Reading the one page agenda for the Board’s meeting one might assume the meeting would be short. In reality that was a wrong assumption. No one spoke favoring or opposing the Rural Operating Assistance Program although time was reserved for the public to speak. And no one had anything to say during the time reserved for public comments. So what held the attention of the commissioners for more than two hours; the water project.
Topics covered before the Water Board
Vance County Schools’ Capital Fund Applications was approved after a discussion about saving $29,000 delaying installation of the school security system until May 2014. This is a $200,000 project that the school administration submitted was late submitting to the county during the budget work session. The county agreed to fund only $50,500 while the school intended to find the other $150,000 somewhere in their funds. Commissioner Wilder asked how the public would view waiting to install this part of the security system until May in order to save the $29,000. A fair question. Commissioner Taylor, ever the one to be on point, said the school is asking only for the $50,500 and includes nothing in their request for savings the $29,000.
In the Chairman’s haste to move the agenda along there were two motions and votes for selling the surplus vehicles. I didn’t hear a vote to rescind the first vote. Civic and government teachers need to make commissioners’ meeting part of your classroom work. Traditionally the County Manager presents a list of the surplus vehicles or equipment to be sold and the Board approves the sale. This time a discussion started when Commissioner Taylor asked about the auction process for this sale. Commissioner Taylor wanted local residents to have first opportunity to buy the surplus vehicles. Mr. Asycue said we get a better price offering the vehicles to a wider market using the internet. Commissioner Taylor said a lot of people who may want one of these cars do not have access to the internet to bid for one online. After the first vote to sell the vehicles was approved Commissioner Brown and Taylor both pointed out they did not think the motion to sell the vehicles assured local residence would have pick of the litter. So a new motion was crafted on the fly. Chairman Hester had to ask the clerk to read the new motion. Do to the multiple commissioners suggesting wording for the new motion the clerk was only able to read part of the new motion. Eventually the new motion was approved with 5 ayes and 2 nayes.
Porcha Brooks, Tax Manager, presented a Levy Collected Report showing the percentage of collected taxes for each of the past 10 years. From what I gleamed in her report since May the tax department has collected $329,000 (23%) of the $1,408,000 of unpaid 2012 property taxes. Ms. Brooks will present this data quarterly.
This was the big ticket item of the commissioners’ meeting and is most notable for the Board’s lack of leadership of the water project. At the very end of Robert Bernard’s (Hobbs and Upchurch’s project leader) extemporaneous presentation he announced his departure from Hobbs and Upchurch effective this Friday. Mr. Bernard’s replacement will be the third project engineers in a year.
Mr. Bernard shared the news that water pressure at the tank near Warrenton Road is inadequate to keep the tank full. To fix problem the county needs to spend $100,000 unplanned dollars to buy and install a backup pump. Mr. Bernard postulated that Hobbs and Upchurch’s calculation are correct so the cause of the failure is elsewhere. Now for those who did not witness Mr. Bernard’s presentation he provided not one fact, figure, or calculation to sustain his point. This from a project lender who has repeatedly said I don’t know or that is not my expertise when asked detailed questions. When pressed by Commissioner Brummitt, Mr. Bernard admitted that all the budgeted money for Phase 1A has been spent and more is needed to complete that phase. Based on the information Commissioner Brummitt preyed from Hobbs and Upchurch and the county planning department 1,275 potential customer were equivalent to 80% needed to meet USDA requirements. Phase 1A has only 600 paying customers yet an additional $1,786,000 is needed to complete Phase 1A. Commissioner Brown sounded shocked to learn that her district did not achieve the same percent of signups as in Phase 1A so water lines could be installed. Commissioner Taylor bore down asking when the water will begin flowing. Mr. Bernard’s hedge and dodged a specific answer to that very specific question.
The Chairman and the Board need to take control of this project. The Chairman should have instructed Hobbs and Upchurch to provide engineering experts to explain where the water pressure calculation failure occurred and why the county needs to pay for the miscalculation. The Chairman should have instructed the County Manager that all future project updates are submitted in writing with the regular Board meeting packet. The Chairman should have instructed the County Manager to schedule a Water Board meeting for a public hearing regarding the monthly cost for water. I am hearing that water customers will be paying in the $70 range per month. The $70 per month is only double what the county has been quoting for five years. I do not have any notes indicating the Chairman asked for a vote approving purchase of the water meters or a vote to approve the resolution providing for the issuance of $5,627,000 water bond anticipation notes.