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Avery Board of Commissioners Distribute Opioid Settlement Funds at June 17th Meeting

By Tim Gardner

During a special meeting on June 17th that lasted less than thirty minutes, the Avery Board of Commissioners provided four organizations funding from the National Opioid settlement money the County received.  

Three of the five commissioners—Chairman Tim Phillips, Vice-Chairman Dennis Aldridge, and Martha Hicks were present. County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr., Assistant County Manager and Clerk to the Board Cindy Turbyfill, County Finance Officer Caleb Hogan, and County Attorney Michaelle Poore were also in attendance.

Barrier, Jr. said that commissioners Wood Hall (Woodie) Young, Jr., and Robert Burleson were absent from the meeting due to being on vacation.

Because at least three of the commissioners were present, a quorum was in effect and the meeting could be held. 

A quorum is the minimum number of members of a group necessary to constitute the group at a meeting. In a deliberative assembly, a body that uses parliamentary procedure, such as a Board of Commissioners, a quorum is necessary to conduct the business of that group. A quorum is a protection against totally unrepresentative action in the name of the assembled body by an unduly small number or less than a majority of persons. As a result, a quorum, or a majority, of members of a government body is required by law to be present before any votes may be taken by that assembled body.

The four organizations funded completed applications through the High Country Council of Governments, which then recommended the County fund them certain amounts.

One received the same amount as requested, two were funded less than requested, and the other agency received more funding than requested.  

Applications submitted, amount requested, and funding amount approved funding by the commissioners include:

*Freedom Life of Avery Ministries requested $75,000.00, with an approved amount of $56,256.00

*Highland Community Health requested $100,000.00, and an approved amount of $100,000.00

*Marjorie Williams Academy requested $50,000.00, with an approved amount of $25,000.00 

*Media and Restorative Justice Center requested $50,897,00, with an approved amount of $51,000.00

The commissioners approved the funding by a 3-0 vote.

The Avery County Government (Board of Commissioners) has hosted several public input sessions about the National Opioid Settlement as per the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the State of North Carolina and Local Governments with more such sessions to be scheduled in the future.  These sessions are held to hopefully ensure that Avery residents and business owners and their other representatives have an opportunity to learn more about the settlement and the County’s efforts to address substance use disorder.  Those attending any of these public input sessions can offer their comments about both topics if they so choose.  

The County of Avery is set to receive $3,108,715.00through 2039 as part of the national opioid settlement. In July 2021, a national opioid litigation committee agreed on terms for a nationwide $26 billion settlement to resolve litigation brought against three of the largest opioid drug distributors – McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen, and one opioid manufacturer – Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., along with its parent company, Johnson & Johnson (J&J). This initial settlement is commonly referred to as “Wave One Settlements.” 

In December 2022, another national $21 billion settlement was released with CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Allergan, and Teva. These “Wave Two Settlements” will provide $600 million to North Carolina over the next 15 years. In addition to “Wave One” and “Wave Two,” there have also been several other settlements and bankruptcies that will add funding to North Carolina through the state budget and via local government settlement payments. Local governments across the state receiving opioid settlement funds were required to sign onto the agreement which details the mandates by which they must adhere.

As a result of the first public input meeting, the consensus was drawn to follow Option A as laid out in the Memorandum of Agreement between the State of North Carolina and Local Governments on Proceeds Relating to the Settlement of Opioid Litigation, with the focus for Avery County being about 1) Prevention and 2) Rehabilitation. 

The following are eligible project areas within Option A include:

1. Collaborative strategic planning

2. Evidence-based addiction treatment

3. Recovery support services

4. Recovery housing support

5. Employment-related services

6. Early intervention

7. Naloxone distribution

8. Post-overdose response team

9. Syringe Service Program

10. Criminal justice diversion programs

11. Addiction treatment for incarcerated persons

12. Reentry programs

The commissioners also decided to solicit proposals from qualified external agencies to carry out projects within the County to advance the prevention and rehabilitation efforts. To accomplish those goals, they developed a competitive grant application and selection process to ensure agencies are sufficiently qualified, that proposals would meet eligibility requirements, and that funds would be leveraged for worthwhile projects. 

Funding applications are considered by a seven-member committee made up of subject matter experts selected by the public input attendees and members of the drug crisis roundtable. The committee’s considerations and recommendations will then be presented to the Board of Commissioners for approval.  

The commissioners adopted a 2023-2024 resolution at their December 4 meeting to direct the expenditure of Opioid Settlement Funds and also authorized the expenditure of $100,000.00 through June 30th, 2024 for two non-profit organizations. High Country Community Health received $50,000.00 to conduct evidence-based Addition Treatment and Naloxone Distribution, while Freedom Life Ministries received $50,000.00 to conduct Collaborative Strategic Planning and Reentry Programs.

After June 30th, 2024 each organization must apply thereafter for subsequent funding in a respective fiscal year, which runs July 1st through June 30th of the following year.

The funds approved on June 17th for Freedom Life of Avery Ministries,

Highland Community Health, Marjorie Williams Academy, and Media and Restorative Justice Center will be funded in the 2024-2025 fiscal year, which starts on July 1st.

