Cherokee Board of Commissioners debate liquor privatization resolution

BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS

MURPHY, N.C. -Cherokee County Commissioner C.B. McKinnon, District 2 (Republican), stated, “We shouldn’t be in the pot business or the liquor business” after the ‘Resolution of the Cherokee Board of Commissioners Opposing the Privatization of Retail Sale and Wholesale Distribution of Liquor’ was introduced at Monday’s meeting. Emotions were high as the Commissioners debated the issue.

The motion to oppose the resolution was passed due to a ‘Lack of Motion’ by the Board. They would not support the Resolution.

House Bill 971 (Modern Licensure Model for Alcohol Control) was introduced in legislature by Representatives Chuck McGrady (R), Jason Saine (R), Jon Hardister (R), and Pricey Harrison (D) on April 26, 2019. The bill, if passed, “would privatize the retail sale and wholesale distribution of liquor” allowing the minimum of 1500 permits statewide. Currently, the Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) system operates 423 locations throughout the state. Two ABC locations are in Cherokee County: Murphy and Andrews.

The N.C. Department of Public Safety requires the certification of members recommended by the Board to the Juvenile Crime Prevention Councils. For fiscal year 2019-2020, the following persons, who had been recommended by the Board, were certified to serve on the council: Associate School Superintendent Kim Gibson, CCSO Lieutenant Justin Jacobs, District Attorney Office Legal Assistant Nan Copeland, AMH/DD/SA Clinician Karen Underwood, DSS Attorney Andria Duncan, Assistant County Manager Maria Hass, and ADA Kimberly Hayes.

The N.C. Department of Public Safety requires the certification of members recommended by the Board to the Juvenile Crime Prevention Councils. For fiscal year 2019-2020, the following persons, who had been recommended by the Board, were certified to serve on the council: Associate School Superintendent Kim Gibson, CCSO Lieutenant Justin Jacobs, District Attorney Office Legal Assistant Nan Copeland, AMH/DD/SA Clinician Karen Underwood, DSS Attorney Andria Duncan, Assistant County Manager Maria Hass, and ADA Kimberly Hayes.

EMS Station 1 has been in the center of Board discussion for months as additional room is needed for the expanding service. Recently, North Carolina Department of Transportation has offered a piece of property to house a possible new station. However, the current station is on five acres of level property.

Dr. Dan Eichenbaum, District 4 (Republican), said he would be more comfortable in having an engineer size up both pieces of properties before a decision could be made for which would be more feasible and less costly to pursue.

The Board agreed to have County Manager Randy Wiggins to consult with an engineer on the matter and report back with the needed information.

Nantahala Regional Library Board of Trustees will have a new member. The Board unanimously appointed Wendy Paige to fill the position.

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Cherokee County NC chooses Advanced Disposal Mineral Bluff for temporary waste transfer

BREAKING NEWS

MURPHY, N.C. – The Cherokee Board of Commissioners has agreed to allow its Solid Waste Department to transfer materials to Advanced Disposal Waste Transfer Station in Mineral Bluff.

Robert Ward, Cherokee County NC Solid Waste Director speaks to Commissioners urging immediate waste transfer to Mineral Bluff, GA.

Robert Ward, Solid Waste Director, stated there had been an 11 percent increase in local waste in the last five years, helping to fill the current cell faster than was originally planned. But, until the new Phase Five cell can be constructed, waste was needed to be transferred out to another location to ease the burden on the current landfill.

He told the commissioners that as of April 12, 2019, there “was only 12 weeks of air space left”. He further added the loss of the compactor within the last year is the main reason the landfill was being filled to capacity. Landfill track hoes simply “could not compact trash as needed” as a compactor does.

County Manager Randy Wiggins agreed with Ward saying, “The loss of the compactor result(ed) in the loss of air space.”

Ward said immediately transferring waste would be at a cost of $56.14 per ton to the Mineral Bluff facility where Advanced Disposal agreed they would accept all loads.

It was further agreed Cherokee County could cancel the transfer at any time thus not tying the county to a long-term obligation.

A new compactor has recently been purchased, but has not come in time to alleviate the air space situation which is in its critical phase at this time.

