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Catawba County Board of Commissioners Meeting
Tuesday, September 4, 2007, 9:30 a.m.
Robert E. Hibbitts Meeting Room, 1924 Courthouse
30 North College Avenue, Newton, NC

1. Call to Order.

2. Pledge of Allegiance

3. Invocation

4. Approval of the Minutes from the regular meeting of Monday, August 20, 2007.

5.Recognition of Special Guests.

6. Public Comment for items not on the agenda.

7. Presentations:
a. Proclamation recognizing Hickory for All American City Designation. Presented to City of Hickory Mayor Rudy Wright.

b. Presentation of Service Side Arm and Badge to Retiring Sheriff’s Deputy Tommy Lambert.

c. Fall Litter Sweep Proclamation.  Presented to Amanda Kain, Waste Reduction Coordinator.

8. Appointments.

9. Consent Agenda.

        a.  Establishment of Zostavax Fee  - vaccine for the prevention of Shingles.

        b.  Countywide Appraisal of Real Property/Change in Revaluation Schedule.

        c.  Supplemental appropriation for Duke Energy McGuire Location.
10. Departmental Reports.

1.  Public Health

School Nurse Initiative Update.  Presented by Doug Urland, Director of Public Health.

2.  Emergency Services:     

Emergency Services Strategic Plan Update.  Presented by David Weldon, Emergency Services Director.

11. Other Items of business.

         Work Session to discuss local option ¼ cent sales tax referendum authorized by the North Carolina General Assembly.
12. Attorneys’ Report.

13. Manager’s Report.

14. Adjournment.


Individuals needing assistance should contact the County Clerk at 465-8990 within a reasonable time prior to the meeting. A telecommunication device for the deaf (TDD) is located in the Government Center and can be reached by dialing 465-8200. Access to the 1924 Courthouse for individuals with disabilities is at the south side (“A” Street). The elevator is located at the north end of the building. Participation in public meetings is without regard to race, creed, religion, national origin, sex, age, color, or disability.


The Catawba County Telephone Information System will allow you to use your touch tone telephone to obtain current information on Catawba County 24 hours a day. Information is updated on a regular basis. Dial 465-8468 and INFOTALK will direct your questions with easy to understand instructions. Reach Catawba County on the Internet at http://www.catawbacountync.gov.

The next Board of Commissioners meetings will take place on Monday, September 17, 2007, at 7:00 p.m.

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 2007,  9:30 A.M.

The Catawba County Board of Commissioners will receive updates on the County’s Emergency Services Strategic Plan and the Public Health Department’s School Nurse initiative; and will hold a work session on a proposed referendum on the November 6 ballot on a local option ¼ cent sales tax authorized by the North Carolina General Assembly, when the Board meets at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, September 4, 2007, at the 1924 Courthouse, at 30 N. College Avenue in Newton. 

The Board will also consider the establishment of a fee for distribution of a medicine to treat shingles by the Health Department; the continuation of a four-year property revaluation cycle that would result in the next revaluation taking effect on January 1, 2011; and a supplemental appropriation of funding, beyond what was anticipated, from Duke Energy for drills, incidents and yearly training related to the McGuire Nuclear Station.  The Board will recognize the City of Hickory for the city’s recently winning its third All-America City Award; honor retired Sheriff’s Deputy Tommy Lambert with the tradition presentation of his service sidearm and badge, and issue a proclamation declaring September 15-29 as Litter Sweep Weeks. 

A.  The Board will issue a proclamation honoring the City of Hickory, which was recently presented with a 2007 All-America City Award by the National Civic League.  The award recognizes civic excellence in communities where citizens, government, businesses and non-profit organizations unite in community problem solving and focus on opportunities and possibilities for growth, stability and prosperity.  The City of Hickory has now won the award three times, in 1967, 1987 and 2007, and is one of only 28 cities to earn the award three or more times.  The city’s 2007 application focused on organizations and programs such as the Hickory Metro Higher Education Center, Hickory Public  Schools’ Project Potential and Exodus Home that are essential to communities faced with economic downtowns and shifts in their manufacturing base, and are instrumental to the reversal of these trends.

B.  The Board will honor Sheriff’s Captain Tommy Lambert, who retired effective September 1, 2007 after 29 years of service with the Catawba County Sheriff’s Office.  Under North Carolina General Statute 20-187.2, the Board will consider declaring as surplus the service side arm and badge of Captain Lambert, and present these service items to him.

