CCTA WATCHDOG REPORT- 23 February 2015 – Economic Development & Health and Human Services

At the last meeting of the Craven County Board of Commissioners, held on February 16th, 2015, Timothy Downs, Economic Development Director, gave his quarterly report.  He first passed a booklet he was in the process of developing (said it wasn’t a finished product), and he did not make it available to anyone except the Board (in violation of Sunshine Laws), but he said it would be a sales piece that would be very helpful when talking to prospects.

Tim discussed working with the Community College on the “incubator” program and with the Craven 100 Alliance.  He said C1A (as they are abbreviating it) has funds in the bank, working committees in place, a website in place, social media efforts underway, and they are working on getting private money into the enterprise.  Earlier I had asked Tim what the fees are for private companies, and was told from $500 to $1,000 depending on the size of the business.

Then Tim said that there would be a campaign to raise money for the Craven 100 Alliance, and it would probably be contracted out rather than to try to undertake the effort themselves.  HE THEN SAID THE GOAL WOULD BE TO RAISE AROUND $1.5 MILLION.  I was astounded as it seemed so inconsistent with what I had just learned about fees for private companies.  Later, I asked Tim about it, and he said a company named “Convergent” had experience with raising that kind of money for economic development enterprises.

I did some checking on the internet.  I learned that Convergent Nonprofit Solutions is indeed a company that has made a specialty of raising funds for economic development from private companies. Their website states that they raised $1,495,300 for Wayne County, N.C., $1,027,200 for Thomasville, N.C., $1,700,000 for Burlington, N.C., and $1,167,000 for Jacksonville, N.C.  I also found on the internet that they had raised $940,000 for Davie County.  I know a number of people in Davie, so I called someone there, and found out that Convergent had indeed raised the $940,000 for economic development OVER A 5 YEAR PERIOD.  I ALSO LEARNED THAT CONVERGENT WAS PAID A FEE AND EXPENSE MONEY THAT AMOUNTED TO ABOUT 18% OF THE TOTAL RAISED.

I was also told that, while most counties do not have anyone with the expertise to initially manage a fundraising project of this magnitude, once they have watched Convergent work, they can learn to do it themselves if they want to.  I don’t believe that these efforts on the part of government to attract business and industry is ever a good investment for taxpayers, but if it is to be done, I believe we have a large and smart enough staff at Craven County to study the methods and do the job themselves if the pattern is repeated in the future.  We have a County Manager, an Assistant County Manager, and a Economic Development Director, and while I often disagree with them, they’re all bright people.

One more thing I learned, The expected ratio of public to private funds after working with someone like Convergent is 55/45 or so.  Making the assumption that Craven County results would be similar to past experience with other counties, and $3,500,000 (the total goal Tim Downs mentioned) is raised for economic development in Craven county over the next 5 years, THE TAXPAYERS WILL PICK UP $1,925,000 OF THAT PLUS SALARIES FOR COUNTY STAFF TO WORK ON IT!

THIS MONEY WOULD BE BETTER SPENT WORKING OUT HOW TO REDUCE REGULATIONS AND TAXES ON BUSINESS AND HOW TO  CREATE AN INFRASTRUCTURE SUITABLE TO SUPPORT THE OPERATION OF PROSPEROUS BUSINESSES.

Strangely enough, these figures are fairly close to the amount of money Craven County got back by leaving the Eastern Region Planning group!  Looks like the county has figured out how they want to spend that money.  I’d far rather see them go the tax and regulation reduction route.  I’d also bet my hat that Mark Griffin and Michael Speciale (whose work enabled the refund) did not foresee the current state of affairs.

By the way, when membership in Craven 100 Alliance was being sold to the taxpayers, the figure that was proposed for Craven County fees was a start-up fee of $25,000 and annual dues of $25,000. Somewhere along the way, the annual fee got raised to roughly $50,000.  I say roughly because it is based on population with some exceptions for military members.  Both of these concessions were made in negotiations with New  Bern and Havelock.  I’d guess from the military exception that Havelock was hardest to please, and that upped the cost to Craven County taxpayers.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

There was a very interesting Opinion piece in the Sun Journal recently. It was about a Cove City native who now is the North Carolina State Auditor. Beth Wood is her name, and she is apparently a good watchdog herself. She is quoted in the article as saying that the “most problematic” department in state government is Health and Human Services, because it is so complex and costly.  She said there is a lot of waste in that department.  Large amounts of tax dollars are spent, and there is no accountability, and it’s hard to fix, so the result is waste on a rather grand scale.

This Board of Commissioners meeting illustrated that at the local level. Scott Harrelson, Health Director, asked for a budget amendment.  He asked for a budget addition to the WIC (Women Infants, and Children) funds.  A lot of the money in WIC is for food stamps; however, this time it was for $4,439 to purchase equipment and supplies.  The agenda referred to an attachment to explain the expenditures.   All the attachment said was “C/Outlay and Other Supplies.”  That’s an explanation?

Another thing Mr. Harrelson asked for was $21,000 for prescription drugs for the “Family Planning” budget. Believe it or not, Commissioner Liner voted, “No.”  He did not state his reason, but when I asked him why after the meeting, he said it was because “Family Planning” gave contraceptives to girls as young as 14 without informing the parents, and if the child got sick from the contraption, the family would not know what was wrong!  This is a preposterous situation.  Why do parents tolerate it?

Anyway, the budget amendments all passed because the funds come mainly from the state and feds. This Board will take all the money the feds and state will send to be distributed in Craven County because, “If we don’t, some other county will just get it.”  THAT IS WHAT IS CAUSING THE $18 TRILLION DOLLAR NATIONAL DEBT.  How long will this economic house of cards stand?

And ISN’T IT STRANGE that the “MOST PROBLEMATIC” department in North Carolina is the one chosen to extend more and more social services to the citizens of Craven County.  It continues to grow and grow.  Examples abound.  There’s the In-Patient Hospice, the Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), and various Certificates of Need (CONs) that the County can buy with taxpayer money to stifle private competition (owned by taxpayers), and then sell them for a “profit.” Are we crazy?  Why do we put up with this stuff?

Respectfully submitted,

Hal James

CCTA Watchdog Committee Chairman

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