by Ginger Livingston Staff Writer (Reflector)
Willow Abbey Mercando
The Pitt County Board of Commissioners this week allocated $805,000 for four projects designed to tackle addiction in the community.
The action was among several at Monday’s meeting where Commissioners also voted 7-1 to deny a rezoning request for a sand mine and approved giving three nonprofits $1.5 million from the county’s American Rescue Plan funds.
The addiction dollars come from the first payment of the $26 billion national opioid settlement 42 states reached with manufacturer Johnson & Johnson and wholesalers AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson. Pitt County, which was one of the first counties to join the lawsuit, will receive $8.8 million over the next 18 years.
The county received $1.08 million this year.
The recommendations were selected from a report prepared by Pitt County Opioid Action Coalition, a collection of local and state agencies and nonprofits involved in the prevention of opioid addiction and treatment of people with substance abuse problems.
“We are so grateful for the efforts of our community stakeholders … We had dozens of participants from the community,” said County Manager Janis Gallagher. “The best part of those meetings was to have all the stakeholders in the room, knowing who each other was and saying, ‘Oh I didn’t know you did that already,’ and coordinating.”
Representatives from municipalities and East Carolina University, ECU Health and other organizations later met to discuss prioritizing the coalition’s recommendations.
“We talked a lot about clinician training and an ECU Health addiction specialist fellowship,” Gallagher said. “Pitt County has identified and the stakeholders have identified that we need specially trained folks to treat the people in our community. People who will stay in our community and provide care,” Gallagher said.
Gallagher recommended the county give $500,000 to serve as seed money for a fellowship program.
The specialist who receives the fellowship will provide treatment and in a few years payment for that service will make it a self-sustaining fellowship, Gallagher said.
The three other recommendations are:
- $100,000 for Pitt Community College’s reentry program, which helps people recently released from jail or prison transition back into the community.
- $105,000 for the Pitt County Coalition on Substance Use for prevention education and programming in the county’s schools.
- $100,000 for ekiM for Change, which provides harm reduction services.
Gallagher said the funding recommendations total $805,000. She suggested the remaining $280,000 be set aside until the 2023 allocation is received to begin work on a community engagement center where people can obtain treatment, peer support and other services.
The commissioners unanimously approved the spending plan.
The commissioners voted 7-1 to deny a conditional rezoning request so a sand mine could be located off Carraway Lane in Grifton Township.
More than a half-dozen people spoke against the rezoning. They said a noisy industrial operation shouldn’t be permitted in a rural residential area and worried about heavy trucks repeatedly driving on a road that already has cracks and potholes.
“From 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. our roads will become our enemy,” said Kathy Westbrook
Most homes in the area rely on well water and residents also worried that the pond created by digging sand would negatively affect the area’s water table.
The county’s planning staff recommended approving the rezoning request, but the planning board, a group appointed by the county commissioners, recommended denying the application.
The planning board said while the use is consistent with the county’s comprehensive land use plan it is not appropriate for the area.
Most commissioners agreed with the planning board, voting 7-1 to deny the request. Commissioners Beth Ward, Ann Floyd Huggins, Alex Albright, Christopher Nunnally, Mary Perkins-Williams, Melvin McLawhorn and Tom Coulson voted to deny the rezoning; Commissioner Michael Fitzpatrick voted against denying the request. Commissioner Lauren White had an excused absence from Monday’s meeting.
The commissioners unanimously approved a staff recommendation to award $1.85 million to three nonprofits working in the fields of business and tourism development and education.
Earlier in the year the commissioners set aside $1.85 million of its American Rescue Plan Act funding for nonprofits.
The county received 27 applications requesting nearly $25.3 million in funding, said Sam Croom, Deputy County Manager/Chief Financial Officer.
With a list of objective standards in place, the county’s senior leadership team, legal representatives and a consultant with the N.C. Association of County Commissioners reviewed the applications.
The recommended recipients were:
- Greenville-Pitt County Convention and Visitors Bureau: $600,000.
- Boys & Girls Club of the Coastal Plain: $750,000.
- A Time for Science: $500,000.
The executive director of A Time for Science, which now operates as the NC Museum of Natural Sciences at Greenville, is Emily Jarvis, Commissioner Christopher Nunnally’s wife.
Nunnally joined the other commissioners in voting for the funding recommendation. There was no mention of Nunnally’s connection to Jarvis.
Elected officials such as county commissioners and city council members have guidelines they must follow when voting on motions that may financially benefit them or close family members. The guidelines require the elected official to rescue him or herself from the vote.
Voting to approve the recommended nonprofits, along with modifying some previously approved allocations, doesn’t automatically create a conflict of interest, said Gallagher, who served as Pitt County’s attorney before being appointed manager.
Only a “direct financial conflict of interest” would require an elected official to recuse him or herself, Gallagher said.
“I am not aware of any direct financial conflict of interest that arises from the direction to staff to negotiate with these entities,” Gallagher said.
Marriage alone doesn’t create that conflict, she said, because money that goes to a corporation doesn’t automatically create a financial conflict of interest.
Gallagher said if commissioners need to approve the final contracts, then Nunnally may need to recuse himself.
Nunnally did briefly confer with Gallagher, reaffirming that since it was a general motion he could vote on it, Gallagher said.
“I was not voting for one (application), I was voting for staff recommendation and thought it was appropriate to vote on the package based on our previously set recommendations,” Nunnally said.