05/26/14 — Health Department is on list of facilities projects

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Health Department is on list of facilities projects

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 26, 2014 1:51 PM

As the focus on the use of county-owned property on North William Street shifts from health services to a jail, Wayne County commissioners are now looking elsewhere for a new spot for a renovated Health Department.

"It is very clear that Wayne County needs to find some method of providing a new Health Department facility," Commissioner Joe Daughtery said during the board's meeting last week.

Daughtery's comments were a continuation from Monday's meeting of the commission's Facilities Committee, which was called to discuss two possible locations for a new jail -- the closed Wayne Correctional Center on Stevens Mill Road near Cherry Hospital and the old Masons department store property at 1016 N. William St.

The county paid $850,000 for the Masons property in November 2008 with an eye toward converting it into the new home for the Health Department and Services on Aging.

By December 2010, the county was planning a $14 million project at the site.

Commissioners were poised to award an $838,480 contract to Greenville-based MHAworks, one of nine architectural firms that responded to the county's request for bids on the project.

But in January 2011, the project stalled because of fear and uncertainty over a weak economy and of a state budget with a $3.7 billion gap. The contract was pulled from the agenda and was never discussed.

But in May of that year, the county purchased the old Sportsman's World building and two outlying buildings on Ash Street.

The Sportsman's World building was renovated at a cost of approximately $1.6 million and in October 2012, Services on Aging moved in. It had been located downtown in an old bank building.

The Health Department has remained at the old building, which was once Wayne Memorial Hospital. The back section of the building was completed in 1904, and the area where the elevators are was completed in 1946.

Along with the age of the building, another concern is its layout -- the Health Department is a maze spread across three floors.

Also, of concern is the increasing volume of traffic at the Health Department.

During the Facilities Committee meeting, Daughtery, who sits on the Health Department board, noted that the county's June 2013 capital improvement plan included discussion of the Health Department.

Recently Daughtery and other county officials toured nearby health departments. Compared to those departments, Daughtery said he was "absolutely embarrassed, embarrassed" by Wayne County's facility.

" We went to Sampson County," he said. "We went to Duplin County. We went to Harnett County. Now let me just take Duplin County. Our neighbors there, it is not the most affluent county around. Their facility was 20 years old and still was probably 100 times better than what we have.

"What they are doing in Duplin County, they are actually using the Health Department to provide medical services to county employees. The offset is dramatic. They have their own separate entrance. It's nice, and the employees down there all use it, and it saves the county money. All of that said, I know we need to address the jail, but we need to address our Health Department."

Actually the county has five or six similar concerns it needs to address, Interim County Manager George Wood said.

"What I have done in the budget, I have put into the budget the current stuff that we are doing," he said. "I have not prepared a detailed capital improvements program. (The departments) have submitted, but I felt like we need to get some answers to some of these bigger questions before we can really do that.

"What we have got to come up with, and I think this Facilities Committee is the key to that, is we need to nail down what we need, where we think we are going to go with it and a ballpark estimate on it."

Facilities Committee Chairman Ray Mayo agreed.

"That is why we are studying this right now," he said. "That is why we went and looked at these other health departments to see what the layout is. What we are doing is an actual study to see how health departments are laid out, what they are providing."

The capital improvement plan tells the county how it is going to pay for the projects and the order in which they will be done, Wood said.

Wood said he thinks the biggest challenge the county is facing is facilities.

Mayo agreed.

"We have made a lot of headway, but we still have a long way to go," Mayo said.

"You have made a big improvement on the maintenance that you have," Wood said. "Now the question is, is what we have in some areas adequate or not. We know it's not in the jail and now what we are saying is that it is not in health. We know it is not on probation and parole. So we know we have at least those and probably two or three more."

While looking at the Health Department, as well as the jail, Daughtery said he hopes the county will look at where the funding sources would come from.

"We don't want to raise taxes," he said. "We want to be able to do it in such a way that we can have additional revenue offsets. I would just hope that we could find ways to trim the costs of operations at the Health Department to offset some of those costs."

The best way to do that is to increase jobs, Mayo said.

The county has to increase its tax base, Wood said.