Duplin commissioners reject school building proposal
By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on November 20, 2007 1:46 PM
KENANSVILLE -- The Duplin County Commissioners didn't think it would come as any surprise, but their last action Monday afternoon might have been their most important.
Holding an unscheduled vote after a short discussion about the upcoming sales tax referendum scheduled for the May primary, the board voted 4 to 2 to officially reject the county Board of Education's facility building plan.
The push toward rejecting the school board's proposal began when Commissioner Zettie Williams said that she thought a good, specific plan was needed for people to hang their hats on when voting on the quarter-cent local sales tax next year.
When reminded by Commissioner L.S. Guy that the school board did in fact have a plan, she responded that she would not vote in favor of funding the current proposal and that such a revelation should not come as a surprise to anyone.
"They know we're not going to support it," she said.
Commission Chairman David Fussell also chimed in, offering his opinion that the plan does not appear to have the support of the majority of the county.
"In preparation for the sales tax vote, the citizens of this county have let it be known they will not support this facilities plan," he said.
The plan, which was originally adopted by the school board -- and approved by the county commissioners -- in 2005, was re-adopted by the school board in June.
It features three primary components: the building of a new high school to consolidate the students from James Kenan High School and students at East Duplin High School from the B.F. Grady area; the replacement of E.E. Smith and Warsaw middle schools with a consolidated middle school at the former James Kenan High School; and the construction of a new elementary school in the B.F. Grady area and the renovation of Charity Middle School.
At the time, the only school board member who voted against the proposal was Jennings Outlaw, who represents the B.F. Grady area.
And, while the current board of commissioners never voted to re-accept the plan, the only member who officially came out questioning it before Monday was Williams.
Since then, though, Fussell said, the will of the majority of the county has become clear.
"The people don't want it, and the folks who are most upset about it are those in the B.F. Grady area," he said. "That is one of the closest knit communities in the county, and they support their schools.
"It is a matter of forcing things down people's throats that they don't want. Just because a board of education wants it doesn't mean it's in the best interests of our children."
Commissioner Cary Turner said, though, that a facilities plan is needed -- just not that one.
"We're going to have a problem with overcrowding. There will have to be some building at some time," he said. "But the people in my community were definitely against the plan, and I'm going to do what the will of my people tells me to do."
Commissioners L.S. Guy and Reginald Wells, however, voted against rejecting the plan.
Now, though, they said, the need to come to an agreement with the school board is even more critical.
"I support a real meeting with the board of education," Wells said. "I don't want to hear from the finance officer. I don't want to hear from the superintendent. I want to hear from the board members. We've got to iron out our differences."
Especially, he added, if they have any hope of getting the sales tax approved.
"If we're going to have it, we've got to work on it," he said.
It will be, though, Fussell added, largely up to the school board to sell county residents on the need.
The goal is to use the sales tax money -- potentially as much as $822,800 according to the N.C. Association of County Commissioners -- for school facilities.
The option to place the quarter-cent sales tax on the ballot came from the state General Assembly this year as part of the Medicaid reform package. Counties also are being given option to put a 0.4 percent land transfer tax on the ballot.
The decision to put the sales tax on the ballot, rather than the land transfer tax, Turner explained, was fairly easy to make.
"The sales tax is the fairest tax there is. Everybody pays," he said.
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