Buncombe County Commission

In one short year, a private company promises to do what Buncombe County social services couldn’t do in four: Turn a profit while enforcing the county’s child-support laws.

This was the guarantee that Calvin Underwood, director of Buncombe’s Department of Social Services, made to commissioners at their May 26 meeting.

Commissioners voted to enter into a one-year contract with Service Design Associates (SDA) to enforce Buncombe’s child-support laws. The contract states that SDA will pay the county at least $105,000 in the first year.

Enforcing the child-support laws has the potential to be a revenue source because the federal government reimburses local governments more than 60 percent of the support money collected, said DSS Business Officer Don Pagett in a later interview.

SDA will be responsible for verifying the status of custodial parents, locating absentee parents, collecting support payments, and when necessary, establishing paternity and setting up payment schedules. Some of these activities would be ordered by the courts.

If the county is satisfied with SDA’s performance during the first year, it has the option of extending the contract for two more years.

Don Yelton, who was recently dismissed from his position as the county’s solid waste-reduction specialist, said the agreement with SDA could prove costly, if the company is unsuccessful and the county has to re-establish its child-support services.

Inmate labor pays off

County inmates have worked more than 58,000 hours thus far this fiscal year, which ends July 1. Inmates have labored away for the Sheriff’s Department, county landfill, Health Center, County Clerk’s office and Asheville Parks and Recreation — just to name a few government agencies who’ve benefitted.

Based on the current federal minimum wage of $5.15 per hour, these efforts can be valued at nearly $300,000, and represents a hefty savings to the county, said Lt. Ray Evans of the Sheriff’s Department. He projected the total fiscal year’s savings will be more than $348,000.

The inmate-labor program was started in the early ’90s and has expanded every year since, he said.

Kudos for Buncombe health-care providers

Doctors, hospitals, pharmacies have come forward — in near heroic levels — to volunteer their services at the Buncombe County Health Center.

Project Access is a nonprofit service that unites local medical professionals with county government to provide free medical services to the county’s low-income, uninsured citizens. Last year, Project Access served 13,000 people. Nearly 500 doctors (80 percent of the M.D.’s practicing in Buncombe) participated in the program.

Alan McKenzie, CEO of the Buncombe County Medical Society, told commissioners that they have reason to be proud of the program, which was recently named as a national semi-finalist in the competition for the Innovations in American Government award. “[It’s] perhaps the most distinguished public-service award in the entire United States,” said McKenzie.

McKenzie read excerpts of some letters he’s received from patients helped by the program. “It has restored my faith in mankind,” said one writer. Another — McKenzie’s favorite — said, “Now I can see.”

Board appointments

Commissioners made the following appointments: Lib Harper to the Board of Social Services; Charlotte Wade and George Pfeiffer to the Opportunity Corporation of Madison and Buncombe Counties; Betty Maxwell, Beverly Devereux and Robert Todd to the Library Board of Trustees.

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