The Transylvania Times -

New Organization Will Work On Helping Transylvania's Poor


June 27, 2019

Beginning July 1, Community Action Opportunities (CAO) is taking over the work of Western Carolina Community Action to help some of Transylvania County’s poorest residents.

CAO will now administer the roughly $60,000 Community Services Block Grant that is aimed at helping individuals in Transylvania County who are at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. At the June 11 Transylvania County Board of Commissioners’ meeting, Kate Singogo, a self-sufficiency program manager with CAO, explained the organization’s plans. CAOs were started in 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson as part of the “War on Poverty.”

Through its Life Works Program, Singogo said, the goal will be to move county residents out of poverty by helping them gain full-time, living wage jobs, while also providing training and education opportunities, assistance with child care and other services. People are typically in the program up to three years and as many as five years, she said. In Transylvania County, the goal will be to serve 17 county families, with, at least, five moving out of poverty by June 30, 2020. The numbers may seem a “little low,” Singogo said, but that is because those in the program are in it long-term. She said CAO, which will have one full-time staff member in the county, is also providing roughly $8,000 on top of the grant for funding in the county this upcoming fiscal year.

In other action at the June 11 meeting:

•Commissioners appointed Assistant School Superintendent Brian Weaver to the Blue Ridge Community Board of Trustees. Prior to the vote, however, Commission Chairman Mike Hawkins questioned the appointment. Weaver is replacing Dr. Jeremy Gibbs, who left the school system earlier this year to work for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and whose current term on the board is set to end on June 30. Gibbs, who is the board’s vice chairman, was eligible to serve another term. School Superintendent Dr. Jeff McDaris, however, requested that Weaver replace Gibbs on the board as historically one of the two Transylvania County positions on the board have been held by someone from the school system. Gibbs declined to seek another term after talking with McDaris, Hawkins said.

Hawkins said he disagreed with McDaris’ notion that there needed to be someone from the school system on the board. Hawkins doesn’t believe that is “essential.” Hawkins also highlighted Gibbs’ role as vice chairman, noting he is the first person from Transylvania County to be the board’s vice chairman. He said “losing” Gibbs from the board would “not be in the best interest” of the county. He said it is “shortsighted” to lose Gibbs from the role, especially as BRCC is looking at strategic planning for the Transylvania campus. Hawkins said his comments are not a “negative” on Weaver, who he described as “collaborative” and who works hard to get students involved in BRCC in “positive ways.” Hawkins said there is also a “chance” that Gov. Roy Cooper may appoint Gibbs to the board as one of his appointees. Hawkins hopes Gibbs and Weaver are eventually both on the board.

•Commissioners approved Lake Toxaway Fire Rescue taking $30,000 from their reserves to remodel the department’s kitchen. Among the justifications for the action, according to the fire department, were the kitchen’s age and condition, its frequent use throughout the week, including by others outside the department, and the lack of restaurants in the area.

At the meeting, only Hawkins and Commissioners David Guice and Page Lemel were in attendance.

Hawkins voted against approving the funding because he believed the request should have been made through the budget process. The request was denied during last year’s budget process. Hawkins said the request is the same, so there is no need to do it outside of the process.

“I’m very protective of process,” Hawkins said. The county has tried in the past few years to be “very structured,” in its decision making, he said, and the “process” is “more important than this particular item.”

Guice, who made the motion to support the funding, said that, setting aside the process question, a majority of commissioners had indicated recently their support for the project.

He pointed to the information about the kitchen’s condition and use provided by the fire department, while pointing out the majority of county services are located far from the Lake Toxaway area. Hawkins said he would have voted for the funding if it had been done during the budget process.

He made a motion to table the matter until all the board members are available.

His motion died from a lack of a second. Lemel seconded Guice’s motion to provide the funding, which was approved 2-1, with Hawkins voting against.

After the vote, Lemel made a motion for the county to develop a spending policy for fire department reserve funds. She said the county needed a “consistent policy” on the reserve funds, which are made up of tax funds. Lemel’s motion was supported by Guice and Hawkins.


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