Big dollar blessing in disguise

By: Matthew Block - Contributing columnist

I never thought I would be saying this, but it dawned on me that city council’s idea of building an $11 million new city hall may be the best thing that has happened to Laurinburg in a long, long time.

No, it’s not what you think, I have not crossed over to the dark side. I still absolutely believe that a new city hall is the most unpopular, irresponsible and unnecessary use of the citizens money in the history of Laurinburg.

The reason I say that city council’s idea of a new $11 million city hall may be a good thing is because it appears to have touched the collective nerve of the city.

This preposterous expenditure, objected to by 99 percent of citizens, seems to be more than even the long-suffering Laurinburg citizen can bear. The sheer absurdity of the idea of an $11 million new city hall, in combination with the equally absurd $40 million school consolidation plan, seems to be the proverbial straw that has broken the Laurinburger’s back. The citizens have taken all they can take and they want answers now.

They want to know why the city is trying to sell them on the idea it needs to build for growth while the schools are trying to sell them the opposite story, that they need to build because we’re shrinking. And they’re angry because either way the citizens have to pay for it.

They want to know why they should trust the current out-of-town superintendent and his out-of-town sidekick that it is best to combine all the primary schools into one, after we just finished cleaning up after a recent out-of-town superintendent who sold us on the opposite idea; that smaller schools are better so she divided up the high school into five separate schools. At least that mess didn’t leave the citizens holding a $40 million dollar mortgage when she abruptly left for greener pastures.

The citizens want to know why, for years and years, the school system said no jobs could be cut but that now, all of a sudden, because the school board has fallen for the superintendent’s new school idea, the school board says 40 locally paid teachers can be gradually eliminated to pay for the new school. But what does the current superintendent know about all those battles of the past? He wants a shiny new school. What concern of his that 40 high-paying teaching jobs must be eliminated to pay for it. The end result for the citizen is, you guessed it, no reduction in school tax, fewer jobs , loss of their beloved small primary schools and a big, shiny new building they don’t want.

The citizens want to know why the tax rate problem can’t be fixed. No citizen wants to hear the sorry argument, made by ineffectual county commissioners and other well-off citizens, that the taxes aren’t really the highest in the state. Those smart-alecks that run around saying that Scotland’s “tax burden” is actually only 65th out of the 100 counties. Citizens don’t accept that and they shouldn’t. Scotland is the 99th poorest county so we shouldn’t be paying the 65th highest taxes. No other county has such a difference between where it ranks between household income and tax burden. In other words, in fact, Scotland County taxpayers have the highest tax burden adjusted for household income. This has been the situation for far too long and citizens are fed up. If a county commissioner doesn’t care enough or possess the understanding or skills to fix the problem, the citizens want someone who does.

So, like I said, maybe this city hall idea isn’t so bad. The outrageousness of it has unleashed years of pent-up frustration with the way things are being run around here.

Hopefully, citizens will see that if they really speak up and get involved that the things that they don’t want, like an $11 million city hall or a $40 million school boondoggle can be stopped, and the things that they do want, like lower tax burden and preserving their old buildings and schools can, rather easily, be done.

Matthew Block

Contributing columnist

Matthew Block serves as mayor of Laurinburg. He writes a bi-weekly column on the city and municipal issues.

Matthew Block serves as mayor of Laurinburg. He writes a bi-weekly column on the city and municipal issues.