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Absentee citizen#8217; misses the point By Jeff Findley 03/21/2008 Unknowingly and unwillingly, this newspaper has been thrown into the discussion of the First Responder Training Center in Northampton

Unknowingly and unwillingly, this newspaper has been thrown into the discussion of the First Responder Training Center in Northampton County.

This facility would be a joint effort between Northampton County and Roanoke-Chowan Community College and would be a wonderful addition to our region, if funding were available.

The benefit of the facility is not at question. I have read the feasibility study and it is quite impressive.

It seems that a recent poll question published on our website, r-cnews.com, dealing with the proposed Training Center didn’t sit too well with Ralph Soney, president of Roanoke-Chowan Community College. The question read “Is it in the best interest of Northampton County citizens for their Board of Commissioners to approve taking out a loan to build a Regional First Responder Training Facility to benefit Roanoke-Chowan Community College?”

After the question appeared on our website for a few days, Soney wrote a letter to the editor taking issue with the poll question. Look to the left of this column and you can read Soney’s concerns. I think he missed the whole point of the question. The question had much more to do with the residents of Northampton County than it did with the community college. In fact, you could have filled in the blank with any project you want and the question would have remained the same.

This is not a community college issue; this is a funding issue with Northampton County. Evidently, Soney doesn’t understand that Northampton County does not have money, tax-payer money, to make this project feasible. No one would question the benefit or the attributes of such facility, it simply comes down to an issue of dollars and cents, something Soney should be all too familiar with. Just ask the many area residents that have lost their jobs at the community college because of funding issues.

Soney was so “somewhat thoroughly amazed” that he felt the need to discuss this newspaper, our poll question and his letter at the public hearing held to discuss this project last Monday in Jackson. Do you really think the people of Northampton County, who would have the sole responsibility to initially fund $1.7 million in construction costs and long-term costs approaching $12-14 million really care what Soney thinks about our poll question? Well, if Soney is “somewhat thoroughly amazed” at our question, I am “almost completely sure” that tax-payers of Northampton County don’t want to pay higher taxes in order to raise enrollment at R-CCC. The additional enrollment means additional funding for the college, while the county is holding the bag with many years of financial obligations.

Soney mentioned that Halifax Community College has wanted to build a facility like this for six years. Why hasn’t it happened during those six years? Because none of the counties/municipalities in HCC’s service area has a governing body board member who also happens to serve on that college’s board of trustees.

The only responsibility that the college would have in this “partnership” is to provide the personnel. I am sure that Soney could find plenty of people from Greenville and Pitt County to move, er—drive, here and work at this facility.

Maybe if more R-CCC’s higher paid deans, directors, and vice presidents lived in the area, the additional sales and property taxes would provide the means for Northampton, or maybe even Hertford County, to fund this project. Soney himself lives in Pitt County, along with many of his management team. Maybe that could be a poll question, directed to the R-CCC Board of Trustees. “Why was there a clause in Soney’s original employment contract that called for the president to maintain residence in the service area, but never happened?” or “Why was that clause changed in the renewed contract that calls for the president to simply have a presence in the community?”

Evidently, Soney doesn’t think the “community” part of community college applies to him or his top assistants. I have been told that suitable housing is not available in our area for Soney and that is why he doesn’t reside here, spend his tax-generated paycheck here or pay taxes here. No suitable housing? I guess that says a lot about the homes that you and I live in.

Maybe another question would be “Why would no one at the college answered this newspaper’s questions when to trying to inform our readers about why their friends and neighbors were losing their jobs; why the directive came from the top not to talk to the newspaper; and why we had to email questions to an attorney in Elizabeth City and then wait days for answers?”

I want to be clear; the value and benefit of this facility is not at question. It’s pretty simple, really. It boils down to money and the ability to afford such a center. We all have wish lists; this project needs to go on the wish list until the funding is clearly available and tax rates need not be raised to reach that availability.

And when Dr. Soney becomes part of the community, he can then suggest to this community newspaper what questions to ask of the readers in our community.