Commissioners fund overdose response team, adopt plan to gain ADA compliance at county facilities

Published 9:55 pm Tuesday, December 7, 2021

SALISBURY — In what was a busy last scheduled meeting of 2021, the Rowan County Board of Commissioners on Monday allocated funding for an overdose prevention program and adopted a plan to make the county’s facilities more accessible to people with disabilities.

Post Overdose Response Team will continue to operate with new funding

Standing in front of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners on Monday evening, Health Director Alyssa Harris requested a year’s worth of funding for the Post Overdose Response Team. Housed in the Health Department, PORT works to prevent overdoses in Rowan County by providing services and support to those who may be at risk of overdosing and those that already have. 

The team was created in 2019 as a local response to the opioid epidemic. Its three members have had their hands full over the past year and a half responding to the exponential increase in overdoses and overdose deaths since the onset of the pandemic. Since the pandemic began, the number of overdoses that the PORT team has responded to has more than doubled, from 141 calls pre-COVID to 333 calls post-COVID. Almost 50 Rowan Countians have died of overdoses this year alone.

With its funding set to expire at the end of this month, the PORT team came to the board seeking $240,390 to fund the program through 2022. The requested money was to come from American Rescue Plan funding and would be enough for the department to keep its current staff and hire a fourth team member to handle the influx of cases.

In addition to Harris’ presentation to commissioners, PORT Peer Support Specialist Ashley Creek shared testimonies collected from some of the people the program has helped. One individual who used PORT’s services came in person to speak about the value of the program. He shared his struggles with drug and alcohol use with commissioners and said the PORT program, and specifically Creek’s support, saved his life and helped set him on a path toward recovery.

Chairman Greg Edds said the testimony took more courage than any public comment he’s heard since joining the board.

While commissioners did not choose to fund the program through the end of 2022, they did vote to allocate $123,000 in ARP funding to keep the program running through June. Edds said he wanted to fund the program for only six months instead of the requested 12 because he believes there is a larger community discussion about healthcare in Rowan County that could impact the PORT team.

Edds was intentionally vague about what the “discussion” is and what it could mean, but Commissioner Judy Klusman said a group of local healthcare leaders are uniting to brainstorm a new system to help people in crisis, which could include those battling opioid addictions. Klusman said she could not share more than that, but believes the discussions will yield something more tangible in early 2022.

Board adopts plan to bring county facilities into ADA compliance

Along with funding PORT for six more months, commissioners adopted an 11-year plan that will bring Rowan County’s facilities in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The act was initially passed in 1990 and revised in 2010. It is meant to provide regulations to prevent discrimination based on disability.

The plan was presented to commissioners by John McGovern from the WT Group, a national engineering consulting firm contracted by the county. The plan has three phases and calls for $6.1 million in improvements. It also identified approximately 3,600 “access deficits” at 47 county sites that are not in compliance with the ADA regulations. The WT Group developed a solution for each deficit, although not each individual deficit will necessarily need to be corrected.

The plan recommends starting off with easy-to-accomplish tasks that can be completed by current county employees and then moving on to more complex upgrades. McGovern encouraged the board to set aside funding each year to tackle a few ADA improvements.

Also on the agenda:

• The Rowan County Board of Commissioners on Monday approved an incentive grant for a project that could create 40 jobs in the next two years and bring $10.5 million in facility improvements and new equipment.

The company behind “Project Excelsior” is an existing manufacturer in Rowan County considering expanding one of its current facilities or establishing a new facility somewhere in the Southeast. If Rowan County is chosen, 85% of the 40 new jobs would be in production and logistics categories. Physical improvements related to the expansion would be completed by the end of 2023.

The company previously received a level one grant from the Board of Commissioners, which has the county return 75% of a company’s paid taxes for five years. The company behind “Project Excelsior” has not yet finished the term on its previously awarded grant.

Commissioners on Monday approved amending the original five-year deal to extend its term by two years. During the two additional years, the company would receive a grant equal to only 33% of the new taxes paid.

Modeled with a 10-year horizon, Rowan County is projected to receive an estimated $549,189 of new revenue from “Project Excelsior” after the investment grant is disbursed.

• The board last month approved distributing $1.25 million in American Rescue Plan Funding to the county’s 25 non-municipal fire districts as well as the Rowan County Rescue Squad. Rowan County’s non-municipal fire departments will still each receive $50,000 in funding from the county, but the source of the funding has been changed. Commissioners on Monday made a motion to instead use money from its Article 46 sales tax fund rather than ARPA funding. Article 46 is a local sales tax option that allows governments to “levy a local sales and use tax at a rate of one-quarter percent.”

County Manager Aaron Church said the Article 46 sales tax is reserved for public safety expenses. The county planned to use a portion of those funds to help construct a new hangar for the N.C. Highway Patrol at the Mid-Carolina Regional Airport, but Church said those funds are no longer needed for that project because the airport was allotted $5 million in the state budget. As a result, the county decided to use some of the Article 46 funds for the fire departments.

• The board also approved a work authorization contract with Talbert, Bright and Ellington for the company to design and bid the new hangar development at the airport, which will feature a corporate hangar and three box hangars in addition to the safety hangar. The overall cost of the services will be about $1.27 million.

• Commissioners unanimously voted to have Greg Edds and Jim Greene remain chair and vice chair of the board in 2022.

• The board set its annual planning retreat for Jan. 18 at noon. The retreat gives commissioners an opportunity to discuss their goals and plan for budgeting. The retreat will take place at the Rowan County Administration Building and will be followed by the board’s second meeting of January at 6 p.m.

• Commissioners approved a request from Taylor Clay Products for the company to amend the special use permit it was granted in September. The company is planning to complete a 12,000-square-foot expansion at its existing brick manufacturing facility at 1225 Chuck Taylor Lane.

About Ben Stansell

Ben Stansell covers business, county government and more for the Salisbury Post. He joined the staff in August 2020 after graduating from the University of Alabama. Email him at ben.stansell@salisburypost.com.

email author More by Ben

Comments