At the March 15 regular Board of Commissioners meeting, Board Chairman Randy Thompson announced the COVID-19 state of emergency will tentatively be lifted Monday, March 22, at 9 a.m.
While the request to move away from emergency status came from District 4 Commissioner and Vice Chairman Mike Forte, county chairpersons have sole authority to declare and lift states of emergency.
“It’s time to lift the state of emergency and move into a full state of recovery to give our citizens some hope there will be an end to this,” Forte told board members.
Forte’s comments and Thompson’s declaration came after the board listened to David Stanley, Deputy County Manager for Health and Human Services, report positive trends happening in Brunswick County.
“The number of cases has come down considerably in the past three to four weeks,” said Stanley. During the past two weeks, 286 new cases have been reported: in January right after the holidays, according to Stanley,, that two-week figure was at 900 to 1,000 cases, “so that improvement is good news,” he added.
Within the region that includes Brunswick, New Hanover, Columbus and Pender counties, and Horry County in South Carolina, Brunswick currently has the lowest number of cases per 10,000 population, Stanley said, adding that the positivity rate for COVID-19 testing in Brunswick County has come down from around 12-percent after the holidays to the current rate of just under six-and-a-half percent.
“Again, that is an encouraging sign,” he stated.
A third piece of good news is that Brunswick County currently ranks fifth best in the state for percentage (27.6) of residents vaccinated.
“Our two hospitals, county health services, emergency services, Sheriff’s Office and community partners like NAACP, BSRI and Brunswick Community College have been tremendous in helping us achieve that vaccination rate,” Stanley said.
Thompson added that the county is moving away from the emergency role of acquiring vaccine and making sure everything is in place to administer it, to assuming a posture that addresses the needs of recovery.
“Observing the three Ws is still going to be critical in continuing to help stem the spread of COVID-19,” Thompson said, and Stanley agreed. Residents should continue to wear masks, wait at least six feet apart, avoid large gatherings, and wash hands frequently - even if they have already received vaccinations.
Helen Bunch, Brunswick County Zoning Administrator and Transportation Planner, briefed commissioners regarding the Brunswick County Comprehensive Transportation Plan (CTP), the long-range, multimodal transportation plan that assesses Brunswick County’s existing and future transportation needs for roadways, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, transit and rail services. According to Bunch, CTP will:
• Identify existing and future transportation needs and solutions;
• Identify and prioritize transportation projects;
• And provide a common framework and long-range vision for local governments, regional planning organizations, and the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) regarding transportation facilities across Brunswick County.
Bunch emphasized that community engagement is vital to the plan. A survey was developed to gather public input and help guide the development of the CTP. The Brunswick County Transportation Survey is available through June 9 (in both English and Spanish versions) at https://brunswickcountyctp.metroquest.com/.
Hazard Mitigation Plan
Following a brief public hearing, commissioners approved creating a resolution to adopt the Southeastern North Carolina Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan. Brunswick County Planning Director Kirstie Dixon said all local governments must adopt and maintain hazard mitigation plans to be eligible for public assistance for state-declared disasters.
The plan must be updated every five years to maintain eligibility. “Brunswick County’s current plan will expire in at the end of March,” Dixon stated. Regional, multi-jurisdictional hazard mitigation plans cover the Cape Fear Region and serve as blueprints to all municipalities and counties. According to Dixon, the plans help make communities more resistant to disasters and are considered key to breaking the cycle of disaster - damage, reconstruction and repeated damage.
A Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) grant awarded through the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management allows Brunswick, New Hanover, Onslow, and Pender counties to work together to update the current, collaborative hazard mitigation plan. This grant covers the cost of updating and, unlike in the past, does not require local matching funds. NCDEM selected ESP Associates, Inc., to draft and coordinate the plan. Nathan Slaughter from ESP Associates presented the plan to board members.
Sheriff’s Office personnel
A request to add six new positions in the Sheriff’s Office was approved by the board in a 4-1 vote. They include three civilian and three sworn positions. The request allows creation of an intelligence unit, as well as needed positions in evidence management and investigations/narcotics, according to Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram.
Ingram said that at the request of Liaison Committee members, the original request of 11 positions was split between fiscal years 2021 and 2022, and these positions address several emergent needs in the Sheriff’s Office. The positions were withdrawn from the fiscal year 2021 budget request due to concerns about the uncertain economic climate created by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Ingram, revenues from the Sheriff’s Office Juvenile Detention Program will cover initial salary, vehicle and equipment costs associated with the request.
The one dissenting vote came from District 3 commissioner Pat Sykes, who felt funds for the Juvenile Detention Program should be reserved for that program, and not “borrowed” to fund this request. She also noted the request should be delayed and incorporated in the current, regular budget planning process that will be completed in two months.
“We need to know what impact this request could have on the county’s tax rate,” she said.
David Stanley, Deputy County Manager for Health and Human Services, provided an “encouraging” update on the status of COVID-19 during the March 15 Brunswick County Board of Commissioners meeting.