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Catawba County: Award Winning Government

award

Catawba County is known across the nation as the home of an innovative county government. Our innovation is reflected in the more than 200 awards the county has won in just the past twelve years. These awards are won in competition with thousands of other outstanding programs across the state and nation. Check below for a brief description of the awards presented to Catawba County since 1986.

 
2014:

National Association of Counties Achievement Awards: 

Commercial Recycling Program- a free and voluntary program that encourages local businesses to take proactive steps to improve their environmental record while improving their bottom-line.  The program recognizes businesses in Catawba County that operate in an environmentally friendly manner by practicing the 4R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle, rebuy).  The Commercial Recycling Program currently includes nineteen businesses. Companies enrolled in the program are able to access a wide range of data and assistance including a 49-page Resource Guide For Commercial Recycling And Waste Reduction. Program partners receive technical assistance at no cost. County staff helps partners find markets for their recyclable materials, both locally and around the state.

Remote Access Permitting Terminal or RAPT- provides real-time interaction between a citizen needing a permit at Hickory City Hall and a Permit Center Specialist located in the Catawba County Government Center in Newton. RAPT gives customers the ability to apply for and obtain residential and trade permits, or ask questions and receive answers about the permitting process from a remote location. RAPT utilizes video conferencing technology to allow citizens and contractors seamless interaction with Permit Center staff without the added time and expense of travelling from Hickory to Newton to conduct business. The system has allowed the County’s permitting process to evolve and maintain a high level of customer service without hiring additional staff to physically operate a second office.

Public Health Farmers Market- a partnership with the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, the market’s goal is to improve individual and community health by increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables.  WIC clients receive Farmers Market Nutritional Program vouchers when available to supplement their WIC food benefits with fresh, local produce during the summer months. Of the 415 customers surveyed at last year’s market, 88.4% said the market helped increase the amount of fresh produce their family ate. For surveyed WIC clients, that number was 95%.  With the addition of this new market to our community, the WIC program had the third highest redemption rate, 62.9%, of Farmers Market Nutritional Program vouchers in North Carolina last year. The statewide average, which tends to hover around 50%, was 48.47% in 2013.

Social ServicesChildren and Youth Investment Team (CAY-IT)- seeks to streamline the process for finding permanent placements for children in foster care, resulting in less trauma for the child and faster decisions. CAY-IT brings together professionals from several different governmental units to work collaboratively in planning for permanent placements for foster children who have been in care longer than average. The program has improved permanency planning for children in foster care by bringing a wide range of expertise to the planning process,” Arrowood added. “No longer are social workers making decisions without input from partners from the mental health and legal systems, which also impact these children. The result is a faster, better decision-making process.

International City/County Management Association (ICMA) Community Sustainability Program Excellence Award- Presented to the Immigrant Agriculture Program, a cooperative effort of Catawba County Government, the North Carolina Cooperative Extension-Catawba Center and the Cooperative Extension Program at North Carolina A&T State University, which works primarily with Hmong farmers living in Catawba County to help them become more successful in growing and marketing their produce.

Alliance For Innovation Outstanding Achievement in Local Government Innovations Award- Presented to the Child Wellbeing Project of Social Services, which works with families when children leave foster care under age 16 for their reunified, guardianship or adoptive families. These families are offered the opportunity to receive up to two years of extended services. They have a success coach, who works with them to enhance parenting, communication and other life skills.

North Carolina State Treasurer's Governmental Award for Excellence in Accounting and Financial Management-  Presented to the Catawba County Finance Office for the ways in which that office improved "efficiency in accounting through its use of electronic processing and storage of accounts payable files, including supporting documentation." 

Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting, Government Finance Officers Association- presented to the Catawba County Finance Office for creation of an easily readable and understandable comprehensive annual financial report covering all funds and financial transactions during the fiscal year. This is the 32nd consecutive year in which the Catawba County Finance Office has won the award. Only about 2% of local governments across the U.S. and Canada have won the award for 20 years in a row.

Popular Annual Financial Reporting Award, Government Finance Officers Association- presented to the Catawba County Finance Office for its Popular Annual Financial Report (PAFR) for the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2012.  The award is presented to local government finance offices that create a report which gives highlights of the County’s fiscal year in a summary format.   This is the sixth consecutive year in which the Catawba County Finance Office has won the award.

2013:

National Association of Counties (NACo) Achievement Awards

Performance Dashboard- awarded to the Catawba County Facts and Figures page, which may be accessed at http://www.catawbacountync.gov/budget/PerformanceDashboard.asp, that offers users a choice of exploring data grouped into eight broad categories.   Clicking on the button for each category allows the user to drill down into many other data sets within that content area.  Created by County Budget Analyst Paul Murray, the dashboard offers users the choice of seeking data on General County Information, Education, Public Safety, Human Services, Economic and Physical Development, Culture, Environmental Quality and General Government.  Once a user selects one of those broad topics, he or she will be taken to another screen with additional choices

Digital County Survey award- presented by the Center for Digital Government (CDG) which ranked Catawba County as the number one ranked county nationally in its Top 10 Digital Counties Survey Awards, among counties across the nation with a population between 150,000 and 249,999 people.  The CDG is a national research and advisory institute focused on IT policies and best practices in state and local government. The survey, conducted annually by CDG and Government Technology, in partnership with the National Association of Counties, evaluates entrants on their ability to demonstrate successful outcomes through the strategic use of technology.  According to information from the CDG, the highest ranked counties, “earned top rankings in their respective population categories for effectively and efficiently using digital technologies to serve their citizens, streamline operations and achieve measurable benefits.”

North Carolina Association of County Commissioners/Local Government Credit Union Excellence in Innovation Awards

Educational Advocate program, Department of Social Services- Transitioning into foster care is not easy for a child. To try to make this transition as easy as possible and to minimize the number of school moves, Catawba County Social Services started an Educational Advocate Service with the goal of improving educational continuity and stability for children in foster care. The Educational Advocate is a full-time social worker who serves as a liaison with the county’s three public school systems and focuses on the educational achievement, stability and continuity of children from their entry into foster care through post-care. The Educational Advocate is part of the Child Wellbeing Project, a research partnership with The Duke Endowment, which provides an array of supportive services to improve the well-being of children who have been in the custody of Catawba County Social Services.

Thermal Energy Exchange, Capture and Utilization Project, Department of Utilities and Engineering- In 1999, Catawba County became the first landfill owner/operator in North Carolina to use landfill gas to generate electricity. The engines used to generate electricity produced a substantial amount of thermal energy or heat as a byproduct. Recognizing the potential of this thermal energy byproduct, county staff began to develop the concept for today’s Regional EcoComplex and Resource Recovery Facility (EcoComplex). The basic principle of the EcoComplex is that each component’s byproducts must be used as a fuel source, energy source or some other through-put for another EcoComplex entity. These synergetic Eco Complex relationships are a system of applied industrial ecology to waste management.  Located adjacent to the Biodiesel Facility are three one-megawatt landfill gas-to-energy generator sets. Each generator contains a cooling system, not unlike the cooling system found in a car or truck, designed to keep the engines from overheating. As the coolant circulates through the engine, it transfers heat from the engines, thereby keeping them from overheating. The heat being carried away is a thermal energy source.

Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada Distinguished Budget Presentation Award- presented to the Catawba County Budget Office for development of an easily understood budget document which can be used by other governmental units or the average citizen. This is the 24th consecutive year in which the Catawba County Budget Office has won the award, which is the highest form of recognition in governmental budgeting. 

Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting, Government Finance Officers Association- presented to the Catawba County Finance Office for creation of an easily readable and understandable comprehensive annual financial report covering all funds and financial transactions during the fiscal year. This is the 31st consecutive year in which the Catawba County Finance Office has won the award. Only about 2% of local governments across the U.S. and Canada have won the award for 20 years in a row.

Popular Annual Financial Reporting Award, Government Finance Officers Association- presented to the Catawba County Finance Office for its Popular Annual Financial Report (PAFR) for the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2011.  The award is presented to local government finance offices that create a report which gives highlights of the County’s fiscal year in a summary format.   This is the fifth consecutive year in which the Catawba County Finance Office has won the award.

2012:

National Association of Counties (NACo) Achievement Awards

Backpack Program for Children:  This Department of Social Services program was established to reach families affected by economic distress, and it serves as an ongoing, immediate source of food for students during weekends and extended breaks from school. The program also educates parents about resources in the community, including job fairs and other free family-oriented activities, by including printed information about these programs in the backpacks. The program was a true community effort. BB&T Bank employees contributed 400 hours of volunteer assistance, and BB&T provided $10,000 in funds. Churches and community members also provided financial and volunteer assistance. The Eastern Catawba Cooperative Christian Ministry, a non-profit organization, provided 3,000 square feet of warehouse space for food storage and a place to pack the backpacks. The program initially served 360 students in seven elementary schools and now serves 980 students per week and is in 20 of the county’s 25 elementary schools.

Green Vendor Exhibition- The exhibit, organized by the County's Purchasing Division and Recycling Education Office, was designed to shine a spotlight on existing and potential vendors that specialize in providing recycled and environmentally-friendly products and services. The County’s Buy Recycled Policy, implemented in 2007, requires the procurement division to educate employees on green products and services. Procurement staff began planning the event in May 2011, researched event locations, established vendor fee guidelines and developed a list of potential vendors with a focus on our local Catawba County vendors. The Catawba County Chamber of Commerce assisted in advertising the event to its membership. The exhibition was unique because it was strictly for governmental employees and because vendors only exhibited their green products, materials and services. A variety of products and services were on display, including office supplies, office furniture, printing/

promotional products, janitorial supplies, vehicles, maintenance/facilities, copiers and recycling services. Since a fee was not charged to vendors and sponsorship was voluntary, the event gave an opportunity to small, local businesses to reach a large audience with minimal expense.

North Carolina Association of County Commissioners Outstanding County Program Awards

Backpack Program for Children:  This Department of Social Services program was established to reach families affected by economic distress, and it serves as an ongoing, immediate source of food for students during weekends and extended breaks from school. The program also educates parents about resources in the community, including job fairs and other free family-oriented activities, by including printed information about these programs in the backpacks. The program was a true community effort. BB&T Bank employees contributed 400 hours of volunteer assistance, and BB&T provided $10,000 in funds. Churches and community members also provided financial and volunteer assistance. The Eastern Catawba Cooperative Christian Ministry, a non-profit organization, provided 3,000 square feet of warehouse space for food storage and a place to pack the backpacks. The program initially served 360 students in seven elementary schools and now serves 980 students per week and is in 20 of the county’s 25 elementary schools.

Healthy Schools Recognition Program- A Public Health program, which was created by Eat Smart Move More Catawba County (ESMM), a volunteer coalition aimed at reducing and preventing childhood obesity. The annual program encourages schools to meet or maintain seven specific criteria to be recognized as a Healthy School. Among the criteria are having a school wellness council that meets monthly and consists of school personnel and parents, offering fresh or frozen fruit or vegetables during lunch at least three times a week, 30 minutes of physical activity a day in grades K-8 and having a healthy foods policy for concessions.  Sixteen of the county’s 40 public schools participated in the program during 2010-11, and 10 were recognized as a Healthy School.

QR Codes on Building Permits-  QR codes are a type of barcode, or two-dimensional code, designed to be read by smart phones. They look like black boxes with black and white patterns inside the boxes. When a picture of the code is taken with a smart phone, the phone is connected to more information via the internet. Catawba County was recognized for implementation of a Building Permit QR Codes system, which provides building contractors and inspectors with up-to-the-minute job site and inspection information, at their fingertips, in the field.

