by Renee Bolden, McDowell native and Hollow participant
Many McDowell County residents were in attendance to last week’s County Commission meeting, which was held in the courthouse annex courtroom, concerning a proposed 9% tax increase. This courtroom is the site of official court trials. It is now, however, the site of an unofficial one as well that consists of priorities and will. Commissioners Ray Bailey, Harold McBride, and Gordon Lambert appeared to be a three-judge panel seated at the front of the room and McDowell County residents crowded into the jury seats, the plaintiff and defendant tables, the observers seats, and yet, many were left standing.
Tensions were eased somewhat when county commission president, Gordon Lambert, stated, ”I appreciate all of you being here. I hate that the wrong information went out in the paper and on TV that there was going to be an increase, proposed increase of 9%. What was looked at was .09%, not even 1%. …Since we see the turnout here today there won’t be any rate increase.” Immediately, there were cheers and clapping.
Following this statement, residents took the opportunity to question the commissioners on many different topics. The main issue of the day, however, was that of Sheriff Martin West’s budget. Sheriff West announced that his department was in much need of basic equipment: uniforms, guns, ammunition, protective gear, and vehicles. West brought to the commissioners’ attention a spending reduction and cost-savings plan that had been drawn up by County Manager Clif Moore. West stated, concerning the plan, ”He has about 12 things that he said would save the county money and that we wouldn’t be to this position today, that we wouldn’t even be talking about raising taxes in a depressed county, such as ours.” Lambert responded that they had not adopted Moore’s proposal.
Sheriff West and residents mentioned the need for the county to get their priorities in order. In order to protect and serve the county, the sheriff’s department needs to be properly equipped and accordingly compensated. West and his deputies are battling the biggest enemy known to the county: drugs. If the county can keep more people off drugs, there will be more able-bodied workers within the county. This, in turn, will assist with county financials as they will be paying taxes within the county.
Lambert recognized the work of the Sheriff by stating, “I think the Sheriff has been doing a great job.” This statement was followed with applause and proclamations of, “Yes, he is!” by the crowd. Sheriff West addressed the commissioners, stating, ”We’re asking y’all to back us, back the county, and do what’s right.” Debbie King concluded, ”We should have people like this at every meeting, … We need to keep coming after them, not after them to be mean, but to speak up and to hang in there together.”
The constituents of McDowell County expect the commissioners to work with them to better the county and to support the Sheriff. During this trial, it was clear that the people desire to be heard. McDowell County is constantly battling poverty, health issues, dental problems, educational needs, transportation difficulties, teenage pregnancy, and drug addiction. We have faith that the commissioners will work with the people to overcome these stumbling blocks. This is a trial of will to overcome which seems to be growing stronger.
The jury members of this trial will deliberate for some time as we anxiously await what the future holds for McDowell County.