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Four Catawba County programs have been named winners of a 2014 National Association of Counties (NACo) Achievement Award.

The winning programs include a Public Health Farmers Market designed to offer fresh fruits and vegetables and improve community health; a computer access terminal that allows citizens at Hickory City Hall access to Permit Center staff in Newton; a program that streamlined the process for finding permanent placements for children in foster care, resulting in less trauma for the child and faster decisions; and a Commercial Recycling Program that is one of many initiatives that helped Catawba County attain the #1 ranking in the state in recycling, per person, in two of the last three years.

"NACo awards demonstrate Catawba County's continuing effort to find innovative and creative ways to deliver the very best services to our citizens," said Kitty Barnes, Chair of the Catawba County Board of Commissioners. "My fellow commissioners and I are very proud of this national recognition."

The NACo Achievement Awards program, now in its 43rd year, gives national recognition to significant and innovative programs that improve county organization, management and service delivery. Catawba County has won 199 awards over the history of the NACo program and has been honored during each of its 43 years.

Catawba County’s Utilities and Engineering Department won two of the four awards. “The Commercial Recycling Program is a free and voluntary program that encourages local businesses to take proactive steps to improve their environmental record while improving their bottom-line,” said Amanda Kain, Catawba County Recycling Coordinator. “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.

The 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.

“RAPT has been a success since it was first implemented,” said Jack Chandler, Catawba County’s Assistant Director of Utilities and Engineering. “It filled in a service gap within our permitting program. Rather than closing an existing Permit Center, RAPT allowed the County to continue offering permitting services in Hickory, instead of requiring all those who need permit services to travel to Newton to conduct business. Second, RAPT improved the cost effectiveness of an existing program by allowing the County to avoid replacing staff members when they retired. Service was not interrupted and the County was able to realize cost savings.”

The Catawba County Public Health Farmers Market won the third 2014 National Association of Counties Achievement Award. In 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%.

“We started the market hoping to see not just increased access to healthy foods, but also increased redemption of WIC Farmers Market Nutritional Program vouchers,” said Julie Byrd, WIC Director. “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.”

Catawba County Social Services’ Children and Youth Investment Team (CAY-IT) also won a 2014 National Association of Counties Achievement Award. The program 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 State's goal is for children to remain in foster care no longer than one year,” said Regina Arrowood, CAY-IT Process Coordinator. “In March 2014, Catawba County Social Services cared for 201 foster children. Twenty of them had been in care 36 months or more, and 45 more had been in care more than 24 but less than 36 months. Mental health and legal issues are often the reasons for longer-than-average placement times for these children. The CAY-IT team meets every other month and includes social workers, social work supervisors, guardians ad-litem for the children, mental health professionals and residential care professionals. The CAY-IT approach is already yielding cross-disciplinary discussions, which help the team move more quickly toward the best outcome for each child.

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. By pulling together different units that work on different parts of a child's treatment program, the CAY-IT team helps develop a more holistic approach to improving the child's life. It is well-known by adoption and foster care workers that foster care should be used for as short a time as needed, and the child should not be subjected to numerous foster care placements. By analyzing as a group what stands in the way of moving toward permanence, children can be moved through the system more quickly, resulting in less trauma to the child.”

Catawba County’s NACo Awards will be presented to County officials during the Association’s annual conference in New Orleans in July. Employees involved in the four programs will be recognized at an upcoming Board of Commissioners meeting and at the annual County Awards Night dinner in October.