Hauling to Mineral Bluff will begin next week.

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Cherokee BOC in opposition to SB 179 and HB 278

BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS

MURPHY, N.C.- County Manager Randy Wiggins explained to the Cherokee Board of Commissioners how Senate Bill 179 and House Bill 278 would affect the county if passed, possibly costing Cherokee County taxpayers large amounts of money in the future.

According to the resolution before the Board at its bi-monthly meeting on Monday, April 1, 2019, “Taxpayers would bear the entire cost of this new retirement benefit without local elected officials having a say in this decision” and “would be paid solely by the last employer creating a deterrent to the hiring of late-career firefighters and rescue squad members reducing the benefit to (Cherokee County) and towns from seasoned hires.”

A copy of the Resolution submitted to BOC for signature on 04/01/19.

SB 179 and HB 278 would pay firefighters and rescue squad workers an annual separation allowance equaling eighty-five hundreths percent (0.85%) of their annual base rate separated into equal payments under the following conditions:

  1. The firefighter or rescue squad worker has either completed 30 or more years of creditable service or attained the age of 60 with 25 or more years of service.”
  2. Has not attained age 62.”
  3. Has completed at least five years of continuous service rendered on or after July 1. 2019, immediately preceding in retirement service.”

In question is a service employee meeting the above requirements prior to retirement with possibly a few years left in the current system in another county relocating to Cherokee County. Should the County pay for the separation allowance once the firefighter, rescue squad worker, or EMS worker this benefit once relocated here for the remainder of their service years and has retired?

Upon some discussion by the Board, weighing the facts of the bills and its affect on the County, they voted unanimously to pass their resolution opposing SB 179 and HB 278.

The North Carolina bill’s primary sponsors were State Senators Brent Jackson (R), Danny Britt (R), and Tom McInnis (R) and was filed on March 4, 2019.

Other items the Board approved were:

  1. The adoption of Updated Local Government Records Retention and Disposition Schedule after records “do not and will not have further use or value for official business, research, or reference purposes after the respective retention periods.”
  2. Valley River Pickleball Association requested to “install two permanent nets on the other two designated pickelball courts.”
  3. The budget revision by Cherokee County school system for cameras mentioned at the March 18 meeting for an increase of $30,614.
  4. Applicants for Boards/Commissions/Committee were chosen. Christie Standish will be the permanent member with Shannon Greathead as the Alternate.

Valley River Pickelball Association request for permanent new nets.

The next Commissioners meeting will be held on Monday, April 15, 2019, at the County Courthouse.

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Board approves temporary off-site fitness plan for Station 1 first responders

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MURPHY, N.C. – The Cherokee County Board of Commissioners approved a temporary off-site fitness plan for on-duty emergency personnel at Station 1 at the board’s June 4 meeting.

The plan will now allow only Station 1 personnel to use nearby fitness centers at their own expense while on duty in an effort to improve health and strength of the emergency personnel and provide the best service to citizens, according to information provided by the Cherokee County Emergency Services.

As Chairman Dr. Dan Eichenbaum explained, “(The agreement) is only until they get a new facility. It has been shown this will not cause a delay in response time. Both truck workers must agree and only one truck at a time (may leave Station 1). This is to allow them because they do not have adequate space to work out in (at the station).”

Brian King, of the Cherokee County Emergency Medical Services (EMS), explained to commissioners there has been a “movement” within the department to work out and exercise to increase physical strength and improve job performance over the past five years, but limited space at Station 1 has disallowed its personnel from doing so.

According to information presented to the commissioners from EMS concerning response times for personnel at a fitness center, “Crews are very adept at being able to meet our required chute times during all situations. Any delay would no different than eating showering, using the restroom, being at the hospital, or sleeping.”

Commenting on the benefits of the plan, Commissioner Gary Westmoreland stated, “Personally, I would rather somebody healthy pick me up than somebody out of shape. And I think it’s good for them. It’s good for their morale.”

Commissioner C.B. McKinnon stated while he himself can see the benefits of the plan to the county’s emergency personnel, he is also concerned about public perception.

