Richmond County commissioners met with State Rep. Ken Goodman, State Senator William Purcell, County Sheriff James Clemmons Jr. and Sandhills Center Area Director Victoria Whitt on Wednesday morning for breakfast and discussion.
The special get-together was held at the County Administrative Building in Rockingham.
As in past years, the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners encourages county commissioners to meet with their legislative delegation prior to convening of the Short Session of the General Assembly on May 16, to discuss issues that have been prioritized as key legislative goals.
Goodman and Purcell briefly mentioned the state budget, which is being worked on.
“They claim they have the budget done,” said Purcell. “It’s supposed to be open discussion but we haven’t heard a thing about it. It’s supposed to be a tough year ahead.”
Purcell and Goodman said there is a short session scheduled for next week, but that they weren’t going to be “doing anything but striking the gavel.”
Purcell said in the many short sessions in which nothing gets done is frustrating for politicians that have other daytime jobs. He said the short session costs the state $50,000 a day.
“It’s going to be bad when all the decisions have been made and we don’t know anything about it,” said Goodman.
The discussion turned to restoring funding for mental health services. Whitt gave a presentation about how mental health funding has been prioritized as a “critical community need” and shared that implementation of a new statewide model of care is requiring unforeseen start-up expenses.
“The change is necessitating Local Management Entities to merge and create larger entities to provide services to a greater number of counties,” said Whitt. “Just when we think we can’t change the mental health system, we do and I think this is positive.”
One problem facing the new system is the assignment of board members. Each area is made up of several counties, and discrepancies arise around how many county commissioners from each county should be on the board. Another problem facing the system is the budget cuts the board has to accommodate.
“We are concerned that if the cuts continue, our ability to move into the new world will be jeopardized,” said Whitt.
Commissioner Thad Ussery, who serves on the Sandhills Center board, said “increasing an area and decreasing representation makes no sense” when Whitt explained that one county commissioner may have to be on a board for an entire area comprised of multiple counties. Goodman held the bill in his hand and offered to amend it for flexible representation.
“I was on the board when they first looked at Mental Health in North Carolina,” said Purcell. “Mental health is not good in North Carolina, but it wasn’t good when they started either.”
Sheriff Clemmons brought to the board a short list of issues he felt needed to be addressed. He said the Department of Correction is working on improving programs for the 77 inmates held at the jail, such as mental health, education and rehabilitation programs.
Commissioner Ben Moss asked Clemmons if a ‘scared straight’ program was available in the county, or if the local law enforcement had considered such a program.
“We don’t use those programs because inside those walls they are perfect angels but as soon as they step outside and feel that sunshine on their faces, they go right back to doing what they were doing,” said Clemmons.
Instead, Clemmons said mentor programs and community involvement work better to help keep youth out of trouble.
“Participation is a problem,” said Clemmons. “And when the kid gets in trouble, the phone rings off the hook. We are always open to suggestions, even from citizens.”
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.