LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Board of Commissioners on Monday unanimously approved a $153 million budget that maintains the current property tax and includes a 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase for all county employees.
Under the budget, which becomes effective July 1, major capital projects will include construction of a new terminal at the municipal airport in Lumberton; creation of a state-mandated backup 911 communications center; and work on a treatment plant at Prestige Farms.
The property tax rate will remain at 77 cents per $100 of property value and most departments received about the same allotment as the current year.
During a public hearing on the budget, Steve Stone, the chairman of the county’s three-member Board of Elections, pleaded with the commissioners to include funding for a full-time clerk at the Board of Elections. He said that the workload at the BOE has been increasing and work can’t be done efficiently with just four full-time employees and a director.
County Manager Ricky Harris, the former director of the Elections Office, said he believes it can get by with its current staff until July 1, 2017, but said the commissioners have an option of amending the budget at any time to add the position.
Also at Harris’ recommendation, the commissioners will consider adding $30,000 to the budget to fund Sheriff Ken Sealey’s request to contract for forensic laboratory services with a private laboratory in Fayetteville. Using the Fayetteville laboratory will go a long way in expediting cases, according to Sealey.
In other business, the commissioners for the second time failed in a 4-4 vote to reappoint Commissioner Raymond Cummings to the Robeson County Department of Social Services board, a position he has held for about two decades.
After a motion to appoint Commissioner David Edge to the position failed, the commissioners deadlocked on appointing Cummings or naming his replacement. Those commissioners voting in favor of Cummings being reappointed were Cummings, Berlester Campbell, Roger Oxendine and Noah Woods. Opponents were Tom Taylor, Lance Herndon, David Edge and Jerry Stephens.
Two weeks ago, the commissioners were split on whether to reappoint Cummings or to appoint Woods, with Woods voting against Cummings being reappointed and Stephens voting in favor.
Cummings’ appointment on the board expires June 30.
According to County Attorney Patrick Pait, Cummings will continue to serve on the DSS board until the commissioners decide to reappoint him or appoint a replacement.
The board on Monday also held a public hearing and approved an incentives package for an expansion at the Campbell Soup Company in Maxton. According to Greg Cummings, the county’s economic developer and industrial recruiter, the project, referred to as “Project Butterfly,” includes an investment of $2.1 million in equipment, machinery and building. It also provides for a retention of 889 jobs that pay an average of $12.50 an hour.
Cummings also presented Commissioner Berlester Campbell, a veteran of the Vietnam War, with a framed proclamation recently made by President Barack Obama in recognition of the 50-year anniversary of the war.
During a public comment period, nine people raised concerns about an ordinance recently passed by the Lumberton City Council aimed at protecting the public against “vicious dogs.” Intended to prevent dog attacks, the Lumberton ordinance places additional requirements on the owners of bull terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, American pit bull terriers and American Staffordshire terriers as well as any dogs that have bit a person or pet without provocation. Included in the ordinance is the requirement that potentially vicious dogs be kept in a pen, on a leash or in a home at all times.
Amy Barnes, the owner of two pit bulls, presented the commissioners with a petition with about 1,000 signatures requesting that the county not consider adopting a similar policy. Of the nine speakers, seven agreed with Barnes and told the commissioners that pit bulls are not as vicious as characterized and should not be targeted for more stringent regulations.
Jamie and Steven West, whose son, 7-year-old Talan West, was attacked and killed by a pit bull in January, urged the commissioners to pass a similar dog ordinance. Talan West was playing outside with his older brother, who suffered serious injuries, when the attack occurred.
“We need some kind of regulations,” Jamie West said. “We should not let a dog maul someone to death.”
After listening to residents for about a half-hour, Stephens thanked the residents for their comments but said that the commissioners have “not even discussed” establishing any ordinance to control dogs.
“I think there were some good points brought out here tonight,” Stephens said. “Everyone wants to protect their family and children.”
Barnes said that she realizes that this is an issue that must be handled by the county’s Board of Health, which is meeting at 6:15 p.m. Thursday at the Health Department building on N.C. 711.
“We are just trying to head things off,” she said.
In other business, the commissioners:
— Passed a resolution supporting Robeson Community College’s pursuit of a performance contract that will fund energy efficiency improvements to all of the buildings on the RCC main campus in Lumberton and at COMtech in Pembroke.
— Received a brief update on the $175,000 2016 Essential Single Family Rehabilitation Grant the county was recently awarded. The grant will be administered by the Lumber River Council of Governments.
The grant provides for repairs to five eligible homes within Robeson County.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.