Avery County anticipates granting awards between $20,000.00 and $50,000.00 per applicant per year. While the commissioners are open to considering grant awards that fall outside of this range, the County intends to spread out funding awards over the next 15 years. This funding strategy will be reviewed annually by the Board of Commissioners and at the public input meeting and drug crisis roundtable meetings.

Barrier, Jr. added that those who may apply for funding and regulations to which they must comply include:

1. Organizations must have 501 status verification through the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Evidence of 501 status should be provided with the application. 501 status allows for federal tax exemption of nonprofit organizations.

2. Startups will be considered for funding but must submit a budget and a plan of operation.

3. Applicant organizations that have not been in existence for 2 years or that have not obtained or applied for 501 status, may apply under the umbrella of another eligible agency that will serve as the applicant and provide fiduciary responsibility.

Barrier, Jr. also noted that Avery County Opioid Funding may also be used for:  

1. A public purpose not otherwise provided by the County or that augments what is offered by the County, and follows the goals outlined in Option A.

2. Related strategies that pursue Avery County’s stated goals of addressing 1) Prevention and 2) Rehabilitation, or some combination of both goals.

Other agencies in Avery County interested in obtaining Opioid Settlement funds can contact the County Manager’s office by calling (828) 733-8201 or visit in-person to obtain an Opioid Grant Application.  Individuals or groups may also contact the County Manager’s office for additional details about the public input sessions.

For more information about the National Opioid Settlements and bankruptcies, log onto the Internet’s More Powerful North Carolina (NC) website at: morepowerfulnc.org.

Additionally, those desiring more details concerning the payout schedules for these settlements, to review resources on approved strategy-specific solutions, or to see the updated Local Spending Plans, can access them on the Community Opioid Resources Engine for North Carolina (CORE-NC) website by logging onto: ncopioidsettlement.org.

Also, by a 3-0 vote, the commissioners approved an architectural planning process contract for a proposed new Avery County Parks and Recreation Complex.

At their March 2004 meeting, the commissioners adopted a resolution by a 3 to 2 vote in favor of paying the CPL Architecture-Engineering-Planning Company of Charlotte, North Carolina an estimated $101,350.00 for its services to develop plans for a new Parks and Recreation Center for the County.

Voting in favor then were Phillips, Aldridge, and Burleson.  Hicks and Young, Jr. voted against it.

The County accepted bids for design services for the proposed Parks and Recreation Center, which by state law required the solicitation and evaluation of firms to perform architectural, engineering, surveying, construction management-at-risk services, and design bid services (collectively design services) to be based on qualifications and without regard to fee.

CPL provides architectural, engineering, planning, and construction services. It has served public and private clients since 1975 and also maintains offices in Georgia, South Carolina, and New York.

Hicks and Young, Jr. both said they support a new parks and recreation complex, but that they voted against paying the $101,350.00 to the architectural company because they believe that is too costly for its services and that it could cause the County to be short of funds for emergency or related crises.

The commissioners have not voted to approve or reject constructing a new parks and recreation complex, although a vote is expected this year. A new complex is anticipated to cost several million dollars. However, the cost would decrease if any grant or related money is obtained to help fund the facility.

Aldridge said that a portion of the $101,350.00 would be applied from the 

architectural company fees to pay for the facility if the Board of Commissioners ultimately approves its construction.

In additional business, the commissioners approved the following End of the Fiscal Year (2023-2024) Budget Amendments (by a 3-0 vote) as requested by the County Finance Officer:

*Sheriff’s Department receiving a $1,008.37 insurance reimbursement for its 2021 Dodge Charger

*Collection of $195,000.00 in fire taxes, which is more than the budgeted figures.

*$80,000.00 for the Register of Deeds office due to increased revenue on excise stamps 

*The Sheriff’s Office received $4,950.00 in additional funds from the International Association of Chiefs of Police to cover an increase in contracted services

*Due to the increase in legal matters that require the county attorney’s services, a $35,000.00 amendment was made. The County received LATCF (Local Assistance and Tribal Consistency Fund) funding that can be used directly or indirectly to fund any government operational expense.

*The Solid Waste Department has had an increase in truck repair, tire disposal, and solid waste disposal due to an increase in construction and the closure of the County landfill.  The County received LATCF (Local Assistance and Tribal Consistency Fund) funding of $38,000.00 that can be used directly or indirectly to fund any government operational expense.

*The Department of Senior Services has had an increase in contracted services for in-home care. The County received LATCF (Local Assistance and Tribal Consistency Fund) funding of $18,000.00 that can be used directly or indirectly to fund any government operational expense.

*The Department of Public Grounds has incurred additional expenses due to an increase in utilities expense. The County received LATCF (Local Assistance and Tribal Consistency Fund) funding of $7,464.81 that can be used directly or indirectly to fund any government operational expense.

*$5,000.00 in additional funds for the Department of Social Services Building Addition and Construction Project

*$59,980.06 for the Probation Project Ordinance for architect and engineering fees, permits, insurance, surveys, and other on-site construction preparation.