“I understand that we’ve been in this location for a lot of years and I don’t know what’s been done in the past … but the optics of it – the public just doesn’t understand it. We’ll have the other facility up soon, and for that reason, I’m just not willing to support it,” McKinnon explained.

Ultimately, the board approved the temporary plan 4-1, with McKinnon voting against.

The board also approved a contract with Turner & Company CPAs (certified public accountant) to conduct the county’s fiscal year 2017-18 audit in the amount of $44,900.

County Finance Officer Candy Anderson explained to the commissioners the cost of the audit is the second lowest among seven counties in western North Carolina.

“I checked with surrounding counties … and a lot of them are seeing 12 to 41 percent increases in their audit fees,” Anderson stated.

The contract was approved by the board unanimously.

A capital project ordinance for the phase 5 construction project at the Cherokee County Solid Waste facility in Marble was approved by the commissioners. The ordinance appropriates $2.5 million to the project for permitting, construction, engineering, and contingency funds. According to the ordinance, revenues from the general fund are anticipated to be available to complete the project.

The board approved a number of 2017-18 budget revisions including a revision in the total amount of $31,043 to allow the use of the restricted/designated school sales tax fund balance for various projects. The amount will cover the purchases of a generator replacement at Ranger Elementary School ($19,207), bus cameras and camera systems for five new buses ($4,925), fertilizer for Bermuda turf for the football fields at Andrews and Murphy high schools ($2,653), approximately 225 lbs. of refrigerant for a compressor at Hiwassee Dam School ($2,517), and diagnostic services from Trane ($1,741).

A budget revision in the amount of $800 was approved to transfer funds from the fund balance to the detention center trust account for legal settlements.

A budget revision in the amount of $94.14 was approved to cover half the cost of new carpeting at the Martins Creek Community Center. Previously, the board approved an amount of $261; however, actual costs for the carpeting came to $710.27, which increased the county’s half share to $355.14.

In other business, commissioners also voted to allow Lewis and Clark Circus to again use Heritage Park Sept. 22 and 23 of this year.

The board also voted to allow North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission law enforcement officers to enforce laws concerning spotlighting wildlife from the right-of-way of any public road, street, or highway.

A number of upcoming Board of Commissioners are slated for June. On June 21 and 25, the board will hold fiscal year 2018-19 budget work sessions in the boardroom of the Cherokee County Courthouse at 6:30 p.m. The Board of Commissioners next regularly scheduled meeting is set for June 18 at 6:30 p.m. In addition, the board will have a special called meeting June 28 at 6:30 p.m. to officially adopt the new county budget. All meetings are open to the public.

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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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.

Commissioners’ budget talks lead to discussion over county trash sites

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MURPHY, N.C. – Cherokee County Board of Commissioners met Wednesday, May 30, for a budget work session to review and discuss the proposed budget for fiscal year 2018-19.

The budget, as recommended by County Manager Randy Wiggins, calls for a total of $44,212,558 with $38,083,967 designated for the general fund and $6,128,591 in special revenue funds.

On Wednesday, commissioners suggested further allotments to Wiggins to be added into the proposed budget. Commissioner Gary Westmoreland suggested adding $20,000 to purchase property across from the county senior center for a public-use dumpster site. This opened a discussion concerning the misuse of existing sites across the county.

Commissioner C.B. McKinnon suggested installing cameras at the Peachtree site and the Whitener Bend site in an effort to help enforce regulations at the sites and also to provide more 24-hour sites for county residents to use.

“I dare say nine of 10 times I’ve passed there (Peachtree site), there’s somebody there placing items … that’s not supposed to be there,” McKinnon said.

To this, Wiggins cautioned that opening more 24-hour sites across the county with no attendees and only security cameras to monitor activity could also encourage residents of surrounding counties to use the sites, which are supposed to be available only to Cherokee County residents. Wiggins specifically noted the Peachtree and Hiwassee Dam sites as two sites that are being misused heavily by residents from Clay County, North Carolina, and Polk County, Tennessee.

Referring to the Peachtree site, McKinnon asked, “How much garbage from Clay County is hitting the dumpsters that makes it worth inconveniencing the rest of the whole community in Cherokee County?”

