BOC trying to sneak a public hearing on the jail past us | Eastern North Carolina Now | If you ever had the slightest doubt that the lame duck majority on the current County Commission is making extraordinary attempts to railroad a new jail before the people can vote on three members of the Commission then this agenda item should disabuse you of any such doubts.

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    Publisher's Note: This article originally appeared in the Beaufort Observer.

    Here's the way the Elite Media reports this kind of thing:

    The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners will meet in their regular monthly meeting Monday, July 7 at 5:30 p.m. The agenda can be downloaded from the county website. Among the items on the agenda is "Public Hearing Regarding USDA Rural Development Financing of New Public Works Facility." The agenda backup material for that item may be reviewed by clicking here.

    Now, here's an example of why the Beaufort Observer exists.

    If you ever had the slightest doubt that the lame duck majority on the current County Commission is making extraordinary attempts to railroad a new jail before the people can vote on three members of the Commission then this agenda item should disabuse you of any such doubts. What we have here is an underhanded, despicable, low-down and dirty game of politics with your money. A lot of your money.

    Here's the skinny version for those who might have been out of town. The one-vote majority decided they were going to build a new jail and Sheriff's Office. They did this totally behind the scenes. It was never discussed in open meetings. They then voted to build it in the Washington Industrial Park before they checked to see if they could in fact build it there. They learned they could not. So they voted to build it in the Chocowinity Industrial Park even though that site was not zoned for jails. Then they cut a deal(s) with the City Fathers of Chocowinity to give them approval to build the jail there by changing the zoning ordinance to fit their pre-determined purpose.

    They hired an architectural firm that scrambled to produce the plans and document the "need" for a new jail. Trouble was, the "study" was bogus.

    They voted four times to reject requests to submit the issue to a vote of the people, as is required by Article IV, Section 5 of the N. C. Constitution, which reads in part: "....The General Assembly shall have no power to authorize any county, city or town, special district, or other unit of local government to contract debts secured by a pledge of its faith and credit unless approved by a majority of the qualified voters of the unit who vote thereon..."

    So the agenda item for Monday night is their way of trying to get around Article V, Section 4. That is why the notice says "In order to secure these funds to accomplish the purpose of the County, the collateral for securing of the loan will be an Installment Purchase Contract with a Real Estate Deed of Trust on the proposed facility." This is a financing gimmick developed in recent years to get around having to let the people vote on new debt as was the intent of Article V, Section 4. The legal theory of this "special financing" was that the project would pay for itself with the additional revenue it generated and thus not require tax increases on all the taxpayers.

    For example, it was used originally mostly to buy and develop real estate, like industrial parks. The county would then sell the lots to pay off the debt. In some instances facilities like sports stadiums or race track that were then leased to private owners to service the debt. Then the corny capitalists sponging off the public trough came up with "tax increment financing." The idea there is that the debt would be spent for something that raised the tax value of the privately owned land such that the debt could be serviced by the additional taxes the project generated, such as urban renewal projects.

    The trouble is, jails don't fit into any of these exceptions the courts have granted to Article V, Section 4.

    But to get a USDA loan they are required hold a public hearing. That's the circus we'll see Monday night.

    Don't let anyone tell you they want your comments, ideas or suggestions. They would much, much rather you stay home. That's why you didn't know about this public hearing. They wanted to slip it by everyone and be able to tell USDA "we held a public hearing" and if they really get their way they'll be able to add: "and few people showed up." As Rush says, "don't doubt us on this." Here's further proof.

    They're talking about borrowing millions of dollars (no one knows just how much) and they don't yet have the cost estimates for the project. The architects have not finished the design work.

    And you will note that they have published no—yep, none, zero, nada, zilch—information about the terms and conditions of this multi-million dollar debt they are going to dump on the taxpayers. So how do they expect the people to comment in a public hearing on a proposal they have not been able to see or study? Presumably we should just trust them to take care of all those little details—such as how much is it going to cost to service this debt and how much in additional operating costs will this new jail entail?

    But there is one question we know the answer to. That is, this project will have to be paid for by raising taxes or cutting other county services, such as schools. It will not generate sufficient revenue to pay off the debt. But they can't even tell us how much our taxes will go up. Well, they probably can tell us but they're not going to do so honestly before the public hearing.

    The trick being pulled here is to rush this jail project to the point that a newly elected county commission can't stop it. The 1-vote majority is gone when Al Klemm leaves the board. If a sensible person replaces Stan Deatherage and another replaces Al Klemm the vote will flip flop, so that is why they are rushing this so.

    But hold on. A committee of citizens has formed and hired an attorney to fight this taking on more debt without letting the people vote and to be sure all the "I's" are dotted and "t's" crossed. They've already filed one suit to ask the courts to overturn the Chocowinity zoning change And it is reported they plan to file a constitutional challenge to the way the Lame Duck Commission is trying to finance this thing.

    So the public hearing Monday night is extremely important. If the USDA gets the message that there is strong opposition to the project and they will likely be making a loan a new board may not be willing to continue with, it's not hard to envision the USDA not being willing to loan the money now, given unsettled law suits.

    The major problem we have with what is going to happen Monday night is that the Commission has not given the public enough information for them to actually comment on. But as previously stated, that is intentional. They want you to stay away.

    So what're you doing Monday about 5:00 p.m.?
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