County board chairman says the restructuring of fire districts is not a tax increase

ASHEBORO – The Randolph County Board of Commissioners met Monday with multiple budget items on the agenda as well as to provide some clarification in regards to the new fire districts.

First up, the board of commissioners approved the final design by HH Architecture for the development of the Farm, Food and Family Education Center as well as a budget amendment to reallocate the funds that the county had already set aside for the project. 

The plan, which will cost $29,564,000, will have around 44 acres of development with around 60 acres of undeveloped land as a buffer.

“There’s a couple of parts, but Cooperative Extension will have offices, there’ll be gardens, labs, and a demonstration kitchen,” said HH Architecture CEO, Kristen Hess. “Soil and Water will have their offices with meeting and classroom space. There’s a proposed maker space and then a commercial kitchen for businesses actually wanting to start with a kitchen certified by the county. There’s a big exhibit hall component with concessions and an open-air arena for livestock shows and sales. We have a lot of accessory buildings as well just to be in support. Incubator barns, equipment sheds, greenhouses, raw material storage, animal staging. These are all necessary for the support of the facility.”

The board also held its first round of public hearings for the restructuring of the county’s fire tax districts to remove the 15 cent fire tax cap, starting with the Climax, Franklinville, Guil-Rand and Westside. 

“This is not a tax increase,” said Chairman Darrell Frye on the restructuring. “This is not a budget increase hearing tonight. Fire departments have no taxing authority. This board was elected by the citizens of this county to represent them. Any changes in the fire tax can only be made by the board of county commissioners.”

“We have rates over a wide range, but our caps are at 15 cents. Any fire department in the county can go over that limit right now. The problem is that when the citizens would get their tax bills, it would have the 15 cent fire tax and if their fire tax was set at 15 or 16, there would be a second line for that additional tax and that could be confusing. That they had two fire taxes on their tax bill when really there’s only one, but it had to be done that way under the current structure. That’s one of the reasons why we wanted to change the structures of the fire districts.”

In more of an effort to be transparent, according to associate county attorney Aimee Scotton, the county had sent out notices alerting the public about these proposed changes.

However, there was some confusion among the public in regards to a statement in that notice about the county’s tax cap of $1.50. Some felt that this was going to be the newly proposed fire tax rate, leading to a bit of uproar. 

“That $1.50 [tax rate] is set by the State of North Carolina,” Frye said. “It also includes your Randolph County property taxes. It’s not just a limit on fire taxes. It is a cap on any county wide tax that would be passed in this county. For example, if you had a school tax, that would be added into this total. And the total for all of these taxes cannot exceed $1.50. So there is a cap but it’s all inclusive to protect you against a higher level of any sort of taxes.”

Randolph County is not looking to raise the fire tax rate during these public hearings, however, Chairman Frye did note that some fire departments, such as Climax, are asking to increase those rates, but that would require them to present a proposed budget before the board of commissioners for approval.

The board approved second-year bids for Aging Services to Randolph Senior Adults Association (RSSA), who will be the lead agency in Randolph County, and Regional Consolidated Services (RCS).

The agencies help provide adult daycare, congregant nutrition, home-delivered meals, information and options counseling, transportation, in-home aid at levels I, II and III and housing and home improvement to older residents who need additional assistance.

Along with approving the agency bids, the board also approved their proposed fiscal year 21-22 fund allocation.

“Working with the current Randolph County award amount, the Aging Services Planning Committee recommends to you for board approval the following amounts: Randolph Senior Adults, $586,904 and Regional Consolidated Services, $310,349, for a total Randolph County allocation of $897,253 as it is known today,” said Executive Director of RSSA, Mark Hensley.

Funding will not need to come from Randolph County and is instead provided by Community Services Block Grants and the Older Americans Act. The county’s only role is deciding who the provider will be and how their funds will be allocated over their three year bid.

The board of commissioners also renewed its contract with Mediko, Inc. for inmate medical services at a cost of $791,532.55. 

According to Sheriff’s Office Manager, Justin Brubaker, Correctional Healthcare was another competitive option that was looked into, but Mediko proved to be the preferred option with things such as their use of LPNs and the familiarity already had with them. 

“We’ve been with Mediko since November of 2019,” Brubaker said. “As far as COVID-19 and what we’ve been through, we can’t say enough about the staff with Mediko. It’s just that bond, that relationship we have with Mediko. We’ve trusted them since 2019.”

County manager, Hal Johnson, gave an update on the opioid settlement that Randolph County had participated in, stating that the county would see $9,824,000 over an 18 year period, with the first payment of $377,000 expected in late spring. The money has safeguards on it that will only allow it to be used on things that will “help offset the effects of the opioid epidemic.”

“The memorandum of agreement that we signed with the State, outlines about seven or eight different areas that the county will focus on as we begin to develop programs and allocate money to various treatment options,” Johnson said. “The county government must also sponsor a joint planning meeting with all of our municipalities. That meeting will be open to the public also and it’s a time for the county to meet formally with our municipalities and agencies and talk about different options that we may want to pursue over time.”

The board then awarded a contract to S&S Building and Development for the Social Services renovations at Northgate. 

The low bid offer came in at $1,318,792, but the extra costs of the project are going to see a projected total of $1,599,792, which the board has already budgeted for. The project is expected to be completed in 10 months.

Finally, the board gave approval for a fourth – and potentially final – budget amendment for the Courthouse Renovation Capital Project 

“We’ve gotten our substantial completion, they’ve moved in, they’re occupying the space, there’s just a few little odds and ends to be wrapped up,” said county engineer, Paxton Arthurs. “The main thing being the changes to the front counter with the secure transaction and the deal trays.”

The amendment, which is for $26,000, will finish out and close the project according to Arthurs.

The Randolph County Board of Commissioners will next meet June 6.

By Ryan Henkel