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Sweet offers insight into county accomplishment in 2020

By WILLIAM PAINE

william.paine@southwesttimes.com

Pulaski County Administrator Jonathan Sweet recently released a report listing the accomplishments of each department within the administration during past year.

“2020 was one of the most unusual and challenging times I have experienced in my over 20-year career in local government leadership,” Sweet stated. “From dealing with the multitude of unknowns to seizing on new opportunities, it was ironically one of, if not the most intentional and intense year I can remember. We collectively worked hard to respond to and mitigate the effects of the global pandemic, while dealing with the constraints of what we refer to as the COVID-overlay of keeping our employees and the public safe. From instituting regional testing centers, to transitioning to regional vaccination efforts, this was definitely an unusual and unprecedented time for local governments. Nevertheless, COVID-19 and its collateral fall-out did not define Pulaski County’”

Following are some of the highlights of what each department/agency of the Pulaski Country administration accomplished in 2020.

The county’s engineering department began construction of the Riverlawn Trail project as part of the newly acquired Smith Farm. Engineers also worked on the replacement of a waterline on the Old Route 100 Bridge over peak Creek and assisted in that bridge’s completion.

The amount of $3,366,383 dollars was obtained from VDOT for the Hatcher Road Re-alignment, which will move the roadway so that it meets Thornspring Road at the intersection of Route 11. These funds will be available in 2025.

County engineers have nearly completed Phase I of the New River Trail extension.

The county’s Public Service Authority (PSA) replaced approximately 500 meters using grant funding and their project to implement a new utility billing system is now nearly complete. The PSA also received $50,000 in Brownfields Assistance Fund for the Dora Highway Convenience Center project.

Emergency Management in 2020 included the procurement and deployment of a new truck for the Fire-Medic program, as well as a tanker truck for the Fairlawn Volunteer Fire Department.

Emergency Management also implemented a reporting system for all county fire departments to use and used CARES Act funding to issue laptops to all eight fire chiefs. Grant funding in the amount of $22,500 was also obtained to hire a five person part-time hazardous fuels mitigation crew.

In 2020, Emergency Service crews from the county’s Public Safety Department responded to 5,737 calls for assistance. The department added four new mechanical CPR devises to their inventory and replaced a 2007 model ambulance with a new one.

The Economic Development Authority worked in concert with the county’s board of supervisors to open a new tourism department, which will be funded through the county’s lodging tax. Former Executive Director of the Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce, Peggy White, was hired as the county’s first Tourism Director.

Those working in the county’s Human Resources have had their hands full dealing with the repercussions of COVID-19. Last year, HR processed 63 COVID-19 emergency sick leave requests, created new COVID related personnel policies and developed a reporting system for COVID testing and vaccinations.

Perhaps the most significant accomplishment of the county’s Planning and Zoning Department was the promotion of the Claremont School project. It was recently announced that the Claremont School Project will receive $635,000 from the National Housing Trust Funds to transform the school into apartments for individuals of low to moderate income. The school was built in 1952 and has been vacant for years.

The Planning and Zoning Department also worked with the county administration to achieve the Solsmart Gold Designation, no doubt as a result of their support for the soon to be constructed solar farm.

The county’s finance department upgraded their software, which among other things is expected to improve customer service.

The county’s IT department upgraded the Town of Dublin’s computer network and will now support that town’s IT needs. The IT department also installed three new broadband hotspots at Robinson Track Community Center, Draper Park and Little Creek to serve the internet access needs of those communities.

The County’s Parks and Recreation Department completed major renovations at the Central Gym including replacing the roof, repainting the ceiling and walls and installing a new scoreboard, side goals and electrical outlets.

Parks and Rec upgraded the basketball and tennis courts by installing rubberized surfacing. New backboards and goals were installed at the basketball courts, while nets were replaced at the tennis courts.

A new speaker system was added to the baseball complex and new backstop padding was placed at each of the four fields.

New flooring was also installed at the pool facility and new lounge chairs were purchased for the pool deck.

All new concrete tee-pads were poured for all 18 disc golf holes.

In addition, the county’s IT department installed public Wi-Fi throughout Randolph Park.

A new parking lot was installed at Loving Field and drainage has been generally improved.

The county received nearly $392,000 in grant funding through a portion of the CARES Act. With this money two communication towers are currently being constructed in Hiwassee and Snowville. These towers will be able to deploy broadband services to approximately 900 residential units, as well as provide enhanced relay communications for police, fire and rescue services.

The county also partnered with All Points Broadband to make $55,000 worth of broadband equipment upgrades on both the Peaks Knob and Cloyd Mountain antennas to provide 4G LTE service that extends all the way to the Little Creek Community.

More than $40,000 in CARES Act funding was used by the county’s Building and Grounds Department to install facility upgrades to keep county employees and the public safe from the spread of the coronavirus.

CARES Act funding was also used for a variety of projects which include feeding the needy in Pulaski County during the pandemic.

In conjunction with the EDA, the board of supervisors agreed to invest more than a million dollars of CARES Act funding in Small Business Recovery grants to small businesses and nonprofits in Pulaski County. This equated to 217 direct grants to businesses struggling during the pandemic.

The county also invested more than $90,000 in CARES Act funding to support childcare facilities within the county.

An accomplishment not related to CARES Act funding is the 2020 implementation of the Access to Community College (ACCE) Program. In 2020 the Pulaski County Board of Supervisors began the first annual fully funded ACCE program for Pulaski County High School graduates attending NRCC.

Students in the ACCE program are required to complete 80 hours of community service each semester by working in some capacity in Pulaski County. A total of 60 students were in the ACCE program in 2020. Many of those students volunteered in a variety of capacities in various departments of county government and throughout the community.

“I want to thank this Board for your leadership and support that helped propel us through 2020 and for your continued leadership and support that will maximize our output in 2021,” Sweet stated. “Lastly, I would like to extend my appreciation to the citizens and taxpayers of Pulaski County who entrust us with so much.”

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