that the plan could help prevent issues with Rowan County’s Environmental Health Department becoming understaffed again.

“I’m wondering, since we took these dramatic steps, if we’re taking folks from other counties, is it a matter of time before they do the same thing? I think that’s a good reason for us to have more oversight from the county level,” Caksey said “Once we start taking people, other people are going to take other people and this may give us more oversight if these issues pop up.”

Along with presenting the nine options, Church told commissioners that they could also explore creating a district health department or combined public health authority with Cabarrus County. After discussing the various proposals, commissioners decided not to vote on the plans until a future date in order to give themselves time to determine what plan is best. 

Caskey implored the commissioners to keep consolidation plans at the front of their minds. Pierce said that he’d like to see the proposals on the agenda for the commissioners’ Nov. 2 meeting.

Greene said that the commissioners could eventually decide not to adopt any of the plans if they see the Environmental Health Department continue to turn around.

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