01/04/09 — A slice of the pie: Wayne County sends $148 million list to state

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A slice of the pie: Wayne County sends $148 million list to state

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 4, 2009 2:00 AM

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Norwayne Middle School is one of several building projects that have been chosen as priorities in the proposed $20 million facilities plan created by the Wayne Board of Education. It is one of the projects county officials would like to see funded as part of another potential federal economic stimulus package.

Talk of a federal $700 billion economic stimulus package might just be pie in the sky. But just in case it isn't, Wayne County Manager Lee Smith wants the county to be positioned to be served a $148.3 million slice.

Not only would the slice help satisfy the county's capital improvements appetite, it also could speed up projects and lessen the financial burden associated with otherwise having to borrow money for the projects.

The county's position, Smith said, is enhanced by the list's specificity and an existing detailed capital improvement plan.

"As I understand it the president-elect is trying to do something to create jobs to keep the economy moving," Smith said. "What our finance folks are telling us is that we have got a two-to-three-year window to survive with the economy.

"A local car dealer just closed, and you are seeing things like that every day. It is very scary. People are scared, and we now have contractors who are saying 'we do not have any work.' If there is no money, no stimulus being put into the economy it is going to crash."

Washington's offer might be a way to tide communities over until the economic situation changes, Smith said.

"I think the intent of the president-elect and governor-elect is to stimulate the economy for a couple of years until it does pick back up. I appreciate them at least trying to look at something because I don't know what else we are going to do because people can't stand more taxes. It's unbearable now, people are losing their jobs."

Smith was contacted just prior to Christmas by the staff of Gov.-elect Beverly Perdue, who had been in contact with President-elect Barack Obama's transition team.

Smith was told that the transition team was asking for states to provide a list of needs or projects that could begin within the calendar year of 2009. The list needed to include project costs and time estimates.

Smith was in his office at 4 a.m. on the Saturday before Christmas compiling the county's laundry list, which includes $43 million for schools and $58 million for a jail and other public safety projects.

"This is part of this national economic stimulus package and what they needed was shovel-ready projects, things that could happen pretty quickly," Smith said. "Part of what we are understanding that the president-elect is looking at doing is getting monies to states that would be controlled by the governor's offices that then would be allocated out to county and municipal governments for projects."

Information being sought included capital investments in the categories of school construction, water and wastewater projects, court facilities, jails and public safety facilities, other buildings, broadband deployment, green infrastructure and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance.

"I went through this (list)," he said. "It wasn't that difficult for us because we already have a capital improvement plan that goes out 10 to 11 years. Some of the things have been studied and we have preliminary designs or studies done."

Smith said some people might question why he included only $43 million for schools when the schools have $170 million in needs.

"Right now they have the plans for this first $20 million (facilities plan) so I include that," he said. "But they also have, and (assistant superintendent) Sprunt Hill has worked very hard on it, a deferred maintenance program.

"He has things they need to replace in the schools -- boilers, chillers and all those kind of things -- so I went ahead and included $43 million total for schools and that is everything. They also have some other safety improvements, and I included that."

In a related matter, the $4.5 million sought for water and wastewater projects includes a new sewer line at Grantham School. The lack of adequate sewer capability has hindered new construction at the school. Along with that project are water and sewer for industrial sites.

Also related to industrial recruitment is $4 million for a new speculative shell building.

Smith said people might question why he included a shell building.

"You say what good is that going to do, well look at AAR (that is located in a former county shell building)," he said. "We have 400-600 jobs that were created for people and who are making good money with benefits. That made sense to include (a shell building)."

At $58 million, jails and public safety account for the lion's share of the list. The money would be used to build a new jail and to assist in building a couple of EMS stations.

Also on the wish list are:

-- Other county facilities, such as Health Department, Department of Social Services and Services on Aging, $24 million. "We just bought the William Street property (the old Masons department store) so the timing couldn't be better," Smith said. "We could use that money and use it for renovation on that building for Services on Aging and Health Department or DSS or whatever that would speed that project up." Also included is the construction of an agri-business center, $10 million.

-- Communications, $8 million. The county has approved a $10 million communications system and is in the process of taking bids. The county plans to borrow up to $9.7 million from RBC Centura to build the system.

-- Wayne Community College, $2 million for heating and hot water system (underground) replacement.

-- Broadband deployment, $2 million. "As we build our communications system and have our towers we literally could, through a microwave system, put up some broadband deployment for fire departments and schools," Smith said.

-- $1.5 million would be slated for courthouse improvements.

"You had to have things close to shovel ready and a lot of these things we already have designs on," Smith said. "Though I may know I will need something 10 years from now if I don't have a design on it and I know I couldn't start it in 2009 we were not supposed to include it.

"I looked at all of the counties across the state and some of them did (that). But I think you have a better shot at being realistic and this $148 million is fairly realist for Wayne County."

Schools, jails, public health and water were common themes among the requests statewide, Smith said.

One county had more than $800 million in wants, but was vague in asking for the money for generic water, school and jail projects, Smith said.

"Pie in the sky, maybe," Smith said of the stimulus package. "But I wasn't going to take the chance that I wasn't in the mix to get some money for Wayne County.

"I think we are a step ahead in that we have a lot of things already in the hopper. My board has said for three years to get projects ready so that when money does become available or times are good you can go."