09/12/10 — Duplin considers central office for school district

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Duplin considers central office for school district

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on September 12, 2010 1:50 AM

KENANSVILLE -- The Duplin County commissioners voted this week to pay half the costs of a study examining the feasibility of converting the Hardison building in Kenansville into a centralized office for the county school system.

Currently school officials operate from separate buildings. The cost of the study is estimated at $10,000, with the school system providing the other half of the funding.

Commissioner David Fussell took the floor to express his concerns regarding the county's economic conditions and the potential for a 2011 state budget shortfall.

According to information Fussell reported receiving during a recent meeting of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, the state could be facing a $3 billion or greater budget deficit next year. Additionally, the county is already in dire financial straits and the commission must prepare for even more challenging conditions, Fussell said.

"We see the storm coming to Duplin County," he said.

According to figures Fussell provided to commissioners and county staff, the median household income in Duplin County is about $10,000 less than the state average, more than 14 percent of residents live below the federal poverty level and nearly a quarter of the county's residents are eligible to receive Medicaid -- all reasons to be cautious about burdening residents with taxes, he said.

"We're going to have to focus on the essential," including public safety and education, Fussell said.

The discussion continued as the commissioners voted on several hiring requests for county personnel. Some of the positions are key to providing state-mandated services at the county Department of Social Services, officials reported. The majority of positions approved were largely funded by grant money from the state with a smaller portion contributed by the county. Commissioners also voted for the department to continue contracting with one service provider instead of bringing the provider into the county services as a full-time employee, despite what a department representative said was a higher cost set by the service contract.

The board members also approved a motion supporting a sanitary sewer project that will provide service at Brinson Road Interchange 373 to the town of Magnolia. The line project, promoted by the town, will be funded in separate parts with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and Rural Development grants in the amounts of $936,000 and $500,000, a loan of $646,000 to be paid back over a 40-year period and a $120,000 contribution from the county. The line will provide service to a 33 customers with the hope of expanding to include additional consumers, including businesses, in the future.

Additionally, the commissioners approved a motion authorizing construction details for a long-promised Bunge North America soybean meal distribution center. The $14.7 million facility will operate with five employees. A company spokesperson reported the facility should begin shipping by December.

County Manager Mike Aldridge informed the commissioners the county received a letter from the state addressing the ongoing standards noncompliance at the county animal shelter. The state wants the county to dedicate more money to supporting the shelter, Aldridge reported.

The commissioners held three closed sessions during the meeting, discussing personnel, legal and economic development matters.