LUMBERTON — Anyone who wants to share an opinion about the Robeson County Board of Commissioners’ plan to buy the Native Angels building can seek to get on the agenda to speak at the Feb. 5 board meeting by contacting the county clerk.
The chairman of the local school board has already done so.
The commissioners on Monday instructed County Manager Ricky Harris to negotiate to buy the building, although since then there appears to be confusion among the four commissioners — Chairman Raymond Cummings, Roger Oxendine, Berlester Campbell and Jerry Stephens — on what that means. The decision prompted a social media storm, with most people expressing opposition.
The commissioners normally meet the first and third Mondays of the month, with public comments accepted on the third Monday. However, a person can request to be on the Feb. 5 agenda by sending an email to [email protected] The message must contain contact information and the topic to be discussed. Once the agenda is completed, it will be presented to Cummings, who can have items deleted from the agenda or moved to the next meeting.
The commissioners voted 4-3 to buy the building and 29 acres of land located near COMtech in Pembroke. The property, which is owned by Angel Exchang LLC, had for months been pitched to the commissioners as a possible central office for the Public Schools of Robeson County. Owner Bobbie Jacobs Ghaffar’s asking price is $6 million. The taxable value of the 35,000-square-foot building and land is $3,797,500, according to the county Tax Office, and more than $95,000 in back taxes are owed.
Commissioner David Edge was absent Monday, and has called the idea a “joke” and even went so far as to suggest some board members are being paid a kickback. Commissioners Tom Taylor, Lance Herndon and Noah Woods voted against.
“I’ve had some people calling me wanting to talk about it,” Taylor said.
But he’s not sure public comment will be allowed during the Feb. 5 meeting, Taylor said. Any commissioner can ask that a public comment period be added to the meeting agenda. But it will be Cummings’ decision whether or not to allow public comments.
“I’m hoping they’ll let them talk on it,” Taylor said.
Peggy Wilkins-Chavis, chairman of the Board of Education, wrote an op-ed piece published in The Robesonian questioning why the commissioners want to buy a building that the school system has said it is not interested in, and also pointing out how little money the county provides the system. She wants to speak on Feb. 5, having already sent a request to Freeman.
Cummings, who has pushed the purchase, has said that he has been told Angel Exchange has a potential buyer and he doesn’t want the central office staff to be left homeless. The staff has been there since Hurricane Matthew destroyed the system’s central office on N.C. 72.
Chavis has said district leaders are making plans to move staff to new office space after the Native Angels lease expires July 31.
The school district has paid $192,000 for 48 acres of land near Deep Branch Road on N.C. 711, about 4.5 miles from the Native Angels building, that has been suggested for the central office. There is also talk about a warehouse on N.C. 41.
In the meantime, County Attorney Patrick Pait is following instructions from the commissioners to conduct negotiations with Ghaffar.
The real estate agent representing Ghaffar said there was a potential buyer but did not identify the buyer, Pait said Friday.
In addition to the back taxes to the county, Angel Exchange owes $46,018.24 to COMtech, said Alan Fowlkes, director of the park. The back dues have been accruing since April 2016. Partial payments totaling $750 were made on July 10 and Aug. 28 of 2017.
Ghaffar owes $95,303.72 in taxes from the 2015, 2016 and 2017 tax years, according to the county Tax Office. Of that amount, $91,975.45 is for real property and more than $3,000 is for furnishings and office equipment. The last tax payment was made Aug. 21.
Harris has said the $6 million or so to buy the Native Angels building and land must be found. That amounts to about 11 cents of the county’s 77-cent tax rate, which is about 25th highest in the state.
Harris said the money is not in the current budget.
Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at [email protected]