The Granville County Board of Commissioners met for its annual retreat on Thursday, Feb. 21 and Friday, Feb. 22. The session, which provided an opportunity for Commissioners to hear updates on developments pertaining to the county’s five-year strategic plan, was held at the Granville County Convention and Expo Center in Oxford.
Health Director Lisa Harrison of Granville-Vance Public Health kicked off the presentation schedule, providing an update on the condition of the building currently used by the local Health Department. Citing structural issues after 42 years of use, Harrison noted that the foundation is sinking in one corner of the facility, causing walls to crack and ceilings to be compromised. A request was made to consider a relocation from 101 Hunt Drive. Several sites are being evaluated and will be brought back to the Board for consideration.
Planning/Inspections and Transportation
Planning Director Barry Baker and Development Services Director Scott Phillips provided information relating to current and future planning activities. Baker noted in his presentation that total zoning permits had seen a steady increase since 2014, with most permits for single family dwellings in 2018 being issued for the Brassfield Township. Almost 400 new lots – to be located in planned subdivisions in Butner and Creedmoor – were approved in 2018 and more are expected to be approved in 2019 , it was reported. As the East End Connector nears completion – which will connect I-40 to the Raleigh-Durham Airport – this growth is expected to continue.
Transportation Planner Justin Jorgensen reported that projects pertaining to the NC 56 and NC 50 Corridors are also planned in the summer of 2019 and in 2020, and that sidewalk and greenway projects are underway in all municipalities.
Commercial construction has also risen drastically since 2014, from more than $14 million in value in 2014 to an approximately $43 million value in 2018.
Capital Improvement Projects
Exterior painting of the Granville County Courthouse has been completed, with work on the windows, cornice, soffit, bell tower and foundation stucco coming in at less than projected cost. Duct cleaning and mold abatement was also completed for the HVAC system and equipment, Phillips reported.
Site work has begun for the new Law Enforcement Center and Animal Shelter, to be located at 525 New Commerce Drive in Oxford. Stormwater infrastructure is now 60 percent complete, according to Phillips, with an estimated completion date of August 2019 for this phase of the project. Water and sewer taps have been completed and piping has been installed to the project site, with a plumbing and electrical rough-in scheduled for April. Grading continues for the new Animal Shelter. Due to weather and soil conditions, work had been temporarily delayed but the project is still expected to be completed in April 2020. A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for March 12, 2019 at 2 p.m.
Exterior renovation on the building located behind the Courthouse, 122 Williamsboro Street, was also discussed. In 2013, the county retained professional engineers to evaluate the roof and exterior wall system. Basic needs identified in this report included removal of the existing exterior coating – as well as the deteriorated mortar – and replacing existing window and door sealants before exterior paint could be applied. Repairs were also recommended for the exterior fire escape stairs. Funding for this restoration was projected to be around $375,000. With a plan to move the Planning/Inspections office to the current Sheriff’s Office after the new Law Enforcement Center is completed – and to relocate Child Support Services – other options will also be considered for this building.
Work at the scale house located at the Butner Convenience Site was also completed in 2018 as a new 560 square foot building was added. Building and site improvements were also recently completed on this site, Phillips noted. Work at the Granville County Landfill is also substantially complete, with a C&D closure certification being submitted to the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality for review and acceptance.
An update on the Phase III expansion of the Granville Athletic Park (GAP) and the grant funding tied to that project were discussed by Management Analyst Charla Duncan. Granville County had secured a National Parks Service Land and Water Conservation Fund grant for $250,000, which was added to $500,000 sum already set aside towards this project. The expansion will encompass approximately 12 additional acres for planned use and for future expansion. Added to the park will be six tennis courts, two sand volleyball courts, an additional picnic shelter and restrooms, a paved walking trail, an all-inclusive playground area, three horseshoes pits, nine additional disc golf targets, open green space and parking.
The design schematic has now been completed, Phillips added. Once the proposed site plan is approved, construction documents and permit applications are expected to be completed by May 2019 with construction anticipated to begin in August of this year.
A partnership with the Granville County United Way has resulted in the 2018 addition of outdoor classroom space, little free libraries, a sound garden, a butterfly garden and other amenities to the already existing acreage. The county has plans to pursue additional grant funding from the United States Tennis Association.
Since 2017, approximately 20 new businesses have opened in the county including RiceWrap Foods, according to Economic Development Director Harry Mills, who added that opportunities are also being created by expansions at Revlon, Shalag and Altec. Mills noted that the county’s re-designation as a Tier II county would be a factor in future grant eligibility. The N.C. Department of Commerce annually ranks the state’s 100 counties using factors of unemployment rate, household income, population growth and adjusted property tax base, assigning each county a tier designation. Granville County was ranked among Tier III counties last year which included Orange, Wake and Durham counties. During the grant application process, priority is often given to Tier I and Tier II counties, Mills reminded.
