About 60% of $13.3 million awarded to Wilkes County government under the federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) of 2021 is budgeted for installing sewer lines and building related pump stations.

A grant project ordinance with this $7.98 million expenditure, approved by the Wilkes County commissioners on Nov. 26, also includes spending $3.1 million of the $13.3 million on building a Wilkes County Emergency Services Center/COVID-19 Vaccination Center.

It also allocates $1.6 million of the $13.3 million on buying 10 public safety vehicles and two ambulances and for constructing a “burn building” for training firefighters. Construction of this firefighter training facility has been discussed for many years.

Lastly, the document designates $600,000 for a program rewarding Wilkes County government employees who already have been vaccinated and offering incentives to motivate unvaccinated county government employees to get the shots.

In addition to the grant project ordinance, the commissioners officially approved accepting the $13.3 million. County Manager John Yates said county government already received $6.644 million of the $13.3 million and will receive the remaining portion in 2022.

The $13.3 million is part of $1.9 trillion in federal ARP funds awarded to North Carolina for COVID-19 relief and economic recovery.

Yates said no design work has been done, but county officials envision the $7.98 million expenditure including extending a sewer line to the Wilkes County Airport and eastward along N.C. 268 to the Wilkes County Landfill.

Yates said the sewer line extensions likely would connect with the North Wilkesboro wastewater system at one end and with the Elkin-based Yadkin Valley Sewer Authority system, which now serves Ronda, at another end.

The emergency services center, which will be the main Wilkes Emergency Medical Services base, is planned on county-owned land near the intersection of Call Street and Oakwoods Road in Wilkesboro. Plans call for spending $7 million in county funds on the facility, in addition to $3.1 million in ARP funds.

The main EMS base now is in a building adjacent to Wilkes Medical Center in North Wilkesboro. Commissioners have indicated uncertainty about how much longer it may be available because it is subleased from the hospital.

In early September, the commissioners authorized Jefferson-based Vannoy Construction to design the emergency services center for $256,875, prepare documents for building the facility for $185,312 and determine the project’s guaranteed maximum construction price for $42,813. The total is $485,000.

All of this work is included in a preliminary design-build agreement with Vannoy, approved by the commissioners.

It was shared during the Nov. 16 meeting that the emergency services center will also be the county’s primary COVID-19 vaccination center in coming years. This will include a drive-through bay to provide shelter for public health and emergency personnel allow citizens to maintain social distancing by staying in their vehicles.

Yates said county officials hope to offer sewer connections in areas the new lines go through. The grant project ordinance cites a goal of bringing sewer lines to underserved rural areas.

Yates said Wilkes County Finance Director Chris Huffman and Brooke Felts, the newly-hired assistant county attorney, had six days of training via Zoom on requirements related to the funds. He said Felts prepared the grant project ordinance.

All of the projects in the ordinance must be brought before the commissioners individually in the form of budget amendments and bids needing to be approved, said Yates.

He said the commissioners can amend the grant project ordinance if they wish to change how the funds are used. Felts said the ordinance is amendable through the end of 2024.

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