Taking Wayne in a new direction
By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 11, 2014 1:46 PM
Wayne County Manager George Wood, right, and Cindy Whitfield, his administrative assistant, go over his messages. Wood, who was first hired as interim manager in February and as full-time manager in June, said he wants to review county salaries and its four-day workweek on a case-by-case basis.
Improvements to the jail, as well as facility needs in general, especially at the Department of Social Services and Health Department, are the biggest issues the county is facing, Wood said.
Wayne County Manager George Wood sums up the county's most pressing need in one word -- facilities.
And it is an overcrowded jail that is at the head of that list. The existing jail is costing the county nearly $1 million a year because it isn't big enough to hold the county's prisoners and some have to be housed in other counties.
Following closely behind the jail is the need for better and expanded facilities for the Health Department and Department of Social Services, Wood said.
What has changed since the county first decided on a jail study is examining the possible use of the shuttered Wayne Correctional Center near Cherry Hospital.
When it first closed, Wayne County commissioners were hopeful the state would convey the property to the county to use. That has yet to happen, and there is no indication that it will, and now the old prison is being used to store evidence in a trial.
There is a concern as well of how low-lying that land is and the flooding threat from the nearby Neuse River.
Also, is it practical to renovate the 1950s-era two-story brick building since jail and prison standards are not the same, he said.
"I think where are now we are looking at what we would do about expanding this one (existing jail) and that could go one of two ways -- either to the side or across the (Chestnut) street if the city would work with us on that.
"The other possibility has been the William Street (the old Masons department store) property. A third option is just to look at do we need some land somewhere else, just buy another site?"
The William Street site would provide a cost saving since the land is already county owned.
However, new jail standards require that they be built to withstand a certain level of seismic activity. As such a portion of the existing William Street building could possibly be used for offices, but probably not for the jail since it would require so much to "beef it up" to meet the standards that it would not be cost effective, he said.
That is for the architect to determine, Wood said.
"One thing we are looking at is trying to fast track a smaller portion of it (jail) that would be for misdemeanants," he said. "The standards for misdemeanants are, I think you can do more dorm-type space. We are talking with the architect about that. That would be a high priority to help alleviate this money going out the door.
"If we could do that it would give us some alleviation of the immediate problem while we then plan and build, I don't want to say permanent jail, because this other part would be permanent. It would just be for misdemeanants, the lower-level offenders."
People are under the misconception that just a certain number of beds should be built, he said. But what the county has to do is build for future needs as well.
Close on the heels of the jail are offices for DSS and the Health Department whose facilities are being outgrown.
Also outgrowing its space is the Probation and Parole office.
If the county moves the Sheriff's Office into a new jail facility, the county might be able to retrofit those old offices and get some, if not all of the Probation and Parole offices into that space.
What happens with DSS and the Health Department hinges on three floors of space in the county-owned Borden Building now occupied by Eastpointe.
Eastpointe is on the first of three one-year renewals.
The county needs to determine if it is in its best interest to continue to lease the space to Eastpointe or use it for DSS or the Health Department, he said.
The other three floors already are occupied by DSS.
"So it may make sense to move some or all of what is in DSS over in those floors and make it the DSS building downtown," he said. "There has been some thought about separating those functions anyway.
"I think you are going to have to because that (county office) building won't hold them both anymore."
The Health Department already has conducted a study on its needs. A similar study is needed for DSS, he said. That will help determine what fits where and if either have divisions that could stand alone somewhere else.
For example, the home health division could be in another building because those are nurses who provide services in the home and not the Health Department building.
Despite the commissioners' decision to cut the tax rate two years ago by about 3 cents, the county was still able "to do fine" with this year's budget, Wood said.
"We didn't have to use much fund balance," Wood said. "What we appropriated, I do not feel like we will spend. Looking at historic trends, we probably won't have to spend that.
"I think the bigger question is going forward and that is as we are looking at these facilities because we have more debt service coming online next year with the (two) new (middle) schools. We have that covered this year."
But for now, Wood said that he thinks the tax rate of 66.65 cents per $100 of property valuation is "fine."
It has been several years since county employees have received pay increases.
During the recent budget preparation, commissioners went along with Wood's recommendation to provide $500 bonuses for all full-time county employees working 40 hours a week.
The county plans to look at salaries more in-depth next year, he said.
Wood also plans to review the four-day workweek that most county offices have operated under for the past several years -- something county commissioners said they would like as well.
But like the issue of salary, he wants the review to be on a case-by-case basis.