Commissioners hear DSS post-shutdown report

Dylan Lightfoot Staff Writer

October 24, 2013

The Ashe County Board of Commissioners Monday received a post-government-shutdown report from the Department of Social Services, denied an appeal of a ruling in a recent fence dispute, and said goodbye to Animal Control’s carbon monoxide gas chamber.

Department of Social Services Director Donna Weaver reported to the board on measures taken by her office during what she described as “the most devastating time in my career,” the Oct. 1-17 government shutdown.

“The first issue I had to face was the child care subsidy program,” she said.

Six days into the shutdown, Weaver had requested and received state permission to suspend federally-funded child care services “for 250 children in our community who receive subsidy payment for their costs in the daycare program,” she said. Services were suspended Oct. 8.

On Oct. 14, Weaver received authorization from the state to shift funds from Smart Start, an early childhood education initiative, and from state child care subsidies to cover program costs. “We were able to collaborate and use those monies to get us through the month of October…That saved us,” she said.

With funding cut off, child care providers came up with “creative solutions” during the shutdown, she said. Significant savings were realized by cutting food services, and having parents pack lunches and snacks.

“I want say how deeply grateful I am to these providers for saying ‘we will not shut down our business,’” Weaver said. “The public needs to know that if it were not for our childcare providers, our parents would probably not be working.”

“The second program affected was the adult day care program,” a “very small program” which allows working adults to provide day care for disabled or elderly family members, she said.

“When I talked to the state office and crunched the numbers for our country, it was going to cost so little I felt we could absorb that within our approved budget, so I did not suspend services,”she said.

WorkFirst was affected by the shutdown, she said. “We were required by the state office to take applications…but we could not process (them), so the program was suspended.”

“We have about 50 cases of WorkFirst, and 40 of those are children only…The remaining 10 cases are adults who are very challenged in terms of being employed,” she said.

The child support program, which receives and distributes court-ordered child support payments, avoided “a huge impact systemically,” she said. “Had the shutdown not lifted, we would have been required to process all the child support payments manually…with that money going directly to the parent from us, not from the state office.”

“We fared really well because the shutdown was resolved before the 18th,” Weaver said.

Appeal of appeal denied

The board denied a request by appellant Emanuel Calais to present his case to the board in a dispute over a fence built on the New River flood plain earlier this year.

On Oct. 7, the board unanimously upheld a May 2013, Planning Board ruling which found Calais’ wood and woven wire fence could not be allowed on the flood plain under FEMA regulations or county ordinances.

Calais appealed the ruling, but did not attend the Oct. 7, hearing before the board.

According to a letter to the board from Director of Planning Adam Stumb, Calais claimed “there was a misunderstanding about the date at which the appeals request was to be heard.”

Commissioner Judy Poe said, “What new facts is he planning on bringing? He’s breaking the law.”

The board consensus was to deny Calais’ request.

Gas chamber slated for phase-out

Animal Control Director Joe Testerman reported to the board that “we will be phasing out carbon monoxide euthanasia.”

Until recently, Ashe was one of the few remaining N.C. counties using a carbon monoxide euthanasia. On Aug. 19, the board voted 3-2 to decommission the county’s gas chamber.

A $7,000 Humane Society grant for counties opting to get rid of their gas chambers will be used to fund Certified Euthanasia Technician training and re-certification for Animal Control staff, and to construct a room designed to perform euthanasia by lethal injection, Testerman said.

“We will be probably be able to use existing space within our facility,” he said.

Commissioner Gary Roark asked what could be done with the gas chamber unit. Testerman suggested it could be sold for scrap, adding “I don’t think there’s a big market in trying to resell something like that.”

“I’d like to see it go to Rainbow Recycling,” Roark said.

FEMA money for leachate costs

Emergency Management Coordinator Patty Gambill reported that FEMA, at the request of the governor, has declared a state of emergency for several western N.C. counties, including Ashe, due to heavy rainfall July 1-15.

“I met with FEMA last week to fill out some paper work to apply for reimbursement for leachate treatment at our landfill, because that has been an ongoing problem and the rain contributes to that,” Gambill said. “Project cost is going to be $62,412 they think we may be able to recoup.”

“Are we still trucking water out of there?” asked Roark.

“Everyday,” Gambill said.

Despite recent dry weather, “thousands and thousands of gallons” of leachate, deposited by record rainfall in the first half of the year, are still trapped in the bottom of the landfill’s open cell, Gambill said. This month, 239,164 gallons were pumped out and hauled to water treatment facilities in a two-week period.

Other business

The board approved a resolution urging the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, the General Assembly and the governor to delay, revisit and revise requirements for governance of the Smoky Mountain Local Management Entity/Managed Care Organization Board of Directors. Poe, a member of the Smoky Mountain board, said the requirements will deny several counties in the LME elected representation.

Volunteer Advisory Board Member Gary Poe read a proclamation saluting Ashe County volunteers which was accepted by the board. “Whereas everyday in Ashe County 1,000 hours of volunteer service is given providing $8 million of volunteer services each year,” read the proclamation, “now therefore we the board of commissioner hereby recognize Monday Oct. 21, 2013, the value of our citizens who volunteer their time and talents, and the national celebration of volunteers through Make a Difference Day Saturday Oct. 26.”

A proclamation declaring Nov. 15, as America Recycles Day in Ashe was read by Chairman Larry Rhodes. “Each year the U.S. generates more than 250 millions tons of municipal solid waste…more than four pounds per person per day,” Rhodes said.