LUMBERTON — State Sen. Michael Walters said he was “shocked” Wednesday when he found that Gov. Pat McCroy’s proposed budget closes the state’s minimum security prison in Lumberton.
In his $20.6 billion budget, McCrory says that there is a need to close the Robeson County Correctional Center and four others across the state because the state’s inmate population is falling. The prisons he wishes to close, he said, require expensive renovation and repair.
“I didn’t know anything about this until this morning at 10:30 when I first saw the proposed budget,” Walters told The Robesonian on Wednesday. “There was no prior indication that there was going to be a recommendation to close this prison. This is going to have a huge impact on Robeson County.”
In addition to the aging prison on N.C. 711, others recommended for closing include minimum security facilities in Bladen and Duplin counties; a medium security facility in Wayne County; and a mixed-use facility, the Western Youth Institution, in Morganton. In all, the closings would eliminate 1,912 beds.
According to Walters, 80 full-time prison employees would be affected by the closing of the Robeson County facility. Also, local communities, the county, and state Department of Transportation would lose the services of just more than 100 inmates who are assigned to certain jobs such as trash pickup and road maintenance, Walters said.
The Robeson County facility has 276 beds. Walters did not know if the prison is currently at its housing capacity.
Walters said that McCrory, a Republican, is also calling for cuts to budgets of the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center and the state’s Golden LEAF Foundation.
As proposed, McCrory’s budget calls for transferring the Golden LEAF Foundation’s $65 million appropriation to the state’s General Fund. Golden LEAF receives and distributes money for economic impact assistance to regions of the state that have suffered because of the decline of the tobacco industry.
The governor also recommends $10 million for N.C. Rural Economic Development Center for the next two years be turned over to the state’s General Fund.
“I’m concerned … because all smaller rural towns and counties use funds from the center for infrastructure and other projects,” Walters said. “And Golden LEAF has been the economic engine that has been driving economic development in tobacco-dependent communities.”
There are two members on the Golden LEAF’s board of directors with strong ties to Robeson County. They are David Stephenson, a Lumberton businessman, and Paul Brooks, a businessman from Pembroke who is also the chairman of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina.
Walters said that he hopes legislators of both the Republican and Democratic parties will stand together in opposition to proposals that will take away funding from agencies and organizations important to economic development of rural counties.
“This is not a Democrat versus Republican issue,” he said. “It is one of rural versus urban.”
Walters said that he does see a bright spot in the governor’s proposed budget.
“The one positive thing is that the governor is recommending that recurring funds be restored to fund the Southeastern Agricultural Events Center,” he said. “This is huge as we move forward in developing the center.”
The center has been operating on non-recurring funds, Walters said, meaning that funding for the center has not been something that was required to be funded in every state budget.