11/04/09 — Duplin commission continues efforts to prepare county hospital for lease

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Duplin commission continues efforts to prepare county hospital for lease

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on November 4, 2009 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin County officials have received proposals from three management firms in a bid to reduce the costs associated with the lease of Duplin General Hospital, but county commissioners debated Monday whether hiring any of them would be worth the cost.

The commissioners had hoped that hiring a firm to oversee the lease process, in conjunction with assistance from a law firm already on retainer, would lower the legal fees associated with the lease. However, of the three firms, two based in North Carolina and one based in Georgia, the price ranged from an estimated $117,000 up to potentially $445,000 -- considerably more than County Manager Mike Aldridge and hospital board officials had anticipated.

"I don't see us paying two entities," Commissioner Reginald Wells said. "How deep are our pockets? Can we do this cheaper and more efficiently?"

The board will be paying $400 an hour for the lawyer to oversee the lease already, he said.

The issue could represent a "significant financial challenge," hospital President Harvey Case said.

There have also been discussions that the hospital board of directors needs its own lawyer, Commissioner David Fussell said.

Although any legal fees would likely be absorbed by whatever entity agrees to lease the hospital, that amount would probably be taken away from the amount of money the organization would have to invest into the hospital, Case said.

In other business at the meeting, Duplin County officials swore in the newest solid waste code enforcement officer.

Randy Cashwell has been working with the solid waste staff for several weeks. Under the terms of the contract, Cashwell can be shifted from site to site as necessary, director Bee Barnett said.

In recent weeks, the department has responded to 26 complaints and written 12 citations for violations of the solid waste code. The crackdown will continue in the future as the department partners with the Duplin County Sheriff's Office to prosecute offenders, Barnett said.

"When a few of them get a $125 ticket, they'll pay attention," he said.

During the public comment period, resident Rick Summerlin called attention to two properties in Chinquapin described as safety hazards that scheduled to be torn down.

The historic buildings were damaged through "gross negligence," he said, and tearing them down would be "squandering" the more than $150,000 expected demolition costs.

"There's a lot of real estate there," Summerlin said. "I'm asking let's don't tear the building down. Somebody will come along and do something with it."

Summerlin offered to make a bid on the property itself, but Board Chairman Cary Turner pointed out that for six months the county had advertised the property for sale for $1 to anyone who could develop it. No one came forward then, he said.

"They couldn't do it," Turner said. "The problem we're having is we can't get any takers, even for $1."

And the safety issue could not be resolved by some of Summerlin's suggestions, such as putting up a chain-link fence, he said.

"If any child gets hurt in that building, we're going to have a lawsuit and it's going to cost a lot more than $156,000," Turner said.

However, he did agree with Summerlin that the school had been neglected, he said.

"I do hate to tear down a historical building, more than anything," Turner said.

Resident Jimmy Dixon also spoke during the public comment period, drawing attention to the recent protest against the school superintendent Dr. Wiley Doby.

In other business, the commissioners unanimously approved a motion to designate Duplin County as an economic recovery zone.

The move will allow the county access to federal recovery zone bond money, development alliance committee director Heather Beard said. Ms. Beard has spent the past weeks attending webinars and meetings with other agencies over the past several weeks to understand the way the program will work.

The county has not been granted or applied for the money, but the vote was the first step in the process of accessing those funds, she said.