Public addresses library financing

Published 10:14 am Wednesday, January 25, 2012

GATESVILLE – As the Gates County Board of Commissioners prepare to take the final step of building a new library, that long and arduous process included one final public hearing.

That public input is required in advance of the board putting its stamp of approval on borrowing $1.5 million to build the library, a loan that will be repaid using taxpayer money.

“In the past we had already looked at a loan at 1.77 percent (interest rate) with BB&T to pay back in five years,” said Graham Twine, chairman of the board. “We will now entertain public comment on this loan to build the library.”

Ed Booth was the first to make comments at the Jan. 4 public hearing.

“We just heard a gentleman (Commissioner Henry Jordan) saying (while addressing the county’s long-term debt) that we need to cap our spending,” Booth said. “Now we’re sitting here talking about spending $1.5 million. Which way is it. Are we going to cap our spending or are we going to spend a million and a half?”

Dan Bazemore said he didn’t think people wanted to hear bad news, but, “bad news is what sells.”

“Here we are talking about $1.5 million,” Bazemore. “I think if you gentlemen go into a closed work session, get this information together that has been proposed by some of these people on the board and do all the fact finding – what’s good, what’s bad – and look at what good overweighs the bad. The people out here that are paying for this want to hear the good.”

Addressing a presentation made at the same meeting by Commissioner John Hora in regard to how much money the county could save by refinancing its long-term debt, Bazemore noted those savings could make the annual payments on the library loan.

“(Those savings) would probably cover more than the $1.5 million loan,” he stated. “If you’ve got four or five of those loans and you save hundreds of thousands of dollars or better by refinancing, and it does not affect operations of the county, then you just hit on something good. You’ve got a way to pay for your library.”

Bazemore said he had fielded questions from county citizens in regard to if $1.5 million was too much to pay for a library in Gates County.

“You’ve got to pay for what you get,” he stressed. “If you build a larger home you have to pay more than for a smaller home. There are some that will say you should only spend $750,000 to build new library, $250,000 to furnish it and take the other $500,000 and not use it. Later on, as the county’s population grows, build a smaller library over in the Sunbury-Corapeake area. Then you’re better serving the people of the county because they won’t have to commute so far.”

Bazemore urged each commissioner to search deep inside themselves to see if this was exactly what the majority of the people wanted in Gates County. He referenced a petition, worked by Gilbert Cherry and delivered to the board, signed by over 600 individuals, which asked for a referendum on whether or not to build a new public library.

Carolyn Riddick said she had a question about the library.

“Why is it we find it so important for something as small as a drop-off box that we can manage to put a survey into every resident’s water bill to be voted on,” she asked. “It’s like a soap opera, every meeting we’re talking about a library. I think everyone is in agreement that something needs to be done about the library, but it’s like we don’t have an option. We have the right to vote on the (drop-off) box (for water bills), but it’s not up to us to have a vote on whether or not we approve a new library or the price we’re going to spend on it. It’s like it’s being shoved down our throats.”

She continued, “Something is mixed up over the way things are decided in this county. I don’t understand it and maybe I never will. I think this has already been decided about how much is going to be spent on this library, where it’s going to be put, how big it’s going to be; it don’t matter, we don’t have a say.”

Earl Rountree remembered an earlier conversation he had with Twine and Commissioner Kenneth Jernigan over the projected cost to build the library.

“Before we voted on the library, I talked to Graham and told him I wasn’t against building a library,” Rountree recalled. “But at that time we were talking about numbers too big, $1.7 million. Graham, I can say under oath, taking a polygraph test, that you told me I think we could build a library for a million dollars.”

“That’s what I told you,” Twine replied.

“Thank you for being completely honest,” Rountree responded.

“I talked to Kenny and I threw out the million dollar idea to him,” Rountree continued. “I can say under oath that Kenny told me that he thought a million dollars was a pretty good figure, but he thought we needed a little bit of wiggling room. I said was $1.1 million, $1.2 million enough wiggling room. I came into this building (on the day the ceiling price was set on library construction) with the full expectation, based on what I had heard from these two commissioners, that a motion would be made to build a library for $1.2 million and a motion was immediately made for $1.5 million.”

Rountree said he found that as an insult to him and to the county, “for them to tell me one thing on Monday and another thing on Wednesday.”

“I personally thank Mr. Hora for going to the trouble to come up with these figures,” Rountree said, referencing a financial presentation on how the county can save money that was reported in last week’s Index. “He’s been under a lot of attacks from people in the county. We need to look at all the options. Nobody has looked at these options before Johnny (Hora) came up with them.

“All of you need to work together,” Rountree urged the board members. “The people of Gates County would like to see everybody included. I think that Mr. Hora should be sitting down with the county finance officer and the county manager in a friendly, working atmosphere. Instead of being in some type of a fight, they need to be working together. As a taxpayer I getting tired of this in-fighting on this board.”

He offered another opinion on the politics of Gates County.

“The government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul,” Rountree stated. “What ya’ll are interested in doing, based on what I’ve heard here today, is that on one hand trying to save money and on the other hand trying to figure out how spend the money you’ve saved. I’d like to see some of that money come back to me as a taxpayer.”

He closed by readdressing the library issue.

“If you want creditability, if you want people to trust this board, then why did we have a called meeting to send this stuff to the treasurer, had this public hearing today, voted on this and sent it to Raleigh,” Rountree noted. “Why did we have to have a called meeting to do that.”

“There was a deadline that we didn’t realize at that time,” Twine answered.

Rountree replied by saying that he went to the state treasurer’s website and discovered there state executive committee meetings and full commission meetings year-round.

“Does one month make a big difference (in the timing of this issue),” Rountree inquired. “I don’t see that it was. Ya’ll need to think about what you’re doing and not constantly putting the horse behind the cart. The horse is supposed to pull the cart.”

The board took no further action on the library loan at the close of the public hearing.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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