$100,000 question

April 23, 2014

The timing of the request by Paul Brooks, the chairman of the Lumbee Tribal Government, for $100,000 from the county Board of Commissioners to help develop the N.C. Indian Cultural Center, coming 15 days before an election, ensures only one thing — that the ball will be kicked down the road.

Commissioner Raymond Cummings was right to suggest that this conversation be had during budget talks, which will occur after the May 6 primary and in advance of the new fiscal year, which begins on July 1. That will give Brooks’ request the best chance of a fair hearing, when it can be considered based on its merits, and not on politics.

Brooks says the cost of rehabilitating the 400-acre property to its past glory is about $4 million, so the $100,000 is no more than a start. The tribal administration has already started the process of trying to identify as much as $3 million of grants that could be pursued.

Lumbee officials believe the property, fully and properly developed, could boost local economic development efforts as a destination spot for American Indians across the state and even farther away, therefore benefiting all of Robeson County.

But getting the county to chip in $100,000 will be a tough sell.

The commissioners will argue that the budget is tight, even if $100,000 is a slim 16 percent of a single penny on the tax rate. The county, to the credit of the commissioners and the administration, is in strong shape financially, and $100,000 is next to nothing when there is almost $40 million in the General Fund. The commissioners find money to pay themselves richly, and there is $240,000 in discretionary money this year with more on its way, some of which might be perfect for this project.

There is also the question of the tribe’s competency in actually developing what is forecast as a three-year project on budget, on time and to the satisfaction of the Lumbee people. The ongoing war between the Tribal Council and the administration and Brooks does not inspire confidence.

And finally there is the fairness issue.

The N.C. Indian Cultural Center is not centrally located in Robeson County, and it is much more likely to be used by people who live nearby and who are Lumbee Indian.

That obstacle might be cleared by a second $100,000 gift to Northeast Park, which is promoted similarly as a project that will enhance recreation and boost economic development. Although that is a Lumberton project, city residents pay county taxes, and county residents use the park, which is much more convenient to all of Robeson.

Coupling the two would earn broader support for the $100,000 gift to the Lumbee government, and double the economic-development bang to the benefit of all of the county.