Government Innovation Grant Award (GIGA)-  Catawba County won the top GIGA for 2011 from the UNC School of Government and North Carolina Local Government Information Systems Association, for its innovative use of Quick Response (QR) Codes on building permits issued in the county.  QR codes are a type of barcode, or two-dimensional code, designed to be read by smart phones.   They look like black boxes with black and white patterns inside the boxes. When a picture of the code is taken with a smart phone, the phone is connected to more information via the internet.  Catawba County was recognized for implementation of a Building Permit QR Codes system, which provides building contractors and inspectors with up-to-the-minute job site and inspection information, at their fingertips, in the field.

Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada Distinguished Budget Presentation Award- presented to the Catawba County Budget Office for development of an easily understood budget document which can be used by other governmental units or the average citizen. This is the 23rd consecutive year in which the Catawba County Budget Office has won the award, which is the highest form of recognition in governmental budgeting. 

Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting, Government Finance Officers Association- presented to the Catawba County Finance Office for creation of an easily readable and understandable comprehensive annual financial report covering all funds and financial transactions during the fiscal year. This is the 30th consecutive year in which the Catawba County Finance Office has won the award. Only about 2% of local governments across the U.S. and Canada have won the award for 20 years in a row.

Popular Annual Financial Reporting Award, Government Finance Officers Association- presented to the Catawba County Finance Office for its Popular Annual Financial Report (PAFR) for the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2011.  The award is presented to local government finance offices that create a report which gives highlights of the County’s fiscal year in a summary format.   This is the fourth consecutive year in which the Catawba County Finance Office has won the award.

2011:

Government Innovation Grant Award (GIGA)-  Catawba County won a quarterly GIGA from the UNC School of Government and North Carolina Local Government Information Systems Association, for its innovative use of Quick Response (QR) Codes on building permits issued in the county.  QR codes are a type of barcode, or two-dimensional code, designed to be read by smart phones.   They look like black boxes with black and white patterns inside the boxes. When a picture of the code is taken with a smart phone, the phone is connected to more information via the internet.  Catawba County was recognized for implementation of a Building Permit QR Codes system, which provides building contractors and inspectors with up-to-the-minute job site and inspection information, at their fingertips, in the field.

National Association of Counties (NACo) Achievement Awards

A Partnership in Prevention- presented to Catawba County Social Services.  The Social Services Child Support Unit partnered with the Prevention Unit, which operates the Teen Up program. Teen Up is a poverty reduction and prevention program that focuses on drop out and pregnancy prevention and serves approximately 400 male and female students annually. Social workers provide students, in small group settings, with information and education on the impact of sex and the prevention of teen pregnancy. Students who begin the program as 7th or 8th graders are followed from middle school through high school.

The program provides information to students regarding the financial implications of teen pregnancy, as well as the reality of government assistance and child support. A child support staff member attends a group session and begins by asking the students to talk about their ‘needs’ each month, meaning cell phone costs, clothes, entertainment and food, and how much they spend on those items. As the conversation continues, there is discussion about benefits available from the government and the child support program, as well as eligibility requirements. The attitude of the teens often implies that, if they get pregnant, they will be able to get all of these services.  An important by-product of this discussion is that myths attached with ‘living off of government assistance’ are dispelled. Ideally, the visits take place after the students have participated in the “Baby, Think it Over” program, through which students experience a simulation of caring for a baby during a week or weekend period and are then brought into a discussion surrounding financial support for themselves as a single mother or father.

Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting-Government Finance Officers Association- presented to the Catawba County Finance Office for creation of an easily readable and understandable comprehensive annual financial report covering all funds and financial transactions during the fiscal year. This is the 29th consecutive year in which the Catawba County Finance Office has won the award.  Only about 2% of local governments across the U.S. and Canada have won the award for 20 years in a row.

Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada Distinguished Budget Presentation Award- presented to the Catawba County Budget Office for development of an easily understood budget document which can be used by other governmental units or the average citizen. This is the 22nd consecutive year in which the Catawba County Budget Office has won the award, which is the highest form of recognition in governmental budgeting. 

2010:

North Carolina Association of County Commissioners Local Government Federal Credit Union Employee Productivity Award

Educational Improvement Initiative for Children In Foster Care program - presented to Catawba County Social Services. “The Educational Improvement Initiative aimed to improve educational continuity and stability for children in foster care in Catawba County,” said Dawn Wilson, who serves as Program Manager in this service area. “Specifically, the initiative included establishment of a communication protocol and identification of designees in 44 schools to minimize school moves or facilitate school record transfers; a coordinated database to capture school progress and special needs; inclusion of educational information in court reports; raised awareness of the educational needs of children in foster care among child welfare and educational staff; focus on special educational needs of children in foster care; and the establishment of an Educational Advocate position at Social Services to assure coordination of transportation, school enrollment, and information sharing.”

Wilson said such a program was vital for a group of children whose circumstances as foster children can easily stifle their potential for success.

“It is generally accepted that school success is a precursor for positive outcomes for youth, contributing to enhanced well-being, increased chances for personal fulfillment and economic self-sufficiency,” Wilson said. “Unfortunately, for too many children in foster care, the opportunity for school success is compromised by lack of stability and continuity in school placements, poor academic achievement, and lack of educational support. Research shows that children and youth in foster care have poorer educational outcomes compared to their peers living at home. These negative outcomes can be attributed to multiple school moves, which can lead to delayed enrollment, inconsistencies in learning pace or curricula, instruction loss and delayed identification of learning disabilities.”

The work of the program and its staff reduced the school “move rate” for children entering foster care in Catawba County from 24% to 6% in 2009, compared to the national average of 66% of children experiencing school moves. In addition, while 50% of children in foster care were not on grade level in 2006, after tracking educational progress staff found that 79% of children surveyed in 2009 either maintained a passing grade or improved a letter grade in a subject area of need.

National Association of Counties (NACo) Achievement Awards

Community-Based Crisis Intervention Program- presented to Catawba County Social Services. “The Crisis Intervention Program (CIP) provides federal funds to low-income families in heating and cooling crises. Social Services was overwhelmed with the volume of applicants for these funds in late 2008 and early 2009,” said Jo Sloan, a Social Services Program Administrator. “In April 2009, Social Services' staff met with representatives from three local non-profit agencies to discuss the possibility of joining forces to serve families in a more holistic manner. As a result of these discussions, CIP funds were made available to these agencies. When families visit those agencies, their needs are assessed and assistance can be provided in a more seamless manner. The agency is able to help the family out of the crisis using their resources or those of the CIP program. In addition, families are able to apply for these services closer to home, as these three helping agencies are located in areas nearer to the population centers of the county.”

The non-profits agencies involved include the Greater Hickory Cooperative Christian Ministry; the Eastern Catawba Cooperative Christian Ministry; and the Salvation Army of Hickory. These agencies provide a diverse range of services to struggling individuals and families including clothing closets, food pantries, a medical clinic with pharmacy services, and financial assistance with shelter and utility costs.

“At Social Services, the arrival of cold weather and federal CIP monies was sure to bring additional traffic to the agency,” Sloan said. “Because there has never been any dedicated staff for this time-limited program, staff and supervisors from various programs (Work First, Day Care, Adult Services, etc.) would be pulled to handle CIP applications. Invariably, these staff would be overwhelmed by the numbers, resulting in over-crowded lobbies and long waits to be seen. This was a situation that was totally unacceptable to staff and management.

“Once it was recognized that all the agencies were working with basically the same struggling families and hoping to achieve the same outcome, it was agreed that we should join forces to provide a more customer-friendly and efficient system,” Sloan concluded. “Social Services could bring the money and expertise to the table. The helping agencies could provide manpower at multiple sites throughout the county. With this partnership, citizens are served in a more holistic manner and no longer subject to going from one agency to another seeking help.”


Educational Improvement Initiative for Children In Foster Care program - presented to Catawba County Social Services. “The Educational Improvement Initiative aimed to improve educational continuity and stability for children in foster care in Catawba County,” said Dawn Wilson, who serves as Program Manager in this service area. “Specifically, the initiative included establishment of a communication protocol and identification of designees in 44 schools to minimize school moves or facilitate school record transfers; a coordinated database to capture school progress and special needs; inclusion of educational information in court reports; raised awareness of the educational needs of children in foster care among child welfare and educational staff; focus on special educational needs of children in foster care; and the establishment of an Educational Advocate position at Social Services to assure coordination of transportation, school enrollment, and information sharing.”

Wilson said such a program was vital for a group of children whose circumstances as foster children can easily stifle their potential for success.

“It is generally accepted that school success is a precursor for positive outcomes for youth, contributing to enhanced well-being, increased chances for personal fulfillment and economic self-sufficiency,” Wilson said. “Unfortunately, for too many children in foster care, the opportunity for school success is compromised by lack of stability and continuity in school placements, poor academic achievement, and lack of educational support. Research shows that children and youth in foster care have poorer educational outcomes compared to their peers living at home. These negative outcomes can be attributed to multiple school moves, which can lead to delayed enrollment, inconsistencies in learning pace or curricula, instruction loss and delayed identification of learning disabilities.”

The work of the program and its staff reduced the school “move rate” for children entering foster care in Catawba County from 24% to 6% in 2009, compared to the national average of 66% of children experiencing school moves. In addition, while 50% of children in foster care were not on grade level in 2006, after tracking educational progress staff found that 79% of children surveyed in 2009 either maintained a passing grade or improved a letter grade in a subject area of need.

School Nurse Alternative Schedule Project - presented to Catawba County Public Health. In 2005, a partnership was formed between Catawba Valley Medical Center and Public Health to expand the School Nurse program. Public Health, with the support of the Board of Commissioners, was already supporting ten full time (12 month) school nurse positions. Aware of the impact of school nursing on the health and wellness of students, the hospital's CEO and the Board of Commissioners allocated funding to support five additional school nurse positions, bringing the total to fifteen. While this improved the school nurse to student ratio from 1 nurse per 3000 students to 1 nurse per 1600 students, more school nurses were needed to adequately address children’s health needs.

Additional positions were funded by a three year grant in the amount of $666,933 from the Duke Endowment. This grant allowed Catawba County to expand the School Health Program to a total of twenty three school nurses, resulting in a nurse to student ratio of 1 nurse per 1000 students, much closer to the Centers for Disease Control's recommendation of 1 nurse per 750 students. When the grant funding ended in 2008, at about the time the severe economic downturn began, the program faced a major challenge.

“As of Fiscal Year 2009-2010, the cost of the school nurse program was to increase significantly for the three school districts that the school nurse program serves,” said Jennifer McCracken, Health Services Manager with Catawba County Public Health. “In order to control costs as much as possible, a new staffing schedule needed to be developed that would decrease program expenses while maintaining the same high level of services to students. At that time, all school nurses worked a 12 month schedule, using summer months for program planning, case management activities and the staffing of various Public Health clinics. School nurses had also expressed an interest in being off in the summers while school was not in session.”

Ultimately, a 90% work schedule was created that allowed improved program efficiency, provided the opportunity for school nurses to be off for 5.2 weeks every summer, more effectively used program funding, and more closely aligned the school nurse work schedule with that of the school schedule” McCracken concluded. “By transitioning to this modified work schedule, a cost savings of $117,129 was realized. The decision to transition to the 90% work schedule saved school nursing jobs in uncertain economic times. The integrity of the program remained intact, outcomes were not compromised, and schools were able to realize a cost savings, leading to healthier school children and a healthier community.”

