By Richard Sullins |

Lee County commissioners dipped into their federal coronavirus relief funds to award a three-year grant of $500,000 to the Life Springs Action Team, a ministry of the Life Springs Church that was incorporated just four months ago.

The award will allow the church to continue and expand its “Dream Center” program that seeks to prevent human trafficking, provide education and therapeutic activities, and community building. The nonprofit organization will receive $200,000 during the first year of the project and $150,000 in each of the two succeeding years.

The commissioners identified mental health concerns as a critical community need and the Life Springs proposal aims to make use of its relationships with other nonprofits to address those needs.

Lee County Manager Dr. John Crumpton brought the proposal to the commissioners at their Monday meeting as an information item. His summary to the board said “the request from Life Springs Dream Center should be reviewed by the Board of Commissioners and considered at a future meeting for funding through the county’s (American Recovery Plan) funding.”

Crumpton urged the commissioners to take their time in considering the plan before making a multi-year commitment to fund it.

“This is an extensive proposal and will take time for the Board to review and understand. At this meeting, the suggested action is to accept the proposal, review it, and consider it for funding at one of the Board’s December meetings,” he wrote.

The outgoing vice chair of the commissioners, Republican Arianna Lavallee, pushed to brush aside Crumpton’s recommendation and proceed with making the award on Monday night without further study. That brought a quick response from Democratic Commissioner Robert Reives, who asked that any vote to allocate the funds be delayed until December.

“This is a three-year commitment we are talking about and there has been no discussion so far about how this is all going to work,” he said.

Republican Commissioner Bill Carver supported moving ahead with making the grant immediately.

“This is such a clear contribution to what the county needs to be able to do to meet the crisis that they are finding in the populations that they are addressing,” he said.

Democratic commissioners Mark Lovick and Cameron Sharpe also spoke in support of the concept but recommended the board take more time before making what is likely one of the largest contributions to a nonprofit organization by the county in its history.

Reives sought to make his position, and that of his Democratic colleagues, clear.

“Don’t take my request for tabling it to be non-supportive. I’d just like to know if we have done other folks the same way we are talking about doing here tonight,” he said.

Reives questioned making a three year commitment that would effectively tie the board’s hands to keep the project going beyond the life of the current board, something he believed had never been done in his 32 years of service as a Lee County commissioner.

Lavallee countered that the board had set aside $1.5 million of its ARPA allocation to address mental health issues and she couldn’t see what further study of the proposal might gain.

The board’s four Republicans voted as a block to vote on the award without further study or questions. The three Democrats voted to wait until December. A final vote was then taken on making grant, with a final tally of 6-1 with Reives against.

How the funds will be used

Pastor Dale Sauls said the Dream Center is modeled on others that are operating in Los Angeles and Phoenix. The L.A. program began in 1994 and “has impacted over 50,000 lives and adopted over 135 blocks in under-resourced communities.”

Sauls said the Life Springs Dream Center has “rescued” 17 women from human trafficking and that 10 of them were from within the county, all done through its hotel, jail, and community outreach programs. By using site coordinators and volunteers, Life Springs’ proposal says it builds relationships that “meet the practical, spiritual, social, and mental needs of families.”

The program will offer soft skills and job readiness programs through a partnership with Central Carolina Community College and will allow it to grow the number of free meals it offers weekly outside Mrs. Wenger’s Restaurant beyond its current limit of 150. It projects the number of persons it is able to serve will grow from 1,500 per year to 5,250.

Documentation provided to the county estimates the total cost of the program over three years to be $1,334,400, and the allocation approved by the commissioners this week will provide only about 37 percent of that cost. The document does not say where Life Springs hopes to find the remaining balance.

Of the total amount, $800,000 (almost 60 percent) would go toward the purchase of a building to house the Dream Center. Another $200,000 would pay for personnel, including its director, 2 case managers, peer support specialist, and other unspecified administrative positions.

A “vehicle and van” are earmarked for $75,000 in the Center’s budget proposal and another $25,000 is allocated each for addiction rehab and emergency shelter needs.

A contract between Life Springs and the county is being drafted and is to be presented at the commissioners next meeting on December 5.

Work on sports complex could begin in summer

The board also received an update on the planned Multi-Sports Complex on Monday, hearing that if all goes according to plan, construction could start on the site as early as next summer.

Jason Galloway, project manager for the McAdams civil engineering firm that is designing the complex, brought a revised site concept to the commissioners after they were told during the summer that the project as it was originally envisioned could cost up to $74 million. The changes presented on Monday night will reduce the overall costs to roughly half that amount, somewhere between $35 and $40 million.

The current scope of the project includes one 400-foot baseball field and three 225-foot baseball fields; two full-size multi-use synthetic turf fields which can each be broken down into two smaller youth fields, four natural turf multi-use fields which also can be converted into two smaller youth fields each, two picnic shelters, an event lawn, an office and maintenance building, and a playground area.

If there are enough surplus funds available after the base items are completed, two more natural turf fields (or four more 12-and-under fields) could be added as project alternatives. Depending on how the spaces might be configured, another picnic shelter, restrooms, and a walking trail could be added during the initial phase of the project.

The Technical Review Committee, a joint city-county collaborative that reviews major projects that impact Lee County, Sanford, and Broadway, will pass on its comments to the designers later this month and the design development and cost estimates will be made in early December.

The process of preparing construction documents and securing the required permits should happen between December and March. The timeline projects that the project will go out for bids in late March and be opened in the middle of April. If that schedule holds, then site preparation work could start sometime in middle of summer.

Services honored

The commissioners adopted separate resolutions to honor the contributions of three Lee County residents who have given service to the community beyond what was asked of them.

Russell Spivey was honored after 41 years with the county, retiring this year as Lee County’s General Services director. Spivey began his career in 1981 and asked his wife and co-workers to stand alongside him as Republican Chairman Kirk Smith presented him with a resolution recognizing his service.

Lavallee was also recognized for term on the board. At the time of her election in 2018, she was the youngest county commissioner in the state. She chose not to seek re-election this year.

Smith also presented a resolution of appreciation for 32 years of service to Reives. Before reading the document, Smith said, “I wasn’t sure that I would be elected, so I wanted to make sure that you got this from me personally.”

Reives was first elected to represent District 1 in 1990 and has consecutively held the seat ever since, most recently having won re-election on November 8. He is a recipient of The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, and his lengthy record of public service includes stopping an attempt to locate a hazardous waste site in Lee County some years ago.

In accepting the resolution, Commissioner Reives asked that the document be redrafted to include the name of his late wife, Ruth Battle Reives, who passed away in 2021.

“I didn’t do this on my own. You don’t do this without support, and I’d like it to read that way,” he said.

Standing alongside Reives as he thanked his fellow commissioners and the county staff were his son, North Carolina House of Representatives Democratic Leader Robert T. Reives II and his grandson, T.J.