Granville County’s new tourism campaign was presented by Tourism Director Angela Allen and by Corey Hughes of the Hughes Marketing Group, who has been contracted to help develop a marketing plan. Using a survey of residents and visitors as a guide, it was determined that the area’s relaxed and hospitable lifestyle are an unexpected advantage, leading to a campaign centered around the area’s open spaces, welcoming people and close proximity to larger communities. With a tagline of “Uniquely Carolina,” the new campaign includes a promotion focused on gathering places and “hometown” living.
HR Directors Wendy Pennington and Justin Ayscue provided information pertaining to employee turnover in Granville County Government, which has seen a steady decline since FY 2014/2015. In the past few years, a 401K match has been implemented, as well as changes to employee benefits such as a 401K match, an enhanced wellness program and other upgrades. A recommendation was made to implement an employee longevity pay plan to help increase retention. It was also noted that an option to apply for employment online has dramatically increased the number of applications received for vacant positions.
Social Services Director Lou Bechtel presented information on upcoming challenges, citing a need for an “on call” staff member for after-hours assistance and anticipated staff additions if Medicaid expansion is approved by the General Assembly. Staff members recently completed NC Fast training and will be “prepared to meet the challenge” of this new program. Bechtel said. Additional technology was requested to initiate the NC Fast mobile applications that will help serve residents with their immediate needs.
Granville County Senior Centers (3) have served almost 12,000 congregate meals from July 2018 to January 2019, Senior Services Director Kathy May reported, in addition to approximately 7,000 meals to homebound residents. Trans-portation, which includes a fixed bus route, medical transport, etc., are also provided and are funded through various grant sources, with total one-way trips numbering more than 16,000 last year. Through the Senior Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP), 743 Medicare recipients were provided assistance over the past year. Those choosing the option to change their Medicare Part D plans during open enrollment had a total combined savings of $458,387.
The Creative Lifelong Learning program, offered through the Senior Center in Oxford, has “exceeded all expectations,” May said, with charter membership numbering 250+. More than two dozen classes have been scheduled during the Fall and Spring semesters.
A summary report for 2018, provided by Sheriff Brin Wilkins, showed a total of approximately 8,000 incidents and arrests through the Sheriff’s Office alone. Across the county, more than 54,000 emergency calls were dispatched last year from the Sheriff’s Office, the county’s five municipalities, Highway Patrol, local fire departments, Granville EMS, Animal Control and other agencies.
Trent Brummitt, Manager of the Sheriff’s Office Emergency Communications Center, reported that from July 2018 to January 2019, more than 36,000 calls for service had been made. As the county’s population grows, calls to the 9-1-1 Center have seen a steady increase, Brummitt noted, with the highest number of calls received in 2016. This was the year that the Oxford Police Department consolidated its dispatch services with the county’s 9-1-1 Center. Now at its most optimum level, staffing for this department has numbered 18 employees since 2011.
A report from the Detention Center by Sgt. Edward Cash focused on mental health issues which impact Granville County inmates. Through a new telemedicine program, inmates can be evaluated on site and offered treatment and follow up, eliminating the need for transport to other facilities. Since September, the program’s professional psychiatrist has identified 25 inmates who were suffering from depression, bipolar disorder, substance abuse and other issues.
Finance Director Steve McNally provided a summarized review of the county’s financial status, noting that property taxes collected to date ($36.7 million) are at 89 percent of total budget and one percent higher than at this time last year. Property taxes make up 65 percent of the county’s general fund, McNally reported, adding that Granville County’s revenues and expenditures are “in line” with budget expectations as of Jan. 31, 2019.
The preliminary budget is to be submitted to Commissioners by May 6, according to County Manager Michael Felts, with the budget to be finalized in June. Felts also provided a progress report of projects underway and under review, which includes digital policy updates, a focus on strengthening partnerships, continued economic development, school renovations and financing, advancements in broadband and other priorities.
Granville County is now in the final year of the current five-year strategic plan and will be working with staff in October and November 2019 to develop a new five-year-plan for the Board’s consideration during next year’s retreat.
The Board of Education and mayors of all five municipalities were on hand to provide respective reports. Senator Mike Woodard, Rep. Larry Yarborough and Rep. Terry Garrison were also in attendance to address the 2019/2020 Legislative Goals as they impact Granville County.
“What we should always keep in mind,” County Manager Felts concluded, “is where we are, where we are going and what we need to get there. It is important that we are all going in the same direction.”
(To view Granville County’s five-year strategic plan, visit www.granvillecounty.org)