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Council discusses delays in trash collection

Delays in the City of Rocky Mount picking up garbage reached the point where City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney gave a statement about the situation earlier this week during the City Council regular meeting.

During Small-Toney’s community update as part of Monday evening’s council meeting, she said the solid waste collection operation has experienced a decline in service levels due to vacancies.

“We currently have 10 vacancies in that particular area,” Small-Toney said. “Two offers were made to candidates today. So I’m hoping that that vacancy then will fall to eight.”

Small-Toney said Operations Manager Tim Farmer is continuing to work tirelessly to fill those vacant positions, one of which is the position of clerk.

“We are also experiencing disruptions in the supply chain for parts and materials for our equipment,” Small-Toney said. “And this is just happening, I think, all throughout the country, Rocky Mount not being an exception.”

Small-Toney said that she and the Public Works Department staff met on Monday morning to discuss the next steps and that they are working with the Human Resources Department to fill those vacancies and to supplement the routes with workers from temp agencies.

Small-Toney also said even that is a struggle, as temp agencies are having difficulty finding people for placement with other organizations such as the City of Rocky Mount.

Small-Toney said she and her team would certainly revisit scheduled hours with the crews and might seek other help within the department as well as the assistance of other departments.

“This will require overtime pay beyond the normal 40-hour week,” Small-Toney said. “And I believe with the vacancies that we have experienced, since we budget our positions 100 percent, that we should have enough money to help pay for the overtime that we are anticipating.”

Small-Toney emphasized that in the meantime residents are encouraged to leave containers at curbside even if that is not the normal service day for the collection of garbage.

“Attempts, of course, will be made to complete the collections that day, but if not that day, certainly the next business day — the next following business day,” she said.

She also said that the city will be communicating via social media and the local code red alerting system, and that plans call for a video to be posted on YouTube to address some of the concerns in the community and provide information about various services.

Councilman Andre Knight asked Small-Toney whether the vacancies are being advertised as part-time or full-time positions. Small-Toney said the positions are being advertised as full-time.

Councilman Richard Joyner asked Small-Toney whether the city is facing similar challenges in other areas.

Small-Toney said no, but she spoke of the difficulty at this particular time for the municipality to fill vacancies.

Small-Toney reiterated her earlier position by saying, “I don’t think it’s anything germane or specific to Rocky Mount. I just think that is the environment in which we’re working in.”

“We’re still trying to recover from the impacts of COVID,” she said.

Later during the public input phase of Monday’s meeting, sanitation worker Arnie Jones spoke of longtime severe understaffing in the garbage collection service and of one man sometimes doing a two-man or a three-man job.

Jones said that he believes a man should be judged on the merits of the amount of work he does daily, and that sanitation workers are essential employees who should pretty much be on the pay scale as those working for the fire department, the police department and public utilities.

“We keep the city clean,” Jones said.

Near the end of Monday’s meeting, Knight said, “I just want to say that we still have a plantation mentality when it comes to the sanitation department when it comes to pay grade, pay raises, promotion and respect of the employees.”

Knight recommended to Small-Toney that she and the human resources and human relations directors meet with and listen to the sanitation employees “because they have some systemic issues” and “some really major issues dealing with disrespect” in terms of how they are being treated.

“And then you will get a better understanding what’s taking place in that department,” Knight said.

Small-Toney reiterated her telling the council on Aug. 23 she plans to present the outcome of a pay classification study for implementation.

“There’s also another component of that, that I instituted, which is to take a look at how employees are evaluated and the amount of percentage (pay) increase per the rating that’s given on the evaluation,” she said.

Small-Toney, noting she signs off on recommendations for pay increases, said, “I could see early on that we have a pattern by which the lower-paid employees hardly ever get an outstanding (rating), hardly ever. And so, part of the recommendation that will be coming into the City Council is to change that.”

She also said there are “some systemic things within the system” she believes have worked against the city for several years.

