Promise kept

Published 7:44 am Monday, February 24, 2014

WINDSOR – It’s been nearly six years, but Bertie County’s word is its bond.

At their meeting here Monday, the county’s Board of Commissioners voted to reimburse the Choanoke Area Development Association’s IDA program for $12,000 toward completion of an original $25,000 commitment made by the county to CADA back in 2008.

In 2008, CADA Director, Sallie Surface, asked Bertie County to contribute $5000 a year to the IDA program.

IDA’s, or Individual Development Accounts, are the centerpiece of an asset-based strategy designed to build an escape from poverty for low to moderate income families and foster responsible home ownership.  An IDA is a matched savings account that is intended to jump-start the savings process for those families desiring to purchase homes and help modest income families’ progress down the path of prosperity.

IDA’s currently provides a 2:1 savings match: CADA matches $1,000, providing the participant with $3,000 for a home’s closing cost, and the money is only issued at closing.  Participants must be at least 18 years old, their household income cannot exceed 200 percent of poverty, and the deposits must come from earned household income.

In 2008 the Commissioners approved this expenditure and over the five years of the agreement 12 new homeowners in Bertie County have received funding from CADA within the IDA program for a total of $12,000.

In October of last year at the commissioner’s meeting held at the Midway/Merry Hill Community Building, the Board was told that $1,000 had been used for the program, bringing the total re-imbursement by the county to $13,000 of the $25,000 total.

At that October meeting, Surface appeared before the Board and requested the balance, which at that time did not include the additional $1,000, be used to extend the county’s participation in the program until June of 2014.

Meanwhile, at the same meeting, county Finance Director William Roberson said that according to county records the county had issued $1,000 in 2008, so only $24,000 remained available.

Monday evening Roberson requested authority from the Board to issue to funds to CADA, saying Surface is requesting another $12,000 and that the Board allows the $13,000 to run for an additional year in case someone else from Bertie County desired to participate in the program.

“There was no request made each year,” said Roberson. “She (Surface) came at the end of the period to ask for the money and that’s why I’m trying to get something documented, because I can find nothing that says the money was ever put aside.”

Surface, who also appeared before the Board on Monday night said there are some Bertie people enrolled in the program but whether they get to the point within the year that they become homeowners is uncertain.

Some commissioners expressed confusion over the way the money was to be handled, and Surface sought to make it clearer.

“There was a total of $25,000 that was agreed, which was to be $5,000 for five years,” Surface explained. “Of that number there’ve only been 13 closings: one that’s been paid for, 12 that’s not been paid for. So you have an additional amount of money: $13,000 subtracted from the $25,000 which would give you an additional 12,000. We’re not asking for the $12,000 except if we have one of the families enrolled in the program to complete the program before the end of June, then we would want to come back and ask for the additional $12,000.

Commissioner Rick Harrell asked if the total amount had been carried over in the county’s budget each year, and Roberson said his office could not find where it had.

“Are you serious,” Harrell flatly inquired.

“It should have been committed funds, no question about it,” he continued. “But the issue is it’s been approved to be spent and we’re in a corner now where we’ve got to spend it either way.”

Surface added that the extension to some homeowners was made because of the economic downturn.

“We have to honor what we promised,” said Commissioner Ronald “Ron” Wesson.

Surface said there were some 16 Bertie families in the IDA cycle, and aware they must complete their closing by June 30.

“Given the state of the economy, we’re not very optimistic,” Surface said. “Because it takes several months to work through, someone would have to already be involved in the process of getting the home, getting it approved from the lender very shortly in order to get it approved by (the end of June).”

She said even though there are 16 families, there would only be money for 12.

“It has to be something where they’ve shown steadily that they’re saving so they can develop a habit of saving,” Surface said. “We encourage putting in a large sum when they get their tax refunds back; and to participate in this, you have to be working, you have to have earned income.”

Harrell thanked Surface for bringing the issue to light.

“This is not a CADA issue, this is an ‘us’ issue,” Harrell said with a smile. “We appreciate you reminding us to put it in the budget.”

Surface took the reminder to heart and said she would watch closer at the county’s upcoming budget sessions.

“But right now you just want your money,” joked vice-chair Charles Smith, to chuckles around the room.

Back on a serious note, Harrell pledged that the commissioners would honor what had been promised in ’08.

Discussion was then complete and the board voted to send the funds ($12,000) to CADA.