08/28/12 — Bringing meetings to the community

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Bringing meetings to the community

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 28, 2012 1:46 PM

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The Wayne County Board of Commissioners listens as a speaker expresses his concerns during a Monday night meeting of the board in the cafeteria at Charles B. Aycock High School. There was no agenda for the meeting, and attendees, who numbered about 25, were invited to speak about any issue on their mind. A second night meeting is set to be held Sept. 24 at Southern Wayne High School.

PIKEVILLE -- No new issues surfaced Monday at a night meeting of the Wayne County Board of Commissioners, with more time taken up by comments from the commissioners themselves than by the seven people who spoke at what was the first of two planned nighttime board meetings.

Speakers, who were limited to three minutes each, touched on familiar themes -- property taxes, education, jobs, county zoning and land use planning, county employee salaries and concerns over problems with the county's new $10 million radio system.

Held in the Charles B. Aycock High School cafeteria, the meeting, which lasted just over an hour, attracted about 25 people, including three commissioner candidates, a former school board candidate and several Republican Party officials.

The second meeting will be held Sept. 24 at 6 p.m. at Southern Wayne High School.

Several commissioners have pushed for nighttime meetings, saying they would give the public more chances to attend.

There was no formal agenda for Monday's meeting. Those who wanted to speak were asked to sign in beforehand. As the meeting ended, County Manager Lee Smith said that those who chose not to speak, but still had questions, could leave their questions with him and he would make sure they were answered.

Prior to the start of the session, no hands went up when Chairman John Bell asked how many had heard about the meeting through radio or television. Several hands went up when asked if they had read about it in the newspaper. More went up when he asked if they had heard about the meeting by word of mouth.

One person suggested posting the meetings on Facebook or using something similar to the county school phone system that sends out automated alerts.

David Langston of Goldsboro said he was concerned because he had heard that the county was considering an ordinance making property owners responsible for debris and grass not being cut on their property.

"Reports are there would be a $250 fine by the county if they decide my yard to be unsightly," he said.

Smith said the issue had been discussed at a county Planning Board meeting.

"That has not come to the commissioners," he said. "It was discussed based on concerns from citizens who said, 'I have a person next door who has high grass.' They are looking at that, but any of that kind of information would have to come back to the board of county commissioners."

Commissioner Sandra McCullen said she had spoken to Planning Board member Zeke Jackson, who also had concerns about the proposal.

Nothing is expected to happen any time soon regarding the idea, she said.

Danny Grant Jr., a retired firefighter, told commissioners that he worried that the county's new emergency radio system did not provide enough coverage for firefighters and other emergency personnel, especially inside buildings. He called the new system a "failure."

Smith and Commissioner Bud Gray, who has been a volunteer firefighter for many years, agreed that there have been problems with the new system. However, the county is in the process of changing the mobile and portable radio units to use new radio frequencies. That change is expected to help correct interference issues, Smith said.

Smith also reminded the audience that the changeover from an analog to a digital system had been mandated by the federal government. The new system replaces one that was nearly 50 years old, he said.

Barbara Aycock of Pikeville appealed to commissioners to remember land ownership when they think about taxes. She said that she and her husband own farms in the Nahunta area.

"Taxes now are beginning to be a big problem for us trying to maintain a farm," she said. "Farm land is going away very fast in our community, and when we tax people to the point that we have to sell our farmland, that causes us not to be able to maintain land that has been in our family for hundreds of years.

"So all I am doing is asking you to be conservative when you are making your plans. I have worked in county government for many years. I know how to put together a budget, and how much taxes are required to run a community."

Gray asked Mrs. Aycock if her farmland was enrolled in the present use program that provides tax breaks for farmland. Mrs. Aycock said it was.

Former school board candidate Joseph Hackett of Goldsboro also questioned taxes, county and school budgets and employee salaries.

"I am trying to figure out with the way the economy is, and the way thing have been going, is how can we justify some of the salaries we have going on in Wayne County, such with our department heads making $100,000 plus a year and some even more than that?" he said.

He said the school system had failed to come up with a budget, and that the school system is failing students and the public by not being able to account for the money being spent

Commissioner Jack Best said he didn't know if anyone in the audience had ever run a business. Best said one of the first things he had learned running a business was to hire people "smarter than you," and pay them what they were worth.

It might be possible to hire people cheaper, he said. However, the public needs to remember that the county is a $150 million to $160 million business with 25 departments.

Mrs. McCullen, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction for the school system, said that school budget information is available online, and that more would be available in October.

Dan Hux of Pikeville said he was concerned about education. He also asked commissioners to talk about their plans to attract good-paying jobs to the county, and to bring taxes "in line" so that companies will want to locate in the county.

Smith that the county had started the Career Readiness Certificates in the high schools to "set the direction." Also, the county is working on the aviation and aeronautics fields by getting local shops certified in aviation work.