Commissioner Cal Stiles stated that while he felt security cameras could help, monitoring of the footage would also be necessary to eliminate misuse at the sites. “Unless we have someone who has the time or we hire someone to actually view all this stuff to see … We really don’t know what’s going on there at two, three, four o’clock (in the morning),” Stiles said.

“I’ve never seen a group of people that fault a success so much,” McKinnon responded, referring to the existing 24-hour sites. “Usually when you have a success, you want to duplicate that success. I’ve never seen such a pushback from a success. ‘Oh, that was a success. Let’s not do another one.’ That is about a frustrating a thing that’s ever been.”

Wiggins clarified to McKinnon he was only sharing the complaints he had received concerning the sites. McKinnon suggested increasing the number of fines issued and also rotating attendants at sites.

“These are common sense things,” McKinnon added.

Additionally, Westmoreland suggested adding $80,000 to the budget for a new playground at Konahetta Park. Because the park is within the city limits of Murphy, McKinnon recommended meeting with the mayor and/or members of the city council about funding half of the cost for this.

“It’s time for the town of Murphy to step up in recreation and take the heat from the public like we take the heat from the public,” McKinnon stated.

Later, it was agreed that commissioners McKinnon and Westmoreland would meet at a future date with Mayor Rick Ramsey, of Murphy, about the town possibly funding half of a new playground at Konahetta Park.

The board also discussed the possibility of repairing the tennis and pickleball courts during the next fiscal year. According to Wiggins, the last time the courts had been resurfaced was over 20 years ago. He also stated several of the courts had received patching in August 2016, which cost the county approximately $27,000, and that the county has already received a quote in the amount of $114,825 to completely resurface the courts.

To this, McKinnon and Commissioner Roy Dickey agreed the town of Murphy should also assist with the financing of this potential project.

After Commissioner Stiles asked whether the needed repairs were a result of cosmetic issues or potential safety hazards, Wiggins stated further deterioration of the courts could pose safety hazards in the near future.

The board also discussed the budget line item for Tri-State Community College and addressed concerns over Cherokee County paying more than its fair share to the college than the counties of Clay and Graham.

The commissioners discussed the possibility of “holding the line” by not giving the college any additional funding than what the county has given in prior years.

“There’s got to be a point where you do hold your line and say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do,'” McKinnon stated and then asked rhetorically, “Are you going to step up and do a tax increase? Are you okay with the other counties not paying their share and going ahead and increasing the tax on your citizens because the other counties aren’t paying their share?”

After further discussion, the board agreed to review the Tri-County line item again at its next budget workshop to be held June 21 at 6:30 p.m. In addition to this meeting, the county budget is expected to be adopted at the June 28 regular meeting of the Board of Commissioners.

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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.

Andrews soccer field discussed by commissioners, Mayor Reid

News

MURPHY, N.C. – Grant money for a new soccer field located at Heritage Park in Andrews was discussed by the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners along with Andrews Mayor James Reid at the April 23 county commissioners meeting.

“Previously, the board had approved the soccer club to use and construct a field at Heritage Park,” Commissioner C.B. McKinnon explained. “In conversation, maybe … Andrews is willing to take the lead of that because there’s some possibility of applying for some grant money to help with that. It looks like we got about $30,000 now roughly to work with and so if we could compound that with a grant, it would mean a lot.”

Reid stated the goal of the proposed soccer field is for it to be open for use not only for the local soccer league but also for the entire community.

“We do have someone that’s ready to break ground on it pretty quick,” Reid said. “We also have that PARTF (Parks and Recreation Trust Fund) grant that we could go after. If the county decided to do something with that, we could do it in (the county’s) name or (the town of Andrews’) name … but we’d just like to go ahead and try to move forward to try to get that grant money secured if at all possible.”

Also, Reid added the town’s long-term goal is to eventually construct three soccer fields but for now, the initial plan is to construct one field. Concerning the potential PARTF grant, Reid stated the application deadline was May 1. To this, Commissioner Cal Stiles suggested to Reid to consult with Russ Harris, a grant writer with Southwestern Commission, for assistance with the grant application process.

After further discussion, commissioners approved for the town of Andrews to take the lead in planning and in the construction for the soccer field.

