Board balks at supporting new Mideast office

Published 3:16 pm Sunday, February 2, 2014

WINTON -No one’s calling it, “Just looking for a home”.

The Mideast Commission, part of the North Carolina Regional Council of Governments, and which consists of the counties of Bertie, Hertford, Martin, Beaufort, and Pitt, and nine municipalities within those counties, is seeking to borrow money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to purchase land for a permanent office facility.

Currently, the MEC offices are housed in Washington, in Beaufort County, on John Small Avenue, and the Commission rents that space with the five counties all contributing to the tenancy.

At a recent meeting of the Hertford County Commissioners, county manager Loria Williams informed her board that the Local Government Commission (LGC) wants MEC members to enter into an inter-local agreement to approve the USDA loan.

“As part of their financial wherewithal they (MEC) work on behalf of counties,” Williams stated. “We give them an annual appropriation, but they also administer a lot of programs in the counties which make up their revenue stream.

“They (LGC) are recommending that the counties buy into their construction project,” Williams added.

As Williams stated the desire of the MEC to proceed with this project, it produced a discussion among the Hertford County Commissioners, including a sense of skepticism from Howard Hunter III, who serves on the Mideast Commission Board of Directors’ Executive Committee.

“I still have contact with some of the commission members,” Hunter said, “and some of them do not like the idea of the Mideast Commission owning a building. They (MEC) have rented for years, and they should continue to rent, and I feel the same way.

A space-needs study done by the Greenville-based Wooten Company in 2010 showed the need for additional office space.

“They looked at an old, historic building that it’s going to take a lot to renovate; they looked at a building in Williamston where we meet now for Workforce Development and for the full board meetings,” Hunter continued.

“I thought that was a better suggestion (the Williamston location),” he added, “but now it’s getting political.”

Hunter said he favors renting over Hertford County assisting in obtaining the necessary funds for a completely new facility.

Commissioner Ronald Gatling inquired as to how the vote went among the MEC Board as to whether to build.  Hunter said it seems the renovation of the historic building in BeaufortCounty is what the group favored.

“Either, that board has voted to move forward,” said Williams. “Or that board has voted to get advice or explore the possibilities.”

Williams stressed that the inter-local agreement is still in the planning stage and that the MEC wants the counties to think about what action each county will take.

“For your consideration it’s not what they’re doing, it’s if you’re going to sign off on this agreement that (the Local Government Commission) is requiring for them to move forward,” she added.

Williams pointed out that the resolution the MEC has sent to the counties indicates the group’s Policy Board has approved borrowing the money from USDA, and the amount they desire to borrow is $3 million.

County attorney Charles Revelle spoke up about the length of time the MEC is looking to finance such a loan.

“If this is USDA financing, and it’s like a 30-or-40 year loan, then you are essentially committing to the funding for that period of time,” Revelle said. “And legislatures change over time.

“It’s hard to have that kind of time frame horizon on borrowing and building versus renting,” Revelle added.” You don’t want to get locked into something 30 or 40 years.”

Hunter concluded the discussion by making a motion that the Hertford County Board of Commissioners not enter into an inter-local agreement for the MEC building project, and it was seconded by Gatling.

When Chairman Bill Mitchell called for a vote, the motion passed, despite Commissioner Johnny Ray Farmer casting a no vote.

Williams then signed the letter expressing Hertford County’s decision to not support the agreement, and the county’s reply was returned to Mideast Commission Executive Director, Timothy Baynes before Jan. 15.