LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Board of Commissioners voted Monday to buy the Native Angels building and the 29 acres of land that comes with it.
The 4-3 voice vote to buy the building and land at COMtech in Pembroke was taken after the commissioners came out of a 63-minute closed session. Commissioner David Edge was absent Monday. Commissioners Raymond Cummings, Berlester Campbell, Jerry Stephens and Roger Oxendine voted in favor of the purchase, and Tom Taylor, Lance Herndon and Noah Woods against.
The asking price for the property is $6.2 million, but County Manager Ricky Harris was instructed to negotiate with the property’s owner, Bobbie Jacobs Ghaffar, for the best price possible and report to the commissioners before a contract is signed. The Robesonian has been told that the property is more than $90,000 behind in paying property taxes.
The current owner has identified a potential buyer, board Chairman Cummings said. The commissioners don’t want the Public Schools of Robeson County, which is renting office space at the Native Angels building, to be placed in a situation where school personnel must find other office space before the school district finishes constructing its new central office building.
“We don’t want them to be left out in the cold,” Cummings said.
The school district has been renting space at the Native Angels building since the central office on Caton Road was destroyed by floodwaters generated by Hurricane Matthew. The district’s lease agreement at Native Angels, which is costing the schools $108,000 a year, expires July 31.
Ghaffar has repeatedly pitched the building as a new central office, offering to sell the building and land for $6.3 million. The offer was rejected by public schools leaders, who say the building and the land are too small for the district’s needs.
School district leaders bought 48 acres of land near Deep Branch Road on N.C. 711 for $192,000. That land is about 4.5 miles from the Native Angels property.
“I want it to be known that we are not buying this building so it can be their office building,” said Campbell, vice chairman of the board.
The Native Angels building and land are being bought in order to give the school district time to get their finances in order and a new central office building built before they have to move their employees out of the Native Angels building, Campbell said.
Taylor made a counter motion not to buy the building and land. Taylor’s motion failed on a 4-3 voice vote, with the commissioners voting the same as before.
The commissioners voted unanimously to spend $25,000 to help the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office buy 140 new Viper radios. The Sheriff’s Office also would pay $25,000 for the radios.
The radio upgrade will allow Sheriff’s Office personnel to more efficiently communicate with the state Highway Patrol, county fire departments and Emergency Medical Services personnel, which already are using Viper radios, Cummings said.
The radios should be in the hands of Sheriff’s Office personnel within a month, Sheriff Ken Sealey said.
Criminal offenders on probation will be used to pick up litter along county highways and streets once a six-month pilot program goes into effect.
The commissioners approved moving forward with the pilot program after Herndon, chairman of the board’s Public Works Committee, made a presentation. The program will start as soon as details can be worked out between Solid Waste Director Gene Walters and the county probation office.
“We’ve all been trying to put a dent in the litter problem and this is one step in that direction,” Herndon said.
The commissioners took no action on a request to donate $1,000 to the Littlefield Middle School Junior Beta Club. Littlefield teacher and club sponsor James Burney asked for the money to help the school pay for a charter bus to take the club’s members the state convention scheduled for Feb. 5 and Feb. 6 in Greensboro.
They did give a standing ovation to 12-year-old Jasmine Corbie after the Littlefield seventh-grader and Junior Beta Club member read the speech she will give at the convention when she announces her candidacy for Junior Beta Club vice president. The commissioners spoke over themselves praising Corbie’s delivery.
In other business, the commissioners:
— Heard but took no action on a request to donate $5,000 to a pilot Transit Center Mentoring Program, which is designed to steer young criminal offenders toward resources that can help them change their lives and help them find training that can lead to jobs.
“We are trying to reduce the crime rate,” said Sabrina Leshore, a local lawyer trying to get the program started.
— Heard a presentation from Lumber River Council of Governments Director David Richardson about the NC Tomorrow Plan, an economic development program designed to help communities expand their economic opportunities. It is an initiative of the North Carolina Association of Regional Council in partnership with numerous organizations across the state.
“I hope it will be beneficial to Robeson County as you develop your economic development plans,” Richardson said.
— Approved grammatical and wording changes to various Public Works Department policies.
— Approved advertising for a full-time entry-level position at the county Board of Elections office.
— Postponed filling a vacant seat on the Robeson County Public Libraries board of trustees.
— Approved transferring $40,000 from the county Social Services’ Medicaid transportation budget line item to the department’s maintenance/equipment repair line item.
— Approved transferring $51,000 from the 911 Communications’ Communications Salaries budget line item to the Communications Contracted Services line item.
— Approved a resolution that clears the way for the state Department of Transportation to begin widening by 2 feet the shoulders on either side of N.C. 71 from N.C. 20 to N.C. 211. The resolution was necessary to show the state DOT that the county endorsed the project.
— Watched as Commissioner Oxendine presented Dinah Locklear with a gift in honor of her 30 years as an employee with Robeson County.
“Woop! Woop! Woop!” a smiling Locklear said after the presentation, while pumping a fist into the air.
Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.