11/21/13 — County to get $1.9 million windfall

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County to get $1.9 million windfall

By Steve Herring
Published in News on November 21, 2013 1:46 PM

Wayne County commissioners Tuesday agreed they need to act quickly to request the $1.877 million in county money now held by North Carolina's Eastern Region.

They agreed as well to use the money for projects ranging from property acquisition to improvements at the Wayne Executive Jetport to purchasing manufacturing equipment for programs at Wayne Community College.

However, Commissioner Joe Daughtery questioned the process that led to the recommendations -- a process that he said lacked transparency and that he had not been made aware of.

Daughtery said he was "just a little bit taken aback" by the discussion and questioned how the board could be ready to act, complete with drafted comments, when there had been no prior board discussion.

The projects approved Tuesday are:

* $420,000 to purchase approximately 45 acres adjoining the Mount Olive Industrial Park

* $426,070 to purchase just over 50 acres on Long's Plant Farm Road for the county's planned veterans cemetery

* $643,600 to purchase equipment for the WCC Manufacturing Center of Excellence

* $352,194.74 for projects at the Wayne Executive Jetport including signs, entrance construction, possible paving improvements, security and fencing.

"All of these are great projects, but my concern is that I come in today and I have not heard of any of this," Daughtery said. "My concern is that there has not been much discussion in regards to this. I understand that is the recommendation, but I would have wished that one, as a commissioner I would have been made aware of those funds being available.

"Two, that I would have least been asked my input in regards to maybe some ideas where we could use those funds. So I am a little bit concerned that we come to the board meeting today with an agenda that was produced last week, and here I am today with this placed in front of me with no prior discussion."

Daughtery said he supports the projects and was aware of the cemetery project and that the county had an option on some property in Mount Olive.

"But I wasn't aware of these others," he said. "I would just hope going forward that we are a little more transparent with all board members, that we were are made of aware of what, in fact, is in the works."

Chairman Steve Keen, who said he and Commissioner Ed Cromartie had been in the negotiations in Mount Olive Monday, called the projects a "collaborative effort," and added that the board needed to make them happen quickly.

"Mr. Daughtery, I can assure you that this board is very transparent," he said. "It is just that when things start to happen, and you are making the phone calls, they happen very fast. This had to be put together very fast in order to get these funds."

Daughtery said it had been his understanding that previous discussions of how to use the funds had centered on extending utilities out to the new U.S. 70 Bypass.

County Manager Lee Smith said Daughtery was correct about discussions to use the money to extend utilities to the new interchanges.

However, those interchanges are in two jurisdictions, the city of Goldsboro and Wayne Water Districts, Smith said. They also were very costly, up to $9 million, he said.

It became apparent that the $1.877 million might allow one of the interchange projects, he said.

However, instead of pursuing such a project, Smith said the idea became how to spread the money throughout the county to gain the most impact.

Commissioner John Bell said that the "quickness" had been encouraged by the Eastern Region.

"Mr. Daughtery asked how quickly we should draw this money down," Bell said. "Legislators go back into session what, in April, and we want to do it prior to that, before they get back into session."

The Eastern Region is being closed down in June as the state moves to new regional economic development agencies.

The money belongs to the county and was collected through a fee that had been placed on license tags sold in the county.

The county is also eligible for a loan of $576.923.08 through the Eastern Region to be repaid over five years.

Smith said he has three or four projects in mind for the loan, but wanted to talk to the board in December about them.

Bell made a motion to request the funds prior to February 2014. The motion also included looking at possible projects to be financed with the loan.

A third portion of the motion was to accept property from the Wayne County Development Alliance and to purchase property the Alliance has under option. The land will be used for a veterans cemetery.

It is important to keep in mind that to qualify the projects must be for economic development, Commissioner Ray Mayo said.

"It is not a matter of the projects," Daughtery said. "It is how we have gone about this. Was there any particular reason this was not in the agenda package?"

Smith said he had been negotiating for the Mount Olive property as late as Saturday afternoon.

"You saw me running around making copies this morning," he said. "I had the final information from the community college at 6 o'clock last night," Smith said. "We literally worked over it over the weekend. It happened very quickly."

Daughtery said he understood that.

"But understand, I didn't even know that the process had begun," he said. "It is the process I am concerned about. Going forward when things like this occur, I would hope that all board members are made aware of it, that we are having the discussions.

"There weren't any discussions with me that any of this was in the planning stages. Yet I get here today and I see that there are comments that are already drafted out in regards to supporting these particular projects."