Catawba County Sheriff’s Office Domestic Victims Unit (DVU)- The DVU is a branch of the Special Victims Unit, a section of the Sheriff's Office Criminal Investigations Division. The DVU investigates cases encompassing all forms of domestic violence, from misdemeanor assaults and communication of threats to more serious offenses such as felony assaults with weapons, assaults on or in front of children, sexual assaults and murder. The DVU works closely with Catawba County Social Services, the First Step Domestic Violence Center, and Rape Crisis Center of Catawba County to provide the highest quality of services to the victims of domestic violence.

“Prior to 2008, the Sheriff's Office did not offer any directed services or otherwise differentiate between victims of domestic violence and other persons reporting they were victimized by a crime committed against them,” said Sheriff David Huffman. “Cases such as sexual assaults, rape and domestic violence were put into the same figurative stack as break-ins, frauds and similar cases. Sheriff’s investigators, with no specialized training related to the investigation of specialized domestic cases, worked them as best they could with varying results. In 2008, the Sheriff's Office created two new enforcement positions dedicated to the investigation of domestic violence, sexual assaults committed against adults, and the service of Domestic Violence Protective Orders.”

The new staff positions were classified as an investigator position and a deputy position. Having these dedicated positions allowed the new criminal investigator and deputy sheriff to receive training in, and focus solely on, crimes of domestic violence. The deputy sheriff’s position focused primarily on the service of domestic violence protective orders. The success of this initiative, coupled with a marked increase in the number of cases of domestic violence, resulted in the creation of a second investigator position in 2009 that also focuses on these types of crimes.

“The Domestic Violence Unit has been very successful,” Huffman added. “This unit has tackled the toughest kinds of cases law enforcement presents to us, and through specialized investigative techniques as well as hard work, has brought most of those cases to a positive outcome. The DVU has sought to raise the level of services offered to victims of crime in Catawba County, and in doing so, addressed a need that was largely not being met prior to the formation of the unit. The DVU has affected approximately 200 arrests of criminal offenders since its formation and has had an above average rate of conviction in court. The DVU has formed strong partnerships with other county agencies as well as victim service organizations. The DVU's success can be measured both in numbers as well as the large volume of satisfied citizens who have received their services.”

North Carolina Association of County Commissioners Outstanding County Program Awards

Community-Based Crisis Intervention Program- presented to Catawba County Social Services. “The Crisis Intervention Program (CIP) provides federal funds to low-income families in heating and cooling crises. Social Services was overwhelmed with the volume of applicants for these funds in late 2008 and early 2009,” said Jo Sloan, a Social Services Program Administrator. “In April 2009, Social Services' staff met with representatives from three local non-profit agencies to discuss the possibility of joining forces to serve families in a more holistic manner. As a result of these discussions, CIP funds were made available to these agencies. When families visit those agencies, their needs are assessed and assistance can be provided in a more seamless manner. The agency is able to help the family out of the crisis using their resources or those of the CIP program. In addition, families are able to apply for these services closer to home, as these three helping agencies are located in areas nearer to the population centers of the county.”

The non-profits agencies involved include the Greater Hickory Cooperative Christian Ministry; the Eastern Catawba Cooperative Christian Ministry; and the Salvation Army of Hickory. These agencies provide a diverse range of services to struggling individuals and families including clothing closets, food pantries, a medical clinic with pharmacy services, and financial assistance with shelter and utility costs.

“At Social Services, the arrival of cold weather and federal CIP monies was sure to bring additional traffic to the agency,” Sloan said. “Because there has never been any dedicated staff for this time-limited program, staff and supervisors from various programs (Work First, Day Care, Adult Services, etc.) would be pulled to handle CIP applications. Invariably, these staff would be overwhelmed by the numbers, resulting in over-crowded lobbies and long waits to be seen. This was a situation that was totally unacceptable to staff and management.

“Once it was recognized that all the agencies were working with basically the same struggling families and hoping to achieve the same outcome, it was agreed that we should join forces to provide a more customer-friendly and efficient system,” Sloan concluded. “Social Services could bring the money and expertise to the table. The helping agencies could provide manpower at multiple sites throughout the county. With this partnership, citizens are served in a more holistic manner and no longer subject to going from one agency to another seeking help.”

Educational Improvement Initiative for Children In Foster Care program - presented to Catawba County Social Services. “The Educational Improvement Initiative aimed to improve educational continuity and stability for children in foster care in Catawba County,” said Dawn Wilson, who serves as Program Manager in this service area. “Specifically, the initiative included establishment of a communication protocol and identification of designees in 44 schools to minimize school moves or facilitate school record transfers; a coordinated database to capture school progress and special needs; inclusion of educational information in court reports; raised awareness of the educational needs of children in foster care among child welfare and educational staff; focus on special educational needs of children in foster care; and the establishment of an Educational Advocate position at Social Services to assure coordination of transportation, school enrollment, and information sharing.”

Wilson said such a program was vital for a group of children whose circumstances as foster children can easily stifle their potential for success.

“It is generally accepted that school success is a precursor for positive outcomes for youth, contributing to enhanced well-being, increased chances for personal fulfillment and economic self-sufficiency,” Wilson said. “Unfortunately, for too many children in foster care, the opportunity for school success is compromised by lack of stability and continuity in school placements, poor academic achievement, and lack of educational support. Research shows that children and youth in foster care have poorer educational outcomes compared to their peers living at home. These negative outcomes can be attributed to multiple school moves, which can lead to delayed enrollment, inconsistencies in learning pace or curricula, instruction loss and delayed identification of learning disabilities.”

The work of the program and its staff reduced the school “move rate” for children entering foster care in Catawba County from 24% to 6% in 2009, compared to the national average of 66% of children experiencing school moves. In addition, while 50% of children in foster care were not on grade level in 2006, after tracking educational progress staff found that 79% of children surveyed in 2009 either maintained a passing grade or improved a letter grade in a subject area of need.

Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting-Government Finance Officers Association- presented to the Catawba County Finance Office for creation of an easily readable and understandable comprehensive annual financial report covering all funds and financial transactions during the fiscal year. This is the 28th consecutive year in which the Catawba County Finance Office has won the award.  Only about 2% of local governments across the U.S. and Canada have won the award for 20 years in a row.

Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada Distinguished Budget Presentation Award- presented to the Catawba County Budget Office for development of an easily understood budget document which can be used by other governmental units or the average citizen. This is the 21st consecutive year in which the Catawba County Budget Office has won the award, which is the highest form of recognition in governmental budgeting. 

2009:

National Association of Counties (NACo) Achievement Awards

Reports, Outcomes and Services (ROCs) Team- presented to Catawba County Social Services.  A Social Services team created a streamlined data compilation system to meet challenging new State requirements for the documenting of child protective services cases.  Child Protective Services staff described itself as “flabbergasted” when they received new State documentation requirements in 2008. The new guidelines included a fifteen page booklet that required staff to manually fill in data blanks and narrative.  Staff was given only two months to incorporate these requirements into its existing processes. It faced a real possibility of spending upwards of 40 additional minutes with each of the 2000+ cases assessed each year, just to meet this new mandate.  The team created a master application document that could be connected to future development efforts.  It mapped out the specifications and needs, designed a system, and created a master application that consolidated the State’s new documentation requirements and five other existing applications the agency had been using. The team considered all aspects of service provision, from program management and supervision to data analysis to data entry.

Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting-Government Finance Officers Association- presented to the Catawba County Finance Office for creation of an easily readable and understandable comprehensive annual financial report covering all funds and financial transactions during the fiscal year. This is the 27th consecutive year in which the Catawba County Finance Office has won the award.  Only about 2% of local governments across the U.S. and Canada have won the award for 20 years in a row.

Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada Distinguished Budget Presentation Award- presented to the Catawba County Budget Office for development of an easily understood budget document which can be used by other governmental units or the average citizen. This is the 20th consecutive year in which the Catawba County Budget Office has won the award, which is the highest form of recognition in governmental budgeting. 

2008:

National Association of Counties (NACo) Achievement Awards

Catawba County EcoComplex- presented to the Catawba County Department of Utilities and Engineering.  The EcoComplex is designed to promote economic development and create new jobs in the green energy, green business, agricultural and environmental sectors. It will accommodate research involving all aspects related to biologically-derived energy recovery and use, as well as the research of alternative fuels and minimization of greenhouse gases for environmental, agricultural and energy use.

Expedited Paternity Testing program-  presented to the Catawba County Department of Social Services.  The program expedited the paternity testing process for families appearing before the court in Child Welfare matters. Juvenile Court judges who hear cases relating to child abuse neglect and dependency frequently require paternity testing to verify the paternity of children whose cases are before the court, and ensure the court is addressing the rights of biological parents. This previously required scheduling an appointment with an independent testing lab. Many parents are difficult to locate and even more difficult to motivate to appear at a lab for a paternity test. Often a parent appeared in court once as a result of being incarcerated, only to disappear again before the paternity test could be scheduled. The Expedited Paternity Testing program created a solution for this problem. The Legal Assistant for child welfare attorneys and all Child Support staff were trained to take the lab samples for paternity testing. When paternity testing is ordered, the Legal Assistant is in court and is able to take all parties aside and perform the necessary tests. If members of a family come into the Department of Social Services, there is a well trained crew of Child Support staff willing and able to assist with the testing.

Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting-Government Finance Officers Association- presented to the Catawba County Finance Office for creation of an easily readable and understandable comprehensive annual financial report covering all funds and financial transactions during the fiscal year. This is the 26th consecutive year in which the Catawba County Finance Office has won the award.  Only about 2% of local governments across the U.S. and Canada have won the award for 20 years in a row.

Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada Distinguished Budget Presentation Award- presented to the Catawba County Budget Office for development of an easily understood budget document which can be used by other governmental units or the average citizen. This is the 19th consecutive year in which the Catawba County Budget Office has won the award, which is the highest form of recognition in governmental budgeting. 

2007: 

National Association of Counties (NACo) Achievement Awards

Catawba Tax Link Program-  This program provides free tax preparation services for low income families in Catawba County.  With many Catawba County families facing major financial difficulties as a result of plant shutdowns and layoffs in the county, Catawba County Social Services staff wanted to make sure these citizens were not paying too much in income taxes or fees to file their taxes. Staff learned that many low-income citizens paid tax preparers hundreds of dollars each year to file their tax forms. Others didn’t know about the Earned Income Tax Credit or didn’t understand their potential eligibility for it, and still others paid significant fees just to get a rapid refund when they filed their taxes.  After consulting with the Internal Revenue Service, a handful of Social Services staff established a VITA (Volunteers in Tax Assistance) site in 2005 to provide free tax assistance for low-income families. The team is now in its third year.  This tax year, the 29 members of the team donated 774 hours of volunteer time to the effort, generating $407,564 in returns for local citizens.

National Association of County Information Officers Award of Excellence

Catawba County E-News- Catawba County E-News was honored in the External Publications category among all counties with a population of between 100,000 and 500,000 people. Catawba County E-News is e-mailed to subscribers twice each month, with occasional additional issues as the timing of events may warrant. The newsletter includes brief presentations of four or five "stories" on different issues, which contain links subscribers may click on to be taken directly to Catawba County's web site for more information on that story. Certain items are featured regularly, but the newsletter will continually focus on the latest news and services provided by Catawba County Government.

