County to chip in on school study

Bob Shiles Staff writer

October 8, 2013

LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Board of Commissioners on Monday agreed to pay half the cost of hiring a financial analyst and attorney to determine if the construction of a technology high school is feasible.

Johnny Hunt, superintendent of the Public Schools of Robeson County, told the commissioners he is confident the Board of Education will go along with paying the half of the study that he said will cost “roughly $30,000.”

Loistine DeFreece, chairwoman of the school board, said that the study is “contingent” upon there being a financial analyst and attorney to administer it.

“This (technology) school is something that is desperately needed in Robeson County,” she said. “… This will give many young men and women a chance to be successful.”

Proponents say that a technology high school would prepare students for good-paying jobs immediately after they graduate. A proposed design for a Career and Technical Education Center, which would be built on property the school board owns at COMtech, has recently been presented by SFL+A Architects of Charlotte to both the county commissioners and the school board. The projected cost is as much as $44 million.

Commissioner Tom Taylor’s was the only vote against the county paying half the cost of the study. He said there are about $300 million of repairs that currently need to be made at existing schools.

“We can’t afford the repairs that need to be made now and we are being asked to construct another school,” he said. “I can’t vote to spend taxpayers money that way.”

The commissioners on Monday also voted to allow the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs to act as a public housing agency throughout Robeson County and distribute Section 8 vouchers to residents 62 years and older.

According to Ed Brooks, attorney for the Lumbee Tribe, the commission has 500 vouchers designated for those counties in which state-recognized tribes reside. None of the vouchers have yet to be distributed in Robeson County because until Monday the county had never authorized the state Commission of Indian Affairs to operate as a public housing agency within the county.

Brooks told the commissioners that the addition of the vouchers available from the state commission would not reduce the number of Section 8 vouchers available to other housing authorities.

“These vouchers would not only be for American Indians, but for anyone in the county at least 62 years old and eligible,” Brooks said.

Brooks said that the tribe has permission from the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency to construct a 50-unit housing subdivision, currently being referred to as Pembroke Senior Village, for elderly residents.

“This is a $7 million project, with $5 million coming from the Housing Finance Agency and the tribe leveraging the other $2 million” Brooks said.

Commissioner Hubert Sealey voted against the authorization, saying he has concerns about the tribe’s ability to administer and monitor the program.

Danita Locklear, a member of the Lumbee Tribal Council, told the commissioners that the council has not received all of the necessary information about the program.

“You have more knowledge about this than we do,” Locklear said. “Someone has put the buggy before the horse.”

In other business, the commissioners on Monday:

— Accepted the resignation of Doug Murray, the county’s interim attorney. Murray resigned to become a magistrate in Brunswick County. County Manager Ricky Harris said the search for a new interim county attorney will begin immediately.

— Agreed to support an economic development project being called “Project Cartoon.” According to Greg Cummings, the county’s industrial recruiter, the company would invest $9 million in equipment and machinery. During Phase 1 of the project — expected to last 12 months — about 10 jobs, paying an average wage of $23.62 an hour plus benefits, would be created.

— Agreed to ask the state Department of Transportation to evaluate drainage on Littlefield Acres Loop Road.

— Approved the county’s Public Transportation Plan. The plan, originally developed in 2009, must be updated every four years.

— Approved continuation of a Governor’s Highway Safety Grant for the Sheriff’s Office.

— Voted to spend $11,000 to purchase property on Wire Grass Road in Fairmont to be used as a trash compactor site.