“So between now and maybe even the next meeting, let’s see if we can develop that plan and be ready and we’ll present it and we’ll all be on board with the same process so there’s no confusion,” McKinnon told Reid.

Gary Chamberlain, of the North Carolina Litter Free Coalition, proposed a proclamation to the board to declare May 19 an America the Beautiful Event Day in Cherokee County during which residents are encouraged to pick up litter along roadways of their choosing within the county. Of the event, Chamberlain spoke of the importance of leaving the orange bags of trash collected from county roadways for three days as a reminder to citizens of the impact of littering. After three days, participating residents are encouraged to call the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) at 828-837-2742 to have the NCDOT pick up the collected bags of trash.

Commissioner McKinnon stated while he supported the proclamation, he was concerned about the prospect of leaving bags on the side of roadways for three days.

“The three-day deal, with the garbage on the road, I know its purpose is to show people that you’re out there picking the garbage up,” McKinnon said, “but they (NCDOT) like to get that as quick as they can and they really don’t like leaving it three days for a number of reasons. One being is they get a little criticism over that … That’s the only part of (the proclamation) I’d like to leave out, so they can go ahead and pick it up when they can or as soon as they can.”

To this, Chamberlain told McKinnon leaving the bags on the side of roads for three days has a “very positive value” and “sends a message.” After some further discussion, commissioners passed the proclamation as presented 4-1 with McKinnon voting against.

“Mr. Chamberlain, I can agree with you that it does make an impact when you drive down the road and you see those bags out there,” Commissioner Stiles said of the event.

The board approved a number of budget revisions during the meeting. A $5,000 budget increase was approved for the Emergency Management department to purchase an accountability system to use to track personnel of the county’s volunteer fire departments. According to the revision, Emergency Management received $17,722 in additional grant money from an Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG) and the funds for the purchase were approved to be taken from this grant money.

A budget revision to repair a Jeep Cherokee used by the Department of Social Services (DSS) in the amount of $2,844 was approved. The vehicle, according to Finance Director Candy Anderson, had been in two accidents and the county received insurance proceeds in the amount $1,879.

Commissioners also approved Cherokee County Schools to use $44,658 from the half-cent school sales tax to cover replacements of two fire alarm systems at the Andrews High School band building and shop building in the amount of $11,540 each, a $20,939 expenditure for Microsoft Office upgrades and licensing expenses for the school system, and a $639 match with the county to replace bleachers at Peachtree Elementary School.

A $25,000 revision for a school system match to expand the Murphy River Walk Trail near Konahetta Park was tabled after County Manager Randy Wiggins told the board issues involving the flood plain of Valley River were still be researched.

Oscar Valdes, an 86-year-old Korean War veteran, spoke to commissioners about changing the sign at Konahetta Park to read “Konahetta Veterans Park” and to add a patriotic red, white and blue color scheme to the proposed new sign. Valdes stated the new sign would cost $898.80 to erect, of which $58.80 of the estimate from Curtis Sign Shop is sales tax and would not not be charged to the county. Valdes said he would like to see the sign installed sometime before Memorial Day. Because the park lies within the city limits of Murphy, the board tabled its decision to allow more time to consult with the city of Murphy about a joint venture regarding the sign and to review draft of the sign’s design.

The board set 4:30 p.m. as a daily deadline for all land recordings submitted to the register of deeds office. Last month, Daphne Dockery, register of deeds, petitioned to the board to set an earlier time for a deadline for recordings in an effort to manage overtime for employees within the county register of deeds office.

Southwestern Commission was approved by the commissioners to continue as lead agency to coordinate the preparation of the county Home and Community Care Block Grant (HCCBG) program for Aging Services for fiscal year 2018-19. The board also approved the committee structure for the HCCBG five-member committee to be the Cherokee County Senior Center director, the county transit director, the director of DSS, the county manager and county finance director, or designees of the aforementioned positions.

Also, commissioners set a budget work session for May 30 at 5 p.m.

