Brown advocates for unified Vance government

Joint Meeting

The Henderson City Council and the Vance County Board of Commissioners met in the Bank of America Conference Room on Garnett Street yesterday at 3:00 p.m.

The meeting was attended by the full County Commission, along with County Manager Jerry Ayscue. On the City’s behalf, all members were present except Henderson Mayor Clem Seifert and Henderson City Council members Bernard Alston and Garry Daeke. City Manager Jerry Moss was also present at the meeting.

Mayor Pro-Tem Ranger Wilkerson chaired the meeting. After he established ground rules of no public speakers and no talking over one another, the meeting began in earnest.

Departing from the four-item agenda, Henderson City Council member Lonnie Davis moved that quarterly meetings between the two bodies be established. At County Commission Chair Deborah Brown’s suggested, the item was moved to the fifth point on the agenda.

The first item discussed was the funding of joint City/County programs. Moss began the discussion by saying that everyone was “surprised” when a 12.5% cut in jointly funded programs was proposed in the City budget.

Joint Meeting
County Commissioner Terry Garrison, Henderson City Council member Bobby Gupton, and City Manager Jerry Moss

Moss stated that a solution needs to be worked out regarding jointly funded programs, even though contracts exist. He said that the contracts should be reviewed to see if they should continue to be funded in the same manner.

The City Manager presented this document to illustrate the history of jointly funded programs over the last five fiscal years.

“It is a considerable amount of money,” Moss said.

Moss said that he would love to see a group review the joint funding arrangements and make recommendations back to their respective boards. He expressed the opinion that the grouping of the full bodies was too large a group to do the review.

The City Manager acknowledged that the County has more at stake than the City, since Henderson wants to reduce funding and have the County take on the full funding obligation.

“The county says the city was formed in the county,” Moss said. “The city says that the city is in the county.”

Moss expressed a wish that all County residents pay an equal share to support the programs.

When Brown asked what programs Moss wanted to re-examine, Moss replied, “All of them.” He then narrowed his focus down to the library, the recreation program, 911, and the Board of Elections, characterizing the others as “pretty small”.

Regarding the Board of Elections, Moss claimed that the Henderson budget for elections has grown disproportionately to that of Vance. He said that some polling stations need to be combined due to lack of use.

When Commissioner Danny Wright summarized Moss’ remarks by saying, “The city goes down; the county goes up,” Moss replied with the argument that City residents pay twice for the same services provided by jointly funded programs.

Moss concluded his remarks by stating that “putting it over time may be best”.

Joint Meeting
City Council member Elissa Yount, County Commissioner Scott Hughes, and Henderson Mayor Pro-Tem Ranger Wilkerson

County Commissioner Scott Hughes began his remarks on the issue by stressing that he was stating his opinion, not that of his Board. He also acknowledged that his district is entirely within the city.

Hughes said that he agreed with Moss’ remarks regarding the library and the Recreation Department, but not regarding the 911 Call Center. He said that 911 and the Board of Elections needed to be funded by where the service is used.

Moss later told Hughes that Halifax County has “the best formula” for calculating cost between the county and its municipalities.

Brown suggested that the boards’ respective intergovernmental committees should handle looking at the issue. She said it would help in the short term.

“Where do we want to go long term?” Brown asked rhetorically. “This county is too small in size and number to be divided on any issue.”

Stating that she represents Vance County residents as a whole, she suggested that real consideration be given to merging [the two] governments.

Brown cited the merging of Vance’s school boards as an exemplar.

Henderson City Council member Bobby Gupton agreed with Brown, stating that it “would solve a lot of problems”.

Joint Meeting
(From left to right)County Commissioner Dan Brummitt, Henderson City Council member Elissa Yount, County Commissioner Scott Hughes, Henderson Mayor Pro-Tem Ranger Wilkerson, Henderson City Council member Lynn Harper, and City Clerk Dianne White

After stating a need for “accurate numbers”, County Commissioner Dan Brummitt argued that the City benefits from ad valorum taxes imposed on businesses within the City that are patronized by County residents; to wit, the City has the advantage of tax revenue through the money the businesses take in from those who live in the County.

County Commissioner Terry Garrison stated the opinion that the whole discussion stems from “an inadequate budget funding level in the city.” He joined Brown in advocating for the merging of City and County government.

Stating that joint projects were founded on the realization that the governments could only provide those services if they partnered, he argued that counties must exist by state law, while the incorporation of a city is “voluntary”.

After calling her Board to order, Brown entertained a motion that the governments’ respective intergovernmental committees meet to discuss the joint funding issue. It passed unanimously.

