05/09/07 — Duplin commissioners cut economic development

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Duplin commissioners cut economic development

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on May 9, 2007 1:50 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin County Commissioners agreed this week to reduce appropriations to the county Economic Development Department, a move that opponents say will hurt the county's ability to attract and retain industries.

Commissioner Harold Raynor made a motion for the county to "eliminate all funding, except for the secretarial position and debt obligation, for our current economic development department effective June 30."

The motion also authorized the county to designate up to $75,000 to seek a contract with an outside economic development agency. The agency would be used to help the county make the transition to an economic development organization that relies on two existing non-profit corporations -- the Duplin County Economic Development Foundation and the Duplin County Economic Development Corp.

Commissioner David Fussell, who supported the motion, said the decision will force the two non-profit groups to take the lead in Duplin's future economic growth.

In March, Economic Development Department Director Woody Brinson told commissioners that the two non-profit organizations were not meant to take the place of the department. He said they could best serve the county by supplementing the work of the commission.

Commissioners Cary Turner, Fussell and Raynor voted for the motion. Commissioners L.S. Guy and Reginald Wells voted against it. Commissioner Zettie Williams was not in attendance.

Wells questioned the timing of the vote and called the motion and vote "great political strategy."

"Why today? Why do this today?" Wells asked.

Brinson, who had earlier announced his retirement in January 2008, told the commissioners that their actions would help surrounding counties and hurt Duplin.

"This hurts me personally. I've given you my blood, sweat and tears for 23 years for this county and, with your decision, you just said you don't give a damn about what I've done," Brinson said before walking out of room.

The board's decision makes Brinson's job obsolete as of July 1.

After the meeting, Raynor said he submitted the motion because he felt it was his duty.

"When we were put in office, our job was to bring the economy of the county back in good financial standing," he said.

The commissioners are looking to cut the county's tax rate from 80.5 cents per $100 worth of property to 79 cents and to limit the amount the county spends from its fund balance reserve. Raynor said the county has to make cuts across the board to save money.

Guy said he understands the needs for cuts, but said he doesn't understand why the board couldn't wait until after the commissioners met with the Economic Development Department's appointed board of directors on May 21.

During that meeting, the board was expected to present the commissioners with ideas on how to run the organization effectively with less money -- a task the commissioners had charged the board with in March.

Brinson said he would be surprised if any of the board members attend the meeting, given the commissioners' decision.

"You gave the EDC a responsibility and now you say you don't want their answer," Brinson said, adding that the commissioner's decision "doesn't support economic development."