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Commissioners OK PCC fund balance request

The Pitt County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved Pitt Community College’s request to use fund balance and reserved dollars for the construction of a new campus building.

While he joined the other commissioners in approving the request, Commissioner Tom Coulson expressed his concern over how county appropriations to the college are managed.

“The $479,000 — does this mean we over-allocated and you didn’t need it … or is something going to go unrepaired if this money is diverted?” Colson asked.

PCC President Lawrence Rouse requested that the commissioners give the college permission to put $1.8 million in fund balance and $479,000 in special repair funds toward the construction of a 28,000-square-foot Center for Student Advancement.

Vice President of Administrative Services Rick Owens said the facility will house flexible classrooms and meeting spaces along with the college’s VISIONS program and veterans’ and student resource centers.

The work supports underserved and at-risk students, Owens said.

The flexible meeting spaces allow larger programs such as new student orientation, career fairs and nursing program activities to be held one time and at one location.

“The nursing program has to meet in sections; they can’t all get together at the same time because we have limited space,” Owens said.

Construction costs are wildly fluctuating and the colleges want to make sure it has enough cash on hand so it can immediately accept a bid.

“I personally prepared this request for Dr. Rouse,” said Ricky Brown, vice president of finance and chief financial officer. “I would not have recommended it if I wasn’t comfortable with it.”

County Manager Scott Elliott said PCC’s fund balance operates the same way as Pitt County Schools’ balance. Coulson said he does not believe either institution should keep unspent dollars, the money should be returned to the county.

Elliott said the college has extra money because of COVID-19. Expenses were reduced by $800,000 because the school didn’t spend as much heating and cooling buildings due to distance learning.

The school also used some CARES Act money on upgrades to various heating and air condition systems to improve circulation and ventilation, Elliott said.

The college reduced the size of the building from 40,000 square feet to 28,000 square feet to reduce costs, Elliott said. The construction costs are expected to be about $14 million.

Permit extension

Commissioners approved with a 7-1 vote a six-month extension to a permit to operate a solar farm on several parcels of land east of Bethel.

Coulson cast the lone no vote.

Pitt Solar, previously named Bethel N.C. 11 Solar, requested the extension to complete studies and environmental and utility analyses.

The original permit was issued in September 2020, said James Rhodes, planning director.

Because of recent state changes in development rules, the extension is issued as a special-use permit instead of its original conditional-use permit.

Economic development

Commissioners unanimously approved an application to NC Railroad for funding to help develop a rail-served site in the county.

“We get quite a few industrial prospects that require or prefer rail access sites,” said Pitt County Economic Development Executive Director Kelly Andrews. However, the county has no such site available.

NC Railroad will select rail sites with a high potential for development and provide up to $500,000, or 60 percent of total costs, to develop them. Andrews said the county and potential partners will have to fund the other 40 percent.

Andrews said her office will identify local sites with the most development potential and submit the applications, along with a letter of support from the commissioners.

Andrews reported that in the first six months of 2021 her office has responded to 41 inquiries about manufacturing/business development in the county. Eighteen involved manufacturing, seven involved existing industry and the others were from warehouse and distribution businesses, data center/information technology companies and non-manufacturing businesses.

Sixteen of the inquiries remain active prospects, she said.

Andrews said there were an additional 16 inquiries the county could not consider because suitable buildings or a rail adjacent site were not available.

Employee recognition

Commissioners unanimously approved a recommendation that employees celebrating 10 and 15 years of employee receive personal leave time instead of a lapel pin and employees with 20 years of service have the option of getting 16 hours of personal leave and a watch or 16 hours of personal leave and a one-time payment of $300.

The personal leave is not recurring and won’t affect an employee’s leave accrual rate.

Tax refund

Refunding $111,150 in overpaid taxes was unanimously approved.

First American Title Insurance Company made the request after it was discovered an attorney made an error when filing a property deed.

The deed incorrectly listed an excise tax of $112,100 when it should have been $450.

In-person meetings

The commissioners met Monday in the Mark Owens Jr. Auditorium located in the Pitt County Agricultural Center. They unanimously voted to hold upcoming meetings in the Eugene James Auditorium located on the second floor of the Pitt County Office Building, 1717 W. Fifth St.

Elliott said while meetings at the ag center are broadcast live over YouTube, they can’t be broadcast live over Suddenlink channel 13.

Protective shields have been installed that will separate the commissioners as they sit on the dais, Elliott said, adding audience chairs can be rearranged to allow for social distancing.

The commissioners next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Aug. 9.

The Pitt County Board of Health met in-person on July 13 at the Pitt County Health Department, its first in-person session since COVID-19 restrictions were implemented. The board had been meeting virtually with the sessions live-streamed through YouTube.

The board of health will continue meeting in person following its original meeting schedule. Future meetings will be held at 6 p.m. on the second Tuesday of every month, except July and December.

Routine meetings will be held at the Pitt County Health Department, 201 Government Circle, and won’t be broadcast. During the months of February, May, August, and November, the meetings will be held in the Eugene James Auditorium and will be broadcast.

