By Richard Sullins |

The Lee County Board of Commissioners meeting on Monday took less than half an hour, and the details were mostly contained in the reports members received toward its end.

Republican Commissioner Bill Carver reported on his trip to Washington, D.C. with County Manager Dr. John Crumpton and two staff members for the annual meeting of the National Association of Counties (NACo), an organization that represents about two-thirds of the 3,000 county governmental units in the United States. And what they heard while meeting with North Carolina’s two U.S. Senate offices was that the issues brought up were mostly someone else’s problem.

The group asked about a possible extension for expending all funds appropriated to cities and counties through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the $1.3 trillion spending bill authorized by Congress in March 2021. The law says all funds appropriated by the act must be spent by December 31, 2026 – almost five years from now.

Lee County’s allocation of ARPA funds is just under $12 million. It has already allocated about $2 million of funds as follows: $70,000 for a grant administrator, $20,000 for grant research, $388,917 for premium pay, $604,450 for Horton Pool renovations, and $772,035 for Horton Bath House renovations.

That leaves an unallocated balance of $10,144,445 and even though the deadline for spending the funds is almost five years away, there is some concern among NACo members that they won’t be able to spend it all in time. Carver said Congress might act to extend the deadline, but it won’t be until it gets much closer.

Carver said he also raised the issue of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid compound coming illegally into the United States from a number of foreign countries and that is a substance the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency says is “primarily responsible for fueling the ongoing opioid crisis.” Fentanyl has become the drug of choice for many addicts because it is cheaper and up to 50 times more potent than heroin.

Carver said the Lee County group broached the subject with the two Republican senators but were again told the issue was one that was “not in our wheelhouse now” and that they should contact the U.S. Department of Homeland Security with their concerns. Because Republicans do not control Congress at present, the senators felt that there was little they could do.

Carver said a final issue he talked about with Burr and a staff member from Tillis’ office was that of people who remain in custody as a result of their involvement in the 2021 attack on the United States Capitol. Once more, the group was told this was a matter more properly addressed with the U.S. Department of Justice.

But Carver said both Capitol Hill offices “were very dismayed that people were knocking on their doors uninvited” to make the case for the release of those persons and “they felt like this kind of behavior needs to be nipped in the bud.”

“Obviously, our two senators are very pragmatic,” Carver said. “I walked away with that sense and that they are interested in making sure that the right money gets to the right people. At the same time, the ideological things and the more esoteric things are not so much in their wheelhouse.”

Facilities and COVID reports

Crumpton told the commissioners that repairs and renovations to the historic courthouse building will be completed within the next two weeks and that work at the Government Center behind the courthouse will take another three months to wrap.

Republican Commissioner Dr. Andre Knecht asked whether there could be a location at the recently renovated SanLee Park Gravity Bike Park to allow food trucks to serve there on weekends. Crumpton believes there is such a place that would be suitable and will make a recommendation to the board at its next meeting in March.

Crumpton also gave a report on COVID numbers in the county and said the number of cases over the past weekend had dropped to 42, a considerable reduction from the more than 200 that were reported a month ago. He said that the county’s positivity rate had dropped to 13.6 percent and that “the arc is starting to flatten. Omicron on its way down now and we’ve had no employees out due to issues related to the virus in several days now.”

The board will next meet in a joint session with members of the Sanford City Council and the Broadway Town Commission on Thursday in an event sponsored by the Sanford Area Growth Alliance to discuss economic development issues within the county.