08/17/10 — Duplin leaders leave for new jobs

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Duplin leaders leave for new jobs

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on August 17, 2010 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- The Duplin County Board of Commissioners said goodbye Monday to two county officials who resigned their positions earlier this month.

Emergency Management Director Brian Pearce and Commissioner Reginald Wells were recognized at their last board meeting. Both will depart soon to take jobs in other counties.

Pearce warned the board about urgent problems with the county's ambulances after giving an informational presentation about the county emergency services.

Of the county's 15 ambulances, eight were in the shop last week, and at one point, the county had to leave one station unstaffed for part of a day because there were no ambulances available to provide coverage, Pearce said.

The county purchased seven ambulances in 2006 and pays about $120,000 a year to finance them. The ambulances will be paid off next year, but the vehicles are in extremely poor shape, Pearce said.

The Ford ambulances have proven problematic, breaking down frequently and requiring many trips to the garage for maintenance. There is a class-action lawsuit against the manufacturer, but although Ford has extended the warranty on the vehicles, even the extended warranty is due to run out soon, county Solid Waste Director Bee Barnett said.

"We got a bunch of lemons, let's face it," Barnett said.

The commissioners passed a resolution to buy a used ambulance to fill the immediate need, and will consider buying additional ambulances in the future. Pearce recommended the county begin routinely buying two new ambulances every year.

It might also be possible to remove the "box" of an ambulance from the chassis and remount it on a new chassis, saving an estimated $50,000 per ambulance.

The money to buy the ambulance will likely come from the EMS collections, which have increased 150 percent since Pearce joined the county staff, he said.

Pearce suggested the county seek Barnett's input into future ambulance purchase decisions after he leaves.

On a positive note, the county's emergency system is one of the best in the state, acting as a leader in innovative techniques, the outgoing director said.

During his time as director, the system consolidated to a single administrative building and developed close working relationships with local hospitals, pioneering programs to save the lives of heart attack and stroke patients.

The county also continues to upgrade the software for emergency dispatch. The upgrades will continue this fall as the county installs additional updates that will make it easier and faster for dispatchers to get help to people in distress.

When Commissioner David Fussell asked Pearce why he is leaving, Pearce told the board that he has three reasons for going to Cumberland County: He will be closer to family, will receive a salary increase at the private, not-for-profit agency in Fayetteville and he wanted to take the opportunity to work with one of the largest emergency services in the state.

Pearce's decision to leave might be a sign of a need to address competitive salaries, Fussell responded.

"The county runs on great people. We are a public service agency and we are losing some great people," he said.

Monday was also Wells' last day as a county commissioner. Wells announced his resignation at the first board meeting of the month. He will serve two more weeks at his church before moving out of the county with his family to take a position with another church. Chairman Cary Turner presented Wells with a plaque recognizing his 10 years of service to the county during his time on the board.

The board members will appoint another Democrat from District Six to take Wells' seat. Wells was elected to a four-year term in 2008 and his replacement will serve out the remaining two years of the term.

The commission reported receiving a letter from the county's Democratic Party discussing how to proceed with the selection process. By state statute, the new commissioner must be from Wells' party and district. The commissioners have until the end of a 60-day period to name a replacement.

Additionally, the board recognized Bobby Wallace of the Duplin County Sheriff's Office, who retired after 20 years of service to the office and the county jail.

In other business, the board members approved several proposals requested by Duplin County Schools' interim Chief Financial Officer Kay Fulp. The changes did not request additional funding, but changed the way the county will disburse local money to the schools and slightly rearranged the funding used to pay some school employees.

Last year, the schools went through all of the local funding allocation early in the year. Mrs. Fulp said she will spend local money last, after using federal and state funding.

In the future, the county will disburse the local funds in monthly installments. The measure passed a vote unanimously.

The county board also voted to allow a change in the categorization of funds normally dedicated to paying ROTC teachers. The money will instead be used to pay beginning teachers, while the schools use state money to pay the ROTC teachers. The rearrangement will save the schools approximately $67,000, Mrs. Fulp said.

The commissioners also heard from Barnett about the possibility of buying a shredding machine for the county landfill. The county is required by state law to accept old tires at the landfill, but must pay to send the tires to a recycling center. Although a shredder machine would be costly, shredding the tires would circumvent the problem as the shredded material could be kept at the landfill. In the long run, buying the machine would save the county money, and would be useful for shredding other waste materials as well, Barnett said.