Thursday, December 5, 2013


Craven County Board Of Commissioners Meeting 2 December 2013.
Change  of Leadership
This was seemingly a cordial meeting to change the leadership of the Board. Commissioner Scott Dacey's term as Chairman was completed at this meeting, and, after a unanimous vote, the gavel was passed to Tom Mark of Fairfield Harbour. Commissioner Taylor was elected Vice-Chairman. There were well received accolades for Commissioner Dacey for his leadership and well received comments from Commissioner Mark as to how he intends to lead in the coming months. Scott graciously gave me his list of what he considers accomplishments during his tenure as Chairman. We at CCTA are pleased with most of these; a few aren't so pleasing. I'll comment on them by subject matter later.
Chairman Mark stated that he intended to support basically the same fiscal policy that has been followed during the past year. I believe a more conservative fiscal policy should be followed, a policy that reduces the extravagant way the federal government has thrown money at the local level, and often these programs are in areas that the Constitution of the United States does not give the federal government any jurisdiction at all, so the feds are usurping power pure and simple. Whether it's federal tax money, state tax money, or county tax money, as Commissioner Allen remarked last night, "It's all our money!" It was a good observation, but like all the other commissioners, Commissioner Allen unfortunately voted to approve the additional expenditures as long as they do not contain direct funding by county taxpayers.
Chairman Mark also plans to consider "the concerns of citizens first and foremost." I contend that if he really does that, he will lead the charge to do away with frivolous spending at all levels of government, reduce dependency on government support, and lower the burden on the taxpayers.
Lastly, Chairman Mark put great emphasis on economic development in the County. We contend that the best way to do that is to reduce the regulatory burden, tax burden, and fees charged for doing business in Craven County. That coupled with the approach Craven County's Economic Development Director, Tim Downs, plans to take (as reported earlier) can really do some good. However, if Commissioner Mark means to encourage the ill fated NC East Alliance, I think he is way off base. I hope we'll find that is not the case; time will tell.
Craven County Smart Start
Last night, at the first meeting presided over by Chairman Mark, the materials supporting the agenda items contained a copy of an amendment to a Memorandum of Understanding between Smart Start, Inc. and Craven County. This addendum acknowledged a funding increase from $259,196 to $518,392. Smart Start, Inc. is another one of those 501(c) 3 Private/Government organizations that have screwed up almost everything they have touched in North Carolina. Here is some information provided on Smart Start, Inc.'s website:
"Experiences during early childhood literally shape the structure of the brain. Because today's children are tomorrow's leaders, parents and workers, everyone has a stake in making sure that all children have the experiences they need to thrive. Smart Start brings together all the people involved in a young child's life-families, teachers, doctors, caregivers, social workers, and many others-to ensure every child has all they need for healthy growth and development."
Not a word of explanation did I hear about this program last night. The addendum raising funding was not mentioned. The reason for the increase was not mentioned. This could, of course, be an oversight, but the program smacks of Agenda 21, global collectivism, and an "it takes a village to raise a child" attitude. Our parents surely did not consult a village to tell us right from wrong. This kind of government interference tends to be detrimental to families.
DayCare Combined, Smart Start, and Low Energy Assistance Programs
In an agenda item that was discussed and voted on, these three programs (which are outside the appropriate scope of government) received a total of $199,223 in additional funding last night. I'd say Smart Start Inc. had a good night! This was what prompted Commissioner Allen's remark that, "It's all our money!"
BOTTOM LINE - Nearly a half million taxpayer dollars were committed without ten minutes worth of discussion. This is the kind of thing that's so frustrating.
On a happier note, Commissioner Tyson was commended for his key role in raising more than $2 million dollars to send wounded Marines home for the holidays!   We can all celebrate that! Thanks, Steve.
Community Development Block Grants (CDBG)
It was announced last night that the CDBG program had been discontinued by the North Carolina legislature. That sounds like great news. However, I only partially understood the remarks that were made on this subject, so I did some checking, and the information I found follows.
Community Development Block Grant - The budget removes the state's portion of federal Community Development Block Grant funding ($7.2M) for the scattered site housing program in favor of increasing CDBG funding for infrastructure. This will not affect the use of CDBG funds in entitlement cities and counties.
The General Assembly didn't go far enough, but it is still good news. Progress has been made. At one time, I thought we had accomplished this at the County level through the Commissioners, but I guess that was just not to be. Although some Commissioners expressed support for our position on this subject, it didn't last, and they went back to building houses for individuals which is a deplorable use of our tax money.
