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Nash board tallies success, eyes 2019 challenges

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Nash County had an outstanding year of accomplishments in 2018, but faces three major challenges in 2019, county board Chairman Robbie Davis said Monday in his annual “state of the county” address — schools, jobs and the internet.

Davis proudly ticked off a long list of accomplishments during his major speech at the board’s regular monthly meeting, repeatedly praising the work and dedication of county employees, singling out by name new hires and major promotions. He touted new county programs, completion of major capital projects, work on capital projects still in progress and the stability and balance of county finances.

“We have a group that for the most part works very well together,” he said. ‘It’s been a real pleasure for me to serve as an elected commissioner of the county because of the staff we have. Here in Nash County, we have been truly blessed because of all the types of people and department heads we have, top to bottom.”

He pointed out that 35 of the longest-serving county employees had 861 years of experience among them. To benefit the employees, he said, the county last year gave 5 percent pay raises with another 5 percent planned for this year, completed an 18-month review and revisions of every county policy, developed a new performance appraisal system and began to offer in-house training for department heads, supervisors and “all other staff members.”

He particularly heralded the new retail economic developer, who subsequently hired and implemented a Nash County Retail and Small Business Incentive Grant.

“I’m tickled to death what that position has brought to us,” he said. “It has proved itself well. I hope we have improved our relationship with the smaller towns in Nash County throughout.”

Major capital projects completed this year were topped by the new courthouse and sheriff’s office expansion, landfill expansion, an updated radio system, completion of a new shell building in Middlesex, moving the early college high school into a new building at Nash Community College and the soon-to-open Southern Nash Senior Center.

He said the center “is another item our board has put an emphasis on, trying to be inclusive in the far areas of the county, particularly the southern part. We’re glad to bring all Nash County together.”

Capital projects funded and still underway, Davis said, include the new Nash County Miracle Park at Coopers, the Northern Nash water system, infrastructure development for the Middlesex Corporate Centre, airport improvements, renovation at the agriculture center, a pilot project for countywide broadband and a new northern Nash elementary school that “will replace three of the oldest elementary schools and put them in a much safer facility. We look forward to that new school.”

Selling the county’s home health agency was “a difficult decision,” he said, but noted it was financially beneficial for the county. And helping to fuel the growth of capital projects was the county’s success in getting grants to pay for them — a record total of $18.4 million.

County finances are doing very well, he stressed, allowing the county to maintain a stable tax rate of 67 cents per $100 valuation for 10 years in a row. He said the county has a $42.7 million fund balance, of which $28.3 million is unassigned, and a tax collection rate of 98.73 percent.

“I’m very proud of Nash County,” he said of the accomplishments, but stressed the county had three major challenges ahead.

“Quick and reliable internet is at the top of the list,” Davis said. “Countywide broadband is probably the largest need we have in Nash County. It’s been a difficult process. We’re still not there. I don’t know anything that the board is more committed to. It’s a situation we’ve got to solve if we’re going to prosper.”

A second, ongoing challenge is improving the county school system, Davis said. “We’ve made some improvements, but not enough. The school system has many challenges and needs. We have improved the relationship with our school board. We want to join hands and together with the school board, make a giant step in our educational system.”

The third challenge he stressed is industrial recruitment.

“We have a need to continue to improve employment for the citizens of our county,” he said. “We did not have a major announcement last year, but we need a major announcement every year.”

Davis said the county must do a good job of “preparing ourselves and to make Nash County look attractive to site selection companies.

“We must re-evaluate how we are currently doing this,” he urged, “and see if there may be a better way.”

One item of business later in a marathon meeting that lasted more than five hours is aimed at improving the county’s attractiveness to growth, the expansion of the county’s water system into northern Nash County.

Commissioners quietly approved a water line purchase contract and wholesale purchase agreement with the city of Rocky Mount. The Rocky Mount City Council approved the deal last week.

Under the terms of the agreements, the county will purchase part of the existing water infrastructure in the Dortches area for $107,500, allowing the county to extend its service area “without installing redundant infrastructure.”

Rocky Mount will increase its water available for sale in the area by 115,000 gallons per day. The county will assume responsibility for providing water service to the I-95 rest area.

Two other actions Monday are also aimed at spurring growth in the county, both text amendments to the county’s unified development ordinance.

One, approved by the commissioners on a 6-1 vote, changed the maximum allowed height of freestanding non-concealed wireless communication towers from 150 fee to 199 feet. The extra distance will extend the towers’ reach and improve cellular service,.

The second change in the UDO was an amendment adding utility-scale “biogas production” in general industrial zones as a conditional use.

The staff and planning board had recommended adding the industry as a permitted use by right in the industrial zones, but commissioners expressed concern about how little-known the impact of the biogas industry is on an area. While wanting to promote a new industry, the board decided to keep some controls on its growth for now.

“I don’t see what we lose by putting it in as a C (conditional) use,” Commissioner Wayne Lamm stressed, noting it could be made a permitted use later.

“Without some oversight for a new process, I think we are doing our citizens a big disservice,” he said, and other commissioners agreed, voting unanimously to change the recommended usage from “P” to “C.”