LUMBERTON — Robeson County commissioners voted Monday to leave the governing boards of the county’s departments of Health and Social Services as they are during the first meeting held in the county’s administration building on North Chestnut Street.
Several commissioners expressed gratitude for the new building, during the meeting, including Board of Commissioners Chairman Lance Herndon.
“We are proud of this building and the hard work that was put in,” Herndon said.
He commended County Manager Kellie Blue and his fellow commissioners for their part in the building’s renovation.
But attending the meeting at the new location was even more symbolic for members of the boards that oversee the departments of Health and Social Services, who attended a public hearing during Monday’s meeting to voice concerns that the commissioners might take full control of their boards.
The Health board uses “sound science and extensive knowledge” to make decisions that keep county residents safe, said Dr. Mary Ann Masters, an optometrist who serves on the board.
Masters asked for commissioners to support the board, which is comprised of 10 people, including a dentist, medical doctor, pharmacist and engineer, who work to better health conditions in the county.
“We ask you not to abolish that board. We ask you to reconsider that,” said Dr. Daniel Walters, chairman of the board, and doctor of dental surgery.
Walters also said most board members work in health fields each day and “need to be in charge.”
Bosco Locklear, who is serving a second three-year term on the Department of Social Services board, also spoke in opposition to the county assuming more control. The DSS board consists of five members.
Locklear said Herndon and Commissioner Pauline Campbell, who serve on the board, should continue to voice commissioners’ concerns, as they are free to do. And unlike commissioners, members of the boards are not bound politically by the people they represent, he said.
“Up in Prospect we like to say ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’” Locklear said.
A motion by Commissioner Jerry Stephens to not abolish or merge the departments’ governing boards and keep them operating as they are passed on a 4-3 vote after Pauline Campbell seconded Stephens’ motion. Commissioners voting in opposition were Tom Taylor, Roger Oxendine and Vice Chair Faline Dial.
Oxendine made a substitute motion to have the Board of Commissioners take over the departments’ boards, while keeping them intact as advisory boards that answer to commissioners, failed on a 4-3 vote, with Herndon, Stephens, Campbell and Edge voting in opposition.
“Any type of lawsuits, it always has to come back to us to make decisions anyway,” Oxendine said before making the motion.
In other business, state Rep. Charles Graham honored the late Raymond Cummings with an Order of the Long Leaf Pine in recognition of his service in many capacities in the county. The award is the highest achievement for state service granted by the Office of the Governor. Cummings died Aug. 7, after representing District 5 on the board since 1996.
“This was well and good, well-deserving,” said Oxendine. “But, you know, being as a Robesonian, it’s a shame that you don’t give people their roses when they are able to appreciate them.”
“He loved Robeson County. He loved the people of Robeson County, and he showed it every day of his life,” Oxendine added. “…Let’s honor them while they’re living.”
Commissioners later appointed Oxendine to fill Cummings’ seat on the Lumber River Council of Government’s board of directors. The appointment does not have a term limit, County Manager Blue said.
In other matters, commissioners approved Project Blue Jay-Incentives, which will expand a building owned by an unnamed Lumberton Fortune 500 company by 6,000 square feet at an estimated cost of $10 million. The project will bring 20 jobs to the county.
“This opportunity will continue to strengthen our manufacturing and production sector in Robeson County and will provide excellent internship and workforce opportunities for Robeson Community College students/graduates. Robeson County agrees to a Personal Property tax refund of $97,405 and Real Estate refund of $10,395 over 3 year terms,” County Manager Kellie Blue wrote in an Aug. 27 letter to the N.C. Department of Commerce, which was included in commissioners’ packets for review.
Commissioners plan to hold a public hearing on the project during their Oct. 19 meeting.
Allowing commissioners to attend board meetings by telephone up to four times a year, excluding executive sessions, with more details to be written in a policy later, was unanimously approved by the commissioners.
During Monday’s meeting, commissioners also heard from Ed Hunt, Sustainable Agriculture director at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, who said the Thomas Entrepreneurship Hub is working to construct a building on 15 acres of land at Deep Branch Road near COMtech.
“We’re looking at local food production,” Hunt said.
The Hub plans to break ground on the building within 12-24 months.
In other matters, commissioners learned that the county’s Finance Department received a certificate of achievement for excellence in financial reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association in recognition of the department’s comprehensive annual financial report for the fiscal year ending June 2019. The certificate is the highest form of achievement in governmental accounting and reporting of finances.
Also approved Monday was:
— A resolution to advertise a bid of $8,000 for surplus property at 332 Pinwheel Circle in Lumberton.
— A resolution to accept a bid of $1,500 plus the cost of advertisement for a property near Richardson Street in Red Springs.
— A conditional use permit from Marbeth Pevia to establish a family cemetery in a residential agricultural district on Mothers Drive in Back Swamp.
— Closing out a $1,187,614 Home and Community Care Block Grant for Older Adults for fiscal year 2020.
— The Robeson Community College 2020-2021 budget.
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