Listen and take action

Published 10:47 am Tuesday, October 24, 2017

WINDSOR – The key word was dialogue.

That’s what Bertie County officials hoped to establish with the county’s citizens at a Saturday Town Hall meeting held in the Bertie High School Auditorium.

“We need to take every opportunity to keep you informed on everything we’re working on and how we’re trying to make beautiful Bertie a better place for everyone,” said Bertie County Commissioner Ron Wesson at the start of the proceedings.

During the two-and-a-half hour gathering everyone from County Commissioners chairman John Trent to District-3 State senator Erica Smith-Ingram to the mayors of a couple of municipalities to Board of Education chair Bobby Occena and others sought to brief those assembled on what their various bodies – educational to political – were working on.

“You are the barometer that measures how we are doing, and we need to know what your concerns are,” Wesson continued. “We’re hoping you’ll learn about new initiatives and we’ll try to answer as many questions as we can.”

Martin County Commissioner Ron Smith served as moderator of the inaugural event for Bertie, introducing each official that was present.

NC House District-5 representative Howard Hunter III, absent as he was attending the memorial service for the slain Pasquotank County prison officials, had former Bertie County Commissioner and chairman of the county’s African-American Caucus, Patricia Ferguson, stand in for him.

John Trent, Chairman of the Bertie County Commissioners, chats with Patricia Ferguson at the close of Saturday’s two and one-half hour meeting. Ferguson was on hand to speak for District 5 State House Representative Howard Hunter III who was attending a funeral in Elizabeth City.

Ferguson shared that Hunter voiced concern over re-districting for elections and district courts. If approved by the courts, re-districting will place Bertie in a new state House district with Chowan, Perquimans, Washington, Tyrrell, and Currituck counties, away from the grouping of Hertford, Gates and portions of Pasquotank which Hunter now represents. He said there are also challenges ahead in the next General Assembly session for public schools in regards to class size and in arts curriculum.

“That’s what I will continue to fight for,” she read from Hunter’s statement.

Trent followed and gave updates from the county’s governing board.

“We’ve had all sorts of obstacles thrown in our way,” he intoned. “But we’re working on things like workforce housing, we have hit FEMA hard, and hazard mitigation plans are on the way.”

Trent said of $11 million in grant funds to address victims of the storms of 2016, Bertie County received $6 million through the Hazardous Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP).

“That could not have been done without your county commissioners,” he stated.

Trent also revealed that Governor Roy Cooper has aided in the rewarding of an additional $1 million through a Community Development Block Grant-Housing Recovery (CDBG-HR), bringing the county’s total to $7 million.

He said these grants will aid in temporary housing and rehab to damaged homes. Also included are temporary – and future permanent sites – for the county’s Emergency Management Station-1 along with the Cooperative Extension Service offices and the county library.

“My fellow Commissioners have worked seven, eight-hour days, meeting with our representatives and senators in Washington, and we weren’t always the nicest of people; we were straight-forward on what we need and how we had to have it to make this thing move forward,” Trent said. “Yes, things take time, but what it’s also taken is a lot of time, effort, and sacrifice.”

Trent said $500,000 has been awarded for planning and review for a multi-purpose building for the library and the Extension office, and that grant applications are currently being sent in to pay for the new buildings, and $975,000 has been applied for new projects.

“We need your support, because we’re going to be there for you, and we’re going to keep moving this county forward,” he concluded.

Smith-Ingram yielded her time to remarks by US Congressman G.K. Butterfield, but also re-iterated grant awards to the county as part of disaster relief, including $70,770 for the flood-reduction study.  She also hinted future appropriations in lieu of 2017 disasters possibly indicate that Bertie County would receive no further HUD funding.

“But Congressman Butterfield is still working across the aisle (of Congress) to secure additional recovery funds through congressional appropriation,” she stated.

Smith-Ingram said the Congressman was also working on the DACA immigration reform, protections to health care – through authorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and introducing gun legislation with regard to bump-stocks.

“My colleagues and I are honored to serve you and we will work diligently for the people we serve and to assure we get our fair share of the pie,” Smith-Ingram said.

Win Bridgers, the Division Maintenance Engineer for NCDOT, spoke about road projects along the county’s main arteries and later, during the question-and-answer period, he heard citizen concerns about the new traffic pattern in Lewiston at the NC 11-NC 308 intersection and vowed to keep the county informed if there will be any future changes there.

Bertie County Rural Health spoke of continuing to assist enrollees for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), saying their office will provide information.

Bertie County School Board chair Bobby Occena said Bertie County Schools are no longer low-performing, and even pointed to the growth of enrollment and test scores at Colerain Elementary School.  Board of Education member Jo Davis Johnson addressed three new initiatives BSC are working on: the Middle School STEM program upgrade, “One District, One Book” reading program, and the “Sound to Sea” aquaculture program exploring marine life for students from the Albemarle Sound to the Atlantic.

After town updates from Lewiston-Woodville mayor Dale Vaughan and Powellsville mayor pro-tem James Peele, there was a question and answer session. Several Bertie citizens spoke about concerns over what they had heard from the officials.

Commissioner Ernestine Byrd Bazemore,who initiated the idea of the Town Hall meeting said there was one important factor not to be overlooked by the attendees.

“I hope every citizen came away learning a little something about our great county they did not know before,” she said. “We don’t want to just listen, we want to act.”