09/05/07 — County holds town hall meeting

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County holds town hall meeting

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on September 5, 2007 2:07 PM

Both men went to the same meeting, but for one, Tuesday night provided some answers, while for the other, it was almost a waste of time.

Concerned about the condition of the road running in front of his house, John Potter and his wife, Mariann, showed up to Wayne County Board of Commissioners' fourth town-hall style meeting at Eastern Wayne High School to find out what they or the county could do about it.

They explained that ever since Westfield Street was built, part of it has been maintained by the state, while the part they live on has not.

Now, with conditions worsening, they decided to come ask the commissioners for help, and while the county can't give it to them directly -- roads are not the county's responsibility -- officials did offer some suggestions.

"It may take a while, but I wish people would look at this and realize that things really do happen at these meetings," Potter said.

On the other hand, John Thomas left disappointed in how the meeting progressed.

He explained that he had a question he wanted to write down and submit, but after listening to the first few be answered, he decided it would be a wasted effort.

"This was nothing but politics," Thomas said. "People don't have the chance to discuss anything. I had a question I wanted to ask, but after I saw how it was, I didn't even try to submit it."

He explained that he wanted to ask why the county puts so little money into supporting youth recreation programs -- an area in which he has more than 40 years of experience.

Commission Chairman John Bell explained after the meeting that they hadn't planned on having an open discussion -- that they were just trying to answer questions for the 20 or so county residents attending.

But he also said that maybe during their last meeting on Sept. 25 at Charles B. Aycock High School, they could open things up for a little more give-and-take between county officials and residents.

"We'll talk about that. That may be something we'll look at," Bell said, also noting that while the county doesn't run any recreation programs itself, it does provide some funding for some youth-oriented organizations.

The rest of the meeting focused on many of the same issues as the previous three.

There was a question about Eastern Wayne Middle School's place on the school board's priority list -- No. 2, along with Norwayne Middle -- and Sheriff Carey Winders mentioned that anyone witnessing somebody littering along the county's roadways has the ability to secure a warrant for that person.

County Manager Lee Smith also explained that work on the U.S. 70 bypass around Goldsboro could begin as early as next year.

"This is not about the beach for the Wayne County Commissioners. It's about commerce and getting freight to and from the ports," he said.

He also explained that as U.S. 117 continues to grow in prominence and popularity, they are continuing to push for more directional signs for Goldsboro, as well as continuing efforts to keep the roadway looking neat.

But as has been the nature of the Commission's town hall meetings, the questions eventually turned to school and finance issues.

Smith explained that as they work through financing options for the school board's $120 million long-range facilities plan, they're also discussing various policy ideas.

One possibility, he said, is for the school board to cap growth in its local budget like the county does every year.

"One of the most important things the commissioners have done is put fiscal policies in place for the budget," he said. "We have kept our (county operating budget, excluding social service programs and education) increases under one percent a year. We're going to be asking the school board to do some of the same things we're doing."

Another possibility, Smith continued, is to come to an agreement on an acceptable percentage of modular classrooms like Wake County.

"You want to be adaptable. You can't just always build fixed classrooms every five years," he said.

But he also emphasized his belief that the school board and the commissioners aren't all that far apart.

"I don't think the conflict is as great as it seems sometimes. Some of it is just the way we're established," he said. "The commissioners want to partner with the school board."

"Our children are our future," said county resident Fae Lapean. "The schools we build do not have to be works of art. The children just need decent, air-conditioned, safe schools. Some of these are about to fall down."

The next town hall meeting will be Thursday, from 6 to 8 p.m., at Spring Creek High School.