C.  The Board will issue a proclamation declaring September 15-29, 2007 as Litter Sweep Weeks in Catawba County.  During these weeks, citizens who bring trash collected from road sides, parks, lake sides and other common areas in special orange bags, or recyclable materials collected from the same areas in blue bags, to the Blackburn Landfill or one of the County's five convenience centers may dispose of the bags free of charge. Citizens may call the N.C. Department of Transportation's Maintenance Office at 828-466-5519 to arrange for pickup of orange bags only.  Bags are available at the County Utilities & Engineering Department at the Government Center in Newton; the Cooperative Extension Office off Highway 321 Business in Newton; the NC Department of Transportation's Maintenance Office on Prison Camp Road, off Highway 321 north of Maiden; and at Garbage Disposal Service's office at 4062 Section House Road in Hickory.

A.  The Board will consider a request from the Catawba County Board of Health to establish a fee for distribution of Zostavax, a vaccine used for adults 60 years of age or older to prevent shingles.  The fee would be $179, which is the cost for the vaccine plus $26 for related administrative costs.  At least one million people a year in the United States get shingles, most commonly in people over 60 years of age.  Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox.  An associated rash can be painful and usually lasts up to 30 days.  Zostavax helps the immune system protect a person from getting shingles, and the associated pain and other serious complications.   In some cases, persons receiving the vaccine may still have shingles but Zostavax may help prevent the nerve pain that can follow shingles in some people.  The Board’s Finance and Personnel Subcommittee recommends approval of the establishment of the fee as outlined above.

B.  The Board will consider adopting a four-year revaluation of real property, in accordance with North Carolina General Statute 105-286 (a)(2).  If approved, the next revaluation would become effective on January 1, 2011.   State statutes require each county to conduct a general revaluation of real property at least once every eight years, but allow counties to revalue real property on a shorter cycle .  Currently, 49 of the State’s 100 counties are on cycles with less than the maximum eight years.  Catawba County has used a four-year revaluation cycle since 1999.  More frequent revaluations should eliminate the larger increases in real estate values that historically occur in an eight-year cycle, the level of assessment between personal property and real property remains more equitable in a four year revaluation, and more frequent revaluations avoid an automatic reduction for public services companies in the fourth and seventh years following the last revaluation if the level of assessment drops below 90%, as determined by the North Carolina Department of Revenue.  Catawba County lost $2,285,253.89 in revenue for the years 1995, 1996, 1997, and 1998, due to this automatic reduction.  The Board’s Policy and Public Works Subcommittee recommends adoption of a four-year revaluation cycle of real property to become effective January 1, 2011. 

C.   The Board will consider a request from Emergency Services for a supplemental appropriation of funds received from Duke Energy that were higher than the County originally budgeted.  Emergency Services receives funds each year from Duke Energy for use during McGuire Nuclear Station drills, incidents and yearly training.  The County receives these funds due to Sherrills Ford’s location within the McGuire station’s 10-mile Emergency Planning Zone (EPZ).  Because a portion of the county is in the EPZ, Catawba County government must participate in drills and exercises as required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).  The NRC also requires McGuire to assist with funding of these drills. This year, Duke Energy approved additional funding to purchase furniture and accessories for the County’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC).  The EOC is critical to the County’s ability to properly handle an event.  This purchase will allow the County to reconfigure the EOC to more efficiently use very limited space, and comply with the National Incident Management System (NIMS) with regard to the structure of, and communications within, the EOC.  The County’s actual allocation from Duke Energy this year is $31,300, whereas the County budgeted $20,000.  The Board’s Finance and Personnel Subcommittee recommends approval of the appropriation of the additional $11,300 from Duke Energy.


The Board will receive an update from Catawba County Health Director, Doug Urland, on the Health Department’s school nurse initiative.  The school nurse program focuses on wellness and prevention initiatives among youth that are key to improving health over their lifetimes.   The Health Department has expanded the program over the last few years by partnering with Catawba Valley Medical Center and the three local school districts to fund 13 new school nurse positions, in part with Duke Endowment funds.  This improved the ratio of nurses to students from 1 nurse per 2400 students to 1 nurse per 1000 students.  School nurses assist chronically ill children by initiating and managing emergency care plans, to identify, refer and intervene with at-risk students as early as possible to decrease and eliminate health risks, and provide vital health and safety education to students and staff, preventing illness and poor health behaviors before they occur.

