By Connie Leinbach
For Ocracoke news, click here.
In addition to approving the “Brunch Law,” (see story here) the commissioners addressed several important issues at their Monday night meeting.
At the beginning of the meeting, Dr. Randolph Latimore, superintendent of Hyde County schools, told the commissioners that the budget for the current school year had a shortfall of $293,350. To fund this shortfall, the Board of Education eliminated four full-time positions, reduced sports coaches pay and expenses, eliminated teacher professional development, next year’s summer reading program and eliminated their own monthly stipends for service.
Now the budget is balanced, he said, but because of state budget cuts, the district will face a 6.7 percent teacher pay raise next year increase, for a total of about a 19 percent overall budget loss.
Board of Education Chairman Randy Etheridge also asked the board to meet with the education board to discuss this issue.
“I fear if something doesn’t change shortly the school may not be a school any longer,” he said. “The only ones that will suffer will be the children.”
Kris Noble, assistant Hyde County manager, reported that the Hyde County Drug Task force will meet at 10 a.m.. Thursday in the county services building and via teleconferencing in the Ocracoke Community Center).
This task force, composed of the county manager’s office, emergency services, the departments of Social Service, health and the sheriff, have convened to address the nationwide opioid epidemic that has affected the community, she said.
Luanna Gibbs, county health director, whose son was one of two persons who died from Fentanyl overdoses June 1, praised the sheriff’s department for their hard work with this case. She noted that while education and prevention is needed, law enforcement needs resources to be able to do their jobs to “clean up our streets.”
The State Bureau of Investigation charged Tiffaney Webber, 25, of Engelhard, with two counts of murder after preliminary results showed that fentanyl was contained in the drugs that Webber had provided to Ryan Edward Gibbs, 23, and Sarah David Reams, 16, both of Fairfield.
The commissioners approved drafting letters of support in advance of this task force’s identifying possible grants to help fund prevention education.
In other action, the commissioners approved Ocracoke Commissioner Tom Pahl’s recommendation to appoint a seven-member Ocracoke Waterways Commission that is charged with looking into solutions to the navigable waterways to Ocracoke.
One board position will be for the Ocracoke commissioner position on the board and the six others approved for this board are Justin LeBlanc, Erik O’Neal, Darlene Styron, Vince O’Neal, Rudy Austin and David Hilton.
The commission, fashioned after one in Dare County, will work on the problems in the Ocracoke and Hatteras inlets as well as Silver Lake Harbor.
It will be an advisory body to the commissioners and will need the latter’s approval for any allocation of funds.
The board approved a contract change for Rich where he has requested the county reduce his health insurance premium stipend of $650.18 a month to $233.51 a month. The commissioners approved transferring the difference of $417 per month for the remainder of Rich’s contract, or $5,000, to Noble’s salary.
This change does not change the county budget, Rich said.
The commissioners awarded a contract for $347,632 to Select Custom Apparatus to provide two new F 450 ambulances for Ocracoke.
Last October, the island’s two ambulances were flooded and lost during Hurricane Matthew as the waters inundated island roads, including Back Road where the EMS services are housed.
The commissioners ordered County EMS Director Justin Gibbs to devise a plan for these new ambulances’ to be moved to high ground or off the island in hurricane emergencies
The commissioners also awarded a $800,000 contract to Landfall Strategies to monitor storm debris removal. Gibbs said this service is completely reimbursable from FEMA. After Matthew last year, Finance Director Corinne Gibbs and temporary employees monitored the debris removal.
“This was a tremendous burden to our two-person finance office,” Justin Gibbs said. The monitoring firm protects the county and intercedes with FEMA if necessary, he said.
He said the cost of debris removal for Hurricane Irene in 2011 was more than $3 million, but did not say how much the debris removal for Matthew was.
Although no action was taken, Rich reported that the National Park Service has approached the county about developing the land across from the Ocracoke lighthouse for parking and restrooms.
The land currently is owned by Eastern National, a nonprofit that operates museum stores at more than 160 units of the National Park Service, across 33 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the United States Virgin Islands.
Eastern has paid the NPS a total of $300,000 for this land, and it now could be deeded to Hyde County. The commissioners authorized Rich to look into how this parcel could be developed with grants with the stipulation that the Park Service retains maintenance responsibility for the site.
“It would have to be a coalition,” Rich said.
Currently, Eastern National does not pay property taxes on the land.
A public meeting to kick off the Mattamuskeet Watershed Restoration Plan, which is due next September, will be held at 7 p.m. Aug. 8 in the Hyde County Services Center.