2007 Thomas H. Muehlenbeck Award for Excellence in Local Government

Catawba County EcoComplex- presented to Catawba County from the Alliance for Innovation, this national award honored Catawba County’s ongoing efforts to create an EcoComplex at and near the Blackburn Landfill in Vale.  The EcoComplex is designed to promote economic development and create new jobs in the green energy, green business, agricultural and environmental sectors. It will accommodate research involving all aspects related to biologically-derived energy recovery and use, as well as the research of alternative fuels and minimization of greenhouse gases for environmental, agricultural and energy use.

National Association of Counties 2007 Acts of Caring Award

Catawba Tax Link Program-  This program provides free tax preparation services for low income families in Catawba County.  With many Catawba County families facing major financial difficulties as a result of plant shutdowns and layoffs in the county, Catawba County Social Services staff wanted to make sure these citizens were not paying too much in income taxes or fees to file their taxes. Staff learned that many low-income citizens paid tax preparers hundreds of dollars each year to file their tax forms. Others didn’t know about the Earned Income Tax Credit or didn’t understand their potential eligibility for it, and still others paid significant fees just to get a rapid refund when they filed their taxes.  After consulting with the Internal Revenue Service, a handful of Social Services staff established a VITA (Volunteers in Tax Assistance) site in 2005 to provide free tax assistance for low-income families. The team is now in its third year.  This tax year, the 29 members of the team donated 774 hours of volunteer time to the effort, generating $407,564 in returns for local citizens.

Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting-Government Finance Officers Association- presented to the Catawba County Finance Office for creation of an easily readable and understandable comprehensive annual financial report covering all funds and financial transactions during the fiscal year. This is the 25th consecutive year in which the Catawba County Finance Office has won the award.  Only about 2% of local governments across the U.S. and Canada have won the award for 20 years in a row.

Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada Distinguished Budget Presentation Award- presented to the Catawba County Budget Office for development of an easily understood budget document which can be used by other governmental units or the average citizen. This is the 18th consecutive year in which the Catawba County Budget Office has won the award, which is the highest form of recognition in governmental budgeting. 

2006:

National Association of Counties (NACo) Achievement Awards

Family NET Design Team - Catawba County's Social Services Director, Bobby Boyd, and Mental Health Director, John Hardy, received a Ralph W. Ketner Productivity Award for their leadership in the development of the Family NET (Nurturing, Education and Training) Unit, which provides consolidated services for families and children.  The NCACC presents only ten Ketner Awards across the state in any year, and they are awarded to programs judged to be the best examples in North Carolina of creativity, innovation and commitment to improving county services.

Family NET is an integration of mental health and social services for children, youth and families created by the Catawba County Department of Social Services and Mental Health Services of Catawba County, which began operations on July 1, 2004.   The integrated network was created in response to the State of North Carolina's Mental Health Reform initiative.  This legislation required area mental health programs to be separated from the actual delivery of services, to establish an alternative service delivery system and to begin providing the community with referral to services and oversight of those services, by July 2004. 

Mental Health Services staff, under the leadership of John Hardy, worked for months to create the local structures that now serve Catawba County citizens and met the State's mental health redesign standards.  Family NET became a part of the Department of Social Services' Family & Children’s Services Unit.  Dr. Gordon Cappelletty is serving as its clinical director.

The Medicare Part D Community Outreach Plan was created to assist Medicare recipients in understanding, and responding to, the major changes made to the Medicare and Medicaid program as a result of the implementation of the final part of the federal Medicare Modernization Act on January 1, 2006.  The Medicare Prescription Drug Program represented the largest expansion of Medicare since its creation in 1965. It offered coverage of prescription medications for the first time to a large segment of the population who have little or no knowledge of computer and Internet usage.

The program was complex and confusing, with no consultation or assistance designated to help Medicare beneficiaries negotiate the maze of options available or compare and select the drug plan that best met their needs. Social Services staff determined it could play a role in educating and assisting these citizens by holding meetings in various parts of the county to present information on how the new program worked.

In the fall of 2005, the members of this team, other County staff and representatives of associated agencies made educational presentations to 1,208 Medicare recipients, and prescription plan comparisons were completed for hundreds of beneficiaries. Attendees were taken through several scenarios to discuss their options, based on the type of insurance coverage currently held by the beneficiary. A Drug Finder Tool was given to each person, offering them the opportunity to complete the proper form, and return it to Social Services for a complete comparison of drug plans.

North Carolina Association of County Commissioners Oustanding County Program Award

Catawba Tax Link Program-  This program provides free tax preparation services for low income families in Catawba County.  With many Catawba County families facing major financial difficulties as a result of plant shutdowns and layoffs in the county, Catawba County Social Services staff wanted to make sure these citizens were not paying too much in income taxes or fees to file their taxes. Staff learned that many low-income citizens paid tax preparers hundreds of dollars each year to file their tax forms. Others didn’t know about the Earned Income Tax Credit or didn’t understand their potential eligibility for it, and still others paid significant fees just to get a rapid refund when they filed their taxes.  After consulting with the Internal Revenue Service, a handful of Social Services staff established a VITA (Volunteers in Tax Assistance) site in 2005 to provide free tax assistance for low-income families. The group decided to enlist business staff/students from Catawba Valley Community College and Lenoir Rhyne College’s Phi Beta Lambda to create a volunteer tax team.

Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting-Government Finance Officers Association- presented to the Catawba County Finance Office for creation of an easily readable and understandable comprehensive annual financial report covering all funds and financial transactions during the fiscal year. This is the 24th consecutive year in which the Catawba County Finance Office has won the award.  Only about 2% of local governments across the U.S. and Canada have won the award for 20 years in a row.

Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada Distinguished Budget Presentation Award- presented to the Catawba County Budget Office for development of an easily understood budget document which can be used by other governmental units or the average citizen. This is the 17th consecutive year in which the Catawba County Budget Office has won the award, which is the highest form of recognition in governmental budgeting. 

2005:

North Carolina Association of County Commissioners (NCACC) Ralph W. Ketner Productivity Award

Family NET Design Team - Catawba County's Social Services Director, Bobby Boyd, and Mental Health Director, John Hardy, received a Ralph W. Ketner Productivity Award for their leadership in the development of the Family NET (Nurturing, Education and Training) Unit, which provides consolidated services for families and children.  The NCACC presents only ten Ketner Awards across the state in any year, and they are awarded to programs judged to be the best examples in North Carolina of creativity, innovation and commitment to improving county services.

Family NET is an integration of mental health and social services for children, youth and families created by the Catawba County Department of Social Services and Mental Health Services of Catawba County, which began operations on July 1, 2004.   The integrated network was created in response to the State of North Carolina's Mental Health Reform initiative.  This legislation required area mental health programs to be separated from the actual delivery of services, to establish an alternative service delivery system and to begin providing the community with referral to services and oversight of those services, by July 2004. 

Mental Health Services staff, under the leadership of John Hardy, worked for months to create the local structures that now serve Catawba County citizens and met the State's mental health redesign standards.  Family NET became a part of the Department of Social Services' Family & Children’s Services Unit.  Dr. Gordon Cappelletty is serving as its clinical director.
 
National Association of Counties (NACo) Achievement Awards


2004 Election Team - A team of County employees that did extensive research on the various kinds of voting tabulators being manufactured, as it became apparent the County would need to move to a new generation of tabulators.  Team members recommended that the Board of Elections and Board of Commissioners select the eSlate tabulators made by Hart Intercivic of Austin, Texas, after two models were tested by volunteer voters during the 2003 elections.  Other members of the team then formed a speaker’s bureau which demonstrated the new tabulators at some outdoor festivals and to church and civic groups.  The speaker’s bureau spoke to more than 1000 people between April and October 2004. 

Catawba County staff and the Board of Elections reviewed systems currently available and determined that six systems which meet State and Federal recommendations are available.  Four vendors were invited to demonstrate their equipment and the Board of Elections invited interested parties to attend the demonstrations. After the demonstrations were completed, the Board of Elections evaluated the systems and responses from participants, and narrowed the field of systems under consideration to two: Hart InterCivic and MicroVote.

Hart InterCivic equipment was selected because it is the only equipment available that does not use a commercially available operating system, making it more secure, and it does not use touch screen technology, which has caused some problems with other systems in other states.   The Hart eSlate tabulators are never directly connected to a modem so they cannot be “hacked” into, and ballots are recorded in three separate locations.  The team then created a speaker's bureau which made presentations on how to use the new tabulators, with an opportunity for citizens to actually use a demonstration tabulator, to more then 70 civic and church groups.  Team members also helped voters, at the precincts, practice using the tabulator demonstration unit before actually casting their votes.

Meeting The Needs Of Limited English Proficiency Program - A Department of Social Services program designed to make delivery of services to persons with limited proficiency in English.  In the 1990s, Catawba County began to experience a slow but steady influx of immigrants with limited English proficiency.  Many were unaccompanied males who came to the area looking for work and were successful in finding it when Catawba County’s unemployment rate was under 2%.   Frequently, family members then joined them and began families with residents of the Catawba County area.  Without the support and stability of older family members, many of these young families became known to government agencies, especially after the economic downturn.  For the first time,  local agencies faced the realities of language barriers.

In July 2003, the Department of Social Service's Public Assistance Units had one bilingual staff person; a Hmong Case Manager in the Work First Unit.  There were no bilingual staff in the Food Stamp or Medicaid units.  With the increasing emphasis being placed on Title VI of the Federal Civil Rights Act and the growing non-English speaking population, the Management Team of Catawba County Social Services committed to a goal to assure prompt and competent language access for all persons in need of public assistance benefits.  Prior to this, the agency used a hodgepodge of paid and volunteer translators as well as permitting citizens to bring in friends and family members to help with language needs.  By the start of the new millennium, the inadequacies of this system were becoming more apparent.  The number of persons with Limited English Proficiency had grown significantly.  A recent report shows that 7.9% of the County's Medicaid caseload is Hispanic and 5.2% of the caseload is Asian."

Since the program began, Catawba County Public Assistance Units have increased the number of bilingual/bicultural staff by 900%.  To help with the retention of bilingual staff, Catawba County created a pay stipend for qualified bilingual employees. Bilingual staff may apply for a stipend of 5% or 10% if their skills are high enough.  To qualify, the employee must pass an oral and/or written proficiency test administered at Lenoir-Rhyne College in Hickory.  Those who score “Intermediate Mid” or above on either a written or oral proficiency test are eligible for a 5% pay stipend.  Those who score “Intermediate Mid” or higher on both tests will receive a 10% pay stipend. 

Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting-Government Finance Officers Association- presented to the Catawba County Finance Office for creation of an easily readable and understandable comprehensive annual financial report covering all funds and financial transactions during the fiscal year. This is the 23rd consecutive year in which the Catawba County Finance Office has won the award.  Only about 2% of local governments across the U.S. and Canada have won the award for 20 years in a row.

Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada Distinguished Budget Presentation Award- presented to the Catawba County Budget Office for development of an easily understood budget document which can be used by other governmental units or the average citizen. This is the 16th consecutive year in which the Catawba County Budget Office has won the award, which is the highest form of recognition in governmental budgeting. 

2004:

NCACC Risk Management Pool's Most Innovative and Effective Program Award

Awarded to a Catawba County program working to enhance the overall physical well-being of emergency medical workers has been named the most innovative and effective program in the state by the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners (NCACC).  The concept for the Catawba County EMS Physical Standards Program was developed in June 2002 to enhance the physical agility of emergency medical response employees; reduce the incidence of workers compensation claims and lost time; reduce sick leave usage; and promote the overall physical well being of these employees. 

