LUMBERTON — County Commissioner Berlester Campbell criticized a fellow commissioner and a member of the Board of Education on Monday for sharing their thoughts with The Robesonian about a suggestion that had been floated that the former BB&T building in downtown Lumberton be given to the Public Schools of Robeson County to be renovated and used as a central office.
Both Commissioner David Edge and Dwayne Smith, a school board member, spoke to a reporter of The Robesonian concerning Commissioner Roger Oxendine’s suggestion during the county retreat in Raleigh earlier this month that the county should consider giving the former BB&T building to the schools as a replacement for the central office on N.C. 711 destroyed during the flooding that followed Hurricane Matthew. Oxendine said he believes the county could construct a building of its own to house most county offices under one roof for less than the $12 million estimated to renovate the former BB&T building on Chestnut Street.
“No one person speaks for the school board and no one person speaks for the county commissioners,” Campbell said. “We should all sit down and discuss this.”
Edge during Monday’s regular meeting of the Board of Commissioners urged that representatives of both the county and school board to sit down and negotiate a deal that would give the county’s current administration building on North Elm Street and other parcels owned by the county in the adjacent two-block area to the school district for between $2 million and $2.5 million. Smith told The Robesonian there is support on the school board for that to happen, and he was opposed to the use of the BB&T building as a central office.
There are other members of the school board who has said publicly they prefer land on U.S. 74, near a school-owned warehouse.
“Why not let them have it?” Edge said. “In my conversation with Dwayne, if we let the building (on Elm Street) go, FEMA will pay for the remodeling.”
Edge was referring to three county buildings on Elm Street, including the current administrative office, and five parking lots. There was no action taken on the BB&T building.
The county commissioners are moving forward with plans to renovate and reconstruct the BB&T building to eventually house the Tax Office, Register of Deeds, County Manager’s Office, Computer Operations, Finance and Human Resources Departments, the county attorney, and Veterans Services.
An architectural and planning firm, Gensler, was recently hired by the commissioners and is ready to start designing how the BB&T building should be set up to handle all of the county offices. Design work on the project is slated to begin soon.
In other business at Monday’s meeting, Wade S. Greene, who conducts the county’s audit, presented the annual report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016. The commissioners voted unanimously to accept the report.
“This is a clean audit,” he said. “There are no findings.”
Greene said the county maintained a good General Fund fund balance, although at 19.o1 percent it was a little down from the previous fiscal year. The average for the 27 counties in the state with a population of more than 100,000 is 25.87 percent, said Greene.
“You are still in good shape,” Greene told the commissioners. “The state recommends at least an 8 percent fund balance, which is one month’s operating expenses.”
According to Greene, the county’s tax rate of 77 cents per $100 of property value is higher than the average of the rate for the 27 counties with populations of more than 100,000. The average for the 27 counties is 67.57 percent.
Although Robeson County has improved it tax collection rate, it still has a ways to go to catch up with the state average. Greene said the county’s current collection rate is 93.48 percent, with the state average being about 99 percent.
In other business, the commissioners:
— Agreed to donate $2,500 to support summer camps at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke that are offered for students from ages 5 to 18.
Mary Beth Locklear told the commissioners that a majority of the 200 students attending the camps come from Robeson County.
“There are academic camps, sports camps, and entrepreneurship camps associated with our business incubator,” Locklear said. “Also, this year we are offering an engineering camp in partnership with N.C. State.”
— Were asked by Latricia Freeman, director of the United Way of Robeson County, to identify individual properties in their districts that were hurt as a result of Hurricane Matthew and could benefit by being “spruced up.” Freeman said a yard beautification project will be implemented on April 21 as part of the annual Day of Caring celebration.
— Reappointed Duncan Malloy III to the Board of Equalization and Review.
— Appointed several members to the Volunteer 4-H Transportation Committee. These individuals assist 4-H staff with transportation of 4-H members to approved 4-H activities.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.