Craven County Employee Furlough Policy
CCTA won a victory here. We commented that the originally proposed policy gave too much power to the County Manager to lay off county employees for various non-disciplinary reasons. The change requires the County Manager take this action "in consultation with the Board of Commissioners." That is certainly an improvement.
Now let's look at Chairman Dacey's list of the past year's accomplishments. My comments are in blue.
Accountability to the Public
I do believe the Board has listened to the citizens and taken our concerns into account in Board decisions. They also have listened to special interest groups and tried really hard to keep everyone happy. We at CCTA would be happier if the Board strictly adhered to the practice of providing only services that are appropriate for government to provide, leaving charity to the private sector, reducing taxes and regulation, and shrinking the size of government.
Community Housing - Reform of Scattered Site Housing Program under the CDBG Program to implement responsible homeownership policies and requirements for grant recipients.
This was a totally inadequate, though no doubt well intentioned, attempt to placate us. However, the North Carolina legislature fixed it (at least to the extent of state tax money). The federal government needs to stop spending federal tax dollars in this manner, too. The Constitution does not give the federal government the power to build houses for individuals.
ABC Reforms - Strengthened the governance of the ABC Board by expanding its membership from 3-5; Increased return to the county's general fund by over $500k this year.
Yes, this was a very good step. Bravo. With any luck, there should be more annual income to the county from this source on an ongoing basis. If the government has to be involved in liquor sales, I hope it results in a smaller burden on taxpayers. (The truth is it's not a good idea for the government to do things which could be done by free enterprise, but if the decision to privatize liquor sales is to be made, it will have to be at state level. This is not something the county Board of Commissioners can change.)
Eastern Region - Worked with our local General Assembly delegation in support of legislation allowing the County to reclaim funds generated by Craven residents - Returning $1.5 million to Craven County for economic development efforts.
CCTA proposed the resolution to the Board that they passed to ask the General Assembly for this legislation. We appreciate the Board's action on it. CCTA also worked with our representatives to the General Assembly to gain their support for this legislation, and CCTA also appreciates their support.
NOW, I'm afraid the county staff will convince the Board of Commissioners to transfer this money (or a large portion of it) to NC East Alliance. NC East Alliance is the new name for NCRC which took that name after Global TransPark became a dirty word for wasting millions of taxpayer dollars. This new 501 (c) 3 corporation will also prove to be a boondoggle like most of the others have. Joining the NC East Alliance would be a classic case of "out of the frying pan and into the fire" even if it does have state blessings. I suspect the General Assembly hasn't gotten around to really evaluating them yet, but they need to. This type of organization is currently the most fashionable method of putting taxpayer money into private pockets and giving very little benefit to show for it.
Lowered Property Taxes - With the adoption of the FY2013-2014 Budget we reduced property taxes for the second year in a row, reducing the rate from 47.75 cents per $100 in property value. ) Over one-half cent in two years.)
This is a small step in the right direction. Thank you. On a typical home assessed at $150,000, the savings to the taxpayer is a whopping $11.25. MUCH better than a raise would have been, but can't we do better still?
Eliminated Positions - Eliminated and realigned nearly a dozen positions, consistent with funding availability from state and federal sources.
Well, as Commissioner Allen stated, "It's all our money." What was the overall effect? Was there any actual reduction in the payroll?
Refinanced Long-term Debt - Restructured $35 million in Certificates of Participation, saving taxpayers over $2 million in interest costs.
Yes, that was a very good thing! It's a good tactic used by several counties and discussed by the County Financial Managers Association. Thank you for making use of it!
Reappointment of Commissioners Districts - Restored the principal of one-person, one vote and brought all seven commissioners districts into alignment with about 15,000 residents in each district while fully respecting the Voting Rights Act.
The re-districting does seem to have been well done, especially if you consider the effort to keep a couple of Commissioner's residency in the District they were elected to represent.Long Term Management Priorities
Water Expansion - In an effort to meet state mandates relating to our water usage, completed plans, initiated purchase agreements and provided funding for a new water treatment facility.
This is a great project perfectly within local government purview. Thank you.
Eliminated Red Tape - Register of deed, planning, and the tax departments have migrated some services to Internet based systems, allowing developers and real estate professionals easier access to critical information.
This is a great service to all who can use this information. This is the type of thing government can legitimately do to assist economic development. Thank you.
911 Emergency Operations Center - Approved funding and contractors for the construction of this new center.
This is another great project that benefits all citizens and is a perfectly legitimate use of taxpayer money. Thank you.
Jury Protection - With the construction of the 911 Emergency Operations Center, we were able to accommodate the construction of a jury pool room at the courthouse.
