LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Board of Commissioners on Monday decided not to re-advertise the county delinquent tax notices in The Robesonian, but did promise that in the future all names would be listed.
Commissioner David Edge, noting that there had been omissions, including two relatives of commissioners, in the notices published on May 23 in a weekly newspaper in the county, made a motion to have the notices listed in The Robesonian.
Discussion of the motion came at the end of the meeting, after most of the crowd and one of The Robesonian’s reporters had left.
The motion was seconded by Commissioner Lance Herndon, whose father owes taxes but was not listed. Commissioner Berlester Campbell made a substitute motion not to re-advertise, saying he didn’t want to spend more taxpayer money. He was told by County Manager Ricky Harris it would cost about $13,000 to put the notices in The Robesonian.
That motion passed with Commissioners Raymond Cummings, Campbell, Roger Oxendine and Noah Wooda voting in favor. Edge, Tom Taylor and Herndon voted against. Commissioner Jerry Stephens was not at the meeting.
The Robesonian was never asked to bid on the notices, and last year charged about $8,000 to publish them.
Herndon and Oxendine, whose brother Rex owes taxes but was not listed, both said they had no knowledge about who asked that their relatives’ names be omitted. Oxendine said when Campbell made the substitute motion that he wanted it to include all delinquent taxpayers would be listed.
The public schools’ chances of getting additional funding from the Board of Commissioners appeared to suffer a setback Monday after commissioners heard a report showing the schools ranking for local funding jumped from last in the state to 33rd from last.
The schools have asked the county for an additional $17.3 million in operating funds, on top of the $13.3 million it received this past year, to pay for teacher supplements, school safety, resource officers, textbooks and other items. A $50 million bond referendum for school construction also is awaiting county approval.
Commissioner Oxendine was particularly outspoken, appearing to lay the groundwork to deny an increase in funding. He said per-pupil spending, for which Robeson County is next to last in the state, failed to include $17.3 million in state funding to low-wealth counties.
“It’s amazing to me that they have forgotten about that $17.3 million,” Oxendine said. “I don’t like being told we are lowest in the state when we are 33rd.”
Oxendine misspoke, as the schools are 33rd from last, not from first.
Assistant County Manager Kellie Blue delivered the report taken from 2016-17 figures provided by the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners. It showed the county contributed $13.3 million in operating funds for the 2016-17 school year, $5.1 million in capital funds. The North Carolina Lottery contributed $1.6 million, and low-wealth funding amounted to $17.3 million.
“We paid $317,456.19 in attorney fees to bring that low-wealth funding here,” Cummings said, speaking about the Leandro case, which Robeson was a party to. It was a lawsuit against the state which resulted in additional funding for poor counties.
“That $13.3 million does not include the extra $1 million we gave them last year,” Oxendine said.
The county’s $13.3 million results in $528 per pupil and places Robeson County next to last in the state for local per-pupil funding.
The North Carolina Public School Forum numbers differ from those of the Association of County Commissioners. Including low-wealth funding, Robeson County remains next to last in per-pupil expenditures, according to Forum figures.
However, taking into account Robeson County’s low property values and its relatively high tax rate, the county ranks 47th out of 100 counties in the effort to fund schools, which is an estimation of tax burden on property owners.
In other business, the commissioners tabled discussion of a zoning ordinance amendment that would require operators of Internet/video-skill games to obtain a conditional-use permit and pay a $300 annual fee on each machine. The proposed amendment also would set operating hours, parking and occupancy requirements, and dictate where the businesses can operate.
“After speaking with the sheriff, we decided to take this off the table,” Assistant County Attorney Michael McDonald said. “The court system is clarifying the issue.”
County Planner Dixon Ivey said the ordinance is in response to gaming businesses “popping up all over the county.”
“The Planning Board wanted to clarify zoning issues, so the businesses don’t disrupt the harmony of communities,” Ivey said.
The commissioners were invited to the grand re-opening of the St. Pauls Public Library after its $73,000 renovation. The event is June 26 at 11 a.m., according to Katie Fountain, director of the Robeson County Public Library system.
Fountain gave an update on library activities for a year she called, “very progressive.” The library kicked off two e-book programs, one for children and one for adults.
Self-checkout kiosks were added and broadband speeds increased, she said.
The library also ended late fees for children, Fountain said. Halting a child’s reading over late fees does not fit with the county library’s mission.
The commissioners at the beginning of the meeting held a moment of silence for Patrick Pait, the county attorney who was killed June 3 in a car wreck. McDonald sat in Stephens’ seat, and no one sat in the chair normally occupied by Pait.