Commissioners nix Mid-East agreement

Published 9:34 am Tuesday, April 29, 2014

WINDSOR – The Bertie County Board of Commissioners, after debate during their April 21 regular meeting, have voted against the Mid-East Commission’s Interlocal Agreement Resolution, and Building Floor Plan for a new facility.

The vote was 3-2 not to support the resolution.

The Mid-East Commission is part of the North Carolina regional Council of Governments that represents Beaufort, Bertie, Hertford, Martin and Pitt counties and the larger municipalities in those areas.

At issue is whether Bertie County supports the $2.8 million in construction costs for a 17,500 square foot office to be built in the city of Washington (Beaufort County). The MEC’s current office (15,887 square feet of rental space at $138,000 per year) is located in the same city, but the Commission’s board says they have outgrown that facility and desire to relocate to the larger office.

While Bertie County supports MEC and its efforts, there are concerns about the long-term debt associated with the construction project as well as a non-central location for all the counties involved, particularly Hertford and Bertie.

Commissioner Ronald D. ‘Ron’ Wesson, a member of the Commission’s Board of Directors Executive Committee, said the Mid-East Commission is not requiring additional funds not yet secured to complete this project.

“They can do this in-house,” Wesson said. “They can arrange their own financing to do this.  When we looked at the cost of leasing compared to the cost of purchasing there’s not a lot of difference there; and in the long-term it probably comes out a little bit less.”

In making his appeal for support of the resolution, Wesson said he wanted the Mid-East’s Executive Director to appear before the Commissioners and indicate the MEC is ready to give the county some additional support.

“Because we have felt that we’re not getting all that we could get from the Mid-East,” Wesson continued.

Commissioner Rick Harrell questioned the idea of a permanent site in Washington with no mention of as much as a satellite office away from Beaufort County.

“We’ve got issues with the location,” Harrell stated.

Wesson countered that on two fronts: displacement of current employees, most of who reside in Washington or Beaufort County; and secondly that the MEC has offered free grant-writing assistance to Bertie County, but no such offer has been made to another county or municipality.

“I say let’s hold them to it,” Wesson said. “It’s up to us to take advantage of it.”

Wesson said Bertie County was the lone hold-out to approving the agreement-resolution, but he may have been misinformed because Hertford County has not approved it either.

Harrell further asked if Bertie’s opposition meant a future leasing. Currently, the MEC pays about $145,000 a year in rent.

“Or get the legislature to approve it without our approval, which is unlikely,” Wesson noted.

On a question of vacant offices within the current locale, Wesson said many of those belong to Workforce Development personnel who are usually out in the field, and are not part of the Mid-East Commission.  He further said the size of the proposed new building has been reduced from its original 17,500 square feet by about 2,000 square feet.

Harrell, along with Commissioner John Trent, stated their opposition was more a question of what Bertie County was not receiving with the county’s approval of the agreement-resolution, and what Beaufort County was getting.

“I don’t know that it changes anything,” Harrell stressed, “but it sends a very clear message that we want them to continue to offer the services that they are offering.”

Wesson said the MEC does not find grants, but is offering to write grants for BertieCounty if they can be found within the software.

“Mr. Chairman, what they’ve done is that the state will often say (which) grants are available and they will then administer grants,” said Wesson. “We’ve never had this before, (the MEC) have now said they’re willing to do for us what they don’t do on a regular basis for everybody else.

“There are counties that have gotten a lot more of the monies they administer than we have,” Wesson asserted.

Perry continued to maintain that the MEC finds grants for counties, writes the grants, and then administers them.

Wesson, meanwhile, said he and fellow board member, Lewiston-Woodville mayor, Dayle Vaughn, continue to insist that monies earmarked for other counties comes about not from oversight, or lack thereof, but from implementation.

“It’s not because they wrote the grant, it’s because they administer the grant in such a way that we (Bertie County) don’t get our fair share of the money,” maintained Wesson.

Wesson continued his impassioned appeal, “We need to take advantage of something we’ve never had before. Let’s hold them to the task; let’s go into that software and find grants we think we’re interested in and let them write them, and if they don’t write them then we have an issue.”

Harrell reiterated the real issue from his viewpoint was whether Bertie’s holdout would mean the county would not get the benefits the Mid-East Commission is offering.

Wesson’s final point was that Bertie certainly would be viewed in a different light by the MEC by not approving the agreement-resolution.

But the dissenting Commissioners held their ground and in the end only Wesson and Commissioner Charles Smith voted to approve the inter-local agreement for the MEC building project.