The first part of the program established incentives and goals for current full-time paramedics to encourage them to meet certain physical standards.  The County collaborated with Catawba Valley Medical Center (CVMC), which has a qualified staff of physical therapists and an on-site fitness center.  CVMC staff devised a standard fitness test that measured body fat percentage, strength, flexibility, cardiovascular conditioning and endurance.

In January 2003 the County worked with Catawba Valley Medical Center to conduct initial testing on 30 participants.  After initial tests were run, participants were consulted on the development of plans, specific to each person, to improve their physical conditioning and nutritional assessment.  Participants were asked to return after six months, in July 2003, for follow-up testing to see how well their conditioning program worked.  Some of the results were very dramatic.  47% of those in the first group had a decrease in body fat percentage, while 76% had an increase in strength, with 82% of the whole group rating 'excellent' in the strength category, 76% had increased flexibility, 53% had improved cardiovascular conditioning, with 70% of the group rated 'excellent' in that category, and 52% increased their endurance.

The second part of the program established pre-employment physical standards testing to be used in the hiring of final candidates for County EMT or paramedic positions.  The County began administering this test in the spring of 2003.  The testing has led the County away from hiring people who were out of shape or could not lift properly.  The testing showed medical problems that some candidates didn’t know existed, such as hypertension and abnormal EKGs.  These candidates were advised to see a doctor for an examination.  In a few cases where candidates had poor lifting techniques or poor breathing, the applicants worked to get into better shape, retook the test and were later hired. 

National Association of Counties (NACo) Achievement Awards and North Carolina Association of County Commissioners (NCACC) Outstanding County Program Award.

Employee Health Clinic -Catawba County's Employee Health Clinic (EHC) opened in October 2002 to enhance and promote employee wellness; reduce health insurance and worker's compensation costs; decrease sick leave use; provide on-site care for routine illnesses and injuries; offer prevention and early detection of potential health problems; provide services to supplement wellness and health education programs; and offer in-house pre-employment medical screenings and drug testing.

"Catawba County had several other goals for this clinic, not the least of which was to provide worker's compensation services to reduce lost work time as a result of injuries and accidents," said Debbie Bradley, Catawba County Personnel Director, whose department led the way in creating the clinic.  "Through in-house management and better coordination between employees, a nurse practitioner and the employee’s supervisor, we have provided a better level of communication and quicker return-to-work solutions.  The results we have seen from the clinic, in just the first eight months of operation, have shown that the clinic is helping keep our employees on the job and getting those who need time off because of illness or injury back to work faster."

Prevention and preventive care are another critical element of the Employee Health Clinic.  The program is not intended to take the place of an employee’s primary physician.  The County has  promoted, and will continue to promote, the importance of employees maintaining a relationship with a physician of the employee’s choice.  The clinic was implemented during a time when health insurance cost increases were escalating, as a way of reducing those costs and making it easier for employees to obtain various kinds of routine health care.

"The clinic is offered in cooperation with Catawba Valley Medical Center with the full backing and support of hospital resources, for services and training of employees," Bradley said.  "The EHC provides immediate and timely care for routine illnesses and injuries and acute illness; services aimed toward early detection and prevention of serious health problems; a resource for follow-up for chronic illnesses; certain types of screenings, including tests for cholesterol, blood sugar and trigylercides and follow up on those screenings; workers compensation services; workshops on cholesterol, colon cancer, and other health care issues; and similar services." 

Once the clinic was organized, in offices at both the Public Health Department and the Catawba County Government Center, a full time Nurse Practitioner, Janis Puglisi, and Licensed Practical Nurse, Charles Price, were hired to staff the clinic.  The clinic has operating hours at both locations, Monday through Friday.  Employees pay a fee of $5 for the office visit, plus $2 for allergy, vitamin or hormone injections, when the employee provides the serum involved.  

"Catawba County saved more than $86,000 in the first year of the clinic's operation," Bradley said.  "These savings occured in several areas.  The average wait time for an employee at the EHC is thirty minutes, about a third of the time an employee would need to travel to a doctor's office, see the doctor, and return to work.  This keeps our employees on the job more and improves productivity.  We estimated a savings of almost $20,000 in reduced costs, when compared with what the County's insurance program would have paid for regular doctor's visits.  We have also determined that the clinic has saved about $160 a month in worker's compensation costs."

Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting-Government Finance Officers Association- presented to the Catawba County Finance Office for creation of an easily readable and understandable comprehensive annual financial report covering all funds and financial transactions during the fiscal year. This is the 22nd consecutive year in which the Catawba County Finance Office has won the award.  Only about 2% of local governments across the U.S. and Canada have won the award for 20 years in a row.

Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada Distinguished Budget Presentation Award- presented to the Catawba County Budget Office for development of an easily understood budget document which can be used by other governmental units or the average citizen. This is the 15th consecutive year in which the Catawba County Budget Office has won the award, which is the highest form of recognition in governmental budgeting. 

2003:

National Association of Counties Achievement Awards (NACo) 

Food Stamp Wait Time Reduction Project-Catawba County and the other Unifour counties have been hit especially hard by the recent economic downturn, with thousands of job losses in the fiber optics, furniture and textile industries.  With the downturn in the economy, the Catawba County Food Stamp Office has experienced a significant increase in the number of applications for Food Stamps. From May 2000 to May 2001, the number of Catawba County citizens receiving Food Stamp assistance jumped by 94%.  Although two new staff persons were added to the Food Stamp Office in 2001, the lobby of the office was frequently filled to capacity throughout the business day.  Extra chairs were sometimes brought to the lobby from other areas in the building to accommodate those waiting, and frustration often increased for both staff and citizens.  The Food Stamp staff sought a way to move applicants through the process more quickly and reduce the waiting time for citizens.

"Catawba County, like most counties, sees applicants on a first-come, first-served basis," said Julie Raper, Catawba County's Food Stamp Supervisor.  "The surge in the numbers of applicants resulted in backlogs at the reception window and unacceptable waiting times for applicants to be seen by a Food Stamp Caseworker.  On the busiest of days, an applicant could expect to wait over an hour to be interviewed.   All of our staff have a goal to see visitors within 15 minutes, because many of these applicants have small children or significant health problems.  Under the best circumstances, an  application interview can be expected to last an hour, which meant a family might be in the office for several hours to complete a Food Stamp application.   Our Food Stamp Management staff made a commitment to finding a better way of doing business, and focused on finding ways to move applicants out of the reception area and into the interview more quickly".

The Food Stamp Unit has always maintained an automated reception log which notified case workers of the number of persons waiting to be seen.  A careful analysis of this log was conducted and showed that intake traffic was rarely consistent throughout the day and that traffic patterns tended to peak between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.  Once backlogs occurred in the numbers of persons being seen, it became almost impossible to clear the backlog.  As staff shifted in and out for their lunch hour, the problem worsened.  In response, staff members developed a system to have more workers available during peak times of day.  Case workers began using a "flex" schedule to provide more coverage during those busiest times, without adding additional personnel.  Staff members rotated in a shift from desk work to covering the intake portion of the system during peak times.  Although this change improved the problem, it did not eliminate it.  Staff then devised new schedules, reducing lunch hours to a 30 minute time period, to make more staff members available at peak times.  In order to avoid the need for overtime, staff involved in this shift are scheduled for time off during one afternoon each week, on a day when they are not assigned to take applications.  There were no costs involved in this program because it added no new staff or funds.  It required a change in thinking and in "how business is done".

NACo named this program as "Best of Category" for 2003, judging it the best of all nominees in the Human Services category from across the United States.

Twelve Most Wanted Non-Supporting Parent Poster Program-Child Support agents face the reality that some parents do everything possible to attempt to evade making child support payments. In Catawba County, agents are responsible for over 500 cases. Collection rates reveal that 65% of persons making child support are actively cooperating with agents. The remaining 35% include parents who have refused to respond to agents, and have evaded all attempts to be brought back before the court and into compliance with the existing child support court order.

"They are in the community, but are able to hide from deputies to avoid service of court orders," said Patricia Holcombe, supervisor of the Child Support Unit of the Catawba County Department of Social Services.  "These are parents who have no earned income appearing under their Social Security numbers, have no registered cars, and cannot be found in any of the local, state or federal data bases which are typically used to locate non-supporting parents."

The “12 Most Wanted Non-Supporting Parents Poster” program was crafted to make the community aware of this serious problem. The project began with each agent submitting the name of a non-supporting parent and information on that person.  Holcombe established requirements for the parents who were selected for the poster. The most important requirement was the written consent of the custodial parent, who agreed to the placement of their case information on the poster.

"The posters were a catalyst for a broad community-wide public awareness campaign. One of our hopes was to initiate public discussion and support of the Child Support Program.  Our Child Support Unit can only be successful if all citizens of the community truly support the concept that parents should and must support their children," Holcombe added. 

Tri-County Non-Custodial Parent Employment Program-In 2000, Social Services representatives from Alexander, Catawba and Caldwell counties met with staff of the Western Piedmont Council of Governments to discuss ways to get unemployed parents who owe child support, and have a long history of non-payment, to pay child support that has been ordered by the court.  District Court Judge Jonathan Jones initiated the meeting, and the group determined that creating a program to help these non-custodial parents find employment would reduce these concerns.

"Child Support payments can make a tremendous difference in the life of a child," said Karen Heffner, Work First Program Manager for the Catawba County Department of Social Services.  "For many, these payments help to provide the essentials of life: food, clothing and shelter.  Yet, nationally, only two-thirds of child support orders are collected in any given month.  Frustrated judges often see the same non-supporting parents month after month, and many cannot find a job or earn enough money to meet their obligations.  Judges are faced with the difficult task of determining if a non-custodial parent is a deadbeat or dead broke.  These judges have limited options, often either allowing the offender more time to try to find a job or money, or putting them in jail.  Neither option has been successful."

The Tri-County Non-Custodial Parent Employment Program was a result of these discussions and is designed to fill a gap in services by assisting non-custodial parents in finding and sustaining employment.  Prior to this program, there had been no employment programs in these counties to assist non-custodial parents to meet their child support responsibilities through stable employment.  Participants were given job counseling, assistance in developing a resume' and other support needed to find and keep a job.  The program was funded by Federal Welfare to Work funds.

"In Catawba County, the program has provided employment services to 58 participants," Heffner said.  "With the program's assistance, participants have been able to complete vocational training and cognitive classes, which have contributed to gainful employment.  With the purchase of a bike, helmet, and one-on-one job coaching by a case manager, one participant has been able to maintain a job for over a year and has made child support payments on a regular basis.  Another gentleman went on to complete Certified Nurse Assistant I training.  He obtained certification and has already begun training for the Certified Nurse Assistant II level.  He has maintained employment with a group residential home for over seven months and is currently making child support payments.  Over $65,500 in child support payments have been collected from participants in Catawba County who were served by this program."

Medical First Response Incentive Program-In 2000-2001, the Catawba County Board of Commissioners established an aggressive goal of a four-minute response time for all emergency calls requiring medical first responders.   Expansion of ambulance services by the County in recent years had accomplished a goal of eight-minute responses for full-time county paramedics and ambulance transport, but volunteer first responders were often arriving after the ambulance crew.

