Elizabeth City officials plan to re-examine the city’s homeless voucher program after Councilor Michael Brooks told fellow councilors this week the program may be being abused.
Brooks told City Council on Monday that he’s learned people from outside Pasquotank County are using a voucher to stay in a local motel used by the program, and that some of those people are actually “street walkers and drug dealers” taking advantage of the program.
Brooks supports the concept of the voucher program but said the program needs new “ground rules” and better “monitoring” and wants the police department to brief council on the program to make sure the city “isn’t aiding and abetting” persons committing crimes.
The city began the program Dec. 1, providing vouchers to homeless persons to stay the night at a city motel during cold weather. The Elizabeth City Police Department oversees the issuing of vouchers.
In his weekly memo to the mayor and City Council on Friday, City Manager Rich Olson said the program had issued 139 vouchers to persons presenting themselves as homeless to city police since it began last December. He said a total of 21 men and 14 women had used the program, and that their ages ranged from 21-62 for the men and 19-71 for the women. As of Friday afternoon, the city had spent $7,554.45 on the program, he said.
Olson said the program was set up to direct homeless people first to the faith-based Room in the Inn program, and then to the Queen Elizabeth motel when Room in the Inn’s spaces were full. Before Room at the Inn closed on Feb. 2, it served 53 homeless people, Olson said.
He described the program’s operation as successful, noting that police reported only one incident that resulted in the arrest of a participant and the voiding of their voucher.
Brooks, however, suggested earlier in the week that council may need to retool the program.
“It has come to my attention that someone said, and it is heartbreaking in a way, that with the vouchers for the homeless that you have people coming from Virginia, and other counties, using those vouchers,” he said. “Are we giving them a free ticket to set up an operation in a hotel room that the city is paying for? We need to have some supervision. We have people taking advantage of a good thing we are trying to do for the homeless. If this information that has been given to me is incorrect, I will stand corrected.”
Olson said that there are some individuals that may be abusing the system.
“I am not saying they are doing anything criminal, but we are tracking individuals who use the homeless vouchers,” he said.
Brooks asked whether the city could restrict the vouchers to local homeless persons. Olson, however, said there may be some legal issues that would prevent the city from putting that type of restriction on the program.
Councilor Darius Horton said he supports looking into any possible illegal activities but does not support putting residency restrictions on the program.
“A person that is homeless doesn’t have an address,” Horton said. “They are homeless. So, the question is, if it is snowing outside and someone got here from Hertford, they are technically homeless. Do we say, “Oh no, since you used to live in Hertford and you are now in Elizabeth City you can’t take advantage of the voucher program.’ We need to look at this program as a whole and possibly iron out some of our procedures.’’
Olson said city police Chief Eddie Buffaloe will provide council with a review of the program during its upcoming retreat next week. Buffaloe may also make recommendations on ways the program could be improved for next year, he said.
Council’s retreat will be held in the boardroom at Sentara Albemarle Medical Center Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
CAMDEN — Camden County will not be able to renew the lease for its library facility at Camden Business Park when it expires in about two years.
County Manager Ken Bowman advised commissioners earlier this month that the lease’s cost increased significantly the last time it was negotiated, rising from $48,583 a year in 2017 to $65,563 a year now.
Most significantly, however, the county’s agreement with the business park’s new owner no longer includes a right of renewal, he said.
“Last year the contract expired and the lease was renewed for two years ending September 2021,” Bowman said. “The owner has already stated they will not renew the lease when it expires.”
The county first agreed to lease 6,800 square feet of office space at Camden Business Park in January 2013 for $38,000 a year. The property was then owned by Tark and Associates and the lease period was for five years.
The property is now owned by Wilport LLC, a company based in Las Vagas, Nevada.
Bowman said the lease expired early last year and throughout the summer and fall the county negotiated with Wilport for better lease terms after learning its costs would rise from $5 a square foot to $13 a square foot.
The rent was negotiated down, first to $10 a square foot and eventually to $8, Bowman said. However, the owner indicated that after the two-year lease was up the county would not be able to renew it. As a result, commissioners approved a two-year renewal of the lease in December that did not include a right of renewal after September 2021.
The information Bowman presented to commissioners about the lease was included in a report on the progress of the county’s proposed administrative complex, which is envisioned as a three-building facility that will include an administrative office building, library and community center.
Bowman said this week that one option for the complex is to include the library as part of a larger community center rather than as a freestanding building. The county has schematic drawings of what the buildings might look like but does not yet have architectural drawings or a solid estimate of what the complex might cost. A previous estimate placed the cost at $10 million.
The money the county is now paying to lease the space for the library can be used in the future to help with financing the complex, Bowman explained.
“When the new library is complete the money used for leasing the current building will be applied to the loan payment for the complex,” he said.
CAMDEN — Chesapeake Regional Primary Care welcomed local business leaders and members of the community to its new facility in Camden on Thursday.
Dr. Bradley Isbister has been at the clinic about three weeks, allowing the facility to be open five days a week. Hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
A physician assistant, Elisa Carter, is at the clinic four days a week.
The clinic opened in November for just a couple of days a week.
Christine Hustedt, director of operations for Chesapeake Regional Medical Group, said the Camden clinic has been averaging 12 patients a day and can accommodate up to 40 a day, so there is room for growth and new patients.
Annalisa Morgan, chairwoman of the Elizabeth City Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, welcomed Chesapeake Regional to Camden.
“We look forward to a great future with you,” Morgan said.
Camden County Manager Ken Bowman said he was grateful to have the primary care facility open in Camden. When he arrived as county manager the primary clinic was still “a dream,” he said.
Camden Board of Commissioners Chairman Tom White said he, too, was glad to welcome Chesapeake Regional Primary Care to Camden County.
“We are so excited to have you here,” White said.
The clinic will be convenient for Camden residents but also for people who live in neighboring counties, White said.
“Thank you for coming to Camden County,” White said to the Chesapeake Regional officials gathered at Thursday’s event.
County Commissioner Garry Meiggs said that over the years there have been doctors in South Mills, the Courthouse area of Camden, and Shiloh. But there hadn’t been a medical office in Camden in a decade or more until Chesapeake Regional Primary Care opened, he said.
“It’s been right at 10 or so years since we’ve had a health care provider here in the county,” Meiggs said.
Meiggs said he hopes Chesapeake Regional Primary Care does well.
Amber Egyud, chief operations office and chief nursing officer for Chesapeake Regional Health. said the regional health system is glad to be in the Camden community.
“We are happy to serve the residents of this area,” Egyud said.
Dr. Raymond McCue, chief clinical officer for Chesapeake Regional Health, said he appreciates the trust and confidence that Camden residents have placed in Chesapeake Regional.
CHARLOTTE — President Donald Trump is visiting North Carolina the night before next month’s primary elections.
Trump’s campaign announced on Friday that the president would attend a rally the evening of March 2 at Charlotte’s Bojangles Coliseum.
Trump will be on the GOP presidential preference ballot in North Carolina and other Super Tuesday states March 3. So will the Democratic presidential hopefuls, along with candidates for governor, U.S. Senate and House and scores of down ballot races.
The president held rallies a few days before the presidential caucus in Iowa and the evening before the primary in New Hampshire.
Trump won North Carolina by almost 4 percentage points in the 2016 general election. The state is expected to be a presidential battleground this November, too.
Trump came to Charlotte last week to highlight a new economic revitalization program.