The county’s planning board is scheduled to discuss returning to in-person meetings when it holds its virtual meeting at 5:30 p.m. today.

School district shares plans for spending millions in COVID-relief funding: Critics say lack of transparency the reason few have responded

A public school district plan for spending more than $80 million in federal COVID-relief funding has generated little response from the community.

Early this week, Pitt County Schools had received about two dozen comments on its proposed use of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds, Public Information Officer Jennifer Johnson said Monday.

The district, which has a student population of about 23,000, is due to receive nearly $100 million in ESSER funding through 2024. The deadline for public comment on the plan is 5 p.m. Thursday.

The American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund is providing nearly $122 billion to states in response to the coronavirus pandemic’s effect on schools. Of that amount, North Carolina is receiving $3.6 billion to address students’ needs.

Pitt County Schools plans to use about half of the $30 million in initial funding to address students’ learning loss due to the pandemic. Additional planned ESSER II expenditures include $2.8 million for educational technology, $2.6 million to improve air quality and $2.1 to address needs of special populations, including exceptional children.

The district plans to spend $415,000 of the initial funding, which expires in September 2023, for mental health services. Another $3.7 million is planned for other eligible activities Every Student Succeeds Act. Of that, $527,338 was listed for use in hiring equity co-directors to provide professional development for the district on equity and culturally responsive teaching strategies.

Johnson said some responses to the spending plan questioned the use of COVID-relief funding for this purpose.

There has been mixed reaction on social media.

“Including the funding for ongoing professional development trainings and resources provided by equity co-directors is a great step for Pitt County!” one woman commented on Parent for Public Schools of Pitt County’s Facebook page.

Another woman questioned the expenditure in a separate post.

“Almost $600,000 dollars on 2 trainers for equity and culturally responsive teaching strategies,” she wrote. “We don’t have enough money for remediation teachers in schools. We have to fight for every teacher position we get but we have enough money to teach teachers what they respectfully know.”

Johnson said the list of allowable uses for the funding is limited to about a dozen total categories.

“Those were our choices,” she said. “It’s federal money. There’s accountability and spending limits around it.”

Pitt County Schools plans to use no funding for several of the allowed categories, including “improve preparedness and response,” “long-term closure activities” and “supplies to sanitize and clean.”

The district’s plan for the use of $54 million in funding approved under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 budgets $825,000 for cleaning and sanitizing supplies, including contracting with a cleaning service to sanitize 25 school sites after summer learning programs end next week.

Of the ESSER III funds, which expire in September 2024, the district plans to spend nearly $12 million for summer learning and about $6 million to improve air quality, including upgrading HVAC systems and replacing carpeting with tile flooring. The plan includes an additional $3.725 million for educational technology and $2.1 million for mental health services.

Pitt County Schools Chief Finance Officer Debra Baggett said the district is required to use the federal money to address COVID-19.

“To reduce the spread of COVID, to prevent the spread of COVID or in response to COVID, those are the three key identifiers,” she said. “We can’t just go take it and do anything we want.”

Other planned expenditures under the latest round of federal grant funding include: $2 million to add outdoor classroom spaces and $3.6 million to serve special populations, including low-income students, learners with disabilities, English learners, minorities and students who are homeless or are in foster care.

About $24 million is planned for other ESSA eligible activities, including funding for budget analyst and project manager positions, as well as the purchase of school nutrition vans and activity buses.

About $11 million of the federal dollars Pitt County Schools is due to receive has not been budgeted.

“They knew that as things progress over the next two or three years, even by the end of this year, we might know of some additional needs,” Baggett said. “The document can change. We can amend it.”

ESSER funding was included in the $426 million Pitt County Schools budget that the Board of Education approved in June.

Johnson said plans for spending federal dollars were posted on the PCS website a month ago, but some parents have criticized the district for a lack of transparency.

Cristina Jones, whose son attends Pitt County Schools, said the request for public comments should have been posted on social media or parents should have received phone calls or emails to notify them of the opportunity.

“PCS needs to be more transparent with parents, teachers, tax payers, etc. when it comes to how PCS is choosing to use funds,” she said, adding that fewer people consult the district website in the summer.

Johnson said that placing the notice on the school’s website met the federal requirements regarding public comment.

“We’ve believe that we’ve been extremely transparent about it,” she said, adding that the official requirement for public comment was designed to address schools where students were preparing to return to in-person instruction.

“For Pitt County Schools, we have already returned to in-person classes,” Johnson said. “So actually, so be even more transparent, we contacted the state and asked about it. That’s why we posted our plan.”

Plans are available for review at Pitt County Schools’ website, pitt.k12.nc.us. On the main page, under featured stories, select “PCS Reopening Plan, ESSER funds, Public Comment.”

Raleigh day trips brings adventure, education, fun

For those looking a summer day trip, the City of Raleigh provides families with multiple opportunities guaranteed to fit any budget.