“And we’re looking to make those kinds of adjustments,” she said. “So I’ll be happy to meet with my sanitation workers, my employees and go through some of these things in a more direct way in terms of what is planned — and look forward to meeting with them, this week probably I would say.”

Official opening set for next month at Davis Lofts

A downtown residential and commercial development will be the scene of an official opening at the start of next month.

Developer Troy Davis told the Central City Revitalization Panel late last week the plan is to have the doors open to the public from 4-6 p.m. on Oct. 1.

Davis since February 2020 has been working to transform three side-by-side buildings in the 100 block of Southeast Main Street into Davis Lofts.

Davis on Thursday morning attended the meeting of the CCRP, which is an advisory panel working to encourage improvements and restoration in the heart of Rocky Mount.

During the meeting, Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO David Farris, who serves on the panel by virtue of his position, asked Davis whether he had leased any of the units at Davis Lofts.

Davis said four of the 22 units are leased.

He said an Edgecombe County deputy lives at Davis Lofts, as does a Wake County deputy.

“We have a young lady who is a doctor and a consultant for a local company here that’s moving in soon,” Davis said. “And we have another young man that’s an intern for the City of Rocky Mount that’ll be moving in.”

“That’s great,” Farris said.

Farris asked whether all of the units will be ready by next month.

“Every single one of ’em except for about two,” Davis said.

City Councilwoman Chris Miller, who represents a pro-downtown rehabilitation group on the panel, wanted to know from Davis whether he would have a grand opening so people can tour the location.

“Yes,” Davis said.

Davis noted visitors will have to wear masks as a safety measure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Farris wanted to know whether Davis would have any of the units furnished for showing at the time of the official opening.

“Hopefully we’ll have four finished,” Davis said. “Right now, we have one that’s a studio unit that’s furnished.”

The Telegram on Nov. 22, 2020, published a story about Davis showing the progress of the project. For that story, Davis said the project would be complete by February.

Davis had received a boost when the City Council on Nov. 9, 2020, approved $300,000 in Housing Incentive Grant Program funds for his project.

The Telegram has reported that city records said the private investment in the project totaled at least $1.75 million. Those records stated that a condition of the funding from the municipality calls for three of the 22 units to be set aside for affordable housing.

The council on Oct. 26, 2020, approved a plan by City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney to reorganize the municipality’s downtown development and business development activities into the Office of Downtown and Business Development.

The plan meant that City Downtown Development Manager Kevin Harris and Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Director Alan Matthews would work at a stand-alone location downtown.

The council on May 10 approved a bid for a three-year lease at a total of $142,500 with aFRESHnewSTART for ground-level property at the site of the Davis Lofts project to serve as the new Downtown and Business Development office. Davis is the leader of aFRESHnewSTART.

Davis told the Telegram on Monday that the opening of the Davis Lofts project was substantially delayed because of the spread of the coronavirus and also was delayed because of a shortage of labor and time needed to get state-of-the-art security equipment in place.

Testing sites expanded as delta strain virus cases spike across area

The delta variant of COVID is sweeping through the Twin Counties at a record pace and local health officials are beefing up their testing services in response to the growing need.

Nash County saw 490 new confirmed cases of COVID this week, a significant surge over the already high numbers of 331 last week and 325 the week before, Nash County Health Director Bill Hill said Tuesday. This brings the total number of confirmed cases of COVID in the county to 13,501.

“Right now, more than 90 percent of the cases are of the delta strain of the virus,” Hill said.

Hill also noted that the state is seeing an increase in breakthrough cases of COVID among previously vaccinated people with an increase in the percentage of the delta variant.

Edgecombe County is seeing a similar surge in cases. Roughly 281 new COVID cases were reported over the past week in the county, according to data from the state Department of Health and Human Services website. That brings the cumulative number of cases of COVID in that county to 6,982.

