LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Board of Commissioners on Monday agreed to consider a request from the Lumbee Tribe for a $100,000 donation to help pay for rehabilitation of the N.C. Indian Cultural Center, although one commissioner said he was asked by a tribal member not to support the request.
“I think it’s a good thing you all are doing, but I got a call today from one of your board members and they asked that we not honor this request,” Commissioner Hubert Sealey told Tribal Chairman Paul Brooks. “I was asked not to vote in favor of it at all… . The reason … was they said you all had more than enough funds to do whatever you needed to do over there.”
Sealey did not identify the Tribal Council member.
Brooks told commissioners that no money is available in the tribal budget. He said a loan was used to purchase the property and that he estimates the total cost of rehabilitating the property will be about $4 million.
“We have no funds to do what I’m talking about tonight,” Brooks told the commissioners. “All the funds we have are marked for what they are allowed to be used for. You can’t just take Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act funds and go out there.”
The Lumbee Tribe purchased the property, about 400 acres, from the state late last month for $351,000. The property, which once served as a thriving recreation area, is between Pembroke and Maxton.
The property was offered to the tribe after the state terminated a 99-year, $1-per-year private lease for the 400-plus acres and the adjoining Riverside Golf Course.
The commissioners made few comments on the request, but Commissioner Raymond Cummings said the board should consider providing funding for the project in its fiscal 2014-15 budget.
Brooks reminded the commissioners of when the Indian Cultural Center property thrived as a major recreation area for the Lumbee people. The property, he said, includes a 100-acre lake, amphitheater, 18-hole golf course and a swimming pool.
Brooks said after improvements are made to the property, it could once again be used for church outings, concerts, family reunions and fundraisers.
“I want to see that property become better than it was,” Brooks said.
Brooks said that the tribe already has $100,000 for a walking trail, and about $3 million in possible grants have been identified. He said he would like to see the project finished within two or three years.
Brooks said that the center, once rehabilitated, would benefit all people in Robeson County.
“When we talk about moving forward in relation to things that need to be done … we all have to move together,” Brooks said. “… I look at it from the standpoint as we help you, you help us and we help each other.”
Cynthia Hunt, the tribe’s clerk, briefly updated the commissioners on the history of the property, which was included in about 6,000 acres purchased by the federal government in 1936. The property was known as Pembroke Farms, and served as a farming co-op for poor families of all ethnic backgrounds.
Hunt said that in 1945 the federal government sold the land to the families that lived on the property, forming the Red Banks Mutual Association, a Lumbee farmers co-op. In 1969, she said, Lumbee leaders purchased the property and established the recreation center.
In other business, the commissioners voted unanimously to increase the health insurance deductible for county employees from $2,500 to $3,000 for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The increased deductible is being called for so that employees don’t have to be charged a $50-a-month premium for health insurance, according to Commissioner Roger Oxendine, chairman of the county’s Personnel Committee.
Oxendine said the county will have to pay about $700,000 next year to cover the cost of health insurance for its employees.
“I don’t know if we can take another hit like this after this year,” Oxendine said. “We considered several options, and this is the best one we could come up with.”
Oxendine said that the representative of the county’s insurance carrier, Mark 3, has been looking for ways of reducing the county’s cost for its medical plan.
“He told us that several counties are dropping their medical coverage because of the increase in cost,” Oxendine said. “He told us that we are being sweet to our employees.”
Oxendine said that the county’s Wellness Program has been the “saving grace” for the county. The county has successfully kept medical costs down by establishing its own health clinic and pharmacy, he said.
At Monday’s meeting, the commissioners also heard a brief presentation from Landa Gaddy concerning Michelle Obama’s”Let’s Move” initiative, an effort to improve the health and lives of young people.
Gaddy said that there will be an event showcasing the talents of Robeson County’s young people on June 14 from 1 to 4 p.m. at Robeson Community College.