RALEIGH — Laurinburg will move ahead with building a new $9.1 million City Hall and police station after state officials approved the city’s financing plan on Tuesday.
The North Carolina Local Government Commission also gave the thumbs up Tuesday to a request from Scotland County for $24 million in general obligation bonds for school consolidation and other projects.
The nine-member commission, which is under the N.C. State Treasurer’s Office, said the city and county had met the state’s financial feasibility requirements for the projects.
About 45 Scotland County residents crammed into the conference room at the Longleaf Building for the hearing that took almost two hours. Members of the Scotland County school board, county commissioners, Laurinburg City Council, business leaders and residents for and against the projects attended the meeting in Raleigh.
The state panel heard from two supporters and two opponents for each of the local projects before voting.
Laurinburg Mayor Matthew Block and Laurinburg attorney Michael Schmidt represented those opposed to the municipal complex before the commission. Jay Todd with Service Thread in Laurinburg and Charles Marshall, an attorney for the city, spoke in favor.
Block, a long-time critic of the City Hall project, said a new complex is opposed by the majority of Laurinburg residents because it is too costly and unneeded.
He asked the commission to table its vote until after the November municipal elections which is “weeks away.”
“Ninety-nine percent of the citizens I have come across are against the City Hall,” Block said.
Todd disagreed, saying that most supporters of the project have remained silent because of the virulent social media attacks on those who do speak in favor.
“This local and small opposition group is not supported nor endorsed by the city’s business community,” Todd said. “I support the project for many reasons, primarily because our city deserves more than an outdated, aging eyesore.”
But commission members said the decision would be based on financial feasibility, not political popularity.
Ronald Penny, secretary of the state Department of Revenue, told Block that the citizens that he says are opposed to the project are likely the same ones that voted for the representatives on the current city council.
“Elections have consequences,” Penny said.
Supporters of the 19,900-square-foot complex that will house the all city departments said they were pleased with the commission’s decision.
“We feel we are in the best position to finance this facility than we will ever be,” said council member J.D. Willis, who spoke on behalf of council at Tuesday’s meeting.
Block declined comment to The Laurinburg Exchange after the commission’s vote.
The Local Government Commission also approved a request by Scotland County for $24 million to expand Laurel Hill and Sycamore Lane elementary schools; renovate the former Morgan Center for Richmond Community College’s campus; and to refinance a water bond to a lower interest rate.
Under the plan, two elementary schools would close and the district would spend $14.6 million to expand Laurel Hill and Sycamore Lane Elementary schools. The RCC project will cost about $2.5 million and refinancing the water bonds will cost another $6.1 million.
The county said the project will not raise taxes.
Block also spoke in opposition to the county plan that the state was reconsidering after the mayor appealed a committee decision approving the bonds in September.
Block told the commission on Tuesday that the vast majority of Scotland County residents are against the projects and he had a petition with 1,000 signatures to prove it.
“I don’t know how you expect us to make decisions on hearsay when you bring me a list of signatures that say they are against it, when someone else brings me a list saying they are for it,” state Auditor Beth Wood said.
Block replied that he could have a petition with 8,000 signatures on Wood’s desk by November.
“I cannot begin to know who many people are against this because they don’t have children or are just looking at themselves,” Wood said. “My job is to look at if the county is fiscally stable.”
School board Chair Jeff Byrd and county commissioner Chair Carol McColl spoke to the board in favor of the county projects.
Reach Nolan Gilmour at 910-506-3171