Panel replaced by review and advisory committee

Jan. 09, 2013 @ 08:21 AM

The Lee County Environmental Affairs Board — charged with advising local governments on environmental policy — has been officially disbanded in favor of a new, more technically oriented committee. 

In a 4-to-3 vote Monday, Lee County Commissioners voted to disband the EAB and charter the nine-member Environmental Review & Advisory Committee to advise the county on testing matters affecting the environment and to review related technical documentation. The current members of the EAB can apply to the new board if they have the necessary skill set, said Commissioner Jim Womack. Commissioners Womack, Kirk Smith, Charlie Parks and newly-sworn in Andre Knecht voted for the motion, with Commissioners Robert Reives, Amy Dalrymple and Ricky Frazier voting against it.   The EAB has done a wonderful job, Womack said, but the county needs a scientific and technical group that can review documentation concerning the natural gas drilling industry that will be moving to Lee County.

“It requires understanding and the impact of oil and gas and methane plumes,” he said. “It requires resources we have in Lee County but don’t have on the EAB.”

A motion to make the ERAC a sub-committee of the EAB failed in a 3-to-4 vote.

“I am not opposed to that committee being established, but I object to destroying the EAB,” Reives said.

Creating an additional committee will bog down the process, Womack said, while this new committee should be lean and in place to advise the county quickly.  There are many people with technical expertise in the county who are willing to serve, he said.

Dalrymple asked why those people have not previously come forward, and Frazier wanted to know why these people have only contacted Womack, who serves as the chairman of the Mining and Energy Commission. 

Womack reiterated that he knew Lee County residents who are willing to serve, adding that he has encouraged some of them to apply for the newly created board

The applications for the ERAC have not been posted yet, but Lee County Manager John Crumpton said he is working under the assumption the board wishes to move quickly, and staff will attempt to make applications available by the first commissioner meeting in February.

Sales Tax Redistribution

The board also heard from Broadway Mayor Donald Andrews and county resident Wendy Bryan concerning the impact to Broadway of changing the sales tax redistribution method during the public comment portion of the meeting.

The town will lose more than $100,000 in revenue if the sales tax redistribution is changed from the population-based per capita model to ad valorem method, as has been proposed, Andrews said. This loss of revenue could force Broadway to raise property tax rates by 12 cents, from 44 cents per $100 of valuation to 56 cents per $100 of valuation, he said,

Andrews said the Broadway Board of Commissioners requested a meeting with the Lee County Commissioners to discuss its reservations about the possible redistribution, and also sent a letter to all Broadway residents inviting them to express their concerns.

“We are already looking at a possible tax increase under the property tax revaluation,” Andrews said. “We don’t have a large commercial base to make up for the lost residential. Plus the 10 to 12 cents, our citizens will be faced with a burden ... It will set us back for years to come.”

Breaking traditional policy to not respond to residents’ comments, Womack asked if Andrews recalled a meeting where he was asked if he’d be interested in a change in the sales tax redistribution if there was no financial impact for Broadway. 

“Do you think it is fair and honest and forthright to the citizens of Broadway to sign this letter and say, and let me quote the letter, ‘This tax redistribution will force the Town of Broadway to raise your property tax 12 to 14 cents,’” Womack said. “Without any details? Is that fair and honest?”

Andrews countered by saying that based on previous years’ budgets, Broadway would either have to raise taxes by 12 to 14 cents to maintain services, or cut a police officer, a public works employee and several vehicles, reduce power costs and usage at parks, and end curbside trash pickup.

Later in the meeting, Reives apologized to Andrews.

“I want to publicly apologize for how you were treated during public comments,” Reives said to Andrews. “That is not something we normally do, and you have every right to plead your case at any council you feel necessary.”

Bryan said she doesn’t use many county services, but is worried about losing some of the town services she does use.

“We have a no-frills government in Broadway,” Bryan said. “I don’t believe any taxpayer dollars are being wasted.”

Crumpton was instructed by the board to set up a time for the Lee County Commissioners to meet with Broadway Commissioners and Sanford City Council to discuss the sales tax distribution method and interlocal agreements.  

In other matters, commissioners:

* Tabled an appropriations request from Lee County Schools Superintendent Jeff Moss for additional security equipment until a meeting among representatives of the commissioners, the Lee County Board of Education and the Lee County Sheriff’s Office could be held. Commissioner Jim Womack suggested a private meeting to discuss a holistic approach to school security that may include the requested keypad locks.

* Considered recommendations and findings for future economic growth and planning for the county from N.C. State University Business and Technology Extension Service. The commissioners agreed to meet at noon Jan. 16 at the Gordon Wicker Conference Room at the Lee County Government Center to facilitate a discussion on economic priorities and tentatively scheduled an economic growth summit for March 1.  

* Appointed Cindy Ammons, Mike McDonald, Robert Garrett and Allen Sloan to serve as full-time members of the Lee County Board of Equalization and Review for three-year terms. Frank Del Palazzo, Herb Hincks, John Ramsperger, Al Rushatz and Harry Stryffeler were appointed as alternates. 

* Appointed Lee County Commissioner Chairman Charlie Parks as the county’s voting delegate for the upcoming Legislative Goals Conference.