The Board will receive an update on the Catawba County Emergency Services Strategic Plan.  The plan was created in 2000 and the Board has been given regular updates since then.  The plan is designed as a guideline for Emergency Services and is a changing document that will need to be updated as demographics and the needs of citizens change.   Catawba County Emergency Services Director David Weldon will give background on the study and is expected to present a list of the original goals and outcomes proposed from the study, indicating those that have been completed, some that have changed or added and which additional areas of study and action are proposed for the coming months.


The Board will hold a work session to discuss the possibility of calling for a referendum on the November 6, 2007 ballot on a local option ¼ cent sales tax which has been authorized by the North Carolina General Assembly.  A ¼ cent sales tax would allow the County to avoid planned property tax increases to meet pressing needs in the areas of economic development, education, public safety, and water and sewer.  The Board has worked diligently for the last ten years to obtain authority from the North Carolina General Assembly for a wider range of revenue options, to avoid having to rely on the property tax.   The 2007 session of the General Assembly has provided two new revenue sources, a ¼ cent sales tax or a Land Transfer Tax, which would range between 0.1% and 0.4%.  Either option must be authorized by the public through a referendum.  Since the Land Transfer Tax would bring in less revenue and continue to burden property owners, a ¼ cent sales tax would be preferred for Catawba County, and reflects the goals of the Board.  A ¼ cent sales tax would bring in an additional $5 million annually, and avoid a 3.5 cent property tax increase over the next several years.

County governments were provided with long-term relief from Medicaid expenses through House Bill 1473 passed in late July 2007, but this relief will free a relatively small amount of revenue for the County.  The Act calls for a three year phase out of the counties’ share of Medicaid costs, to be reduced by 25% the first year, 50% in the second year and entirely eliminated in the third year.   To fund this relief, the State is taking away from the County a ½ cent sales tax and certain school capital funds, and will require that the County hold cities and towns harmless for their sales tax loss.  If there are no further changes in the State’s distribution formula, the relief from Medicaid funding will average only six-tenths of one penny on the County’s property tax rate each year for the next five years.  

The Board and County staff have stated for many years that an increase in the sales tax is preferable to continued increases in the property tax.  Sales tax captures revenue from those who live in the county but don’t own property, as well as those who live outside the county and come here to visit, shop and work.  Increasing revenue through sales tax would spread the burden of the cost of providing services so it does not fall solely on county property owners.  Support for the sales tax option has come from a number of groups, including the Home Builders’ Association, Chamber of Commerce, Farm Bureau, AARP, Catawba County Board of Education, and the municipalities of Newton, Conover, Claremont, Hickory and Catawba.

Staff believes a new ¼ cent sales tax could best be used to meet identified needs in four vital areas:

  • Economic development
  • Education
  • Public Safety
  • Water and sewer

Economic Development
The concept of a multijurisdictional business park for economic development has been discussed among County, municipal and Economic Development Corporation officials.  Funds from this sales tax could be used for that purpose and/or funds could be set aside for other future economic development endeavors. 

A recent report in Governing magazine shows that North Carolina is 47th in per capita spending for education and 43rd in overall spending, per pupil. In North Carolina, Catawba County previously ranked 39th out of 100 counties.  The property tax increase enacted for this fiscal year brought Catawba County to 35th among N.C. counties.  The Board determined it was necessary to cut a quarter penny from the property tax rate recommended in this year's County budget for schools current expenses.   The use of funds from a ¼ cent sales tax would allow the County to meet the needs recommended for this year’s budget without additional property taxes and continue to raise Catawba County’s funding for education. 

Public Safety
The County's Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) begins the setting aside of funds for additional courtroom space at the Catawba County Justice Center that would require an additional property tax increase without this ¼ cent sales tax option. The Justice Center was built in 1980 and the courtrooms are no longer adequate to accommodate growing case loads currently in the court system.  Additional State staff for the District Attorney’s and Clerk of Court require office space.

Some of the funds that would be generated by a new ¼ cent sales tax could also be used to meet a number of projects in the current CIP that are crucial to the County’s Emergency Services Strategic Plan.  The CIP includes plans to co-locate several much needed new facilities in a single location.   These include the following:

1.  A new 911 Communications Center, which would better allow staff to use the latest technologies to respond to emergencies.   A new Communications Center is needed for many reasons, including 1) the fact that electrical power is a concern at the present facility and additional power cannot be added without a major reengineering of the electrical system, 2) there is no adequate space to add additional radio equipment and consoles, needed to use new and changing technologies and address an increase in population and call volume; 3) equipment is currently located in three separate areas that are now full, two of which were not designed to house electronic equipment, some of which needs to be in air conditioned space, and 4) options for remodeling the current Communications Center are limited and very expensive

2.  A new Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is needed because expansions in staffing brought about by the NIMS system and the National Response Plan have created severely cramped conditions in the current EOC at the Justice Center. Expansion options are limited due to technology, design and wiring.  During full activation of the EOC, the County must split the EOC between two facilities because of cramped conditions, creating concerns regarding command and control and information sharing.  In its September 14, 2006 after action report following the County’s last McGuire Nuclear Station drill, Federal Emergency Management Agency officials reported, “communications between the alternate EOC and Catawba County EOC failed”, and also cited the inadequate space in the EOC.  

