COUNTY COMMISSIONERS: Board hears about TRHD funding, lawsuit, river cleanup during public comments

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BAKERSVILLE – Several public comments were heard by the Mitchell County Board of Commissioners Monday, May 4, during its regular session. 

Spruce Pine resident Ian Buchanan told commissioners he had been advised by his lawyer to file a civil lawsuit against the county for $2.5 million. 

The suit would be for damages that have affected his family and character by the Mitchell County Department of Social Services, specifically a former caseworker who he said committed perjury.

“I lost my kids for almost a year, I was arrested by DSS and charged with communicating threats and disorderly conduct,” Buchanan said. “I was investigated by the Spruce Pine Police Department for felony child abuse, and they found there was no evidence of anything, but Mitchell County DSS still found that there was enough, they thought, to go on with the investigation.”

Buchanan admitted he expected his comment to be heard in closed session and assured the commissioners he did not want to “harm” the county but instead come to an agreement.

“Something needs to be done,” Buchanan said. “This right here has far-reaching repercussions on this county, especially the situation the county’s in, because every case that this social worker was involved in, once it comes out that she committed perjury and who it was and what cases she was involved in, they now have to be reinvestigated.”

When Buchanan finished his comment, the only response he received from the board was a simple “thank you” from board chair Jacob Willis. 

Christy Thrift, co-owner of NC Outdoor Adventures in Red Hill, spoke about the tire pollution problem in the North Toe River and the upcoming annual Toe River Cleanup. 

“First, Mitchell County has a trash problem,” she said. “On top of tons of trash in the river, there are thousands of tires entering the Toe after every flood.”

Thrift said many of these tires are entering the river because of an old practice called “tire berms,” which uses tires to make unusable land usable. She also noted tires contain harmful chemicals that can poison fish and other animals in the river.  

Thrift told the board the upcoming fifth annual Toe River Cleanup on May 23 will be dedicated to tire removal, but said they need flat-bed trucks, winches and requested help with the tire-removal fee. 

After being prompted by Commissioner Matthew “Vern” Grindstaff, county finance officer Mavis Parsley told Thrift the county would cover the cost if she reported the number of tires to them. 

Spruce Pine resident Howard Larsen spoke to the board concerning its funding of the Toe River Health District after attending the April 24 budget workshop. 

Larsen said he understood the board was going to drain the Pruitt Home Health fund and take the remainder of the Toe River Health fund out of the general fund when they formed the budget.

“In these uncertain times, because we don’t know what’s going to happen on the tax revenues in the next year or two and with the medical situation the way it is and how it could change, I think it’s ill-advised that you drain the Pruitt Health Fund because that is the only fund in this county that if something happens tomorrow, and the health department doesn’t have the money, they can go get a check,” he explained. 

Commissioner Jeff Harding agreed with Larsen and said he thought the county needed a “rainy day fund.”

“After going home and thinking about it, my recommendation, when it comes back up to this board, is not to drain the Pruitt Health fund but to use it as a reserve,” Harding said. “My recommendation to this board will be to take $100,000 from Pruitt Home Health and general fund balance would pay the rest of the funding for Toe River Health District.”