Jail Opponents Push County for Bond Vote
BY FLORENCE GILKESON
Opponents of county plans to build a public safety-jail complex in downtown Carthage without a bond referendum held a protest rally Tuesday in Pinehurst.
Dubbed the "Right2Vote" rally, the event was organized by Pinehurst resident John Marcum for residents who opposed the county commissioners' decision to issue $50 million in limited obligation bonds, a form of financing that does not require a public referendum. They want the county to call for a bond referendum.
The gathering also attracted residents who agree with the majority action of the Moore County Board of Commissioners and a number of people taking a neutral position on the issue.
"The elephant in the room is the economy," Marcum said during the presentation part of the program.
Marcum, a member of Moore TEA Citizens, ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Pinehurst several years ago.
About $40 million of the bond issue is designated for the public safety-jail complex planned on a 21-acre tract in downtown Carthage. A number of Carthage residents also oppose the jail expansion on that site.
The remaining $10 million is to pay for utility capital improvements in Pinehurst, a debt to be paid by ratepayers, not from property taxes.
Bob Levy, chairman of the Moore County Republican Party; Jim Heim, chairman of Moore County Democrats; and Dee Park, who heads Moore TEA Citizens, were invited to address the rally, although they largely steered clear of siding with opponents because of differing views among their members.
Opponents of the $50 million bond issue said that issuance of general obligation bonds, which require a referendum, would be less costly than the limited obligation bonds, approved by three of the five county commissioners.
Although this is considered a good time to secure reasonable construction bids, the opponents pointed out that the economy is still weak and not likely to improve in the immediate future.
"We may be looking at a double-dip recession," Marcum said, adding that the county should be cautious in entering into heavy debt.
Marcum called property taxes a "not-very-democratic" method of financing government needs because property value does not necessarily reflect the economic condition of the owner.
Marcum also questioned the need for such a large jail and said the present jail is not always filled to capacity on weekdays.
Levy said he could not take a stand on the issue. However, he praised the five commissioners and the sheriff as "hard working servants of our people." He said that voters elect these officials to study issues and find solutions.
"We have five Republicans," he said. "They differ. That's good. In our party, there is room for difference of opinion. We need to respect each one of our commissioners."
Park, who was joined by John Rowerdink in speaking for Moore TEA Citizens, said the tea party movement concentrates on state and national issues and thus cannot take a position on this local issue. She said her group did not give permission for its name to be mentioned in an advertisement announcing the rally.
"We feel very strongly that if you have an opinion, you should go directly to your commissioners," Park said. "This is a country in which we are still free to express our opinions."
Heim asked why the county needs such a large jail expansion. He also wanted to know if the town of Carthage has adequate infrastructure to accommodate a larger jail
"If it's really an asset for the county, I would support it," Heim said of the detention center expansion.
Among those speaking when the floor was opened to the public was William Garner, the Democratic candidate for the county commissioner seat held by Jimmy Melton. Garner said the people of Moore County should be given an opportunity to vote on the bonds.
The five county commissioners were not present at the rally. A few members of the Pinehurst Village Council attended but did not speak.
Speakers from the floor called attention to such issues as the proximity of the detention center to an elementary school and the age of the sewer lines (still terracotta pipes) in downtown Carthage.
One speaker expressed fear that prisoners might one day "terrorize" residents of the historic center of the county seat. Another said the building would turn Carthage into "a prison town."
Yet another critic called the proposal to build the detention center in downtown Carthage "outrageous," representing poor planning.
At the end of the meeting, Marcum asked for a show of hands from people concerned about the proximity of the jail to school children, and most hands went up.
About 60 people attended the rally held in the Pinehurst Village Hall.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at email@example.com.
More like this story