Residents ask for DSS, FHS funding at budget public hearing

Published 8:47 pm Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Commissioners to vote on budget June 17

Polk County residents came to the county’s budget public hearing with most of the speakers asking commissioners to fund a child social worker for the department of social services (DSS) and extra money for the Foothills Humane Society (FHS).

Speakers urging commissioners to fund the requests included an Army veteran and foster parent Gary Poague.

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Army veteran Adam Hignite, who said he suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, said his FHS service dog Macho helps him deal with his PTSD symptoms. He said the dog did not save his life, “but does make my life easier.”

Poague said he and his wife take care of therapeutic foster kids who are emotionally, physically and sexually abused.

“I can tell you first hand when those kids get to us they are really a mess,” Poague said. “I think it’s just criminal for any of you gentlemen to vote against having a child social worker.”

He also said foster children from Polk often have to go to homes as far away as Charlotte and Wake County and the costs are way more money than the county would spend on the child social worker.

The public hearing was held Monday, June 10 with more than 75 residents in attendance.

There were 16 speakers, with all but three speaking in favor of increased funding for DSS,  FHS or both. Clint Blanton was the only resident who spoke against additional funding for FHS. He said he thinks the county should support animals from Polk County but not for animals that come from outside the county.

Several speakers said they would rather the county not give a ¼ cent tax cut, which will mean a $2.50 savings on a $100,000 home, and instead use the approximate $66,000 to fund other services.

Ruth Thomas said she doesn’t understand the county’s priorities and it seems to her, for example, the county should fund the DSS position before considering funding a new car for administration.

“To me I guess children are a priority with me and I can’t understand why this replacement of a person that helps people who have problems and who need social services is not being provided,” Thomas said.

Robbie ter Kuile said she first met DSS director Lou Parton when they volunteered on the Polk County Mental Health Advisory Board and knows her well.

“If (Parton) tells you they need another case manager at DSS, they need another case manager at DSS,” ter Kuile said.

Renée McDermott said $66,038 would cover the $21,658 desperately needed for another child protection services social worker.

“It could help save young children from being sexually exploited. It could help save young children from being physically abused. It could even save a child’s life,” McDermott said. “Shouldn’t that come before a $2.50 tax break?”

McDermott also said the money from the tax break would also fund the $14,580 needed by FHS to reimburse the shelter for the cost of the services that are Polk County’s responsibility under state law. Not doing so is like not paying any other utility bill due to the county, she said.

Jonathan Bole said he is appalled the board will not fund the DSS social worker and that if a former board had the opportunity to fund the position and didn’t that was a tragic mistake.

“Let’s not act as Republicans or Democrats,” Bole said, “let’s act as responsible citizens.”

Commissioner Ray Gasperson spoke of his concerns over the proposed budget and said he supports the DSS position and the extra funding to FHS. He said other concerns over the budget are the county’s savings, or its rainy day fund being used for a tax decrease.

The proposed budget is taking approximately $435,000 out of the county’s fund balance to pay for capital expenditures such as vehicles and equipment.

Commissioner Tom Pack said pulling out of the rainy day fund is nothing new to the county, this board is simply doing it up front. He said past boards pulled money out of fund balance throughout the year and did budget amendments when no one was paying attention.

Commissioner Chair Michael Gage said it’s not that the county doesn’t want to support FHS but the shelter’s website leaves him asking questions. He said under the donations option on the FHS website, it states that the shelter receives no government funding.

“That leaves us to ask questions,” Gage said.

The FHS website states, “Thank You for helping us care for stray, abandoned and homeless animals in Polk County, NC and upstate SC. Foothills Humane Society is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that receives NO government funding or assistance. All of our programs are supported through grants, fundraisers, memberships and donations from generous animal advocates like YOU.”

FHS Director Selena Coffey said after a bit of investigation she was told the statement on the website was likely a holdover from before the shelter had a contract with the county and that it should have been updated long ago.

“That was embarrassing for me because I didn’t realize that was still up there,” Coffey said. “But I did request that the statement be removed last night after the meeting and it was taken down first thing this morning.”

Commissioner Ted Owens said he regrets the FHS had to cancel a meeting with a commissioner on Monday because some of the issues could have been settled. He asked if the humane society has other sources of income and if FHS has a reserve fund. He asked for the questions to be answered prior to the commissioners’ next meeting. The county’s next meeting is Monday, June 17 where commissioners are scheduled to adopt the new budget, which will begin on July 1.