Halifax County commissioners on a 4-1 vote today agreed to formally move forward with a new 911 Center, approving an NC 911 grant along with a local appropriation.
Commissioner Patrick Qualls voted against the matter, citing the need to address the county’s detention center funding as well as look at funding a new or renovated Weldon High School. Commissioner Marcelle Smith had to leave the meeting and was not present for the vote. Commissioners Carolyn Johnson, Rives Manning, Vernon Bryant and Linda Brewer voted in the affirmative.
Before the matter came down to a motion, Deputy County Manager Dia Denton told the board, “The project to build a new primary PSAP (public safety answering point or 911 center) and a regional backup 911 center is progressing well. County staff is working with NC 911 board staff to finalize the grant agreement which provides great detail of Halifax County’s responsibilities for this project, including the budget for the awarded $4,067,780.”
Denton said the final agreement should be ready soon and staff wanted formal direction from commissioners to authorize signatures, formalizing the agreement and commitment to the project.
The county match is $3,630,154 for a total project of $7,697,934.
Denton said, “While we know the grant funding will not pay for the entire project, we are still working to find funds to help offset the county’s cost.”
She said herself, Bryant and County Manager Tony Brown traveled to Washington last month and pitched the project to staff of Senator Richard Burr, Senator Thom Tillis and Representative G.K. Butterfield. “We will follow up with them over the next few months. We have also asked for help from the Hometown Strong Initiative and to (state) Senator (Toby) Fitch and (state) Representative (Michael) Wray through (Health Care Innovation Awards).”
Brewer, who eventually voted in support of the funding, said initially, “I know we have to do something about the jail. We have to do something about schools. Do we have to do this? I don’t know where where these additional millions of dollars would come from.”
County Attorney Glynn Rollins advised the board if the county signed the grant agreement today the board “would have to come up with the rest of the money, (it means) we’re committed to doing this.”
Bidding of the project for construction would be a year from now, Rollins said. “That gives you time to look for other financing options.”
Qualls asked whether the two counties for which the center would serve as backup — Franklin and Warren — have any dollars invested in the project, to which Denton replied they didn’t.
“I’m not going to vote for this now,” Qualls said. “I know we’re up against time. I know what we have coming forward. I don’t think I can do that today.”
Brown said the county’s fund balance is healthy and ultimately it could pay 100 percent of its share from it.
Heather Joyner, 911 center director, told the board, “We have done so much to try to cut costs.”
County Emergency Services Director Phil Ricks, when Bryant asked him for his input, only said. “It’s very much needed.”
Denton said the county may not have to spend its entire allocation and county Finance Director Mary Duncan called the $3.6 million “a worst case scenario. We will be seeking other funding.”
Said Brown: “Our goal is to find a happy median. If we take $1 million from fund balance, we have other options.”
The county manager added later in the discussion, “We can find grant funds. We will find something that is most palatable to you.”
After the vote, Joyner said the next step is to sign the grant and accept the funds. Then the county will move forward with construction. “This is great news.”
What swung Brewer, she said afterward, was the breakdown from Brown. She still has concerns, however. “We have to do something with the jail. We have to do something with the Weldon school situation.”