County, Towns at Odds Over Summit
County and municipal elected officials found points of agreement during their forum Thursday at the Senior Enrichment Center.
Most expressed approval of the regional approach to water issues and agreed to invite the Board of Education to join future sessions.
But the one thing they did not see eye to eye on was the county's absence from recent Moore County Summit meetings. County leaders said they have no plans to rejoin those dicussions, despite urging by the towns.
"I hope this will be a potshot elimination task force," Southern Pines Mayor Mike Haney said near the end of the two-hour meeting.
Haney was referring to the group's cooperative efforts, including a county-generated plan to hold a three-hour separate study session devoted to water and sewer issues. His quip followed an earlier comment by Commissioner Larry Caddell in reference to complaints among participants.
"I'll tell you something, us taking potshots at each other, it won't work," Caddell said. "It's going to take give and take on both sides."
Aberdeen, Carthage and Southern Pines were among the municipalities listing the county's participation in the Summit among their goals. Other representatives also pressed the county to resume attendance at Summit meetings.
Board of Commissioners Chair-man Tim Lea indicated that would not happen.
Commissioner Nick Picerno said he recommended halting the county's participation in the Summit after attending one meeting last year, while he was chairing the Board of Commissioners. Caddell accompanied him to that meeting, and both men said it was their first time at a Summit meeting.
Picerno said he was disappointed because the Summit meeting appeared to be dominated by complaints rather than efforts toward solutions. He said he could feel tension during the meeting.
"I don't want to talk about it," Picerno said. "I want solutions."
Picerno called the Summit concept "a wonderful idea" but said that until it comes up with ideas and solutions, he sees no reason to resume participation.
"This board (county commissioners) is committed to getting things done," Picerno said. "We can be doers, not just talkers."
County Looks at Options
The Summit is a collaborative movement initiated several years ago by the late George Lane, who at the time was head of the Pinehurst Civic Group. It was co-sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and The Pilot newspaper.
Participants included towns, the county, the Board of Education, the Chamber and such private communities as Seven Lakes and Woodlake. They met periodically to discuss issues of mutual concern and to development solutions.
Lane, who was mayor of Pinehurst, died Feb. 23. Participants at the forum paused for a moment of silence in his memory at the beginning of the meeting.
Southern Pines Town Councilman Chris Smithson cited a spirit of cooperation and good communications at the Summit but said the process has been hampered in recent months by the county's absence.
"The board as a whole does not believe the Summit is the way to go," said Lea, who reported that he and Commissioner Cindy Morgan had discussed their concerns with Chamber of Commerce President Patrick Coughlin and Frank Zamaroni, chairman of the Summit water committee.
Lea said his board did not think the Summit was moving the water issue forward in a positive way and is looking for other resources.
"If you thought it wasn't working, why didn't you mention it?" Smithson said. "It's unfortunate that you feel that way."
Lea countered that the county is trying a variety of ideas to solve the water and sewer problems.
Caddell said that the county has more than one option to deal with on utility issues and proposed a long-range planning approach, rather than a temporary fix.
As an example, Caddell cited a visit to the N.C. Rural Center to seek extension of a $1 million grant to apply toward a badly needed upgrade of the Vass sewer plant.
"We won't lose that money," Caddell said of the Rural Center grant. "We're serious about that. That's a million dollars we don't have to pay back."
The town is in a position where growth is stymied because the ailing sewer plant is operating at near capacity.
Fire District Tax Concerns
Participants spent the first hour of the Thursday meeting on a review of town and county goals.
These goals were developed as a result of a recommendation by Morgan at the February meeting. She had asked each local government to prepare at least three major goals, all of which were compiled by the clerk to the Board of Commissioners in time for discussion at the March meeting.
Several of the goals were shared by different municipalities.
Among them were concerns about establishment of the fire service district tax rates. These are taxes paid by residents of fire districts who reside outside municipal boundaries.
Most such fire departments are based in municipalities, but the districts usually include substantial areas outside town limits and those residents are taxed for fire service.
The county commissioners set the tax rate for each district, and some town representatives complained that the rate is too low to cover their expenses.
Whispering Pines Mayor Bob Zschoche added that it is not just a tax rate issue. He proposed that the county should take another look at district boundaries and also suggested that fire trucks should be spread out at more locations across the county. Zschoche pointed out that clustering several fire trucks in one station did not help to get them to fires located a considerable distance from the station.
Carthage Town Commissioner Milton Dowd said the Carthage Fire Department has reached the point where it is difficult to find volunteers and the agency may need to add paid personnel. He said most residents of his community are working people not available to answer fire calls during the day.
"Carthage covers a great deal of county landscape. We feel we're being kicked to the curb," Dowd said. "This is not just a money thing. This is about life."
When Lea pointed out that the county has a fire budget process in place, Dowd said he was aware of the process but said that when the last budget was adopted, his district's request was knocked down.
Dowd said the Carthage district would like the courtesy of an opportunity to sit down and discuss its financial needs with the county people making the final decisions.
At Morgan's recommendation, the forum agreed to concentrate on fire district issues at the next meeting in April.
Planning and extraterritorial jurisdiction issues were also targeted during the meeting, and there was general agreement that the group should address this need.
"We've still got one of the most beautiful counties in the state, and that's because of good planning and working together," County Commissioner Jimmy Melton said.
Water and sewer issues remained the major priority mentioned by most entities represented at the forum. Other issues included economic development, schools, conservation, environment and recreation.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at (910) 693-2479 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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