"Historically, volunteer rescue squads have provided this service in Catawba County," said Catawba County's Emergency Services Director, David Weldon.  "However, with increasing demands for work and family, the volunteer squads had reached a point where they were able to respond to only half the calls received and their average response time hovered around nine minutes.  To accomplish the Board of Commissioners’ goal, an innovative pilot project was developed and implemented with two rescue squads, the Claremont and Hickory Rescue Squads, and the Hickory Fire Department.  In exchange for additional funding,  $25 per day and $40 for each call responded to, the squads committed to respond with an EMT-Defibrillator (EMT-D) certified person on 90% of calls and maintain a response time of six minutes."

After a three-month trial period, response times dropped from over nine minutes to just under six minutes and over 90% of calls were being responded to by rescue squad members certified to the EMT-D level. Statistics point to the success of the project and the anecdotal evidence also indicates that lives were saved and a high level of medical treatment was provided," Weldon added.

When Catawba County initially entertained the idea of aggressive medical first response, no other counties in North Carolina had embarked on such an aggressive partnership between volunteers and professional EMS. This program is unique in that it treats the emergency medical first responders as an integrated part of the overall service level and also seeks to compensate volunteers for the time they dedicate to responding to emergency calls. 

On November 4, 2002, on hearing a report of the success of this pilot project, the Catawba County Board of Commissioners appropriated $175,031, from increased Medicare payments for ambulance trips now allowed in North Carolina, to phase in participation in the incentive program by the remaining first responder units across the county.  All squads are currently participating in this program.

Claremont Branch Library Program-For many years, citizens and civic leaders in Claremont actively sought a branch library.  Momentum for this effort increased in the late 1990s and, by 2001, fund raising efforts had been held in the city to increase public awareness of the need for a new library and generate money for the purchase of books and furniture for a new branch.

"In the year 2002, approximately 25,000 people lived within a five-mile radius of the Claremont area," said Catawba County Library Director, Karen Foss.  "These persons, as well as those living in the surrounding northeastern region of Catawba County, had to drive into Newton, a trip of more than ten miles for some, to access library services.  A public gathering place was also needed in the Claremont area.  The citizens of Claremont, and our library staff, knew that a branch library would provide that gathering place and a location for community members to display artwork and learn more about their cultural heritage."

The solution to this need came with renovations to the Claremont City Hall.  In the fall of 2001, the city began renovating its city building and offered 2400 square feet of space within the building to the County Library for a new branch.  Library staff planned the layout of the new facilities.  Bookshelves and a circulation desk were moved from an old and unused elementary school and refinished to hold books, which were purchased using a $21,385 grant from the State Aid to Libraries Fund.  Private citizens donated more than $2200 for the purchase of books for children, while McKinley Leather Company donated leather chairs for a reading area and $10,000 for computer equipment.  County Library and Technology staff members worked with City of Claremont employees to move the shelving and desk space to the new branch. Technology Department staff configured and installed a variety of computer equipment and a public access catalog, which were purchased with a donation from Alcatel, a Claremont-based fiber optics manufacturer.  The City of Claremont also provided a part-time staff person to work at the library.  $41,715 was budgeted in the County's fiscal year 2002-2003 budget for operation of the new branch.

"Approximately 5000 books and videos were selected, catalogued, processed and located on the library shelves when the Claremont Branch Library opened for the first time on February 12, 2002.  Library programs for adults and children have been well attended by members of the community.  These programs draw people to the new facility while promoting literacy.  Programs have included visits from authors, story programs, craft programs and computer training programs.   The branch has become a source of great community pride and it is a tribute to the diligent efforts of those in Claremont who dreamed of a having a library in their community and then supported the efforts to make it a reality, as well as to the hard work of our Library staff and those from the County's Technology Department," Foss added.

North Carolina Association of County Commissioners (NCACC) Ralph W. Ketner Productivity Award

Employee Health Clinic-Catawba County's Employee Health Clinic (EHC) opened in October 2002 to enhance and promote employee wellness; reduce health insurance and worker's compensation costs; decrease sick leave use; provide on-site care for routine illnesses and injuries; offer prevention and early detection of potential health problems; provide services to supplement wellness and health education programs; and offer in-house pre-employment medical screenings and drug testing.

"Catawba County had several other goals for this clinic, not the least of which was to provide worker's compensation services to reduce lost work time as a result of injuries and accidents," said Debbie Bradley, Catawba County Personnel Director, whose department led the way in creating the clinic.  "Through in-house management and better coordination between employees, a nurse practitioner and the employee’s supervisor, we have provided a better level of communication and quicker return-to-work solutions.  The results we have seen from the clinic, in just the first eight months of operation, have shown that the clinic is helping keep our employees on the job and getting those who need time off because of illness or injury back to work faster."

Prevention and preventive care are another critical element of the Employee Health Clinic.  The program is not intended to take the place of an employee’s primary physician.  The County has  promoted, and will continue to promote, the importance of employees maintaining a relationship with a physician of the employee’s choice.  The clinic was implemented during a time when health insurance cost increases were escalating, as a way of reducing those costs and making it easier for employees to obtain various kinds of routine health care.

"The clinic is offered in cooperation with Catawba Valley Medical Center with the full backing and support of hospital resources, for services and training of employees," Bradley said.  "The EHC provides immediate and timely care for routine illnesses and injuries and acute illness; services aimed toward early detection and prevention of serious health problems; a resource for follow-up for chronic illnesses; certain types of screenings, including tests for cholesterol, blood sugar and trigylercides and follow up on those screenings; workers compensation services; workshops on cholesterol, colon cancer, and other health care issues; and similar services." 

Once the clinic was organized, in offices at both the Public Health Department and the Catawba County Government Center, a full time Nurse Practitioner, Janis Puglisi, and Licensed Practical Nurse, Charles Price, were hired to staff the clinic.  The clinic has operating hours at both locations, Monday through Friday.  Employees pay a fee of $5 for the office visit, plus $2 for allergy, vitamin or hormone injections, when the employee provides the serum involved.  

"Based on current trends, we estimate that Catawba County will save more than $86,000 in the first year of the clinic's operation," Bradley said.  "These savings are occurring in several areas.  The average wait time for an employee at the EHC is thirty minutes, about a third of the time an employee would need to travel to a doctor's office, see the doctor, and return to work.  This keeps our employees on the job more and improves productivity.  We are estimating a savings of almost $20,000 in reduced costs, when compared with what the County's insurance program would have paid for regular doctor's visits.  We have also determined that the clinic has saved about $160 a month in worker's compensation costs.  

Six Catawba County employees, who were involved in creating the clinic, were named as winners of the award and share a $1000 prize, which they have agreed to donate for clinic operating expenses.  They include Bradley; County Risk Manager, Betty Coulter; Kim Hentschel, County Wellness Nurse; Sarah Lawson, Catawba County Public Health's Nursing Supervisor; Major Coy Reid of the Catawba County Sheriff's Office; Nancy Rockett, County Personnel Services Coordinator, and former Deputy County Manager Steve Wyatt, who is now County Manager in Moore County, North Carolina.  

Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting-Government Finance Officers Association- presented to the Catawba County Finance Office for creation of an easily readable and understandable comprehensive annual financial report covering all funds and financial transactions during the fiscal year. This is the 21st consecutive year in which the Catawba County Finance Office has won the award.  Only about 2% of local governments across the U.S. and Canada have won the award for 20 years in a row. 

Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada Distinguished Budget Presentation Award- presented to the Catawba County Budget Office for development of an easily understood budget document which can be used by other governmental units or the average citizen. This is the 14th consecutive year in which the Catawba County Budget Office has won the award, which is the highest form of recognition in governmental budgeting. 

2002:

National Association of Counties Achievement Awards (NACo) 

The Homebuyer's Club- Department of Social Services

The Catawba County Homebuyer's Club was part of a program designed to assist families in securing safe, decent and affordable housing as they moved from the old welfare system to Work First and, finally, to lasting self-sufficiency.  It began when the Department of Social Services and the Western Piedmont Council of Governments secured a grant for the program from the State of North Carolina in 1999.

"The Homebuyer's Club focuses on empowering families to establish better financial practices, improve credit and purchase a home," said Karen Heffner, Program Manager for the Work First Program.  "The program assists families with rental assistance while they save money for a down payment.  Families are required to attend Economic Literacy classes and must set up an Individual Development Account, or IDA.  The IDA helps them establish a pattern of saving money that will continue beyond the program.  Staff from the Western Piedmont Council of Governments work one-on-one with families to improve their credit.  Upon graduation from the program, each family will have improved credit and will have saved at least $1000.  Their savings is then matched with $7500 from the State grant to be used toward purchase of a home.  The grant was extended for fiscal year 2001-2002.  The Western Piedmont Council of Governments has contributed about $60,000, through its Downpayment Assistance Program, and the Department of Social Services has contributed $20,000 during each year of the grant."

The issue of affordable housing is a growing concern locally and around the nation.  Historically, employment in Catawba County has centered around the furniture and textile industries.  As these and other local industries have faced the present recession, job losses, and the county's relatively high housing costs (rent for a two bedroom apartment averages $450 per month), it has become more difficult for persons living near or below the poverty rate to be able to purchase a home.  On June 13, 2001, as a result of this program, 16 families graduated from the first Homebuyer's Club Economic Literacy Class.  As of January 2002, 12 of the 16 families had been able to purchase their own homes.  A second class, with 13 families, began in August 2001 and concluded June 30, 2002 with 10 families purchasing their own home.  

Sheriff's Multi-Agency Traffic Interdiction Unit

This is a collaborative program of the Sheriff's Offices in Catawba, Burke, Davie, Iredell, McDowell and Rowan counties.  Faced with growing populations, increased traffic volume and alarming human and financial losses associated with traffic crashes on their highways, six sheriffs in western North Carolina joined forces to form a traffic enforcement unit.  The National Highway Transportation Administration has given the North Carolina Governor's Highway Safety Program an "Innovative Program Award" for its funding of this unit and the National Sheriff's Association also recently honored the unit with its J. Stannard Baker Traffic Safety Award.

"The sheriffs in these six counties started by applying for a grant from the North Carolina Governor's Highway Safety Program to fund initial equipment and personnel costs," said Catawba County Sheriff L. David Huffman.  "Each sheriff devoted two officers, either full or part time, to traffic enforcement within their respective jurisdictions.  Each department also entered into mutual aid agreements with the other departments, so that each of the twelve officers could work on traffic incidents in any of the partner counties."

These six counties had an average ranking of 50th out of the state's 100 counties for fatal traffic accidents, with an average of 1.85 fatalities occurring for every 100 miles traveled.  All of the counties except Davie have cities or municipalities that ranked in the top 25 in the state in crash rates.  The crashes cost the residents of the six counties more than $821 million collectively each year, and speeding was the leading violation in all fatal crashes.  During the first year of the program, the participating counties experienced a 22% decrease in traffic fatalities.  Rowan County had a 62% decrease in the first year of the program.  For the first time in several years, the percentage increase in crashes did not equal the percentage increase in vehicles registered in these counties.  Criminal arrests have increased in these six counties.  The reduction in fatalities and increase in criminal arrests made by the officers in this unit prove what the sheriffs believed when they initiated this program.  With every small increase in visibility and enforcement, the likelihood of serious or fatal crashes decreases.  

People Active in the Community- Mental Health Services

Clients served by the developmental disabilities program expressed an interest in a social program where they could meet with their peers and have fun.  A committee was created to explore particular activities in which clients had expressed an interest, and decide how to include the most people in fun, safe activities.  The group was named People Active in the Community and has already had several Halloween dances and Christmas parties, as well as a luau party.

