By Richard Sullins |

Lee County Commissioners will meet at 6 p.m. today (Monday, September 20) to discuss at least five different plans for redrawing the county’s four voting districts and to approve a contract with FirstHealth of the Carolinas to provide emergency medical services beginning October 1.

Redistricting is necessary every 10 years because of population shifts that are detected when the US Census is taken. The principle of equal representation in each county district means that the districts must be as balanced as possible in terms of the number of persons living within it in order to maintain the principle of one person, one vote.

The Rant reported last week based on emails obtained in a public information request showing Chairman Kirk Smith had requested the “political breakdown” of each of the district proposals, a move that could have opened the door to a partisan gerrymandering lawsuit. Smith provided an email over the weekend that was not included in the batch released last week showing that he’d since decided his request “is certainly a legal conundrum, and as such I will retract the request to redrawing new districts, based on my previous parameters.”

The Rant has made a second public information request for emails pertinent to redistricting and will have a fuller story about them when it is fulfilled.

Commissioners viewed four possible versions of district boundaries at their meeting on September 8. Since then, a fifth map has been added that creates district boundaries more closely balanced by the number of residents. The proposed maps, along with the current version, can be found on the county’s website.

The county has had a majority-minority district since passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, meaning that the district has a majority of citizens who are members of minority groups. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that provision of the Act unconstitutional but affirmed that states are still bound by its remaining requirements that prohibit voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or a minority group language.

Today’s meeting will be limited to a discussion of possible redistricting plans. A public hearing and final vote will occur on Monday, October 4, followed by adoption of a plan resolution on October 18. The county must have the maps completed by November 17 so that candidates for office may begin filing on December 6.

Commissioners will also consider a proposed contract between the county and FirstHealth of the Carolinas for provision of EMS services over the next 5 years.

The board voted 5-2 in August to award the franchise to FirstHealth. Central Carolina Hospital had previously provided these services to the county for 24 years. The amounts of the contract over the next five years are as follows:

October 1, 2021 – June 30, 2022 $ 750,000
July 1, 2022 – June 30, 2023 $ 795,000
July 1, 2023 – June 30, 2024 $ 842,700
July 1, 2024 – June 30, 2025 $ 893,260
July 1, 2025 – June 30, 2026 $ 946,858

The agenda includes a proposal to lease to FirstHealth the existing facility at 1218 Central Drive used by Central Carolina Advanced Life Support for $5,146 per month for 60 days. In its proposal to the commissioners in May, FirstHealth proposed to operate from three locations, including its current facilities on Beechtree Drive and others in downtown Sanford and the eastern portion of the county near Broadway. It indicated that it already owns property near the Central Drive location that could be converted to EMS use.

The county will receive just under $12 million in funding through the American Rescue Plan Act for COVID relief and commissioners will consider the beginnings of allocating those dollars. The first expenditures would be $70,000 for hiring a grant administrator and $20,000 for a consultant to search for additional funding through matching grants. The City of Sanford will receive $9.5 million through the Act as well.

Although it might sound like a windfall that would allow cities and counties to drag out their Christmas lists, there are some general guidelines available already on what local governments may use the money for. The US Treasury Department says that funds may be spent to support public health expenditures, address negative economic impacts created by the response to the pandemic, replace lost public sector revenue, provide premium pay for essential workers, and to invest in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. in the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center.