Located approximately 84 miles from Greenville and 73 miles from Snow Hill, the state’s capital provides families with a rich source of entertainment, education and fun.

Known as the Smithsonian of the South, Raleigh has a range of museums, most of which are free to visit. They offer a variety of exhibits showcasing art, historical artifacts and natural sciences.

N.C. Museum of Art

With its indoor and outdoor collections, the North Carolina Museum of Art provides visitors with a chance to discover works by both renowned and local artists and experience many hands-on activities.

“The museum is such a friendly space for families,” said Courtney Klemens, the manager of family programs. “We have done a lot of work since we reopened (after being closed due to state COVID-19 restrictions) to try and make our art collection accessible and we have fun events.”

Scavenger hunts help guide families through the museum while keeping children’s eyes and ears peeled for needed items. The hands-on-learning Ancient Art Lounge allows children to explore Meso-American and Pre-Columbian artworks.

“There are puzzles and games and art-making activities that families can explore to learn a little bit more in a new way,” Klemens said.

“Hands-on spaces in the galleries make it perfect for families to take a little break and play and learn about some of the spaces and the time periods we have in the collection.”

The museum’s calendar is always changing, offering new ways to learn more about the exhibits,” Klemens said.

“As families look at event calendar, we are always doing stuff on site and virtual that are for families to have a creative experience together to learn from some of the teaching artists,” she said.

Depending on the day, visitors might find special events happening onsite, Klemens said.

In September, the museum will begin guided family tours on Saturday mornings. It is currently offering a variety of take-home activity kits for children.

Visitors can also leave the museum’s indoor collection and venture outside to explore the museum’s beautiful grounds filled with sculptures.

“There are so many beautiful places to sit in the park, snack and play. We want families to enjoy the way our site brings about art in nature,” Klemens said.

Visitors are welcome to bring their own picnic lunches or can enjoy a variety of items offered at the museum’s onsite cafe and coffee shops.

Klemens recommend families plan to spend at least an hour at the museum to be able to experience all it has to offer.

Marbles Museum

Marbles Museum also offers children a hands-on experience with its two-story facility.

“Marbles sparks imagination, discovery and learning through play. It’s done through our core exhibits and weekly and monthly programming,” said Meghan Fitzgerald, director of marketing.

“Everything we feature through exhibits and programming contributes to intellectual growth, social and emotional well-being and physical development.”

Visitors can walk the museum, moving and playing along with the exhibits while building deeper and connecting bonds to each other, Fitzgerald said.

“Through play it strengthens families. You see a lot of multi-generational play going on at the museum,” she said.

Marbles also features an IMAX theater, which showcases documentaries and offers a corner store where families can purchase educational toys and more.

Families then could explore several other museums Raleigh has to offer within walking distance, said Scott Peacock, visitRaleigh director of public relations and international tourism.

Pullen Park

Raleigh also offers visitors a chance to get out in nature with its greenway, green spaces and public parks.

A favorite is Pullen Park, according to Peacock.

Pullen Park was the first public park in North Carolina and is the 16th oldest amusement park in the world.

It features an antique carousel, built in 1911, a miniature train ride through the park and a pond that is perfect for paddle boats, Peacock said.

“Most people are pleasantly surprised when they come to Raleigh and when they see all that the area has to offer,” he said.

“It’s a great place to come and visit. It’s affordable. … It’s very welcoming to everyone.”

Event to benefit daughter of officer killed in fire

Greenville’s restaurant and business community is rallying to support the daughter of a deceased Greenville police officer.

A fundraiser will be held for Sydney McInerney, the daughter of Tim McInerney, at CD’s Grill at 111 W. Firetower Road at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, according social media reports from the Greenville Police Department.

The event is being spearheaded by Robbie Beeker, owner and operator of Beeker’s Brisket & BBQ food truck. Barbecue sandwich plates will be available for $10. The department said that all proceeds will go toward a fund for Sydney.

The department also said that JOY Soup Kitchen’s Thomas Quigley has secured more than $1,000 in gift card donations to be raffled off that night.

“What an amazing show of support from our local restaurant and business community for Sydney and our GPD family,” the department said. “We know Tim would be so humbled by the outpouring of love.”

McInerney’s remains were found in his home on Fox Hollow Drive in Ayden following a fire last month. He was a 26-year veteran of the department and oversaw the Violent Crime Reduction Unit, supervising GPD’s federal and state task force officers, warrant squad and Violent Criminal Apprehension Team.

He previously served as a U.S. Marshals Service Task Force Officer and as a member of the department’s emergency response team.

The cause of the fire and McInerney’s death remain under review by the State Bureau of Investigation, which is leading the case at the request of Greenville Chief Mark Holtzman.

Sydney’s mother passed away in 2018.

As of Tuesday afternoon, a GoFundMe for Sydney McInerney had raised $71,103 of a $100,000 goal.

Sports county winners 1 Nate’s Vert

Sports county winners 1 Nate’s Vert