LUMBERTON — Robeson County’s Pre-trial Release Program has saved the county more than $2.2 million in housing and medical costs for jail inmates since the current fiscal year began July 1, according to the program’s director.
David Powell was one of several county department heads who updated the commissioners on programs they supervise during the first day of the commissioners’ annual three-day retreat, which is being held at the county’s new Emergency Operations Center.
Powell told the commissioners that the program, which began in 2004, targets non-violent defendants, mainly those who are not paying their child support. He added, however, that there are also those with more serious criminal records participating in the program.
“We get a lot of breaking-and-entering and larceny,” he said.
The goal of the program is to reduce the jail population by sending some eligible inmates awaiting trial home to be monitored with an ankle bracelet, Powell said.
Plans are for expanding the program. Powell and Harry Warriax, the commissioner’s assistant director, asked the commissioners to consider hiring an additional compliance officer, which would allow 100 more non-violent defendants to participate in the program.
According to the program directors, the compliance officer would make sure that the individual participants in the program are meeting program requirements. The officer needs to be a deputy, or other law enforcement officer, who has the power to make an immediate arrest, they said.
Powell said that the officer could be hired for a salary and benefits package of $62,832 a year.
During the day-long session, the commissioners also heard reports and program updates from the following:
n Steve Edge, the county’s Solid Waste director, briefed the commissioners on the methane gas-to-energy project at the landfill in St. Pauls. According to Edge, there are three revenue sources under this project. He estimates the sale of electricity this year at about about $500,000, sale of carbon credits at about $150,000, and the sale of renewable energy credits at about $100,000.
“I never thought we would make money on trash,” Commissioner Jerry Stephens said. “This is something that is real beneficial to our county.”
Edge told the commissioners that the county was able to use a $40,000 grant to demolish and dispose of debris from 69 dilapidated mobile homes located throughout the county. He also touched briefly on recycling, noting that since a law went into effect that electronics must be recycled, 96 tons of electronic equipment have been kept out of the landfill.
— Greg Bounds, the county’s director of Emergency Medical Services, and Patrick Cummings, the assistant director, updated the commissioners on a new computer-aided dispatch and advanced vehicle-location system that has recently been put in operation.
“This system picks up the closest unit (ambulance) in the vicinity of a call,” Bounds said. “We’ve only been running it a month, but we’ve already found it to be effective and error free … . We have already been able to reduce our response by one minute and 15 seconds in just one month.”
Bounds also told the commissioners that if one more ambulance and crew of eight could be provided, all of the major communities in the county would have around-the-clock coverage. Currently, the county operates 18 ambulances.
— Cindy Lowry, the county’s tax administrator, briefly updated the commissioners on accomplishments of her department in the past year, including: start up of an in-house foreclosure process, which now includes 28 parcels ready for foreclosure; website updates that among other things provides all tax forms on-line and includes a new frequently asked questions-and-answer section; and improved software.
Lowry pointed to continuing this summer with preparing for the county’s next property revaluation as one of her goals. Currently the county is on an eight-year cycle, so the next reappraisal is scheduled for 2018, Lowry said. She added, however, that the commissioners could move that date up.
According to Lowry, total taxes collected for 2010 as of June 30, 2011, were $42,174, 493, with a collection rate of 90.41 percent.
— Cathy Graham, director of the county’s Cooperative Extension Service, gave a brief update on her staff and their responsibilities, as well as information on Extension programs and a leadership training program that are being administered to county employees through her department.
Graham also noted the importance of farming to Robeson County’s economy. Cash receipts for agriculture during the past year, she said, totaled $340 million. Graham added that tourism brought $117 million into the county during 2010.
— Al Grimsley, the county’s Public Works director, updated the commissioners on several ongoing projects, including: six new wells in Maxton; three new test wells at a TV station site in Lumber Bridge, and the expansion of the current Lumber Bridge water treatment plant.
Nicole Brooks, who oversees the Water Department, provide information about new software that is being implement to enhance the billing system.
— Constance Copeland, the county’s director of Human Resources., asked that the commissioners review the county’s personnel policies and make them “more general.”
“Since 2007, we’ve tried to make them (policies) too specific,” she said.
— Mark Browder, a representative of Mark III, told the commissioners that over the past year the county held its medical benefits the same as the previous year and there was no increase in cost to employees. He said, however, that there will have to be some additional cost associated with the medical plan during 2012-13.
Browder also said that the county’s pharmacy is operating efficiently. He said 65 percent of medications are being obtained by employees through the pharmacy, rather than through the county’s health plan.
The first day of the retreat ended on a light note with Commissioner Raymond Cummings presenting Hal Kinlaw, the county’s attorney, with Robeson County’s “Most Notorious (Fearless) Bear Hunter Award.”
Kinlaw killed a 460-pound bear at Mattamuskeet in December of 2010.
“He has faced danger all over the world and come back to tell us about it,” Cummings said as he presented Kinlaw with the award.
“It was exciting, but it didn’t last long,” Kinlaws said with a laugh.
The retreat continued this morning at 8:45.
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or email@example.com.