The delta strain of the virus is continuing to affect children and young adults at a much higher rate than the original strain of COVID. According to data presented Tuesday by Hill, more than one-third of the new cases were in Nash County residents under the age of 20. Among the over-60 population, just 42 cases were reported.

Hill said that the numbers do not include people who tested positive through home tests or those who have not been tested at all.

The surge in cases is overwhelming current testing outlets in the area, Hill said. As a result, the Nash County Health Department, which had dropped testing services in order to focus on vaccinations, is now resuming testing services.

“We have needed to get into testing for a couple of weeks to identify positives as quickly as possible and get these people and their family members under quarantine,” Hill said.

The Nash County Health Department will offer testing from 9-11 a.m. and from 1-3:30 p.m. on Thursday.

“Next week, we will offer testing three days a week due to the demand,” Hill said.

Testing with the health department is by appointment only at this time, but health officials are trying to get those appointments in as soon as possible, Hill said.

“We are conducting the drive-though testing by appointment only because it causes short wait times for people who are already potentially ill with COVID and not feeling well,” Hill said. “But if someone drives up during the testing times and we have the ability to test at that time, we won’t turn them away.”

People should call 252-462-2079 to schedule either testing or vaccinations with the Nash County Health Department.

Edgecombe County interim Health Director Michelle Etheridge said that county’s health department has been offering testing services through a contracted vendor since October but is also now adding additional drive-through testing from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesdays at the Edgecombe County Health Department office in Rocky Mount.

“The state contracted with OPTUMServe on our behalf to offer drive-through COVID-19 testing,” she said. “Testing continues to be available with OPTUMServe in Princeville at Heritage Park and in Pinetops in the parking lot next to the Town Hall.”

The tests are offered from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays and from 1-5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Etheridge said.

COVID deaths also are on the rise in the Twin Counties. In Nash County, one new death was reported in a man in his 70s this week from COVID-related complications. That brings the total number of deaths in Nash County to 208.

Etheridge updated the death toll in Edgecombe County to 123 with two recent COVID-related deaths in the county. The latest number reported from that county roughly a month ago was 118.

Etheridge, who is serving as the interim health director in the wake of the retirement earlier this month of former Health Director Karen LaChapelle, also released demographic information about the COVID deaths that have taken place so far among Edgecombe County residents.

According to that data, no Edgecombe County resident under the age of 24 has died from COVID. More than half of the deaths — roughly 53 percent — have occurred in residents 75 years of age and older. Another 22 percent of deaths were among 65- to 74-year-old residents and 20 percent were among residents between the ages of 50 and 64. Only 5 percent of the deaths were among residents between the ages of 25 and 49.

Hospitalizations at Nash UNC Health Care remain high but stable with 33 patients admitted for COVID. Three of the patients are under intensive care and two are on ventilators, Hill said.

“It is important to note that 32 of those 33 patients were unvaccinated,” Hill said. “Though getting vaccinated does not guarantee you won’t get COVID, it clearly helps prevent the more serious and harmful consequences of the virus.”

Teen killed in accidental shooting in Nashville

A teenager died earlier this week in Nashville as a result of negligent handling of a firearm that resulted in an accidental discharge, town police said.

Derrick Macklin Jr., 18, was dead in the 100 block of North Wheeless Drive in the eastern part of town by the time Nashville firefighters and Nash County Emergency Medical Services personnel arrived at that address early Monday afternoon, town police said in a news release.

According to a recording via the website Broadcastify, Nash County emergency radio traffic at 1:16 p.m. began alerting of a person having been shot and advised the first responders to remain staged until town police officers arrived at the scene.

Subsequent emergency radio traffic advised of an apartment being the more specific address and advised the scene was secure. Eventually, the emergency radio traffic advised all other first responder units they could cancel going to the scene.

Town police officers responded, an investigation was started and officers spoke to several people, resulting in the determination of the cause of the fatal gunshot, the news release from town police said.