Call it turning defeat into victory, or call it making lemonade out of lemons. The sales tax failure in the recent election needs to form a basis for new and more open thinking in Moore County.
Voter turnout topped 40 percent; NC Connect — a $2 billion state debt authorization, passed; fall candidates were selected by both parties. But the vote for a dedicated sales tax increase for school construction failed.
In my view, there are several root causes to this missed opportunity to provide necessary capital funds for new construction projects. Many of these causes are common to other as yet unaddressed publicly led capital projects as well. The apparent strategy seems to ignore and push capital planning under the rug, while elected leadership quibbles about minor components of a single project.
There is no question that the North Carolina governmental system is highly centralized in a state that has many diversified regional economies. Finding fault with a system that puts Moore County at a disadvantage when feeding at the state trough of public money is a diversion and not a legitimate reason for local narrow-purpose policy making.
This region cannot react to change, but must anticipate the future. In order to make those projections, cumulative input is needed and various objectives must be defined. Moore County 2016 is not Moore County 1996, and professional planning analysis is required. The public, a changing demographic, must be consulted for the current list of preferences and a long-term vision created for all to see.
The current Board of Commissioners has accomplished a great deal, and a discussion about the future must be tempered with those accomplishments. Most impressive is the budgetary expense control; the working relationship with our school board; water and sewer capital needs mostly in the rear-view mirror; the public safety center being operational; and closer participation with municipal governments.
Unfortunately, nowhere have I seen a vision for the next 20 years produced by our county elected officials. While such a vision cannot be set in stone, our schools, our business operations and our resort hotels all make their best efforts to forecast, and so should government.
National golf tournaments, for example, are scheduled far in the future, and planning begins today and then is adjusted as conditions warrant. It is the businesslike way that things are done. Why not county government?
North Carolina is in a growth mode, and the nation is struggling to grapple with world markets. Moore County is a player in the state’s tourism business, is a factor in military support services, has become a destination shopping center, remains attractive to retirees, and is a darned good place to raise a family.
Local political leadership needs to raise its sights, think quality of life, and plan for a bigger, better future.
An action plan? Sure, I have one:
— Fund the first phases of the four-school building program with funds on hand in county reserves.
— Replace the past slogan “what we can afford” with “what we need to maintain our quality of life for us and for prospective new residents.”
— Form a citizen oversight group to identify long term capital needs, including a new courts facility and a program to consolidate miscellaneous county offices in a single building. This task force should assist with an action timetable, project preparation and cost estimate review. We have the unutilized talent among our residents.
— Put the sales tax issue on the November ballot and show the public why it may be a better funding source than added property taxes. Repeat the message until there appears to be comprehension among the voters so they can make an informed choice.
— Prepare a 10-year vision plan with multiple source input. Revise the vision annually.
— Produce an annual scorecard of results for the public to see.
The challenge is an attitude change, since Moore County has the resources, the expertise, the tax base, the accessibility, the traditions, a Southern charm, military neighbors and existing great business operations that call this special place home.