LUMBERTON — Each member of the Robeson County Board of Commissioners on Monday were asked by the executive director of the North Carolina Horse Council Foundation to chip in $15,000 of their discretionary funds to support efforts to build stalls at the Southeastern North Carolina Agricultural Events Center.
Sue Gray, the foundation’s executive director, told the board that the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the North Carolina Horse Council Foundation are partnering to raise $550,000 to build 200 stalls that are needed to attract larger horse shows to the area.
“This proposal is for the whole county,” Gray said. “This is all about economic growth.”
Gray left with a pledge of $2,000, but there were hints more money would be coming. One commissioner said he would dig into his own pocket.
Gray told the commissioners that the county, with the new pavilion at the agricultural center, is in the ideal position to reap the economic benefits of the equine industry, a $2 billion industry in the state. The addition of stalls would accommodate more than one-day shows, drawing horse enthusiasts from long distances to Lumberton where they will spend their money at local businesses, she said. Such an event is planned for Sept. 28, 29 and 30, and supporters say it could add as much as $1 million to the local economy.
Bobbie Parker, marketing specialist for the events center and a horse trainer herself, told the commissioners that the stalls are critical.
“Horse people will come where the facilities are,” she said.
The Horse Council’s goal is to raise $200,000 of the $550,000 needed for the project privately, with the remainder coming from grants. Already the county commissioners and the Lumberton City Council have each agreed to contribute $50,000 each toward the project.
Gray told the board that she must “show a tremendous amount of capital in a short amount of time.” The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has only until February to ensure that the events center can cover half of its expenses or face the possibility of being shut down.
Noah Woods, the board’s chairman, was the only commissioner who pledged discretionary funds, in the amount of $2,000. Commissioner Tom Taylor joined Woods in also offering to contribute some of their own money to the project, but he said the money would not be from the taxpayer-supported fund..
“I’m using my own money, not county money, to support this,” Taylor said.
Woods hinted that more support for the project may come from other commissioners.
“I believe this board will do what we can to help,” Woods told Gray and Parker.
During Monday’s meeting, the commissioners were also presented for their review and approval Robeson Community College’s fiscal budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year.
RCC President Charles Chrestman said the the college’s annual budget, this year totaling ” a little over $41.5 million,” was adopted by the RCC board of trustees n Sept. 10. The budget process requires that the fiscal budget be presented to the commissioners for their approval.
Chrestman said that this year’s budget includes $7.5 million from the U.S Department of Labor, grant money that is not usually available in the budget.
“A large amount of our students are now getting Labor Department grants,” Chrestman said.
Chrestman told The Robesonian last week that RCC’s adopted budget includes a 1.2 percent salary increase for all of the college’s eligible full-time employees. He said that between 170 and 175 of the college’s 200 full-time employees will meet the nine-month employment requirement to be eligible for the raise.
Chrestman said the budget also provides five days of “bonus leave” to all college employees.
“The bonus leave time must be taken this school year or forfeited,” he said.
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.