Michael Bobbitt: Notes From The Peanut Gallery – Vance County Board of Commissioners

April’s 2016 regular monthly meeting of the Vance County commissioners was a short meeting that accomplished a positive for the community.

Public Comments

The meetings now open with public comments. This gives the public, you and I, five minutes to tell the commissioners how satisfied we are with the county’s services. Or to share our agreement with any decisions the commissioners have committed to make. Public comments can be the opposite of satisfied or in agreement. What is important is the time reserved for the public, you and I, to express our views directly to the commissioners.

A Ms. Tubbs has serenaded the commissioners with her suggestions and ideas to improve life in the community especially for those in their downsizing years. Sadly, Ms. Tubbs was absent from the meeting.

I took my five minutes to offer the commissioners two suggestions for consideration during their budget thrashing process. First a two part question on the 2015 tax liens. Why would the number of properties listed this year (2,908) be 34% more than last year’s (2,170)? And why would the dollars due this year (2015 $1,604,082.73) be nearly 50% more than last year ($1,092,594.80)? I think the reason is in the details in the Top 100 Club. The Top 100 Club are the one hundred properties (owners) who owe the most. Since publication of the tax liens in mid-March ten members of the Top 100 Club have made full payment and two have made partial payments by March 31. I have not seen a similar reaction in past years following the publication of the tax liens.

My theory for the jump in the number of properties listed is tied to the change in printing the tax liens. Last fall the commissioners moved the disclosure date to March from May. Traditionally the tax liens were printed in May. The March publication of tax liens exposed the practice of several hundred property owners to delay their payment until May in time to beat the publication clock. Although some people consider delaying their tax payment as a game; some others may consider the financial penalty just a cost of doing business. The practice is an unnecessary cost to county and complicates the county manager’s task of executing the commissioners’ budgeted spending plans. Following in Ms. Tubbs style I offered two suggestions for the commissioners to consider as you delve into the budget process. (1) Publish the tax liens in January. Obviously monetary penalties are not as affective or effective as the publications the tax liens. (2) Prepare a resolution that future State Representative Garrison can carry with him to Raleigh the State legislature to consider. Requiring that all elected officials and candidates for elected office to publicly state that all their property taxes are paid in full as of December 31.

Public Hearings

Four of the public hearings were scheduled. All four hearings covered economic development matters within the county. Three of the four public hearings are grants for two factories already operating in the county. One can fairly assume that the commissioners have discussed in closed session the benefits, advantages, risks, and consequences of approving each grant. Supporting documents for three of the topics were included in the agenda packet. One can assume fairly that the public at large is unaware and under-informed on the merits of grants. In all fairness to the commissioners’ and interim county manager they have made some strong gestures for public inclusion. From our opposing view of the assembled during the meetings the public’s participation has not followed the commissioners’ efforts. On the surface the three grant proposals appear favorable to both the county’s residence and two off-shore corporations that will benefit from the grants. The fourth economic development public hearing reminds the county residents of two other unrelated economic development grants the golden turkey, Semprius, and the faux paint recycler. The Council of Government was requesting the commissioner approval to close out the loans the State and the county made to Semprius back in 2011. Semprius never achieved even the minimal requirements of their grandiose promises. The $130,000 in an escrow account will be returned to the State. The taxpayers’ money the county commissioners wagered on Semprius probably will be repaid pennies on the dollar.

Charles Hayes, Research Triangle Regional Partnership, spoke to the commissioners before the public hearing started. Mr. Hayes praised the work of our economic development gurus pointing out the new jobs Semprius and other companies they have brought to Vance County.

Untimely Exemptions Applications

Generally, untimely exception applications are strictly procedural processes. In this situation the leadership of Gateway Community Development Corp failed to apply for a tax exception back in January 2015 and are requesting the year old exemption for 2015 property taxes. Ms. Brooks, Tax Administrator, explained that had Gateway submitted their request for tax exemption on time last year it would have been granted. The commissioners approved the exemption effectively removing Gateway from membership in the Top 100 Club for the second year in a row.

Water District Board

The Board of Commissioners heard from Water Board that additional taxpayers’ money (USDA grant) would so be available to put some more pipe in the ground, this time with available paying customers. They learned their approval is needed on a contract for maintenance and upkeep on the two water tanks. They also learned about the DOT’s demand that the water line on Stewart Farm Road needs to be moved to comply with DOT requirements. The big issue cost of water to the residential customer was not discussed again. Those attending the Water Committee meeting the week before learned that the interim county manager has a solution to the water cost that he will unveil at the next water committee meeting.

County Attorney’s Report

Mr. Care informed the commissioners that original application to purchase REO property at 1214 Epson Road was rejected, because the buyer is not current on their other property taxes. That rejection opened the door for another buyer who’s taxes are current. Maybe next month another parcel of land goes back on the tax rolls.