Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne is often in the background at Board of Commissioners meetings, but Payne played a front and center role at Guilford County’s Monday, Oct. 18 virtual meeting between the commissioners and the county’s delegation of state legislators. 

Payne was the point man for all of the county’s requests for state help – including a $1 million ask for money to go toward the operation of the brand new Guilford County Behavioral Health Center.

The afternoon online meeting was held so that the commissioners could let the state legislators – the state senators and House representatives from districts that include Guilford County – what specific help county leaders would like to see from the legislature.

Payne told the state legislators that the new mental health center, which recently opened, cost $20.8 million to build and costs about $5 million in county money to run every year.

 Payne pointed out to the state legislators that Guilford County had anticipated $7.7 million in state funding toward the construction of the new facility.

“As everybody knows,” Payne said, “that budget was never adopted,” Payne said of the budget that NC Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed, leaving the state with no budget signed into law for the 2019 to 2021 fiscal years.

“We have sunk a lot of capital into this building,” Payne said at the meeting, adding that every year it will cost millions to operate.

“A large portion of that is for opioid addiction treatment,” Payne said, adding that the county had an idea where the $1 million could come from.

A consulting firm that provided services to opioid makers for years, and advised them on “how to lie about opioid addiction,” paid $17 million to North Carolina to avoid litigation from the state’s Attorney General’s Office.   Payne suggested the $1 million come from that $17 million.

This money is distinct from the money involved in the well-publicized national litigation against the main drug makers and distributors. 

Republican District 59 state House Rep. Jon Hardister said at the meeting that the request sounded “reasonable,” to him, and other state legislators also said they were going to explore the possibility of getting the $1 million into the hands of Guilford County to help cover operating costs this year.