Many of the public services that are closest to people’s lives come from county governments. To recognize the importance of what counties do, April has been designated National County Government Month. We are making a special effort to raise awareness of the vital role that New Hanover County plays in our residents' lives every day, through a wide range of services.
First, though, a few words about this celebration. For the past 25 years, the National Association of Counties has promoted National County Government Month. This year’s theme is "Safe and Secure Counties." The focus is on counties' services in three distinct areas: ensuring public safety; preserving public health and well-being; and promoting local economies, which are all priorities for New Hanover County. The board of county commissioners will issue a proclamation to that effect at its April 18 meeting.
All this month, members of the county staff are posting facts about our services on social media, using the hashtag: #CountiesMatter.
Federal and state governments are important, of course. But much of what they do relies on county agencies to actually deliver services. And not everybody lives in a city, which means many people aren’t directly touched by municipal governments. But in most states, including North Carolina, everybody lives in a county and benefits from county services. Here are some examples of what that means here in New Hanover County.
Key to public safety, every resident’s potential lifeline is the county’s 911 emergency call center. Around the clock, the 911 center’s telecommunicators connect the public with law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services, not just at the county level, but for the City of Wilmington, UNCW and the three beach towns. As communications technology evolves, 911 is keeping up, now taking text messages from anyone who’s not able place a 911 call for any reason.
The New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office provides basic law enforcement primarily outside the city limits. It also delivers other important services countywide, including school resource officers; service of subpoenas and other court documents; operation of the county jail and security for the county courts; and cooperative relationships with municipal police departments through several specialized task forces.
To help steer youth away from crime, Community Justice Services provides Youth Empowerment Services, which focus on helping elementary and middle school children develop positive social skills. These programs operate in the county schools, in collaboration with more than 40 community partners and organizations to provide youth with civic-oriented activities in an effort to break the school-to-prison pipeline.
Working hard to ensure public health and safety is the county’s Department of Environmental Management, which runs our household hazardous waste and electronics recycling facility. The department collects and ships an average of 70,000 pounds of electronic waste for recycling each month. That’s 35 tons of potentially hazardous but valuable material kept out of the landfill!
The department's recycling division collects more than 250 tons of other recyclables from the seven recycling drop-off sites it serves; and it serves as the repository for solid waste from the entire county, including the City of Wilmington and the beaches. The county landfill processes more than 300 truckloads of trash each day.
The Department of Social Services (DSS) administers a wide range of state and federal programs aimed at health, nutrition, child care and other essentials of family life. One example of our commitment to families began in 2015, when the county’s DSS began an initiative called Family Partners, working with Casey Family Programs and Methodist Home for Children. In simple terms, Family Partners pairs current DSS families with experienced parents who have been successful in the social services system. They serve as mentors, helping with access to public services and offering practical advice on parenting issues. The idea is to keep families together and avoid foster care, and to wean them off public assistance. The partners aren’t social workers or therapists; they merely offer support. Families participating in this partnership appreciate the assistance and guidance of someone who has truly walked in their shoes.
For well over 100 years, the New Hanover County Health Department has provided many services, including education, immunization and essential medical care. Last year, county health educators reached almost 10,000 people at 177 community outreach events. Nearly 6,000 people got flu shots from the department’s clinic during the 2014-15 influenza season. Last year, our International Travel Clinic served 367 people who were planning to travel abroad. A new initiative, with help from the Sheriff’s Office and Environmental Management, is collecting expired and unwanted medications in drop boxes. This reduces the danger of abuse, as well as environmental problems that result from flushing old pills down the toilet.
For information, education and entertainment, the county’s public library is an unparalleled resource. Last year, the library’s locations saw 1.26 million visits, an average of almost six visits for every man, woman and child in our community. Our reference librarians answered almost 275,000 questions from the public, and the library’s books, CDs, DVDs, and other media were checked out 1.2 million times. The physical libraries and virtual libraries are among the county’s most valuable educational resources, and they are all at your fingertips with a free library card.
New Hanover County’s Parks and Gardens department manages more than 15 district parks including Airlie Gardens, with more than 1,700 acres of green space, sporting areas, boat ramps, fishing areas, public spaces and walking trails. The department also manages landscaping, grounds maintenance and athletic facilities for New Hanover County Schools. The county’s parks undoubtedly contribute to the overall well-being of all of us. To learn more about our parks and gardens, see my March Insights article.
The county serves children through the schools, social services, our libraries and parks. It’s equally focused on seniors with our Senior Resource Center. I discussed some of the center’s services in my February 2016 article.
Programs and activities at the center are open to anyone 55 and older. In 2015, the center also served more than 75,000 nutritious lunches to some of the county’s frailest homebound elderly residents. More than 120 volunteers distribute these meals each year, providing an essential connection to a socially isolated population.
These are just a few facts about how deeply and broadly county agencies impact the public. The common thread, and my bottom line, is that New Hanover County touches every one of our 218,000-plus residents in many important ways. Our staff works hard every day to live up to our standard, which is: “the model of good governance.”
New Hanover County is committed to progressive public policy, superior service, courteous contact, judicious exercise of authority, and sound fiscal management to meet the needs and concerns of our citizens today and tomorrow. See more at http://www.nhcgov.com.
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