he county commissioners at the end of their three-day retreat on Friday gave themselves a hand following a report that showed the county’s financial health is strong. Chairman Noah Woods then encouraged the commissioners to spread out in the community, engage residents, and share the good news.
We will provide an assist here today.
Robeson County, despite being No. 1 in the state in poverty, its high unemployment rate, a sorry — but improving — tax-collection rate, out-of-control crime, and the recent construction of a $17 million building, is able to pay the bills, and even cut the tax rate for the current fiscal year by a couple of cents while providing a tardy cost-of-living raise to its employees. Services have not been cut, and some are being expanded.
This has been managed without the magic of re-evaluation, by taking the dollars and stretching them further. Some examples: Methane is being converted into energy at the county landfill to defray costs of running Solid Waste; a program plucks qualifying inmates from the jail as they await trial and puts them in their homes with a monitoring device attached; a county-run pharmacy is reducing health care costs; and employees have been asked to be more efficient as vacancies have been allowed to linger.
But there are clouds gathering.
The darkest is the situation at the county jail; simply put, there isn’t enough room at the 410-bed facility, and the options are limited: lower bonds that are more easily posted; exporinginmates to other jails, but a fee is attached; or more space can be constructed, which would cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
Additionally, there is almost $1 million of work that needs to be done now to fix the roof to the jail.
The jail will be a rock in the shoe as the commissioners begin work on next year’s fiscal budget, when they will most likely call for a feasibility study.
Foremost, there cannot be any shortcuts taken that imperil the safety of Robesonians, so scratch lower bonds from the list. The commissioners last week were lobbied to expand the program that takes inmates and puts them under house arrest, but there are obviously inherent risks each time another inmate is dropped off at home. Exporting inmates is costly, not only because of the fee, but because of transportation costs and associated labor.
All that makes the addition of jail space the odds-on favorite — but that comes with sticker shock.
There is a final option, one that all law-abiding residents could rally behind: The bad guys and gals could quit committing crimes.