October 11, 2012
For years, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners has been handing out taxpayer money to companies in the form of economic incentives and, at the board's Thursday, Oct. 4 meeting, the commissioners heard back from one of those companies – and the commissioners even got something of a thank you.
Usually, when it comes to economic incentives, the board grants the tax breaks to the companies and then never hears back from them. And so, at a meeting last month, Commissioners Bruce Davis and Carolyn Coleman both commented that it would be nice for the board to hear some reports on the effect of all these incentives.
When they made the request, Davis and Coleman were referring to reports from county staff. However, it was instead Russ Stellfox, the president of Greensboro-based Purolator Advanced Filtration, who came to the Oct. 4 meeting and, as a speaker from the floor, said he'd heard that request and had come to fill it.
Stellfox said that it was due to the help of incentives from the board approved in 2004 that his company expanded in Guilford County. He said the incentives had in fact made a difference and that it had been a deciding factor in his company choosing Greensboro over a competing site up north.
"That was about 40 Jobs," Stellfox said.
He said Purolator had grown significantly since then.
He also said that Purolator in the Greensboro area now has "a total headcount close to 300."
"To ask for incentives, just because we can," Stellfox said, "is not our way of doing business – but if I can bring more jobs to the area, and it requires incentives, we will ask for them."
Apart from the good news of a company doing well, the rest of the Oct. 4 meeting was pretty much bad news. For instance, the commissioners were asked to approve another round of additional mid-budget-year funding for Youth Focus – a non-profit that provides shelter, care and help to troubled children.
Two months ago, Youth Focus came to the board and asked for $70,000 in new county funds to make its budget ends meet. The commissioners approved that request after a long discussion, but now the group was asking the county to transfer money from two related county programs that also aid youth: $25,000 from the Family Preservation Program and $35,000 from the Structured Day Program, for a total of $60,000 for Youth Focus.
While the move didn't require any new county funds, Coleman had several questions.
"Are they running short?" Coleman asked staff, adding that Guilford County just gave the group an extra $70,000 that hadn't been budgeted for the current fiscal year.
"Why are we giving them additional money?" she asked.
Commissioner Paul Gibson pointed out that, when the commissioners voted to give Youth Focus that $70,000, representatives of the group stated at that time that they needed even more than that.
Guilford County Manager Brenda Jones Fox said the $70,000 the county gave the group two months ago had come from the county's contingency fund, but this money, she said, was being transferred from other programs that didn't have such an immediate need.
Though some questions seemed to remain, the board voted 10 to 1 to transfer the money from the other programs to Youth Focus, with only Commissioner Billy Yow opposing the move.
The commissioners also took the final vote on merging the county's mental health and substance abuse operations with Sandhills Center Inc. That vote approved a contract with Sandhills, the eight-county – soon to be nine-county – health care collective that will take over administering those services, and it means the Guilford Center will cease to exist on Dec. 31, 2012.
The Guilford Center is the county department that has provided mental health services and substance abuse treatment to county residents for years. However, soon all of those services will be overseen out of West End, in Moore County.
Gibson is the Board of Commissioners' liaison to the Guilford Center and he said the transition, forced by the state in a cost-cutting effort, had been difficult and unwanted.
"This has been a very arduous process," Gibson said. "This is being dictated from higher above."
Commissioner John Parks, who rarely speaks at meetings, said, "Personally, I don't like the legislation; I don't agree with it." And Commissioner Kirk Perkins said, "This was mandated by the state, and I think we've made the most of it."
One highly disappointing thing about this is that it may well be that one phone call could have prevented the need for the forced merger. The state mandated that all counties below a certain population would have to merge – and the state legislation excluded Mecklenburg County and Wake County, the two largest counties. District 62 state Rep. John Blust told The Rhino Times last year that, if he had been made aware this was a concern, he may have been able to get the state legislature to exempt Guilford County – the state's third largest county – as well. Gibson and others overseeing the county's mental health options have all said they never realized that was an option.
It's a moot point now and, in the end, the board voted unanimously to dissolve the Guilford Center and approve the contract with Sandhills.
At the Oct. 4 meeting, the commissioners also heard a report from the Piedmont Triad Council of Governments Area Agency on Aging. Marty McFarling, who chairs that board, and Bob Cleveland, the aging program planner for the agency, both spoke.
McFarling said that the purpose of the agency is to be "the voice of people in Guilford County who are age 60 or older." He said the regional agency administers roughly $2 million in federal and state grants. He also said that, looking around the commissioners' meeting room he could see that a majority of people there fall into that category of "senior."
Gibson, who's 66, laughed a little at the remark. Commissioners Linda Shaw, Kay Cashion and Parks, who are also getting up there in age, also seemed to perk up their ears.
Cleveland said Guilford County will see a dramatic increase in the number in older citizens from 2010 to 2030.
He said that, over those two decades, in the 12-county region the agency covers, including Guilford County, the number of seniors in the age group from 60 to 64 will increase by 129 percent, the age group 65 to 75 will increase 187 percent, and the 75 to 84 age group will go up 186 percent. The number of residents 85 and older, he said, will increase 154 percent.
"These are truly staggering numbers," he said, calling the coming waive of elderly people the "silver tsunami."
Cleveland said it's a common misconception that seniors overwhelmingly live in institutions for the aging. He said that, in Guilford County, only 4 percent of those over 60 live in an institution.
"About 65 percent live with family and a third live alone, mostly single women," Cleveland said.
He said that, on average, income drops 18 percent upon retirement and he said many seniors in Guilford County live in poverty....continued on page 2