02/23/09 — Commission talks about roads, future of fire districts, housing

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Commission talks about roads, future of fire districts, housing

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 23, 2009 1:46 PM

Meeting Friday morning for the second day of a two-day retreat at the Goldsboro Country Club, county commissioners heard about the financial impact of the county's roads, the controversy over a proposed low-rent housing project at Rosewood, fire districts and the need to enhance the county's tourism appeal.

During the Thursday session commissioners heard from department heads. Friday's meeting lacked a formal agenda allowing commissioners to talk among themselves.

The two sessions laid the groundwork for a full-day retreat on Thursday, March 5, at 8 a.m. The location will be announced later. The meeting will be facilitated by Wanda Sykes of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service.

Commissioners are expected to hammer out a mission statement and establish priorities during the meeting.

Commissioner Andy Anderson, who presented a laundry list of issues, told his fellow board members that the county needs to work to become a tourist destination. A center point of that would be promoting the county's Civil War heritage, he said.

Anderson said that the county could enhance its historical appeal by further development in the area of the historic Waynesborough Village.

Anderson said he is working with others on a plan that could create a Native-American museum, a museum and a minority museum at the site.

He said he is talking with an adjoining property owner to purchase seven additional acres.

Commissioners later will be asked for $25,000 to help get started that first year, he said. Fundraisers also will be held, Anderson said.

Commenting on the county's volunteer fire departments, Anderson said there is a "major problem" in that some have more money than they know what to do with while others "don't have two nickels to rub together."

He suggested that a portion of the fire taxes collected in each district be placed in a fund controlled by the Wayne County Firemen's Association. Monies from the fund could then be divided among the departments that need them the most, he said.

County Manager Lee Smith said that several of the fire departments are looking to hire people since they are unable to find enough volunteers. He did not identify the departments.

"That is going to become a cost they cannot afford," he said.

People, he said, can no longer afford to take off from work to answer fire calls.

One option, he said, could involve mergers or making satellite departments so that a department would not lose its identity.

Commissioner Jack Best wanted to know if the county could consolidate the departments similar to what was done several years ago with emergency medical services.

"I don't think the county can afford that," Chairman Bud Gray said.

Smith agreed that there are hundreds of volunteers who would cost the county millions of dollars to pay.

Anderson suggested a work session with the Wayne County Firemen's Association to discuss the issue.

Concerning a proposed low-income to market value housing project at Rosewood, Anderson wanted to know what the county's role was in the project.

Smith said the public needs to be educated about the project and that if the developer can buy the land he can build on it. There is no zoning in the area, he said.

The project has generated a firestorm of protest from Rosewood area residents who have started a petition drive against it.

Commissioner John Bell said he and Gray have heard comments that the main objection is not the low-rent housing but that opponents don't want the children who might live there, notably minorities, at the school.

"It is not a racial issue," said Commissioner Steve Keen, who is also a member of the Planning Board.

Keen said residents are concerned for several reasons including an increase in crime and how property values would be affected.

The issue was on the Planning Board's February agenda, but was pulled by the developer before it could be discussed, Keen said.

County Attorney Borden Parker told commissioners the county had no responsibility other than to provide the same services it provides to all other residents.

Smith said that all the county has been asked to do is submit a letter to the state Division of Community Assistance (DCA) supporting the project. The letter would allow the developer, John Bell, not the commissioner, to apply for a $250,000 grant through the DCA.

The money would come to the county and in turn would be loaned to the developer. The money would be repaid with interest and the county could use the money.

Smith said that commissioners could decide not to approve the request.

Evans asked what reason would the board have to give to do so.

"Whatever reason the board wants," Smith said.

The developer can proceed without the grant to build the project as long as it meets requirements, he added.

Commissioner J.D. Evans noted that the county already has been involved in a similar project, Myrtle Place in Mar Mac.

"We need to make sure we are not picking and choosing," he said.

In his remarks, Evans said there are four areas he would like to see the county work on: parks and recreation for adults, community appearance, a sewer line along U.S. 117 and Interstate 795 from Wilson to Duplin county and intergovernmental cooperation.

Commissioner John Bell said he would like to see a protocol for commissioners so that one member does not make a decision by themselves.

"They can talk to anybody, but they have no right to be promising citizens anything," he said. "You have got to have four votes to get something approved.

"We have mandated that Lee run the county and that is what I expect him to do."

Keen, who has served on the Planning Board for seven years, said that the board last year launched the Wayne County Highway Economic Impact Analysis.

The study looks at how the county's U.S. and N.C. highway corridors affect the county in terms of property and sales tax.

He urged commissioners to work to ensure that the interchanges on the new U.S. 70 Bypass have the necessary enhancements, such as water and sewer, to be conducive to growth.

"As a commissioner I am not opposed to the bypass," he said. "My first thought is how to get people off the highway so they will spend money in Wayne County."

The county also needs to continue to protect farmland, he said.

It is important, he said, for the county to remain abreast of what is going on in transportation.

In closing, Parker reminded commissioners of the importance of keeping up with what state legislators are doing. Bills passed by the General Assembly can have a financial affect on the county, he said.