12/16/08 — Talk about converting events center to jail halted

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Talk about converting events center to jail halted

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on December 16, 2008 1:46 PM

BEAULAVILLE -- The Duplin County Board of Commissioners have put off talking about the idea of converting the county's events center into a jail, at least for now

When commissioners met at the Beulaville fire station Monday night, they were expected to discuss the possibility retrofitting the Duplin Commons Events Center into a new law enforcement center and jail.

But Commissioner David Fussell, who had asked to place the proposal on the agenda, said Commissioner Zettie Williams talked him into deferring the discussion until the first of the year.

He said the time would help commissioners determine whether the center can become self-supporting.

But Commissioner Reginald Wells said the matter should just be taken off the table and not even considered, he said.

"We're deceiving ourselves to think we can determine if the event center can be self-supporting by the first of the year," he said.

That is what the event center manager, John Vogt, said earlier this month in an interview. Such a facility is not intended to be self-supporting, he said.

"I can't name one in the country that is," Vogt said.

An event center is an economic development tool, he said. It brings people into a community to spend money in hotels and restaurants. And that money that comes into the county cannot be tracked on a spread sheet.

But the Duplin Commons Event Center is expensive. Originally budgeted at about $947 a day, Vogt said he has gotten the operating expenses down to about $455 day.

After the money brought in for events last year, the county chipped in a $359 ,000 subsidy to keep the facility open.

This year, the county has budgeted a $345,000 subsidy, but Vogt said the cost is going to be less than that because of income from events held in the event center like rodeos and concerts.

Duplin Sheriff Blake Wallace has asked commissioners to consider building a new jail.

The existing one is overcrowded, forcing authorities to keep about 50 inmates in detention centers outside the county -- at a cost.

An architect has estimated it would cost the county about $16 million to remodel and add on to the existing jail.

Commissioners have taken no action on the proposal.

In other business, the commissioners approved the hiring of an architect to work on plans for a public safety training building at James Sprunt Community College.

The money comes from state sources. The building would house programs to train for careers in emergency medical services, fire safety, law enforcement and corrections. College President Dr. Lawrence Rouse said money for construction would be likely come provided by another bond issue that the state plans to hold later after the economy improves.

Fussell didn't vote against the measure but he criticized it.

"It is premature to look at this before the public school system presents its capital needs," he said. "We've been called guilty of single-shot maneuvering without seeing the big picture."