ELIZABETHTOWN — The Bladen County Board of Commissioners handled a lengthy agenda with relative ease and speed Monday, but if there was one issue that rankled some board members, it came from a presentation from the county’s Department of Social Services.
Vickie Smith, director of DSS, came before the board to explain about a federally mandated change in the food stamp program.
The Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents program is a USDA-designed effort aimed at food-stamp recipients. It is scheduled to begin July 1.
“This is a program mandated by the federal government,” Smith said. “Our job is to implement it and carry it forward here.”
ABAWD includes numerous exemptions — some of which include being a student at least half of the time, applying for/or receiving unemployment, caring for an incapacitated person and operating a home school a minimum of 30 hours per week. But the one exemption that raised eyebrows on the board was that a person could admit to being addicted to drugs or alcohol and not be required to take part in a treatment program.
“That’s just crazy,” Commissioner Charles Ray Peterson said. “How are we really helping these people if they don’t have to get treatment?”
Smith said DSS would be active in making referrals for those who come forward with addictions problems, but beyond that, there is no requirement the person must act on those referrals.
Commissioner Delilah Blanks wasn’t happy with that aspect of the program, either.
“If that’s what is being sent to us, then it’s our obligation not only to implement it, but also to voice our concern and disagreement with that aspect of the program,” she said. “It’s necessary for us to at least try and create change.”
Smith agreed, though there was no formal plan by the board or DSS to forward a letter of concern to the USDA. She also said that if any participants in the program fail to adhere to the requirements, they would be dropped from receiving food stamps.
“Nobody’s going to get dropped,” Peterson said. “There are too many loopholes. It’s too easy.”
According to Smith, Bladen County had 1,026 individuals who potentially fell under the ABAWD umbrella, but DSS went through those cases and whittle that number down to 587.
Water District update
Commissioners heard an update on the $5.7 million Phase IV expansion for the Bladen County Water District, and were told there was a good chance that a new well would need to be drilled in the western part of the county, probably in the Dublin area.
According to Adam Kiker and Tim Carpenter, 36 random water meters from around the county were sent out for testing and came back with a variety of results — though deficiencies were found in most of the them and some didn’t work at all.
Commissioners were told that the plan to improve the Water District system would include replacing all water meters, replace some water lines and the new well.
Peterson asked about a well in the western part of the county that has been idle since 1992, but was told the well pumped “dark water,” or water not fit for use. Peterson still asked that, since the equipment was all in place, the idle well be revisited for possible use in some way.
The board was told that, in order to pay for the project, it was recommended that an increase of $1,75 per month on the base water rate be applied. The base water rate in the county has not been raised since the 2011-12 budget. In addition, an application with USDA will be filed for a grant — the up-front fees would be $15,000 for an engineering study and $10,000 for an environmental study.
The issue was tabled until a future meeting.
Commissioners were given an overview of the county’s Planning Department by Director Greg Elkins, who said his office is currently involved with helping to create the county’s first strategic plan since 1997.
Elkins also explained some of the regular duties handled by his office, including zoning permits; ordinance enforcement; working with realtors, surveyors, developers and residents; code enforcement; reviewing subdivision plats; reviewing flood plains; investigating complaints and more.
He added that the Planning Department is now involved with the Cape Fear Resource Conservation and Development group to perform a drainage study in the Cape Fear Region. He said the CFRCD covers a five-county area and the study is being funded through a $50,000 grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.
In other business
— The board approved the use of N.C. Education Lottery money to be used to replace a freezer/cooler at Clarkton School of Discovery.
— Commissioners approved a fireworks display at Bay Tree Lakes on Saturday, July 2.
— Health & Human Services Director David Howard gave an update on the Zika virus, saying there were only 15 cases in the state and 691 in the country — all of which are travel-related.
— Also for the Health & Human Services Agency, commissioners OK’d a three-year county pharmacy contract with Anderson Drugs; an update of the fee schedule for clinical services; approved an agreement with Bladen County Schools for nursing services.
— The board approved a number of items for DSS, including a consumer credit application for all minor foster children in the county; an iPad and Recording of Interview Policy; a one-year renewal agreement with Johnson Law Firm for legal services; and a one-year renewal agreement with the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office.
— County Manager Greg Martin asked for and received approval for a grant application regarding the Fishway Project work being done at Lock & Dam Nos. 2 and 3. The grant totals $840,000 and is part of the Duke Energy settlement fund.
— Martin also asked for and received approval for a statement of support for the Guard and Reserve from the county.
The next meeting will be held Monday, July 18, at 6:30 p.m.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.