Keep it simple.
That was the philosophy of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners on Monday morning, March 18, when the board met with the Local Delegation of state legislators – those state representatives and senators with constituents in Guilford County. Each year, the two groups of elected leaders get together in what is a chance for the county commissioners to express their main concerns to the legislators and for the group to explore ways the state can help the county.
The commissioners and legislators met for about an hour and a half in the Blue Room of the Old Guilford County Court House, where the two main areas of focus were the county’s request for financial support for a new major mental health care initiative, and, also, for some sort of relief from a state law that goes into effect later this year. That law will require Guilford County to spend about $8 million on new voting machines – when the county’s current machines work just fine.
Guilford County is embarking on the major new mental health initiative with Cone Health and other partners and part of that project involves the construction of a $20-million behavioral health services center – and the county would like to see the state foot at least half of that bill.
After the meeting, Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Alan Branson said he felt very positive about the way things went.
“I think we will probably get some money for the behavioral health piece,” Branson said.
He said the fact that a bipartisan bill filed in the General Assembly last week to provide $10 million in state funds for that project was a promising development.
Commissioner Skip Alston said after the meeting that he was “very impressed” with the state legislators and Commissioner Jeff Phillips said he thought the meeting “went exceptionally well.”
Phillips said Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing and Clerk to the Board Robin Keller did an exceptional job putting together the materials for the meeting and setting the stage.
Like Branson, Phillips said he was particularly encouraged by the conversations on potential state help for the mental health initiative.
“Everyone who attended was super receptive and very supportive of our ask,” Phillips said.
On the voting machine issue, there was less optimism. Philips said that, while all the legislators were empathetic to the county’s concerns over the requirement that the voting machines be replaced, there seemed to be some reservation among them regarding whether the deadline for buying new machines could be changed. If that deadline stays in place, Guilford County will have to purchase the new machines in 2019.
Phillips said one strategy that came out of the meeting was for Guilford County to work with the other 20 North Carolina counties that are in a similar bind to see about a possible delay of the deadline. He said some federal funds for voting machines may become available in about two years, so moving the deadline back could help a lot.
At the meeting, Guilford County Emergency Services Director Jim Albright gave a presentation on some of the county’s innovative and collaborative efforts to battle the opioid addiction crisis. Recently, the county has made some solid progress in that fight.
Branson said one thing that helped at the meeting is that there was some breakfast food available beforehand. He said he arrived a little early and saw state Senator Jerry Tillman and state Rep. John Faircloth having some breakfast, and he advised them, “Don’t risk it till you’ve had your biscuit.”