Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

With just over $50,000 left in the county’s contingency budget on Tuesday night, Macon County commissioners were able to allocate funding before the end of the fiscal year to county facilities that needed a little help.

The Dorthoy R. and John L. Crawford Senior Center will soon be getting security upgrades after commissioners voted to spend $12,353 out of the county’s 2015-16 contingency fund. The county had $53,302 remaining in the fund before designating $12,353 for the security improvements.

In the last few weeks, law enforcement has responded to calls at the center, prompting county leaders to begin looking at ways to improve security at the center. Macon County Senior Services offers programs to help older adults in the community maintain their independent lifestyle. The Community Resource Center is a point of access for information in regards to the full range of services offered in the community.

Macon County Manager Derek Roland worked with Senior Services Director Sheila Jenkins and Director of Social Services Patrick Betancourt to identify security needs at the center. After receiving proposals from several companies, Roland worked with Macon County’s IT department to select the company with the best proposal and to ensure the plan included improvements which were compatible with the current security system.

Last week, Macon County Commissioners voted to approve a contract with National Communications, Inc., (NCI) that will add panic buttons, keypad  entrances, and door controls to the facility.

“Although I can’t give the details, we have had two serious incidents at the senior center in which law enforcement had to be called in,” said Commissioner Ronnie Beale. “This is a liability for the county. We have seen an increase in the number of people coming to the center, and with that, this is a necessary step for us to take for a lot of reasons.”

Macon County’s Senior Service Center will now have panic buttons installed in interview rooms as well as throughout the center that can be activated to notify law enforcement through the security system. The panic buttons will be added to the facility’s existing security panel and will add a wireless receiver and five wireless buttons.

The contract also calls for  the installation of a downstairs keypad and improvements to door control and installation of Maglocks, a card access control system. The system will function the same as the center’s exiting gate control. A high definition video surveillance system with high definition cameras will also be installed at the center for added security.

At the beginning of the 2015-16 fiscal year, the Macon County Public Library system requested a $126,000 budget increase for additional costs associated with operating the county’s three public libraries in Franklin, Highlands, and Nantahala. Commissioners did not approve the budget increase last fall, but in February revisited funding needs at the library and approved an additional $17,600 needed to replace 11 computers and tablets at the library, which serve hundreds of Macon County residents each week.

Last week, commissioners unanimously approved an additional $20,000 for needs at the library, bringing the total budget increase for the fiscal year to $37,600 over the already nearly $1 million allocated annually from the county.

“A check for $20,000 will go a long way at the library, and I think the best way to handle that money is to pay it out now before the end of the fiscal year, and then have the library staff and library board oversee how that money is spent,” said Beale last week when making his motion. Beale serves as the county’s liaison to the library system. “The library staff can provide invoices for any improvements that they make to the facility or equipment they purchase.”

In the 2016-17 budget process, the library requested a $120,610 increase which included additional funds needed for personnel, operating costs, and library materials. Beale’s motion to provide the library system with $20,000 allows the library board to decide how the funds should be spent.

“The demand for services at the three Macon County Libraries continues to grow,” said Beale. “With that growth more demand is placed on staff as well as equipment. The money allocated to the library was to help the immediate needs expressed by the library board. While we certainly recognize this is much less than was requested. I do believe this shows a commitment for the future and how important our Libraries are for all of Macon County. I would also like to thank the dedicated staff at all three locations who work hard every day severing the Citizens of Macon County.”

The library services in the county service everyone in the county regardless of age, income, or education level. Last year, Macon County libraries were visited more than 230,000 times.

The $20,000 was spent out of the county’s contingency fund, leaving the fund with a balance of $20,949.