“The Times They Are a-Changin’” is a song written by Bob Dylan as a deliberate attempt to create an anthem of change for the 1960s. He has been influential in popular music and culture since that turbulent era, when he became a reluctant “voice of a generation.”
Moore County, the Home of American Golf, seems to be poised to enter a period in which the Dylan song applies to important ways of conducting business, educating a growing student population, marketing our products, and luring our young people back home to raise their families. All of us need to be aware of the dynamics.
In 1900, Moore County had a population of 23,622, according to the U.S. Census. And 50 years later, after two world wars and the Great Depression, residents numbered 33,129. By 2010, the number was 88,247, and in 2016 the estimate is 95,776. People are coming to our community, and people bring change.
Local leadership is struggling to tweak public policy to benefit as many of our people as possible, but diverse goals have led to a hodgepodge of public dialogue, and there is a real need to focus all the issues and then listen to the public.
Recently there was yet another attempt to increase the occupancy room tax rate to help fund a capital investment in a soccer playing field and to cover initial operating losses as the operators work to build up usage.
Attracting players and their families, according to the plan’s sponsors, will greatly benefit the hospitality revenues of the county. Enabling North Carolina law specifies use of the room tax revenue to enhance travel and tourism.
The Pilot’s editorial position regarding the recent rejection of this tax increase by the Moore County Board of Commissioners proclaimed that more creativity was required for the use of any additional tax receipts. While that position may make a lot of sense to some, it is my thinking that you cannot simply raise taxes without defined planning for spending the additional funds.
We are a changing community within a dynamic state (no matter what the ever-present critics say) and it is easy to see that areawide planning is necessary to obtain the best return on public money. Right now, capital investment needs for school construction dominate the public conversation.
Commissioners do not want to raise taxes, and the Board of Education cries poverty. Education funding is derived from a multitude of sources, many of which place restrictions on their use. Members of the public tend to think about their local school and may not relate to a countywide system. In the wings are the assets of Sandhills Community College.
Right now, school capacity needs are critical. Long-term solutions will depend on creation of appropriate county tax policy, state education allocation dollars, efficient use of construction funds, and an open dialogue between the county commissioners and the school board.
The foundation is a long-range school construction plan, but currently the relationship between the parties is rocky.
Maintaining the traditional quality of life for Moore County residents in an era of rapid population change has been and will continue to be a delicate balancing act. Families are replacing retirees, and the need for skilled workers, especially in hospitality and health care, is proving enticing to newly trained professionals. Demographic studies show a relentless downward trend of the age of Moore County residents. Policy changes are inevitable.
I have always believed that public funding for business projects should forestall conflicting programs such as the location of expanded playing fields proposed for Hillcrest Park and for the attractive donated site south of Aberdeen. We don’t need to compete with ourselves using finite resources, duplicative marketing, and energy directed to one audience.
Supporters of the current public/private structures claim effective control of day-to-day business by means of a diversified board of directors that protects the taxpayers’ interest.
My view is that this structure presents fertile ground for self-promotion, may hide possible conflicts of interest, provides the public with no means for input, and dilutes the impact of each organization’s mission.
Walter B. Bull Jr. lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at email@example.com.