Commissioners consider opiod litigation

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MURPHY, N.C. – At its Thursday, May 10, meeting, the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners heard from Garry Whitaker, a Winston-Salem attorney involved with federal litigation against pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors concerning the national opiod epidemic.

Whitaker told commissioners 643 government entities nationwide are apart of the litigation seeking compensation for damages incurred from the opiod epidemic. Of those entities, Whitaker stated, 43 counties and 6 cities were in the state of North Carolina.

Of the opiod problem, Whitaker stated, “It may not be as pervasive as the plague, (but) it is very pervasive. For instance, last year, there was a 40 percent increase in the state of North Carolina in hospital emergency room admissions for overdoses related to opiods.”

According to date presented by Whitaker, since 1999, over 15,000 people have died in North Carolina as a result of opiod overdoses. In that time, 93 opiate poisoning deaths have occurred within Cherokee County alone, with double-digit spikes seen in the years of 2010 and 2011.

“This is a serious problem,” Whitaker stressed.

According to Whitaker, for every 100 persons in Cherokee County, 125 prescriptions were issued in 2016. Whitaker stated the national average for this statistic is 66 prescriptions per 100 persons.

Whitaker explained the litigation group consists of a consortium of six legal teams and firms from throughout the country.

“It is our contention that (pharmaceutical manufacturers) have oversold the benefits and undersold or trivialized the risks (of opiods),” Whitaker stated.

Giving a brief history of opiods and legislative control of the drugs, Whitaker stated in the past opiods were prescribed mainly to cancer and surgery patients and not for chronic pain but that a shift in thought from pharmaceutical companies has contributed to the opiod epidemic.

Whitaker further explained the suit is intended to go after pharmaceutical companies only and not individual doctors or pharmacies, saying that this prospect is simply not feasible.

After a series of questions about the suit from County Attorney Darryl Brown, no decision was made by the commission whether or not to move forward with joining the litigation.

Cherokee County Tax Assessor Eddie Allen presented commissioners with bids for the county’s 2020 property revaluation. According to Allen, the revaluation will fulfill the state mandate that all counties update appraisals for all parcels within the county every eight years. Cherokee County contains approximately 33,000 parcels  of property, Allen added.

Allen told the commissioners bid proposals were sent to all 15 appraisal firms except one that are approved by the North Carolina Department of Revenue. Of those, only two firms – C.B. Ferriss, Inc. and Tanner Valuation Group, LLC – submitted bids to the county. A third firm submitted a bid but withdrew that bid from consideration.

Allen recommended C.B. Ferriss for overseeing and managing the revaluation, saying if he had to hand-pick one of the 15 state-approved firms beforehand, it would have been C.B. Ferriss. The C.B. Ferriss bid of $220,000 would include appraisal of commercial and industrial properties, assistance to the county through the appeal process, training of the Cherokee County Tax Assesssor staff, and continual reports to the county manager.

Allen stated it was important to train staff, so that the county could save money with an in-house revaluation in the future. Commissioners unanimously awarded the project to C.B. Ferriss.

Captain Mark Patterson, of the Cherokee County Detention Center, presented a capital items request to use revenues in the amount of $279,650 for a number items to be used by the detention center.

Prior to Patterson explaining the request to the board, Eichenbaum stated, “I think this should be tabled to part of the (2018-19 fiscal year) budget discussions, and I also feel it should part of the Sheriff’s Office budget discussions.”

“I think we ought to hear him out and see what the request is,” Commissioner Roy Dickey said.

According to Patterson, the request covers the purchase of two 2018 Chevrolet Tahoes and equipment, a new transport van and equipment, a new transport car and equipment, a road crew truck, a fingerprint machine, a kitchen fryer and steamer, radios, 14 bulletproof vests, 14 Glock pistols and holsters, ammunition, a Fort Knox gun safe, and HVAC units. Patterson also told commissioners the detention center is over its projected revenue of $750,000 for the year and stated by the end of the 2017-18 fiscal year, revenues should be close to $1.2 million.

When the board asked Patterson what were the most critical items within the request, Patterson stated the fingerprint machine ($21,000), the bulletproof vests ($8,100), the weapons ($6,800), and the ammunition ($3,300) were the most critical.

“My personal opinion is we ought to do it all tonight,” Dickey said. “We’ve got the revenue here.”

After further discussion, Commissioner C.B. McKinnon then made a request to purchase only those four line items of the request so as to allow more time to research the request further, particularly the vehicle purchases, which accounted for the bulk of the request. After a second from Eichenbaum, the motion failed 2-3 with Eichenbaum and McKinnon voting in favor.

“And I guess we need to state why (the motion failed),” Commissioner Cal Stiles said. “I think maybe we need to look at it more in its entirety … We just keep picking out individual items here, and I think they do need those items.”

After a motion by Dickey to approve the entire request and a second by Commissioner Gary Westmoreland, the request was approved 4-1 with McKinnon voting against.

In his county manager report, Wiggins presented a proposal of the 2018-19 budget to commissioners. According to the recommended proposed budget, the total county budget would be $44,212,558.00, which would include a general fund balance of $38,083,967 and a special revenue fund of $6,128,591. Wiggins stated the county would continue with a budget work session Wednesday, May 30, at 5 p.m. and a public hearing on the budget during the regular commissioners meeting Monday, May 21, at 6:30 p.m.

Copies of the budget, Wiggins said, will be posted at both libraries in Murphy and Andrews, at the county manager’s office, and on the county website.

Commissioners approved four budget revisions Thursday including a $722,884 budget revision to purchase a new CAT compactor for the county landfill. Chairman Dr. Dan Eichenbaum explained that the county had put aside $578,584 over the past few years in a designated fund in anticipation of the purchase. The compactor, according to County Manager Randy Wiggins, comes with included servicing and a five-year warranty.

A budget revision for $68,295 was also approved for the purchase of new scales for the county landfill. Wiggins explained the current scales at the landfill can no longer be calibrated and the new scales are expected to be installed sometime before the end of June and on a weekend. With the request, an additional amount of $12,500 was approved in the case that the county has to use rental scales while the new scales are being installed.

A budget revision for $16,755 was approved to purchase a used 2014 Dodge Charger for the Sheriff’s Office. Finance Director Candy Anderson explained the vehicle will replace another vehicle that was damaged in a recent chase and the $16,755 is money the county received from insurance claims.

 

 

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Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

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