Board targets distinct needs at retreat

Jan. 23, 2014 @ 09:19 PM

Vance County leaders gathered in the Satterwhite Point glass house Thursday to establish goals for the coming year and review the state of the county.

During the county commissioner’s annual planning retreat, the board members agreed on five broad objectives:

• Increase the number of the county water system sign-ups 5 percent by the end of fiscal year 2015.

• Increase the number of customers in phase 2A and 2B by 30-35 percent by the end of fiscal year 2015.

• To plan for the establishment of a redevelopment authority or other similar entity for the purpose of creating jobs, expanding the county’s tax base and breathing new life into the neighborhood and business districts.

• To reduce vacant, county-owned buildings 67 percent by the end of fiscal year 2015.

• To develop a three-year plan for constructing a new county animal shelter, in coordination with animal advisory groups, and begin clearing the lot, placing a sign and establishing the fundraising process by October 2014.

David Beck, director of finances, said the county finances are on solid ground, although the national economy is recovering from the 2008 recession at a faster rate than the local economy.

Vance County’s unemployment rate fell below 10 percent in November, but as recently as July the rate was at 12.9 percent, according to the N.C. Department of Commerce’s Labor and Economic Analysis Division. The drop below 10 percent was the lowest since December 2008, when it was last below double figures.

Vance County’s unemployment rate was at 13.9 percent in January 2012 and it was 15 percent in June 2009.

Vance County reached 14 percent unemployment or worse at some point in each of 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Jerry Ayscue, the county manager, suggested the county use “placemaking initiatives,” which he described as a people-centered process for improving economically depressed communities by healing from the inside out rather than from the outside in.

Ayscue said placemaking initiatives facilitate the planning and designing of public places where people feel a strong connection the community.

He said placemaking initiatives provide a democratic and dynamic process for improving the community and bringing economic prosperity to the area.

Commission Terry Garrison led the important discussion about how the county government can grow the local government through small businesses.

“Creating jobs, expanding the county’s tax base and breathing new life into the neighborhood and business districts through residential and commercial developments should become our primary goal,” Garrison said. “Establishing a redevelopment and housing authority or similar entity to achieve this goal should become a major objective of Vance County.”

Garrison proposed renovating or demolishing abandoned properties with the help of unemployed or underemployed county residents.

Commissioner Dan Brummitt offered ideas for improving the affordability of county water, which some residents have complained is too high.

“Prices are higher than we initially stated and that has the potential to affect participation,” Brummitt said.

Brummitt explained the county is flushing about 90 percent of the water it purchases to ensure sanitary water. As more users join the county water system, he said, the amount of water wasted will decrease.

Brummitt also recommended removing some of the sign-up fees to encourage participation.

“We should eliminate some of those fees temporarily to make it a more favorable environment to get more people on the system,” he said.

Chairwoman Deborah Brown was tasked with making recommendations for ways to improve the recreational opportunities for youth, elderly and disadvantaged residents.

She suggested working with the City of Henderson, arranging transportation to recreation facilities and collaborating with the school board to open the schools’ multi-purpose rooms during the summer.

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