WILSON’S LOCAL PRINT AND DIGITAL COMMUNITY INSTITUTION SINCE 1896

Our Opinion: Encouraging first steps on fulfilling pet fees’ promise

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THUMBS UP to the Wilson County Board of Commissioners’ Animal Enforcement Committee, which agreed this week to fast-track the construction of a new animal shelter that would triple the current facility’s capacity for stray dogs and cats.

Tuesday’s meeting of the panel, a subset of elected county commissioners, showed a level of confidence that appears to reflect consensus support on the larger board for building a shelter without further delays after nearly 17 years of discussion and a full decade of county pet fee collection.

“That’s what I really want to see,” committee Chairman Roger Lucas said. “Move on this thing just as quick as we can. Let’s get a firm drawing and get some estimates on what we think it’s going to cost and put it out for bid.”

Wilson County’s current animal shelter has been deemed inadequate since at least 2002, according to Times archives. A former health director called for a replacement in 2004. Enacting pet privilege fees to fund the project were first discussed in 2005 and approved in 2008, with dog and cat owners receiving their first bills the following year.

A lack of specificity in the fee ordinance resulted in money being diverted from shelter savings to the animal control operating budget, which former Sheriff Wayne Gay said was never anticipated. Lucas, the only remaining commissioner who voted to enact the fees, has said the money should have been earmarked for a shelter all along.

A new shelter with more room for strays will reduce the euthanasia rate, increase adoptions and rebuild frayed trust between animal rescue groups and county officials.

We applaud commissioners’ first steps in the process and urge them to follow through on these long-anticipated plans. Full speed ahead.

THUMBS DOWN to lawmakers behind a bill that would hamstring the elected state treasurer by blocking his bid to save taxpayers an estimated $300 million by reforming the State Health Plan.

State Treasurer Dale Folwell’s proposed Clear Pricing Project would reimburse health care providers at Medicare rates plus an average 77 percent profit. Trustees of the state-administered health plan for public employees unanimously approved that change, which would save patients roughly $66 million.

Rep. Josh Dobson, R-McDowell, introduced House Bill 184 to mandate a two-year study of the health plan that would prevent any changes in reimbursement rates from taking effect until at least 2022.

Pundits say the state hospital lobby is behind the bill, as it preserves the status quo of taxpayers being stuck with what Folwell describes as “the secret high prices in confidential contracts between Blue Cross N.C. and health care providers.” Lawmakers sharpening their knives for Folwell are presumed to be past or future beneficiaries of health care industry campaign contributions.

“This legislation locks in a failed and bankrupt system resulting in less transparency, higher costs and more control for many who’ve been using the State Health Plan to increase their profits for decades,” Folwell said in a news release.

We’re disappointed to see Rep. Shelly Willingham, D-Edgecombe, has signed on as a co-sponsor. This legislation would cost taxpayers more than a quarter-billion dollars in savings and make teachers, state troopers and local government workers pay higher premiums. Supporters ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Tell your state representatives you expect them to look out for you — not hospital CEOs and their paid lobbyists — when they cast their votes in the people’s House.

THUMBS UP to the Nash Edgecombe Wilson Reentry Council, which is changing lives by the dozens for former inmates reentering society in the tri-county area.

Friday’s edition of the Times shared the story of 41-year-old Latonya Daniels, who served prison time for consecutive drunken driving convictions and is working toward recovery and rehabilitation with the NEW Reentry Council’s help.

“I have been back twice,” Daniels said, referring to prison. “I’m determined I’m not going back a third time.”

It’s in our collective interest that Daniels’ bid to transform her life is successful. It costs taxpayers $35,000 a year to incarcerate someone, while reentry services command a small fraction of those resources. When ex-inmates become productive citizens, everyone benefits.

It’s one thing to be tough on crime, but it’s quite another matter to stigmatize and handicap folks who have already paid their proverbial debt to society. That’s not justice; it’s kicking people when they’re down.

The NEW Reentry Council enrolls at least 60 clients per month, with about a third of those living here in Wilson County. Next to the costs of recidivism, its services are a comparative bargain. We salute this agency for its good work and call on local and state government to ensure reentry councils have the support they need to fulfill their mission.

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