No, the jurors are not going to shoot pool, dear reader. The jury will just gather in the "jury pool room" so that they will no longer have to mingle with defendants, witnesses, and the like. Kidding aside, this is altogether a good thing! Thank you.
Judicial Center - With the guidance of our former District Attorney, David McFadyen, finalized a plan for the long-term use of the Clarks facility. We will reduce costs and enhance safety through the use of video conferencing. Additionally, we will make the courtroom in Clarks available for trials lasting more than one week. Together these changes will protect the public and taxpayer.
This seems like a really good plan. I do question the use of the term "plan for the long-term use of the Clarks facility." In my experience, such plans do not last indefinitely by any means. It is a good solution for now, and may hold up longer than I expect. Good work.
Hospice - Approved an inter-local agreement between the County and the Hospital to bring in-patient hospice care to Craven County.
This is just a way to provide a revenue stream to an already affluent hospital that pays no rent to the owner of the hospital (the taxpayers). Such service is already available just down the road in Newport.
Agriculture - Approved a Farmland Development Plans as proposed by the Cooperative Extension.
The Cooperative Extension is a government agency. How do the farmers of Craven County feel about it? Does this add to their regulatory burden?
Solid Capital Construction Account - Using funds made available from debt refinancing and additional ABC funds, we have fully funded our capital construction account through FY 2017, allowing us to address necessary repairs at the Community College and Library, among other priorities.
Is this really good news to the taxpayers who need relief? A member of the ABC Board commented to me when the large check was prepared that he hoped the Board of Commissioners would use this revenue source to give relief to the taxpayers. DREAM ON!
Protection of our Economic Infrastructure
Base Protection Efforts
·  Beginning in 2011, secured funds to support lobbying efforts at state and federal levels
·  Worked to strengthen Allies for Cherry Point Tomorrow through recruitment of surrounding counties and local governments as members
·  Adopted a tall structures ordinance to protect training routes from encroachment of wind turbines and other tall structures
·  Worked with the Pentagon and our congressional delegation to promote the adoption of this ordinance - Reaffirming our status as a military friendly community.
An effort to help Marine Aviation locate an Outlying Landing Field (OLF) for Cherry Point would have done a lot more good. I think the local organizations that fought the OLF have done irreparable harm to our reputation as a "military friendly community." However, I have no problem with what the Board did do, and the tall structures ordinance to protect training ability was a really good idea. Thank you.  
Economic Development
·  Again, beginning in 2011, we began our efforts to redirect our economic development program by eliminating the county's ED Commission and Staff.
·  This past year an economic development consultant was hired (RKG) and a plan was finalized.
·  The County Board, working in conjunction with a number of our community's business leaders and the Community of 100, are working to develop a structure to effectively implement the recommendation provide by RKG.

This is just what I feared.   Getting rid of the ED Commission and staff was a really good thing. It should have ended there. The best thing government can do to help economic development is to reduce government intervention in business and reduce tax burden on business. Our State legislators realize this and are working hard in that direction. Our County government and especially the staff (ever seeking overall growth in staff for government and it's consultants) is working hard to get that $1.5 million into NC East Alliance (old NCER, older Global TransPark) to pay for staff work and administration. You can bet no private business or industry will pay more than a token amount toward that. These 501 (c) 3 corporations do nothing except consume enormous amounts of taxpayer dollars. The Board of Commissioners is not evil here, just drinking the Kool-Aid, but they still appear to be poised to do a really bad thing and WASTE TAXPAYERS' HARD EARNED MONEY.
Tryon Palace
·  Continue to advocate with the Governor and Members of the General Assembly to support this outstanding educational and cultural tool.
·  We are working to coordinate services to avoid duplication of efforts between the County's tourism efforts and the Palace.
The Tryon Palace needs to continue its efforts to become self sufficient. It is a wonderful place, but spending $millions in taxpayer support is unwarranted. It should operate bare bones, with volunteers and a fair price of admission.   Mount Vernon is self-sufficient, and so is Kenmore in Fredericksburg, Virginia. How do they do it? If Tryon Palace supporters can't figure that out, let it close and just be opened for special occasions with volunteers, but I see no reason it can't support itself.
As you can see, it is a mixed bag. There has been some movement toward a fiscally conservative governing body with ideas that match CCTA's mission statement, but there is a very long way to go to get there. We still are headed toward bigger government and ever more social dependency on government. This Board has just moved us there at a slower pace than the previous Board did.
We need bold action to return to a constitutional conservative republican form of government at all levels.
Respectfully Submitted,
Hal James, Watchdog Committee Chairman
Coastal Carolina Taxpayers Association

New Bern, North Carolina

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