3.  A Newton-Conover Rescue Squad facility needed to meet a dire need for this squad, which sometimes cannot get rescue vehicles on the road instantly because of growth and traffic congestion at its present location.  Access into and out of the building impedes response due to vehicles having to make a U-turn in the building parking area prior to responding, causing safety concerns.  The building is 57 years old and has not had any significant improvements since construction.

4.  A Newton EMS Base, to allow for expansion that is not possible in the current location.  EMS has to exit emergency traffic across a parking lot to get to a main road from either of two available routes.  As vehicle and pedestrian traffic, including children attending 4-H programs, has increased, this has become more dangerous for all concerned.  The base had a 45% increase in call volume between 1998-2006.  The base is housed in a building built as a hospital in the 1930s, and renovated in 1981 to accommodate an EMS base designed for one ambulance, and in 1994-95 to accommodate an additional ambulance and update the bathroom and crew area to meet changing regulations.  Because of growth and response time criteria, the base now houses four ambulances, two primary units and two backup units. 

5.  The co-locating of Emergency Services and Emergency Medical Services (EMS).  EMS is limited in its ability to expand technology due to limitations in the building that currently houses the Newton EMS Base and Administration. Current wiring is not up to modern specifications.  Wall configuration and thickness limit wireless solutions.  The building’s design and age limits additional cable or wiring to connect different areas where EMS administration is housed. Demands resulting from increased call volume, which rose 50% from fiscal year 1998 to 2006, criteria implemented in the Emergency Services Strategic Plan, and changes in State and Federal guidelines have made the current facility inadequate. New regulations put in place in 2000 and 2001, and hospital policies, put the responsibilities of re-supplying EMS units on EMS.  To accomplish this, EMS must store larger amounts of medical supplies and equipment.  The current building was not designed to warehouse temperature sensitive medical supplies.    Space at the Government Center and the Newton EMS base is inadequate to store Emergency Services assets. 

Water and Sewer
The Board of Commissioners removed one penny from the property tax rate proposed for the County's fiscal year 2007-2008 budget that would have been used to meet pressing water and sewer needs, and stated the additional one penny property tax would be added on July 1, 2008.  The ¼ cent sales tax would avoid this property tax increase.  The County's Utilities and Engineering Department, in conjunction with municipalities, has identified water and sewer needs across the county that exceed $160 million.  As Catawba County continues to grow, it is dealing with continuing septic tank failures, water table problems that are only being worsened by the ongoing drought, and pressures created by increased growth.   Population growth in the Sherrills Ford area between 2005 and 2015 is projected to be 38.2%, or roughly 14,535 people.  It will be essential that the County provide tools for orderly growth and service expansion in this area.  The Southeast Area Council and many businesses and citizens have supported the expansion of water lines in the Highway 150 area. 

In order to call for a referendum on a new ¼ cent sales tax on November 6, 2007, the County must notify the North Carolina Board of Elections of its intent to hold a referendum no later than September 4, 2007.  Since the November 6th elections are only municipal, there would be additional costs of approximately $36,124 to hold a countywide referendum and open up all precincts, including one-stop voting sites in Newton, Hickory and Sherrills Ford.  If the referendum passed in November 2007, the additional sales tax could not take effect until April 1, 2008.   If the County held a referendum during the May 2008 primaries, the earliest the new sales tax could become effective would be on October 1, 2008, meaning additional revenues would not be available for all of the next fiscal year’s budget.  As of August 28, 2007, twelve North Carolina counties have taken action to hold a referendum on the sales tax, ten on November 6th, while fourteen counties have taken action to hold a referendum on a Land Transfer Tax. 

Staff recommends the Board of Commissioners authorize a public referendum on a proposed ¼ cent sales tax, to be held on Tuesday, November 6, 2007, in order to avoid future property tax increases for these needed services.



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