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Nash County approves $500K for jail upgrades

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Nash County commissioners gave final approval to the next fiscal year budget on Monday after adding an additional $500,000 for improving the Nash County jail.

After a public hearing at which no one spoke, the board approved a general fund budget of $95.5 million. No other changes were made in the budget presented by County Manager Zee Lamb at the board’s May 20 meeting. The 16-page budget ordinance set the ad valorem property tax rate at 67 cents per $100 valuation for the 10th year in a row. The ordinance also set the various fees for county services, which generally remained the same except for water deposits and tap fees.

Alluding to several escapes from the county jail in recent months, commissioners voted to add a half-million dollars to the sheriff’s office for improvements to the jail rather than waiting to determine a more precise figure.

“We’re going to be spending money on that facility,” Lamb said matter-of-factly, including money for additional cameras and lighting.

“If you know you’re going to spend it, go ahead and put it in the budget,” said Commissioner Dan Cone, who moved to add the funding and approve the budget otherwise as submitted. Approval was unanimous.

The board rejected a motion by Commissioner Fred Belfield to add $50,000 to the school system’s budget for the purchase of classroom supplies. Belfield said he had been reading how little the state was financing classroom supplies and wanted to make sure the county’s teachers had funding.

Commissioner Wayne Outlaw objected to the motion because he said the county board can’t dictate to the school board how to spend its appropriation for operational expenses and “we have no guarantee they will use the money for that purpose.”

He and board Chairman Robbie Davis also pointed out that the school system has already set aside money for classroom supplies through the principals.

“I understand why you feel that way,” Davis said, “but I think it would be a bad precedent to put the money in to fix the problems we have, because the money is there already.”

“I think we’re doing what is necessary right now,” said Commissioner Lou Richardson. “I think we need a bit more accountability before doing more.”

“I’m still in favor of doing it. I think it is the right thing to do,” Belfield insisted, to no avail.

In other business during the quiet monthly meeting, commissioners unanimously approved a text amendment to the unified development ordinance that creates a RA-20 residential zoning district to correspond to the existing R-20 district. No one spoke at the required public hearing.

Planning Director Adam Tyson said the change was necessary to correct an oversight in the ordinance that assumed the existence of an RA-20 zone but failed to include it on the list of zones. The other R zones already have an RA equivalent, he said, but the omission was pointed out last month when a major development project needed an RA-20 that wasn’t possible.

The R and RA zones are identical except that RA zones prohibit boarding and rooming houses, congregate care facilities, manufactured homes and manufactured home parks, and two-family dwellings (duplexes). R-20 and RA-20 zones are based on lots at least 20,000 square feet or 10,000 square feet in a cluster development.

In another zoning action, the board approved six-month extensions to two solar farm projects outside Spring Hope covering 98 acres whose development has been slowed past the original permit because of delays in reaching inter-connection agreements with Duke Energy. One project has reached its agreement and the other will soon do so, Tyson told commissioners. A third Spring Hope solar farm originally approved has been dropped.

In other business, the board accepted a bid from Pak House, LLC to lease 115 acres of cropland owned by the county on N.C. 97 near Wilson for $17,538.65 per year, effective Monday and lasting thorough Dec. 31, 2020.

In his manager’s report, Lamb acknowledged the mass shooting deaths at the Virginia Beach municipal center on Friday by a disgruntled employee and said he was going to work on protocols for dealing with county employees’ resignations or firings.

“We are doing to try to put some protocols in place to better prepare us for people once they resign,” he said. “You can’t prevent what a person does, but we can try to prepare for it the best we can for the sake of our employees and the public.”

Davis suggested the county conduct more emergency drills, led by Nash County EMS.

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