Following an executive session, two decisions were approved by the board. Commissioners unanimously approved a grant resolution for The Mining Store, a cryptocurrency mining data storage center that will be occupying the former Emerson building in Peachtree, North Carolina, and will create 25 jobs with an average pay of $40,000 annually. According to the resolution, the county Board of Commissioners is providing $30,000 in Incentive Funding to the project to be paid over a three-year period and $15,000 for a 5 percent match for a Building Reuse Grant. The county is expected to be reimbursed by the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

The board unanimously approved revisions to a five-year airport ground lease with MedTrans. County Manager Wiggins read the changes to the contract to include a $30 per month fair-market lease price, to eliminate one clause concerning the lessee’s right to erect, maintain and alter buildings or structures upon the premises, to change the wording in the arbitration clause to read “Cherokee County, North Carolina” instead of “American Arbitration Association”, and “for (the county attorney) to add language to (the lease) that should at any time the FFA (Federal Aviation Administration) find the agreement to be incompatible with their rules and regulations that the lease would be terminated at that time and a new lease would be developed.”

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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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.

State recommends three additional positions for child welfare services

News

MURPHY, N.C. – At the April 23 Cherokee County Board of Commissioners (BOC) meeting, Michael Becketts, assistant secretary for North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), updated the board on the status of the Department of Social Services (DSS), and specifically child welfare services, in Cherokee.

Becketts told commissioners the DHHS had conducted on-site reviews of all programs from April 2 through 6, including child welfare services, at DSS.

“I’m happy to report that, by policy, the other parts of social services appear to be in substantial compliance,” Becketts stated. “I think that’s really good news for Cherokee County, and I do appreciate the effort and that was done not alone – the department (DHHS) doesn’t have the authority to just really come in and do that – but in consultation with Mr. (Randy) Wiggins, county manager, we did that review.”

Becketts explained to the board that Cindy Palmer, director of DSS, had submitted a budget request to the BOC to expand the child welfare staff of the DSS by three positions during the 2018-19 fiscal year. According to Becketts, Palmer proposed one program manager and two child welfare social workers.

While DHHS agreed with the need for three additional positions, Becketts stated after a recent examination of the organizational structure of the child welfare department of DSS in regard to the current workload, DHHS recommended a slight modification to the job specifications of the positions.

Instead of one program manager and two social workers, DHHS recommends one assistant director for child welfare services, one child welfare quality assurance specialist, and one foster care social worker.

“Your child welfare services has grown and needs more executive leadership within the department,” Becketts said of the assistant director and quality assurance specialist positions. “There are a number of federal changes that are happening to child welfare.”

According to information from DHHS, the annual salaries for the three proposed positions are $48,842 for the assistant director, $36,776 for the quality assurance specialist and $31,811 for the foster care social worker. Becketts recommended to the commissioners to approve a budget amendment for the 2017-18 fiscal year to allow DSS to begin recruiting qualified candidates instead of waiting until the beginning of the fiscal year, which begins July 1, to fill these positions.

“These three positions are critical to the continued success of child welfare in Cherokee County,” Becketts stated.

County Finance Director Candy Anderson explained that a pro-rated amount of $18,447 would cover the salaries for the three positions for the six weeks leading up to the beginning of the 2018-19 fiscal year. She also added $3,422 would account for office supplies and technology costs for the additional positions. The county would later receive an approximate 60 percent reimbursement from the state for salaries, which would leave county’s pro-rated cost at $8,748 for salaries.

For the 2018-19 fiscal year, the county could expect to pay $65,935 in salaries and benefits for the three positions after the state reimbursement, according to Anderson.

“I understand what you’re saying,” Commissioner C.B. McKinnon told Becketts. “In considering a budget, there’s lots of things to consider, so until we know what we’re doing with our complete budget it’s hard to make a decision on an individual position and going ahead and bumping that into this year.”

McKinnon also stated he was uncomfortable with modification of the positions from DHHS. “I’d like more input from Director Palmer before we consider that,” McKinnon stated. “We normally will go through and the director will give us the need for these positions and justify these positions.”

Later, when McKinnon reiterated his opposition to the modifications, Becketts explained the quality assurance specialist is the only position seeing any major change to that initially requested by Palmer.

