RALEIGH — The Robeson County Board of Commissioners began their annual retreat Thursday, and Board Chairman Tom Taylor already is boasting that the three-day event is a success.
“I’ve been to a lot of retreats, and this is the best,” Taylor said. “We got a lot of information today.”
The commissioners are meeting through noon Saturday at the Hyatt House in the North Hills area of Raleigh. The first day of the event brought 11 department heads and their representatives before the board to report on what their departments have done the past year, what is being done now, and what they will be do in the year ahead. In preparing their presentations, department heads had been instructed by County Manager Ricky Harris to bring “positive information” to update the commissioners on the good things that are happening throughout the county.
Departments making presentations Thursday included Public Works, Water Customer Service, Solid Waste, Fleet Operations, Detention Center; Sheriff’s Office and Jail Health. Commissioners also heard from the Department of Social Services, Health, Tax Administration, and Economic Development.
The presentations came fast and furious. Each departments had only a maximum of 50 minutes to speak and answer any questions pertaining to such things as programs, budgets, and department operation procedures and policies.
Hurricane Matthew and ongoing storm recovery efforts were the big issues of the day. Almost all departments referenced incidents where department operations were disrupted, lives of residents turned upside down, and how department members went beyond the norm to assist storm victims in their recovery attempts.
Dawn Gavasci, of DSS, said her department at one point was operating seven shelters housing 1,800 county residents who had to escape the storm. There are still 242 families housed in local hotels that are in need of permanent homes.
On Feb. 6, Mike Sprayberry, of the state Division of Emergency Management, visited the county and commended the DSS staff for the work they are doing to move people into permanent housing, Gavasci said. Sprayberry also commended local county agencies for how well they have worked together.
Commissioner Berlester Campbell, who rents out property, said there needs to be money made available to those who will repair hurricane-damaged homes and rent to those needing permanent housing. Gavasci said she has mentioned this to state officials and the issue is being studied.
Several staff members of the county’s Health Department participated in their presentation titled “Strength in the Midst of the Storm.” They outlined how their department maintained “continuity” in essential public health services during the storm and its aftermath.
Yulonda McLean, who oversees the county’s animal shelter in St. Pauls, told the commissioners even animals felt the impact of Matthew. She said 110 animals were rescued from the storm. This included a rabbit, goat and several chickens.
Another issue of interest to the commissioners discussed Thursday was the county’s upcoming 2018 revaluation.
“Remember that a revaluation is a reappraisal of all real property to 100 percent of its worth,” said Cindy Lowry, Robeson County’s tax administrator. “It’s about equalization. It’s about market value. It is not about raising taxes.”
Commissioner Roger Oxendine said it’s difficult to get people to realize that revaluation is not about increasing taxes. Lowry agreed and said the key is to “educate” the public.
The current law is that a county must conduct a revaluation at least every eight years, Lowry said. There are about 76,703 individual parcels in Robeson County that make up a neighborhood, or a geographical area where “most” properties share similar characteristics.
Lowry emphasized that a revaluation results in values being changed in “mass,” and not just based on the appraisal value of an individual property. New values will go into effect on Jan. 1.
The retreat was scheduled to continue at 8:30 a.m. today. Commissioners are slated to hear 11 presentations by 4:50 p.m.
Those making presentations include Christy Strickland, Robeson County Cooperative Extension Service; Wendy Chavis, Parks and Recreation; Dixon Ivey Jr., Inspections and Planning; Terry Buchanan, Computer Operations; Sharon Robinson, South East Area Transit; Dwayne Hunt, Public Buildings; Millicent Collins, Grant Administrator; Jimmy Williamson, Communications; Chris Oxendine, Veteran Services; David Powell, Offenders Resource Center; and Stephanie Chavis, Emergency Services.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.