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  • Allen Turner

Commissioners to pass budget, discuss economic development

The Columbus County Board of Commissioners tonight will pass a proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 and go behind closed doors for a discussion of economic development matters, said to involve Project Black – the unnamed company that wants to locate on the former Georgia-Pacific site – but before tackling those heavier issues will honor two Whiteville High School athletic teams who distinguished themselves in recent state playoffs.

Commissioners had been scheduled to adopt the county’s new budget for $69,764,383 in expenditures and $71,806,510 in revenues at their June 5 meeting, but delayed action because both Commissioner Charles McDowell and County Manager Bill Clark could not attend because of out-of-county family issues. Because, by law, the budget doesn’t have to be adopted until June 30, commissioners decided to wait until both McDowell and Clark, who developed the proposed budget with input from commissioners and department heads, could be present.

The new budget expected to be adopted Monday is for the fiscal year beginning July 1 and keeps the county’s ad valorem property tax rate at 80.5 cents per $100 of property evaluation.

At the end of Monday’s meeting, the board is set to go into a closed session to discuss economic development matters. Although neither would comment for attribution, two commissioners confirmed that the discussion will center on whether to extend the deadline by which Project Black, an unnamed firm that wants to recycle railroad ties here and which has said it would create 140 new jobs, must make good on its plan to purchase from the county the site of the former Georgia-Pacifi c industrial operation between Whiteville and Chadbourn.

The county purchased the 115-acre property after Georgia-Pacifi c made known its plan to scrap the site if the company couldn’t sell it, a move that would have had serious negative impact on the value of the property.

K n ow i n g o f P r o j e c t Black’s interest and the potential creation of so many new jobs, the county decided to purchase the land to keep Georgia-Pacifi c from scrapping the property. Commissioners decided on Nov. 21, 2016 in a split 6-1 vote to purchase the property from Georgia Pacifi c for $1,896,000. Only James Prevatte, now the commission chairman, voted against the purchase, which was fi nalized on Dec. 20. The property has a tax value of $1,017,400.

Project Black has has delayed purchasing the property from the county for an undisclosed sum, and commissioners have given them until June 30 to fi nalize the buy, after which the county has said it would begin negotiating with other unnamed potential buyers who have expressed interest in the property to the county’s economic developer, Gary Lanier.

It is against that backdrop that commissioners will go behind closed doors Monday, as is permitted by state law for discussion of economic development matters, to talk about what to do. Sources indicate that at least two commissioners are known to favor extending Project Black’s deadline to buy the property from the county. Although the discussion on whether to grant an extension will take place in private, commissioners must return to open session Monday night before taking votes on whether to extend the purchase deadline.

Earlier, near the beginning of their 6:30 p.m. Monday meeting, commissioners are expected to pass resolutions of appreciation and recognition to the Whiteville High School baseball and softball teams.

The men’s baseball team won the state 1-A championship in Raleigh earlier this month, while the women’s softball team won the east regional championship before losing their state championship game in an extra-innings heartbreaker. Members of both teams are expected to attend the commissioners’ meeting Monday.

Commissioners also are expected to adopt a resolution supporting the installation of fl ashing lights or other safety devices at the intersection of SR 1508 (Macedonia Rd.) and U.S. 74, the scene of multiple fatal and non-fatal traffic accidents in recent months.

The board also will consider a request to allow the Dept. of Aging to accept $523,168 in Home and Community Care Block Grant (HCCBG) fun ds for the upcoming fiscal year. A local match of $58,129 would be required. The money will be used for in-home services to clients, home-delivered meals and meals served at senior centers, housing/home improvements, senior center operations and information and counseling services to seniors.

They also will consider a revision of allocations for HCBG for funds for the fiscal year that ends June 30 to permit moving monies from one program to another to make sure the county uses all funds that have been set aside for Columbus County for the current fiscal year.

In other business Monday, commissioners will receive departmental updates from DSS Director Algernon McKenzie and Library Director Morris Pridgen.

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