GREENSBORO — After hearing from a federal prosecutor and a repeat offender who benefited from the program in question, Guilford County leaders voted unanimously to include money in next year’s budget for an “inmate re-entry” initiative that had been stymied last week.
The Board of Commissioners authorized Sheriff Danny Rogers to use up to $80,000 from a Guilford County Detention Center account to keep the program alive, find it more office space, computer equipment and other supplies.
The commissioners had deadlocked on the program in their last budget meeting June 10 over concern expressed by several commissioners that they did not know enough about the initiative and were leery of its $189,000 price tag.
But at a budget work session Monday, Budget Director Michael Halford said county administrators had found additional sources of funding that lowered the need for additional money from the jail’s commissary account to about $70,000.
Speaking in support of the sheriff’s office request, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert A.J. Lang said Guilford’s two-person program was on the cutting edge of a nationwide initiative to help newly released inmates turn their lives around with counseling, job training, housing and other basics.
“It really would be a step backwards not to continue,” said Lang, reentry and anti-gang coordinator for the U.S. Middle District that includes Guilford and surrounding counties. “I’m in full support, my boss is in full support, and the Department of Justice is in full support of this.”
The commissioners also watched a video clip that had been recorded by former inmate Sharion Wanton, who said the program had been instrumental in helping her mend her ways after a life of crime and the completion of a 10-year prison sentence for a felony conviction.
“Today I can say that I make good choices about who I’m connected to,” she said, “At last I know somebody is waiting on me and there’s someone who believes in me.”
The commissioners held their work session Monday afternoon at the Old County Courthouse.
The Guilford Reentry Program is one of 14 across the state that are recognized by the North Carolina Department of Public Safety in its efforts to smooth the way for ex-convicts trying to reestablish themselves as law-abiding citizens.
Guilford Sheriff’s Office administrator Sharon Harrison-Pope told the board that of 250 clients in the program, roughly 30 have been released from state or federal prisons and the rest from Guilford County Detention Centers.
Program director Edward “Chap” Williams said that he and another case manager improve the chances for an inmate’s successful return by beginning to plan the local safety net of services several months before the inmate’s prison term ends.
The effort was among the newer initiatives being championed by first-term Sheriff Danny Rogers as he works to put his personal stamp on the office. Rogers was at an out-of-state law enforcement meeting Monday, Harrison-Pope told the board.
On other budget matters, the board discussed ways it could find more money for schools.
School leaders want a total increase of $10 million in operating money for the next fiscal year.
In his recommended budget released last month, County Manager Marty Lawing proposed raising that part of the system’s budget by $4 million, to an annual total of $206.6 million. The schools also have hundreds of millions of dollars in new construction and other capital needs that the commissioners want to address.
They discussed the possibility of a referendum to add a quarter-cent increase to the sales tax, which could raise up to $18 million per year.
Commissioner Melvin “Skip” Alston told his colleagues he also plans a motion Thursday for a one-cent increase in the property tax that would raise just more than $5 million — almost closing the gap between educators’ request and what Lawing has recommendedin a tight budget year.
The board also added personnel to the county payroll next year, adding several environmental health inspectors, animal service staffers and 15 emergency medical technicians. Commissioners agreed to pay for the emergency responders by increasing ambulance charges to twice the Medicare allowable rate from the current 150 percent.
The board also agreed to increase the county’s annual grant to the High Point Market Authority to $125,000 next year from $75,000. The authority promotes High Point’s twice yearly furniture market and said it wanted an increase to improve its outreach to market goers by stepping up its direct mail, social media and online platforms.