Commissioners Set Priorities At Two-Day Planning Retreat
Chairman Nick Picerno on Thursday called on his fellow commissioners to do what they think is "right for the county" even when they disagree on issues and to improve their relationship with each other.
He also suggested that perhaps the board should consider returning some of the county's tax money to taxpayers.
Picerno opened the budget planning retreat of the Moore County Board of Commissioners by reminding everyone that the board answers to the 83,000 residents on the "receiving end" of board actions and individual comments.
The two-day retreat opened Thursday morning at the Senior Enrichment Center and ends this afternoon.
Concerns about curbing budget growth and avoiding a tax rate increase were among the issues raised most frequently as the five commissioners summarized their goals and aspirations for the new budget year.
There was also a collective emphasis on moving ahead on those goals.
But Picerno, in his opening remarks, emphasized his desire to ensure a trusting relationship among the commissioners.
"That's not going to mean always voting together," Picerno said. "We're going to disagree. We can even disagree passionately. That's OK. It's not just OK -- it's to be encouraged. It's in disagreement that we challenge each other and make each other think.
"Thinking may have gotten some bad press, but, personally, I'm in favor of it. But I want us to have the sort of relationships with each other where we can agree to disagree, try to do what's right for the county and move on."
Picerno did not mention particular differences expressed publicly by some board members in criticism of the present and former board members and a criticism from some members of the public about three members controlling the board.
Instead, he said the commissioners should communicate the reality that "we are a board of five."
Picerno said he invited Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory to attend the retreat and address the gathering. Although unable to accept, McCrory did respond with a letter in which he shared his views about the value of such retreats.
In the letter, which Picerno read to the board, the former gubernatorial candidate said retreats can be valuable, especially for the purpose of enhancing relationships "in a more personal setting outside of the obligations of public service." McCrory said that the economic situation will "challenge us to stay focused on providing basic government services as our citizens struggle to make ends meet."
Craven Hudson, director of the Cooperative Extension Service, is acting as facilitator for the retreat. After Picerno had completed his presentation, the other four commissioners were asked to relate their priorities for the new year. They were asked to confine their remarks to 15 minutes.
Hudson later summarized their goals as including open communications, buildings, holding the line on taxes, long-term solutions to the water situation, transportation, the needs of the Sheriff''s Department and Emergency Medical Services, economic development, and improvement of the computer system.
The commissioners took time to direct some of their remarks to the county staff and to assure county employees that their work is appreciated and is vital.
"I want to look you guys in the eye and tell you how much I appreciate all you do," said Commissioner Jimmy Melton, who is vice chairman.
"Our responsibility is not to micromanage the staff," said Commissioner Tim Lea in his remarks.
Commissioner Cindy Morgan said the county owes it to employees to provide adequate facilities in which to work. She said there should be no necessity of turning an employee break room into office space because of inadequate facilities.
"We all know we're in tough economic times, but sometimes the best time to need good leadership is when times are tough," said Commissioner Larry Caddell.
Caddell told the county employees that he appreciates the work they do and said he is aware of the long hours worked and "the aggravation" that often goes with the job.
Despite their calls for frugality and cutbacks, the commissioners appeared to agree that this is a good time to move forward on construction of the jail enlargement and the office building complex, in the planning stages for the past two years.
"I don't see any reason why we can't proceed with our building plans. So many contractors out there are looking for jobs. It's a buyer's market," Melton said.
Lea agreed that the county should take advantage of the downturn in the market and move ahead on the capital improvements.
"We're missing a golden opportunity at this point," Lea said. "Our problem is that we haven't been proactive in moving ahead."
Lea also said that the county needs to do a better job of planning its tax structure by making sure the tax rate reflects the real needs of the county. He said the county is fortunate to be in a good financial situation and proposed that, rather than paying interest on loans, the county should adopt a "pay as you go" policy in carrying out the capital improvement plan.
Reports on long-range planning, economic development, tourism, and the wastewater treatment plant were on the agenda Thursday afternoon. The commissioners met with representatives of Sandhills Community College and the public schools last night and this morning.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at 947-4962 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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