04/06/11 — County rejects federal stimulus grant to redo controls

View Archive

County rejects federal stimulus grant to redo controls

By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 6, 2011 1:46 PM

The county has rejected a $200,000 federal stimulus grant for building improvements because it is ensnared in red tape and not cost-effective.

County Manager Lee Smith told commissioners during their Tuesday meeting that even while he was explaining to federal officials that the county planned to decline the grant, they kept telling him to take it and spend it anyway.

Commissioners said that "spend mentality" helped create the ongoing budget crisis on the state and federal levels.

The board was unanimous in its decision to refuse the grant that would have gone to making lighting improvements and for heating and air conditioning controls at some of the county's buildings.

"It sounded like a really good project, but now we are revisiting our capital improvement plan, and we know there will be some buildings that we will be vacating over the next few years," Smith said. "As we vacate buildings, some of those were planned for control in lighting and we don't see why we should invest in these old buildings if we are not going to stay there, no matter whose money it is. It didn't make any sense.

"Another thing we found is there are some pretty strong (grant) liabilities because we had a joint effort with some other counties that you could be held responsible for issues in their county. It was a joint application, so if there was failure by any of the parties, you may be responsible, which I did not like."

The federal government wants the regional-type projects that sound good, he said.

Smith said neither he nor County Attorney Borden Parker were comfortable with that potential liability.

The big issue was just cost-effectiveness, he said.

The grants are wrapped in red tape and paperwork that requires hundreds of hours a year just to maintain the applications and reports over the years for the project," Smith said.

In the end, he figured, the cost savings would be $50,000 over 10 years.

"That was not a lot of money. Was it worth the effort of the staff and everybody? Our answer was no. It became marginal, but then with the liability it put it over the edge."

If the county decides to proceed with the work -- at any level -- it will use local funds, Smith added. Using its own money means the county will not be tied by federal grant restrictions.

Those restrictions are one of the reasons the county has weaned itself away from federal grants in recent years, Smith said.

"It sounds good, but is it?" he said. "Now if you were talking millions of dollars, it might be all right, but we are talking smaller amounts of money. The $200,000 may sound like a lot of money to you and me, but in the county scheme of things in operations it is not a lot of money."

In other business Tuesday, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base officials updated the board about the Wings Over Wayne Air Show to be held April 16-17, which could attract up to 300,000 people to the county.

The gates will open each day at 8 a.m. and close at 6:30 p.m.

Aaron Tippin will be in concert April 16 at 5 p.m., and Tracy Lawrence will perform April 17 at 5 p.m.

Activities will include numerous aircraft demonstrations including performances by the Thunderbirds, the Air Force's precision flight team.

Commissioners adopted four proclamations: Volunteer Recognition Week for April 10-16; Wayne County Master Gardener Month; County Government Month; Child Abuse Prevention Month; and Minority Health Month and Public Health Month.

The board met in closed session for nearly an hour to discuss industry/business location/expansion. No action was taken when the board returned to open session.