The County’s Intergovernmental Committee consists of Terry Garrison, Scott Hughes, and Tim Pegram.

The City Council passed an identical motion without opposition.

Brown asked that the committees also look at the funding of the Vance County Animal Control. She noted that it is an entirely county-funded operation, and that 50% of the calls are in the city limits.

Moving on to the subject of tax collection, Moss acknowledged that both the County and City have faced “tough times” in the last eight to ten years. He went on to say that there are remedies for delinquent taxpayers such as levies against bank accounts, foreclosure, and the selling of property at public auction that should be used.

Moss noted that five percent of uncollected taxes would have amounted to $200,000 for the City. He said that it “would get us over the hump” in this year’s budget.

The City Manager said he would like to see “a more aggressive approach” to collecting taxes.

Gupton remarked that the tax collection contract between the City and County states that tax delinquencies over two years old shall be reported to a delinquent tax attorney.

Joint Meeting
Henderson City Council member Mary Emma Evans and County Manager Jerry Ayscue

Ayscue replied that the County continues to collect money, but not in a timely fashion. He also said that the County was pleased to see a small increase in tax collection.

The increase this year was one-half of one percent.

The County Manager also stated that the foreclosure process has been accelerated. He added, however, that frequently properties do not generate enough to pay delinquent taxes.

He also noted that if the properties do not sell, the City and County are “stuck” with them.

Ayscue also told the boards that debt set-off, wage garnishment, and other collection measures have been taking place.

Tax Collector Sam Jones told the boards that 120 properties are currently in foreclosure, half of which are in the city limits. He also stated that collection efforts are being aimed at those who are four or more years delinquent.

Gupton told Jones that there are businesses in Henderson that owe $50,000 or more, two of which are rental companies.

Brummitt suggested that the matter also be moved to committee.

Brown said that the contract between the City and County may need to be looked at. She suggested that the committees review the contract when they meet.

Garrison noted that the economy took a “nose-dive” in 1990 and never recovered. He said that 45% of Vance’s population is eligible for Medicaid.

Henderson City Council member Elissa Yount said that the City was not asking the County to change policy, but rather to collect City taxes according to the contract.

Hughes agreed that there was a need to “stick to the contracts” until the committees review them.

Danny Wright stated a correlation between high poverty rates and tax collection. He stated a need for compassion.

When the discussion turned to the disposition of the Armory, old library, and the Southern National Bank, Wilkerson stated a need to hear the proposals from the County.

Ayscue stated that the City and County have agreed to sell the Armory and split the proceeds 50/50.

As to the disposition of the old library, Ayscue cited a City disagreement with the appraised value. It was previously agreed that an out-of-town firm would do the appraisal and, once done, the County would purchase the City’s interest in it.

Both the City and County agreed to sell the Southern National Bank and give the proceeds to the Vance County Historical Society for the construction of display kiosks and relocation to McGregor Hall.

Yount expressed a desire that the former bank be preserved as a possible high speed rail station. Garrison said that it should be preserved only if funds could be obtained to restore and maintain it.

It was determined that the point was moot, since both boards had already voted on the issue.

A motion to have both managers retain appraisers and realty companies was passed unanimously by both boards.

The last item on the prepared agenda was that of water sales to Vance County. Moss stated a need to know what the water requirements for Vance County would be in the next 25-30 years.

Hughes asked at what point the Kerr Lake Regional Water System would reach capacity.

Moss responded that the water plant can pump 10 million gallons per day and is currently pumping 6.5 million gallons per day. He added that with the sale of water to Oxford to re-sell to Creedmore, it would go up to 9 million gallons per day.

Under the new water storage contract with the Army Corps of Engineers, Henderson has the right to draw 20 million gallons per day, Moss noted. He also noted that it came with a bill of $187,000 per year for the next twenty years.

The debt is on the City’s books because the regional water system does not have the ability to borrow money.

The new water storage contract gives the regional water system the right to the water itself and differs from a water storage contract in that respect. The previous contract did not guarantee that there would be water to draw, especially in a drought.

The boards discussed legislation currently pending in the state Assembly that could curtail inter-basin transfers of water, thus impeding the sale of water.

Hughes suggested that water might better be kept in Vance to help draw industry to the County.

Gupton said he was not in favor of “hoarding” water.

Danny Wright suggested that the matter once again be referred to the intergovernmental committees.

Before both boards agreed to quarterly meetings, Moss stated that the meeting was “the best, most productive meeting I’ve been to in 30 years.”

Moss said that the success of the meeting shows the media that [the governments] can get into a room without “scrapping”.