LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Board of Commissioners on Monday found money in its current budget to provide $67,000 toward construction of a horse barn with stalls at the Southeast North Carolina Agricultural Events Center and to give $15,000 to the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office to cover overtime to provide security for Fourth of July events.
County Manager Ricky Harris said the county always provides a contingency fund in its budget for such needs. The contingency for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, is $200,000.
One hundred stalls will be added to support shows at the pavilion, a multi-events center that opened two years ago and is located off U.S. 74, just outside of Lumberton. The 54,000-square-foot steel building was constructed with $3.7 million from the General Assembly, a $1.2 million grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation, and other funding sources, including Robeson County and the city of Lumberton.
The county has already contributed $50,000 toward the stalls, the final piece in the puzzle of developing an equestrian events center that can provide the facilities needed to bring multi-day horse shows to Robeson County. Earlier this year the city of Lumberton allocated up to $30,000 for site work for the project. The state Horse Council and state Horse Council Foundation have raised more than $400,000 in private donations. The cost of the stables and barn is estimated at $590,000.
The commissioners also passed a $151 million budget that becomes effective July 1. The budget includes no new fees and keeps the tax rate at 77 cents for every $100 of property value.
The budget does not include a cost-of-living increase for employees, but does call for the hiring of two new employees — a registered nurse for health care at the jail and a deputy sheriff for the county’s pre-trial program; includes a $1 million increase in the cost of health insurance; and adds $350,000 for new cars for the Sheriff’s Office.
The budget does not include any changes to the current pay, benefits, or discretionary money received by each of the county commissioners. The commissioners are among the highest paid and best benefited in North Carolina; The Robesonian has not been able to find another county in the state that provides discretionary money for its commissioners to spend.
Harris thinks the budget provides for the county’s needs.
“It’s bare-boned and there’s not a lot of capital (expenditures) in it,” he said. “But it is workable.”
The commissioners commended Harris, Finance Director Kellie Blue and their staff for putting together a budget with no tax increases.
“I’m pleased with this budget. It includes no tax increase,” Noah Woods, the board’s chairman, said after the meeting. “The citizens should like that … It shows good management on the staff’s part. They don’t just spend money to spend money.”
Commissioner Tom Taylor also said he was pleased.
“Any time we don’t have to raise taxes I’m tickled to death,” he said.
No one spoke during a public hearing held before the budget was approved.
In other business, the commissioners heard a presentation from Neill Lee, superintendent of the Lumber River State Park, and Everett Davis, secretary of the Lumber River State Park Citizens Advisory Committee, about efforts to form a Friends of the Lumber River organization and the upcoming Lumber River Day Festival. The festival is scheduled for July 19.
Davis asked the commissioners to match their donation of $1,000 for last year’s event so that a bouncing castle, inflated slide and train ride for children can be part of the festival. The donation would also pay for posters to promote the event.
The annual festival celebrates the Lumber River and attempts to make local residents more aware of its importance as a natural resource.
In other business, the commissioners:
— Approved the allocations of state and federal funding for the Home & Community Care Block Grant for the 2014-15 fiscal year. The funding for Robeson County will increase in the new fiscal year by $28,938, according to Margaret S. Lennon, the Lumber River Council of Government’s Area Agency on Aging Administrator.
— Heard a brief update from Steve Edge, the county’s Solid Waste director, on a new generator the county is purchasing to expand its use of methane gas at the county landfill in St. Pauls to generate electricity.
— Approved contracts for dental and mental health services at the county jail. Contracts for dental services were awarded to Dr. Tyler J. Collins, Dr. Benjamin Collins, and Brenda G. Lowery. Marilyn Merritt will provide mental health services.
— Approved a resolution proclaiming June 15 as Elder Abuse Awareness Day.