Commissioner Cal Stiles endorsed the positions and the recommendations from the state saying, “I’d like to see us move forward with it. I know Director Palmer has mentioned several times about the staff shortage … With that $8,700 to finish out this year, I think for that amount of money it’d be a good investment to go ahead and try to work with you (Becketts) and then work with Director Palmer to get what she needs out there to get it back up to the level of service that we need for our children here in the county. So, I’d recommend it.”

After further discussion, the proposal to add the three DSS positions and the budget revision was approved 4-1 with McKinnon voting against.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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.

State officials assume operations of Cherokee County child welfare services

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MURPHY, N.C. – After an executive session at the March 19 Cherokee County Board of Commissioners meeting, Michael Becketts, assistant secretary for human services with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), spoke to the commissioners about the recent NCDHHS oversight into the county Department of Social Services (DSS) child welfare services.

Earlier in the day, a team of eight representatives from NCDHHS arrived in Cherokee County and assumed leadership of child welfare services at the Cherokee County Department of Social Services (DSS), as authorized under state law.

According to a statement from Kelly Haight, press assistant for the NCDHHS office of communications, “DHHS initiated an investigation of child welfare services in Cherokee County after learning that the Cherokee Department of Social Services had been using ‘Custody and Visitation Agreements’ in removing children from parents and placing them in other homes without the required oversight of the court system. Subsequent information gathered during DHHS’ investigation revealed a systematic lack of adequate training, supervision and capacity to deliver appropriate child welfare services beyond the use of the Custody and Visitation Agreements.”

According to information from NCDHHS, over 2,000 child protective service cases dating back to 2008 in which a Custody and Visitation Agreement was utilized were reviewed. After reviewing information from 29 of those cases, a letter from NCDHHS including a corrective action plan was sent the Cherokee County DSS March 13.  However, in the two days following the letter sent to Cherokee DSS, new information provided to NCDHHS led the state agency to feel that the Cherokee County DSS “is not providing child welfare services in accordance with the law, rule and policy, and further, the failure to provide these services in accordance with the law, rule and policy poses a substantial threat to the safety and welfare of children in Cherokee County.”

A second letter from NCDHHS sent to the Cherokee County DSS further states that pursuant to “authority under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 108A-74(c), NCDHHS will begin assuming temporary direction operation of the child welfare services in Cherokee County on Monday, March 19, 2018.”

“Our first priority is to protect the safety and well-being of the vulnerable children and families in need of child welfare services across our state,” DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen said in a statement. “There is a lot of work to be done to bring Cherokee County Department of Social Services into compliance with laws, policies and appropriate child welfare practices.”

At the commissioners meeting, Becketts told the board the NCDHHS team, in its short time in Cherokee County, the team had already met with “county leadership,” including the Board of Commissioners, County Manager Randy Wiggins, and Cherokee County DSS Director Cindy Palmer.

“What we found in our approach is a rather supportive community for our role here in Cherokee County,” Becketts said. “While it is not necessarily the happiest occasion for us to be in Cherokee County, we do appreciate how you have welcomed us into your community.”

Among the team from NCDHHS, as Becketts explained, are individuals with familiarity and extensive experience in the fields of child welfare services, social services, foster care and adoption.

“We brought some really good minds and people who are used to not only western North Carolina but are familiar with Cherokee County,” Becketts added.

Becketts stated the team has divided its work into three areas: “One is related to the known issue of the Custody and Visitation Agreements; one is aligning child welfare practice in Cherokee County DSS with law, policy and rule; and the other body of work is … restoring the faith that the community has in the DSS to do good work on behalf of vulnerable children.”

Becketts told the commissioners the team, in its first day, had already noted two critical areas of improvement for the county DSS: support for the DSS attorney and a need for staff training.

“What we want to do is take an opportunity to continue to access the situation, and over the course this week and probably next, work with the county manager to develop a strategy on how we will actually be able to effectively support child welfare services in Cherokee County,” Becketts continued.

On Wednesday afternoon, March 21, an executive session meeting was held with members from NCDHHS team and Cherokee County DSS board members. Bob Cochran, children’s program representative for the NCDHHS team, confirmed no official action was taken during Wednesday closed session meeting.

 

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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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