"For a number of years, several of the adult clients we serve asked their case managers to help them find a boyfriend or girlfriend," said Cate Carroll, Mental Health Program Supervisor II with Mental Health Services.  "While this is not really a case management role, after researching the real need, we found that what people actually were looking for was a way to get together with their friends and talk or have fun, with the possibility of developing some strong relationships.  A staff committee was formed to determine which clients could best be served by this idea and the possible activities and resources we could provide.  We determined that adults with developmental disabilities would be our first focus group because children involved in our programs have various social activities through the public schools.  Many who have graduated from high school work in sheltered workshops or community jobs, and are expected to be working, not involved with social activities.  We felt this group could get the most from the PAC program."

Case managers were asked to compile lists of their adult clients who would be interested in a social event in the evenings or on weekends.  75 names were eventually placed on that list.  The committee decided to provide at least three events each year on a very limited budget without passing on any of the costs to the clients.  The entire cost of the program during its first year, including facilities, entertainment, food and transportation, was $1575.  The PAC Committee has found the events to be a success.  It has planned events that are fun and safe for the clients served.  Parents have been pleased with the activities we have hosted, in that they trust the staff of the Area Mental Health Program.  PAC has met a great need for the adult clients with developmental disabilities that we serve.

Students Trying Out Peace or S.T.O.P program- Department of Social Services 

Staff at the Department of Social Services noted a trend of violence in local public schools and sought to reverse the trend through violence prevention.  The S.T.O.P Program was developed for children in pre-school through 6th grades, and implemented by social workers and psychologists serving 15 elementary schools in Catawba County.  
 
"The problem of school violence touches our lives," said Melissa Riddle, a Social Work Supervisor with the Catawba County Department of Social Services.   "During 1999-2000, the school systems in Catawba County reported 50 incidents of weapon possession, 11 assaults resulting in serious injuries and two sexual assaults.  Across the State of North Carolina, a 23% increase in sexual offenses and assaults with weapons was noted in the same year.  In 1991, Catawba County created DHR Teams, composed of social workers, psychologists and public health nurses who work together in elementary schools.  These teams began working to find a way to address this rising trend of violence in our schools."

The team created the S.T.O.P Program in 1999, with specific lessons designed to promote pro-social behaviors and reduce the level of aggressive behavior among participants.  The curriculum was reviewed by County attorneys and other staff, then launched as a pilot project in 15 elementary schools in October 1999.  High-risk students were referred to the program by teachers, principals and school counselors.  The program was successful and adapted for children ages 4 and 5 in June 2001 and further expanded in 2001 to the after-school and summer school programs in the county.  During the 2001-2002 school year, 100% of the children participating in the anger management and conflict-resolution portions of the S.T.O.P Program achieved desirable scores on a Children's Action Tendency Scale, an anger management test developed by Dr. Robert Deluty of the University of Maryland.  96% of the high-risk children attending the program received five or fewer disciplinary referrals during the school year.  Children participating in impulse control and social skills portions of the program demonstrated a 35% increase in knowledge gained. 

North Carolina Association of County Commissioners (NCACC) Outstanding County Program Award

Medical First Response Incentive Program

In 2000-2001, the Catawba County Board of Commissioners established an aggressive goal of a four-minute response time for all emergency calls requiring medical first responders.   Expansion of ambulance services by the County in recent years had accomplished a goal of eight-minute responses for full-time county paramedics and ambulance transport, but volunteer first responders were often arriving after the ambulance crew.

"Historically, volunteer rescue squads have provided this service in Catawba County," said Catawba County's Emergency Services Director, David Weldon.  "However, with increasing demands for work and family, the volunteer squads had reached a point where they were able to respond to only half the calls received and their average response time hovered around nine minutes.  To accomplish the Board of Commissioners’ goal, an innovative pilot project was developed and implemented with two rescue squads, the Claremont and Hickory Rescue Squads, and the Hickory Fire Department.  In exchange for additional funding,  $25 per day and $40 for each call responded to, the squads committed to respond with an EMT-Defibrillator (EMT-D) certified person on 90% of calls and maintain a response time of six minutes."

After a three-month trial period, response times dropped from over nine minutes to just under six minutes and over 90% of calls were being responded to by rescue squad members certified to the EMT-D level. Statistics point to the success of the project and the anecdotal evidence also indicates that lives were saved and a high level of medical treatment was provided," Weldon added.

When Catawba County initially entertained the idea of aggressive medical first response, no other counties in North Carolina had embarked on such an aggressive partnership between volunteers and professional EMS. This program is unique in that it treats the emergency medical first responders as an integrated part of the overall service level and also seeks to compensate volunteers for the time they dedicate to responding to emergency calls. 

On November 4, 2002, on hearing a report of the success of this pilot project, the Catawba County Board of Commissioners appropriated $175,031, from increased Medicare payments for ambulance trips now allowed in North Carolina, to phase in participation in the incentive program by the remaining first responder units across the county.  All squads are currently participating in this program.

Twelve Most Wanted Non-Supporting Parent Poster Program

Child Support agents face the reality that some parents do everything possible to attempt to evade making child support payments. In Catawba County, agents are responsible for over 500 cases. Collection rates reveal that 65% of persons making child support are actively cooperating with agents. The remaining 35% include parents who have refused to respond to agents, and have evaded all attempts to be brought back before the court and into compliance with the existing child support court order.

"They are in the community, but are able to hide from deputies to avoid service of court orders," said Patricia Holcombe, supervisor of the Child Support Unit of the Catawba County Department of Social Services.  "These are parents who have no earned income appearing under their Social Security numbers, have no registered cars, and cannot be found in any of the local, state or federal data bases which are typically used to locate non-supporting parents."

The “12 Most Wanted Non-Supporting Parents Poster” program was crafted to make the community aware of this serious problem. The project began with each agent submitting the name of a non-supporting parent and information on that person.  Holcombe established requirements for the parents who were selected for the poster. The most important requirement was the written consent of the custodial parent, who agreed to the placement of their case information on the poster.

"The posters were a catalyst for a broad community-wide public awareness campaign. One of our hopes was to initiate public discussion and support of the Child Support Program.  Our Child Support Unit can only be successful if all citizens of the community truly support the concept that parents should and must support their children," Holcombe added. 

Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting-Government Finance Officers Association- presented to the Catawba County Finance Office for creation of an easily readable and understandable comprehensive annual financial report covering all funds and financial transactions during the fiscal year. This is the 20th consecutive year in which the Catawba County Finance Office has won the award.  Only about 2% of local governments across the U.S. and Canada have won the award for 20 years in a row. 

Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada Distinguished Budget Presentation Award- presented to the Catawba County Budget Office for development of an easily understood budget document which can be used by other governmental units or the average citizen. This is the thirteeth consecutive year in which the Catawba County Budget Office has won the award, which is the highest form of recognition in governmental budgeting. 

2001:

National Association of Counties Achievement Awards (NACo) 

Home Courts Apartment Program- Mental Health Services.  The Home Courts Apartments were built to provide supported living for individuals who are dealing with severe and persistent mental illness.  The apartments include five two-bedroom units located on several acres in an older residential neighborhood in Newton. 

"The men and women living at the apartment receive daily support from one of two Case Managers employed by Mental Health Services," said David Willis, Residential Program Manager for Mental Health Services.  "Assistance routinely includes monitoring for health and safety, assistance with medical and medication management, menu preparation and grocery shopping, laundry, house keeping, and helping residents stay involved in community activities through planned outings.  Staff members are on-site daily.  Residents are involved in a range of vocational activities that include a psycho-social club house, sheltered workshop and private employment."

The apartments were planned, designed and built by a private group of community members and leased to the Mental Health Area Program for a renewable five year term, through a cooperative effort involving Mental Health Services and a local developer.  The Home Courts Apartments were built to replace older units.  The Residential Services division of Mental Health Services originally leased an apartment complex with ten two-bedroom units.  Over time, the facilities aged and deteriorated because sufficient funding was not available for maintenance.  A grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was awarded to Mental Health Services, allowing for the construction of a building with ten single bedroom units.  This unit has been very helpful, but did not provide for better housing for eight residents who were living in the older building.  The Home Court Apartments provided residential space for those eight persons.

"Defensive Driving For Teens" program- Catawba County Sheriff's Office.   The Sheriff's Office  created a program which uses volunteers as defensive driving instructors to teach a two-day course at Catawba Valley Community College.  Teenage drivers are typically taught how to drive by a combination of parents and driving instructors in the local school systems.  The Sheriff's Office learned that students are not always taught defensive driving skills, including collision avoidance.

"The class size was limited to provide a student-to-instructor ratio of no more than four to one, since a major portion of the course included driving skills demonstrated on a driving course," said Joe Momier, who just retired as Executive Officer of the Sheriff's Office, in his letter of nomination for the program.  "The first day of classes included classroom instruction in defensive driving.  Students received a number of highway safety brochures and pamphlets from several local automobile insurance companies, and a driver's safety notebook.   During the second day, students actually drove their vehicles on a special course set up by instructors to teach such skills as emergency braking, driving too fast for existing conditions, curve and ramp driving, proper backing while using mirrors, visual scanning techniques and car control skills in general.  Parents were encouraged to remain with students throughout the training."

Funding for the program was provided, in part, through a grant from the North Carolina Governor's Highway Safety Program to offset the cost of publishing materials and reimburse the instructors for their time.  The courses were taught during weekends and times when students were not in school.  No tuition was charged for the training.  The County's Risk Manager, Betty Coulter, who teaches a driver safety course for County employees, provided startup assistance and helped obtain some written materials for the course.  The County's EMS Manager, David Weldon, and Facility and Fleet Maintenance Manager, Tim Watson, were two of the instructors for the program.

"Work And Ride" program-Department of Social Services.  The program works with several community groups to connect donated, road worthy vehicles with low income families who need reliable transportation to seek or maintain employment.

"Welfare Reform began in North Carolina in 1995," said Work First Program Manager Karen Heffner. "It quickly became apparent that one of the most significant barriers to employment for low-income families in Catawba County was the lack of transportation.  To address this need, a unique collaborative effort between local government, non-profit agencies, and the Faith Community combined energies to create the Work and Ride program."

Cooperative Christian Ministries, Social Services and the members of the local Faith Community  helped develop the program.  The Greater Hickory Cooperative Christian Ministries receives and stores the donated vehicles until they are awarded to a selected family.  A mechanic from one of the participating churches volunteers time to check out each vehicle and insure that it is mechanically sound.  A selection committee conducts a screening process on all applicants.  The applicants must show financial needs, establish that transportation is a significant barrier toward their maintaining employment, have a valid North Carolina driver's license, a good driving record, and must commit to attending a budgeting and basic car repair class. 

Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada Distinguished Budget Presentation Award- presented to the Catawba County Budget Office for development of an easily understood budget document which can be used by other governmental units or the average citizen. This is the twelfth consecutive year in which the Catawba County Budget Office has won the award, which is the highest form of recognition in governmental budgeting. 

Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting-Government Finance Officers Association- presented to the Catawba County Finance Office for creation of an easily readable and understandable comprehensive annual financial report covering all funds and financial transactions during the fiscal year. This is the nineteenth consecutive year in which the Catawba County Finance Office has won the award. 

2000: 

National Association of Counties Achievement Awards (NACo) 

EBT Project for the Homebound, Social Services- NOTE: NACo also named this entry as the "Best In Category" winner among all entries in its Human Services category from across the nation.In 1996, Congress mandated that all states begin using Electronic Benefit Transfer by October 2002 to provide Food Stamp benefits to eligible families. The expensive paper coupon system was replaced with a system using a debit-style card, which would provide a higher level of security for the client's benefits and eliminate many fraudulent activities associated with paper coupons. 

