LUMBERTON — Although giving consideration to the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina’s request for $100,000 to help rehabilitate the N.C. Indian Cultural Center property, Robeson County commissioners aren’t optimistic that money for the project will be available in the 2014-15 budget that becomes effective July 1.
“Anyone who makes a budget request we have to listen to them because they are citizens of the county,” Commissioner Jerry Stephens said. “But with all of the things we have to fund, I don’t know where we are going to find $100,000.”
County Manager Ricky Harris said last week that the request from the tribe, along with other special appropriation requests, will be discussed by the commissioners when they hold their next budget work session on June 2.
The tribe recently paid the state $351,000 for more than 400 acres of cultural center property located between Pembroke and Maxton.
The land became available after the state terminated a 99-year, $1 a year private lease it had on the 400-plus acres and the adjoining Riverside Golf Course. The Lumbee Tribe was given first chance to purchase the property.
Tribal Chairman Paul Brooks told the commissioners in early April that there is no money available to rehabilitate the property that once was a thriving recreation area. Brooks said the cost of rehabilitating the the property is estimated to be about $4 million. The tribe has said it would pursue grant money for the bulk of that cost.
The Robesonian attempted to contact all eight county commissioners to learn if they can support Brooks’ request for a “minimum of $100,000.” Four commissioners, Hubert Sealey, Stephens, Tom Taylor and David Edge responded. No response came from the board’s three American Indian members, Noah Woods, Raymond Cummings and Roger Oxendine, or Commissioner Lance Herndon.
“We need to make cuts in our budget, not add any new projects,” Taylor said. “We have other projects that we have to finish first. We don’t need to dip into our fund balance … . You can’t spend money you don’t have.”
Sealey said he can’t vote in favor of a project that won’t benefit all groups of people in Robeson County. He said that there are other needs that must be met first, such as providing money for fire protection in Gaddy Township.
Sealey, who represents Gaddy Township, said that he is asking the commissioners to consider appropriating $150,000 for the construction of a fire department building. Plans are for the department in Gaddy to be a satellite of the White House Volunteer Fire Department.
“This is the only area in the county that does not now have fire protection,” he said. “White House is making an investment of more than a million dollars in trucks, equipment and training for the new fire department. This fire department will serve the needs of everybody, not just one group.”
Edge, whose district includes the Saddletree community, said that he doesn’t think the tribe’s request will “go anywhere” with the commissioners.
“I’ve been very surprised that in the community it has been the Native Americans who have told me they oppose the tribe’s request,” he said. “In fact, I don’t think any white members of my community have even spoken with me about this.”
Stephens said that it could “open the floodgates” if a special appropriations request as high as $100,000 is granted to an individual group.
“If we give the Indian Cultural Center $100,000, everybody else is going to think they need to get the same,” he said. “Everybody’s project is important to them.”