Schindler's List: County Addresses Questions Residents
Inquiring minds need answers, and one questioner attracted the full attention of the Moore County Board of Commissioners at a recent meeting.
The questions ranged from the size of the limited obligation bonds to limits on the county's bonded indebtedness, and from the size of the new jail to the reason for closing so many board meetings to the public.
County resident Barbara Schindler asked that the commissioners send their answers by e-mail, but they responded instead with a special presentation, including her questions and the county's official answers.
"I am a fiscal conservative Republican and a member of your own party, and I would like to hear your answers," Schindler told the board.
In her inquiry, Schindler said that "there appears to be no way to publicly ask questions" and get answers. She expressed no interest in securing answers in private conversations with individual board members.
The board not only responded to Schindler's questions but also invited her to appear before the commissioners at the Nov. 16 meeting to hear their answers. The commissioners had some comments of their own on the points she made.
Commissioner Larry Caddell said that once the public safety-detention center complex is occupied, the Sheriff's Office will vacate quarters in the basement of the courts facility, leaving 8,000 square feet to help ease crowded conditions for the courts.
Chairman Tim Lea said that the board has legal responsibility to provide adequate facilities for county personnel.
Commissioner Cindy Morgan said the county needs an assessment of existing buildings before committing more taxpayer money. This was her last meeting with the board as a commissioner.
"We take the best advice we can get," said Commissioner Jimmy Melton.
Schindler said her concern is that the county does not appear to have a clear picture of its facility needs. She said a long-range plan is needed.
Her complaint about the inability to get direct answers to questions during board meetings was a reference to the board's public comment policy, which says that answers to impromptu questions are not required. The policy also prohibits discussions between speakers and members of the audience.
Following is a summary of her questions and the answers received:
Q: Do you have a plan for further development of public buildings in the county seat? If yes, it seems the public is entitled to know what you are considering. If no, it seems you should have a comprehensive plan before progressing with current building projects. The projects all seem related, and should be considered together.
If maybe, can the public not be informed of the process you are pursuing, and have some input on the decision process? Please remember we elected you and would appreciate your being responsive to us.
A: In 2003, as members of the board explained, a facility needs study concluded that several county departments were inadequate and made recommendations on how much space is needed for each function. Since then, specific studies were conducted for a government center, a courts facility and a public safety complex-detention center.
The board authorized architectural plans for a government office building, to be erected adjacent to the public safety complex-detention center, but later voted not to build it on that site. A study by Solutions for Local Government was presented earlier this year and recommends that a new courts facility be erected on the same property with the detention center-public safety complex.
A capital projects task force was formed to study and make recommendations on the detention center-public safety complex. The minutes of these meetings are available in the county clerk's office.
The county did not respond directly to the "if no" and "if maybe" inquiries, but did report that all meetings are open to the public except when closed under exemptions allowed by state law.
"With regard to development of public buildings, the most likely reason for closed session discussions would be related to negotiation for land purchases," the board responded. "However, all official action(s) related to the purchase of land are made in open session."
Q: Why is there a private one-hour session before every board meeting? I understand private meetings are necessary when considering personnel matters, but is one hour of discussion of personnel matters necessary every month?
A: The board cited nine exemptions to the state Open Meetings Law, including negotiations for land purchases, economic development issues, attorney-client privilege, negotiations for contracts, and information on alleged criminal activity as well as personnel-related matters.
Q: I would like to see the board meetings broadcast on a local TV channel. All citizens who have interest in matters before the board would then be able to hear the public proceedings, and the goal of transparency would be easier to achieve.
A: The board has discussed the possibility of broadcasting meetings, but no funds are currently budgeted for that purpose. Board meetings are available on the county website, www.moorecountync.gov.
Q: What is the amount of the recently passed limited obligation bond?
A: The amount of the limited obligation bond is $41,454,767.25, including a par amount of $38.4 million plus a premium of $3 million. The par amount is the principal portion that the county must pay for the lifetime of the loan. The premium represents the amount investors pay to keep interest rates where they want them.
Of this total, $32,207,899 is designated for the public safety-detention complex, to be paid for by taxpayers. The remaining $9,246,868 is designated for various utility projects and will be paid for by rate payers. The total loan for both projects, with par and premium added, amounts to $55,264,584.
Q: What percentage of this is our current total county indebtedness?
A: 27 percent.
Q: How close are we to the county debt limit?
A: The legal debt limit for the county is 8 percent of the assessed evaluation. The county has legal authority to borrow up to about $919 million. If the county were to ever borrow that amount, the tax rate would need to be significantly increased in order to make debt service payments.
The county board adopted a fiscally conservative policy to limit total amount of borrowing to no more than 2 percent of assessed evaluation. This amount is about $213 million. Currently, the county has $141,526,054 (principal only) in debt. (The total amount of current debt service payments owed by the county, including principal and interest payments, is $204,158,904.)
Q: How many jail cells will be built? What is the total number of prisoners that can be accommodated under the current building plan?
A: The building is designed for 192 beds. The cells are in three categories: 64 single cells, 32 double cells and a dorm-style area capable of accommodating 64 inmates. The single cells can be converted to double cells, which would enable an additional 64 beds for a total of 256 in the new facility.
The newer portion of the existing jail will remain available for use with 58 additional beds. The total number of inmates that the county would be able to accommodate is 324.
Q: Will the jail be built for Moore County inmates only? Out-of-country? Out-of-state? I hope the jail is for Moore County use only. We do not object to providing decent detention facilities for our own offenders.
A: The board adopted a resolution at its Nov. 1 meeting that prevents the housing of federal inmates unless otherwise required by law.
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