Pasquotank board eyes 2018 goals
By Jon Hawley
Thursday, January 4, 2018
Pasquotank County commissioners entered 2018 with perennial goals, including strengthening public schools, recruiting businesses, and fostering better, more inclusive community relationships.
Oh, and they also need to hire a new county manager.
On Wednesday, several commissioners were interviewed about their priorities for the year ahead.
Board Chairman Cecil Perry said the county’s budget for the coming year may be challenging. He said revenues seem close to last year but expenses seem to be going up. He also said he hopes to provide more support for Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools, which has pleaded for major increases in funding in recent years. In the current fiscal year ending June 30, commissioners approved $11.2 million in school operating funds, a $1.2 million increase but still millions less than Superintendent Larry Cartner said was needed. Commissioners also approved $1.32 million in capital projects.
Perry also said it will be important to improve communication with the school board. He noted commissioners recently learned school officials were considering eliminating bus service to the Boys & Girls Club and Police Athletic League as a cost-saving measure. That could keep many kids from participating in those good programs, he explained.
Noting that County Manager Rodney Bunch plans to retire in March, Perry also said commissioners must soon hire someone to succeed him. Commissioners are still reviewing applications for the position and will soon need to hold interviews. Perry said he felt there were many strong candidates for the position, including people from outside North Carolina who could bring new perspective to the county.
A new manager may have new ideas about how to run the county, and could challenge employees and commissioners alike to change. Perry said that could be a good thing.
“I actually think we need to be challenged,” Perry said.
Perry also wants to foster a more inclusive community relations as well as better relations among commissioners themselves. Perry took issue with commissioners’ recent renewal of a three-year, $90,000 contract with McClees Consulting, a lobbying firm that Perry has criticized for not contacting him during their work in Raleigh.
Other board members forgave the firm’s “breach of contract” for failing to contact Perry, he said. Perry said he felt the decision showed a lack of support for his leadership.
Vice Chairman Bill Sterritt said he had three priorities for the coming year. The first is assisting the school district “as much as possible,” though he said he will not again support a tax increase to provide funding. He supported raising the property tax rate 2 cents last year to raise money for ECPPS, but commissioners agreed to only a 1-cent increase in the rate.
Sterritt said he doesn’t want the school system to falter, but he’s also mindful that many county residents are still having a tough time getting by.
Sterritt said his next priority is supporting College of The Albemarle, which fortunately has gotten state funding for its library renovation — a project commissioners supported but felt the county couldn’t afford.
Finally, he wants to continue the restoration work on the river boardwalk behind COA and Sentara Albemarle Medical Center. The county secured an $80,000 grant to pay for restoring some of the deteriorated but popular boardwalk, and he said he hopes to seek further funding for the project.
Commissioner Jeff Dixon also believes supporting ECPPS is important this year, and said he would support increased funding for specific projects, such as more classroom technology. It’s important ECPPS justify why it’s asking for more money, if it does so, he said.
Dixon said it also important to hold the line on the county’s property tax rate and continue to pay off the county’s debt. County staff have explained Pasquotank’s debt level is reasonable, but debt service still costs hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
Dixon also had reason to be optimistic about the county’s financial future. There are no major infrastructure projects — such as building a new school — on the horizon and there are a lot of prospective businesses looking at Pasquotank. He declined to give specifics, but said some could have a big impact.
As for the county manager search, Dixon said he had not yet reviewed all the applicants, but described those he had seen as experienced. Like Perry, Dixon said he’d support a manager who wanted to “shake things up,” if he or she presented a good case for doing so.
Commissioner Lloyd Griffin said working with ECPPS, as well as Elizabeth City and the U.S. Coast Guard base, will be important in the year ahead, as is pursuing economic development.
As a member of the Transportation Advisory Committee of the Albemarle Rural Planning Organization, Griffin also said making Interstate 87 a reality remains important. Developing the interstate that would travel through Pasquotank could take decades and cost more than $1 billion, but regional officials consider it vital to economic development.
Griffin said it would be important in the year ahead to encourage state-level funding for the project, rather than forcing local governments to develop the project with more limited regional and local dollars.
Other commissioners could not be reached for comment Wednesday.