"Many families, particularly the elderly, were not comfortable with the idea of an electronic card system," said Jo Sloan, Program Manager for the project. "Experts predicted that elderly recipients would not accept this change and that up to 20% would drop out of the program, leaving this vulnerable population at nutritional risk. To assure that elderly and disabled citizens continued to benefit from the program, Social Services created the EBT Project for the Homebound. The project enlisted the help of volunteers and matched them with senior citizens who would be using EBT cards. Our staff members introduced the volunteers to ‘their' senior citizen to assure that each was comfortable with the arrangement." 

The first visit provided an opportunity for review of the process and responsibilities. Volunteers were then trained in the use of the EBT card and selected the PIN number for ‘their' elderly/disabled client. They then helped the senior citizen or disabled person they were matched with make purchases with EBT cards in a safe and secure manner. In Catawba County, 634 elderly and disabled participants received benefits in July 1998 (just prior to the implementation of EBT.) Today, more than 660 elderly and disabled recipients receive benefits. 

Partnering for Citizen Protection, Emergency Service and Social Services-Preparation for potential Y2K problems led to a recognition that there was no current database that could help emergency responders with rapid identification and location of citizens who would have special medical needs in the event of power outage or disaster. Emergency Management and Social Services knew that estimating the type and number of shelters that might be needed, and preparing for the level of care that might be required could be done more efficiently if more was known about the existing needs of senior and disabled citizens in our community. 

To address this problem, a massive effort was undertaken to educate senior and disabled adults who attend congregate meal sites; receive home delivered meals; case management from the Community Alternative Program; homemaker and in-home aide services; and guardianship and payee ship services. Emergency Services Director Charles Moody met with Adult Care Home personnel to help them understand and prepare for emergency situations. Red Cross and Cooperative Extension speakers were invited to address congregate meal participants about common sense preparations for Y2K and winter storm emergencies. A brochure was distributed entitled "Emergency Assistance For People With Special Needs", which includes a form for persons to use to submit information to Emergency Services personnel about their special needs. Emergency information for medically fragile clients, those who receive in home aide services and nursing home level services at home through Social Services programs, was collected and shared with Emergency Services for the first time. 

Computerizing CARE- Catawba County Social Services (jointly with Alexander, Burke and Caldwell County Social Services.)The four Departments of Social Services drew on a tradition of cooperation to develop a new software program called CARE in partnership with a consulting firm, Millennium Solutions, Inc. The program is based on a Resident Assessment Instrument for Home Care (RAI-HC), a comprehensive, assessment tool used with adults seeking assistance from Social Services agencies. The Computerized CARE program sprang from the 1996-98 Unifour Adult Care Home Case Management project, which combined the resources of all four counties to more efficiently serve the most fragile clients in adult care homes, helping them to have more comfortable, stable lives while saving tax dollars that might otherwise have been spent on more expensive nursing home care. A standardization of effort and improved data collection was necessary for agencies to work well together across county lines, so planners studied the available assessment software which could be used by all participants. A decision was made to purchase software still in development by SAVANT, Inc., which was working on an assessment based on the RAI-HC. 

Use of the automated CARE assessment tool has been very successful. It has standardized the way adult care home residents are evaluated in Alexander, Burke, Caldwell and Catawba counties. The same baseline data is collected for each client and appropriate plans are triggered by that data. All Case Managers have an easily accessible selection of methods to address these plans. They are not restricted to a ‘cookbook' of interventions. A Case Manager is free to use professional judgment to add new interventions that best suit the needs of the client. A database of over 200 clients has been compiled, offering more convenient access to information about the four county caseload as a whole. 

Conover Express Branch Library (Cooperative effort between the County's Library and Technology Departments and the City of Conover)-A project to create a new library for the citizens of the City of Conover was initiated in the fall of 1998 because Conover residents had to drive to neighboring communities to access library services. The City of Conover and Catawba County governments created a partnership to provide library service for Conover, using available space in the remodeled Conover City Hall. The City of Conover agreed to make provisions for the space, staffing, maintenance, telephone and utilities, while Catawba County agreed to provide materials, computers, furnishings and management for the new library. 

Conover and the County signed a contract to create the library in January 1999 and, in only fourteen weeks, the new branch was open for business. Library staff and employees from the County's Technology Department (which works with computer systems), worked quickly to get the library equipped and ready for opening. Grant funds administered by the State Library and the use of materials already owned by the Library helped reduce the costs of the project. The new 800 square foot library houses a collection of print materials, and a computer lab with twelve computers available for the public to use individually or for classes. 

"Methane to Energy" project- Department of Utilities and Engineering.The closure of landfills is often accompanied by environmental and safety hazards. One of the most common problems associated with closed sites is methane gas. Decomposing garbage naturally produces methane: a colorless, odorless, invisible and explosive gas. Several potential problems make the control of methane gas a high priority. Methane can travel long distances in the soil adjacent to a landfill, especially after closure, when a landfill cap can act as a barrier to the upward movement of gas. If the gas travels off the landfill property, it can pose a problem to adjacent landowners, possibly seeping up through the ground and entering homes or business. Another risk associated with concentrations of methane gas is its explosive characteristic. Injury from methane explosions is a real concern if people come in contact with closed sites. Yet another concern for Catawba County staff was compliance with environmental regulations. Closed landfills must have a gas control and venting system, along with a gas-monitoring plan to ensure gas does not travel to adjacent property or damage the earth's ozone layer. 

In seeking to address these concerns, Catawba County entered into a contract with Enerdyne Power Systems/Catawba Gas/Newton Gas to extract the methane gas from the closed Newton landfill and closed portions of the Blackburn Landfill," Edwards said. "The County avoided spending $2.5 million dollars in gas extraction infrastructure. It then used these savings to purchase methane gas powered engines from Jennbacher Inc. that are coupled with generators to produce electricity. The generated electrical power is being sold to Duke Energy and fed into the public power network. Over a fifteen-year period, the County expects to purchase three additional engines and generate revenue of approximately $7.1 million dollars. Between both sites, enough electricity will be generated to power approximately 4,300 homes. Most important, the revenue produced from this project will enable the County to maintain the current solid waste tipping fee for the next ten years. 

National Association of County Information Officers Award of Excellence-A video detailing Catawba County Government services won a 2000 Award of Excellence from the National Association of County Information Officers (NACIO). The nineteen minute video gives viewers a brief overview of the County's history, followed by a look at services provided by each County department. County employees appear throughout, with some playing the roles of clients in situations where the identity of real clients should be protected. The video airs daily on Charter Communications' Government Access Channel (Channel 3).

Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada Distinguished Budget Presentation Award- presented to the Catawba County Budget Office for development of an easily understood budget document which can be used by other governmental units or the average citizen. This is the eleventh consecutive year in which the Catawba County Budget Office has won the award, which is the highest form of recognition in governmental budgeting. 

Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting-Government Finance Officers Association- presented to the Catawba County Finance Office for creation of an easily readable and understandable comprehensive annual financial report covering all funds and financial transactions during the fiscal year. This is the eighteenth consecutive year in which the Catawba County Finance Office has won the award. 

1999: 

North Carolina Association of County Commissioners Outstanding County Program Awards 

"Methane to Energy" project- A project to take potentially hazardous methane gas, produced naturally in landfills, and convert it to energy which can be sold, guided by the Department of Utilities and Engineering. The closure of landfills is often accompanied by environmental and safety hazards. One of the most common problems associated with closed sites is methane gas. Decompsing garbage naturally produces methane: a colorless, odorless, invisible, and explosive gas. In seeking to address concerns about the potential dangers of methane, Catawba County entered into a contract with Enerdyne Power Systems/Catawba Gas/Newton Gas to extract methane gas from the now closed Newton Landfill and a portion of the existing Blackburn Landfill. The County has avoided spending $2.5 million dollars in gas extraction infrastructure. It then used these savings to purchase methane gas powered engines from Jennbacher Inc. that are coupled with generators to produce electricity. The generated electrical power is being sold to Duke Energy and fed into the public power network. Over a fifteen-year period, the County expects to purchase three additional engines and generate revenue of approximately $7.1 million dollars, which will enable the County to maintain the current solid waste tipping fee for the next ten years.

National Association of Counties Achievement Awards 

N.C. Live Statewide Electronic Library Project-N.C. LIVE offers Internet users access to a virtual research library. The project was funded by the State of North Carolina in 1998, but its implementation depended upon the participation of individual library systems. In Catawba County, three departments teamed up to provide customers of the County Library system with 21 computers linked to NC LIVE in only ten working days. This was accomplished at no cost to taxpayers. 

The County's Technology Staff worked to locate, reconfigure and relocate computers for NC LIVE. Since no new computers had been budgeted for this project, the Library system used computers that had been declared surplus by other County departments. At the same time, the County's Maintenance staff worked quickly to provide electrical power to work stations for the computers. Eventually, the Library, Technology and Maintenance Departments brought the entire effort to a successful conclusion, with the system put into full operation on April 20. 

Conflict Resolution Center-The Sheriff's Department helped the center open in 1998 to help resolve disputes between neighbors, relatives and others, and settle more serious disputes which might end up in civil or criminal courts. The center coordinates voluntary mediation between disputing parties, facilitated by a trained mediator who volunteers his or her time to this program. 

The Conflict Resolution Center was organized with the assistance of Repay, Inc., a private organization which provides court and community related services such as pre-trial services, community penalties and community corrections. Referrals are made to the Conflict Resolution Center by law enforcement officers, magistrates, district attorneys, private attorneys and others. The disputing parties then meet with a trained, volunteer mediator who assists them in resolving their differences in a manner which both parties feel is fair. Once the disputing parties reach an agreement, they voluntarily sign a contract. 

Catawba County Department of Social Services' "Quick Care" program-designed to help recipients of public assistance get day care services for their children very quickly when the opportunity to start a job depends on having day care. With the advent of Welfare Reform and new time limits for people receiving public assistance, it has become critical that Human Services agencies be able to rapidly respond to the changing needs of the public assistance recipient. A recipient who finds a job and is told to ‘start work tomorrow' needs to find that the agency responsible for helping her access child care responds immediately to her urgent need. When access to day care assistance is delayed, the opportunity to start the new job is often lost. 

Quick Care is a unique program made available to families applying for or receiving welfare assistance. Families with an immediate need for child care are given same day service. No appointment is necessary. Child care arrangements for all children are made "on the spot" to ensure parents can get and keep a job. Work First worked to convince the State of North Carolina to allow a change in the income verification procedures required for child care. These verifications used to take up to 30 days and might have cost many people a chance to get a new job. Recipients are now given a child care voucher based on their declaration of income and given ten days to provide verification of their income. If they fail to provide verification or their income exceeds allowable limits, all child care assistance is terminated.

Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada Distinguished Budget Presentation Award- presented to the Catawba County Budget Office for development of an easily understood budget document which can be used by other governmental units or the average citizen. This is the tenth consecutive year in which the Catawba County Budget Office has won the award, which is the highest form of recognition in governmental budgeting.

Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting-Government Finance Officers Association- presented to the Catawba County Finance Office for creation of an easily readable and understandable comprehensive annual financial report covering all funds and financial transactions during the fiscal year. This is the seventeenth consecutive year in which the Catawba County Finance Office has won the award.