02/04/09 — Commission thanked for limiting four-day week

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Commission thanked for limiting four-day week

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 4, 2009 1:46 PM

Speaking on behalf of local Realtors, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Steve Hicks thanked county commissioners Tuesday for not switching the tax and Register of Deeds offices to the county's four-day workweek.

"On behalf of the business community and all of the people in Wayne County we are extremely pleased that when we called, you listened," Hicks said.

In other business Tuesday, commissioners took the next step in obligating state lottery funds for local school construction projects and tabled a request for county endorsement of an application for a housing grant.

Last month County Manager Lee Smith had been ready to add the tax and Register of Deeds offices to the four-day schedule meaning they would be closed on Fridays.

That effort stalled when Commissioner Steve Keen said he wanted to see data on cost savings generated by the shortened week before any changes were made, and local Realtors and others met with Smith at his request.

Most county offices went to the four-day workweek in August as part of the county's cost-cutting measures.

The Realtor group was concerned the Friday closing would adversely affect an already struggling real estate market.

After listening to the concerns, Smith decided not to make the switch.

People, Hick told commissioners at their Tuesday session, don't realize all that is involved in closing a loan or on a piece of property -- that it, along with the transfer of property and marriage, is one of most important decisions a person can make.

"The people with me today are eternally grateful for bringing this up to you and you seeking us out as well," Hicks said. "We really appreciate you doing this."

The issue was handled in a "very professional" manner Hicks said.

"I think you made a very, very good decision," he said.

Holding his hands apart Hicks said, "We are not like this."

"We have to be like this," he said as he brought his hands together. "We are joined at the hips. We cannot work separate and you understand this. You said 'what can we do to make it better.'"

As for the lottery funds, commissioners expressed relief that the school board had finally acted on the county's pleas to obligate the funds.

Over the past several months, Lee and his board have made it clear that they were worried that the lottery revenues could be gobbled up by a state desperately looking for ways to bridge a $2 billion state budget shortfall.

The school board last month agreed to apply for more than $5 million in lottery funds, but the request needed commissioners' blessings as well.

"We need to thank them for being so prompt," said Commissioner Jack Best.

Obligating the lottery funds reduces the amount the county plans to borrow for school projects from $16.5 million to about $14 million.

The schools have a $23 million project with both the county and schools planning to put up $2.5 million each.

Smith said some people might question why the $5 million did not reduce the amount more. The reason, he said, is that the schools' $2.5 million was already scheduled to come from the lottery proceeds.

"This (lottery funds) helps us reduce our obligation and allows us to move faster," Smith said.

The money will be used for renovation work at Mount Olive Middle School in Mount Olive, Brogden Primary School at Dudley and Greenwood Elementary School.

Having the money means that the project does not require approval by the Local Government Commission.

In an other financial matter, commissioners agreed with Smith that a request for the county to support a housing grant should first go to the Planning Board.

Commissioner Steve Keen, who also serves on the Planning Board, said the project would be on the board's Tuesday night agenda.

Keen also encouraged the public to attend the meeting that will held at 7 p.m. in the county administrative Building on William Street.

During the discussion one man in the audience asked commissioners what affect the project would have on property values.

Those are kinds of questions that could be discussed at the Planning Board meeting, Keen said.

Goldsboro developer John Bell made the request for the county to sponsor an application to the N.C. Division of Community Assistance (DCA) for a $250,000 Community Development Block Grant.

The grant would help finance a $5.3 million 44-unit of family rental housing off U.S. 70 in the Rosewood community behind the Second Fling Consignment Store.

There would be no cost to the county, Smith said.

The county would submit a letter of interest to DCA since the agency's guidelines specify its financial assistance is available only to units of local government.

Should it be funded, the county would use the money to make a $250,000 loan that would be repaid over a 20-year period at 2 percent interest. The grant includes administrative fees.

The repaid money could be used by the county for housing projects.

Smith said that unlike the institutional-looking appearance of some low- and moderate-income housing that the model units he has looked at are more residential looking.

In addition, he noted that it would not be the first time the county has been involved in such a project.

Smith said his concern is that the project would be located in an "urban transitional area."

The project calls for the use of septic tanks, but sewer is preferred in those kinds of areas, he said.

There is no zoning in the area, but the county needs to ensure the project will meet requirements of its comprehensive land use plan, he said.

It is for those reasons that the project needs to be reviewed by the Planning Board, Smith said.

That review is expected to take about 30 days.