LAURINBURG — Scotland County Board of Commissioners held a marathon session Monday in which they voted on several measures, including a new budget.
After a brief public hearing in which no resident spoke, the board passed a balanced budget for next fiscal year that will cut proerty taxes and give raises to employees.
The budget for the 2018/19 fiscal year came in at $41,538,561.
It calls for dropping the tax rate from $1.01 per $100 valuation to $1.
The budget also contains a one percent cost-of-living raise for all county employees and five percent raises for its certified jailers and social workers at the Department of Social Services.
The county has also provide funds to add two additional paramedics and an ambulance to each shift. Those changes will take effect in January 2019.
The budget also includes $316,127 to fund 911 operations, $923,127 for fire districts, 1.3 million to fund both water districts and $2.2 million to fund the landfill. Fees for water services and the landfill will remain unchanged.
The budget passed six to one, with Commissioner Carol McCall voting against the budget because a lack of public input.
Chair Whit Gibson explained to those present that the board had discussed the possibility of either holding an immediate vote following the public hearing or delaying the vote until Monday depending upon how much feedback residents provided on the plan. He then asked the board if they wanted to vote. Commissioners Guy McCook and Bob Davis motioned and seconded a call for a vote.
“While I support this budget, I do respectfully disagree with Commissioner McCook,” McCall said. “When we have policies or any issues before the board, we generally bring them in one meeting and approve them in a second meeting. My position on this is that this budget is being presented to the public and to the media for the first time, and I would prefer that we come back, if only for 15 minutes to approve the 2018/19 budget.”
County Manager Kevin Patterson and other board members explained that the copies of budget had been posted to the county’s website and could be picked up at the county offices on Covington Street. The county also advertised the hearing for Monday night.
There was some discussion as to whether to delay the vote.
“My opinion is, since there’s nobody here to speak for or against it and no comments, to meet for the sake of meeting…I understand Carol’s position, but I’m comfortable, since we have given the folk a nice decrease in the tax rate of a cent…we might as well go ahead and vote,” said Commissioner John Alford.
The board also passed a measure to allow for the construction of a 604-acre solar farm off Leisure Road and Academy Road. After several representatives of Birdseye Renewable Energy of Charlotte testified that they had taken all precautions concerning zoning and construction ordinances. The company promised that extra modifications would be made to the property such as a berm planted with elevated foliage to appease neighbors who were worried about their appearance. And setting landscaping an extra 500 feet away from property lines.
Commissioners also voted on the proposed Firearms Discharge Safety Ordinance. The measure passed six to one, but there was a question as to whether the vote needed to be unanimous in order to make it binding.
In other business, the board accepted a proposed budget and change in contract to provide home health aide services for the elderly from the Lumber River Counsel of Governments. The LRCG accepted three bids for services.
“Of those three the Scotland County Aging Advisory Council met June 1; they reviewed the bids and they came back with the recommendation to go with Bayada due to them being the lowest bidder,” said Twilla Allen, aging program administrator for the LRCG.
The LRCG currently contracts with Interim Home Health of Laurinburg. Bayada is an agency based in Cumberland County.
The board also heard a presentation from Mark Ward, director of the county Economic Development Corporation, about seeking a Foreign Trade Zone designation for the Laurinburg-Maxton Airport and the surrounding property. The suggestion was made to Ward by state Sen. Tom McInnis.
“Scotland County is the only county on [US] 74 that is not listed as an FTZ in the state of North Carolina,” Ward said. “Sen. McInnis contacted me and said I would really like to try and get this done, but I need Scotland County Commissioners to support the idea.”
The designation could increase the county’s odds of bringing in new industry. Ward told the board that he had been asked on at least two occasions by parties considering Scotland County as a location whether the area was in an FTZ.
Having the designation will strengthen Scotland County and portions of Robeson County as far as Interstate 95 for possible investment. The label will allow companies to have their merchandise inspected and shipped directly from Scotland County and the airport to international destinations without having to ship goods to Wilmington to be unpacked, inspected and repacked for shipment. The airport will need to upgraded if it receives the designation.
The board asked Ward to consult the Laurinburg-Maxton Airport Commission to get its input.
Ward also requested that the board pass a resolution to apply for funds from the North Carolina Rural Infrastructure Authority for up to $575,000 to build a water storage tank near the former Butler Manufacturing Facility site to make fire suppression easier. The facility has been purchased by Edwards Wood Products who plans to expand its operations. No county dollars would be needed for the project.
The board also appointed Tony Spaulding to the Tourism Development Authority.
Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169