Area budgets in place but challenges remain

Gary Cunard

Area budgets in place but challenges remain

This is the time of the year when the mid-summer news doldrums often set in but that may not be happening this year.

The good news is that all local governments and the schools got through the annual budget nonsense with a minimum of controversy and bloodshed -- but there are still major issues that have to be dealt with locally.

The most concerning -- especially for all of us who live in the county and rely on wells for our drinking water -- is this issue with radon radiation.

Keep watching this newspaper as we try to sort through the ins and outs of this issue and hopefully provide information on properly getting water tested and how to minimize the dangers.

This is a new issue for us, so it may take us awhile to sort through something so complicated -- and if some of you know the answers, don't hesitate to write letters to the editor or give us a phone call to point us in the right direction.

But, if what we are hearing turns out to be accurate, all of us who draw water from residential wells need to be concerned -- and have the water tested.

Keep reading -- and we'll do our best to provide the information you need.

Another issue that needs some consideration this summer is the Franklin County airport, which also is called some highfalutin name that bears no significance to the actual airport or its location.

Recently, as you read last week, the former airport manager, Stephen Merritt, was honored for his dedication, vision and all-too-short leadership of the facility.

Merritt was killed in a plane crash in December, 2017, and his position still hasn't been filled.

If you'll pardon a sentence of bad puns, the airport appears to have been flying with no one at the stick -- and no eyes on the instruments!

An interim manager, drafted from the Economic Development office, has been keeping things on the runway -- but that begs the question. If he's at the airport, who is doing his job at the EDC and, more importantly, what are Bo Carson's qualifications to lead one of the county's most successful departments?

After what it called a long, intensive search, the county announced earlier this year that it had hired a new airport manager -- and he seemed eminently qualified (no, really, he did seem to be extremely qualified!) to lead the airport and take over where Steve's efforts tragically ended.

But -- and if you're a conspiracy theorist, pay attention -- the troubling thing is that the new manager quit before he even started! That's never been explained -- nor has why an eminently qualified finance director quit a few years ago after about a day on the job.

One has to wonder ... doesn't one?

Supporters of the airport, which Steve managed to make a profit center for the county, also should be concerned about the antics of the county commissioners regarding the facility.

First, the commissioners suddenly abolished the very successful Airport Commission that had been providing leadership and downgraded their powers to merely an advisory council.

Commissioners never really explained that abrupt move -- which came after the airport got millions in grant money -- except to give some lame excuse that they were providing commission members protection from potential lawsuits which, as far as we can tell, never happened and were never threatened! Go figure.

But since the county commissioners have taken over "active" management of the airport, they have never held a single public discussion of the needs, issues, finances or management of the facility. The now defunct Airport Commission used to do that monthly!

This change is really troubling. Remember the old saying which predicted "that which runs by itself runs only down hill."

Even on that Saturday morning when there was a ceremony honoring Merritt for his leadership and accomplishments on behalf of the county, not one -- not a single one -- county commissioner attended the ceremony. Not even David Bunn who is a member of this county advisory council, which supposedly now runs the airport.

By the way, since being downgraded from a commission to a board of advisors, there has been trouble getting enough members to attend a meeting to form a quorum. The June scheduled meeting was called off because there would be no quorum attending.

And on Monday, word came that the July 9 meeting was cancelled, although no reason was given. You can bet it was a lack of a quorum!

That's at least two months with no meeting of the governing board and the next meeting, if there is a quorum, will be Aug. 13.

There are literally millions of dollars at stake at the airport and it seems that oversight and management could (should!) be a lot tighter!

Positive progress

On the flip side, it would appear that the long-awaited and sorely needed Louisburg High School sports complex is on track -- and that there should be a formal ground breaking soon.

The idea is to get cleats on the new football field in the fall of 2020 and that is possible but work needs to begin soon.

The school board, architects and contractors have finalized the details of the work, and chiseled a little more off the cost, now all that's needed is for the commissioners to administer their blessing.

This is an important step to bring LHS up to "parity" with the other two general high schools in the county, as was promised in the 1990s when Franklinton and Franklin County schools were merged.

Unfair taxation

On this, our Independence Day holiday -- which exists partly because of unfair taxation -- here's a local example of an unfair tax.

The county just raised the convenience center fee from $85 to $90 a year.

The money is supposed to pay for operation of the convenience centers, although it's hard to see how their costs have increased that much in a year when residents can't even get a load of gravel delivered so they don't have to wade through standing water to get to the dumpsters!

But here's the larger issue: If this tax pays for convenience centers, why do residents of Louisburg or other towns that have residential garbage collection services have to pay that fee -- which is just a tax called by another name? They are already paying for that service in the bills they pay to their town.

And why does anyone in the county who pays a private contractor to pick up their trash have to pay that fee/tax? They, too, are already paying it in their collection bill.

Although I disagree with the concept of this tax, I understand why I have to pay it since we live in the country and use the convenience centers regularly. That's a service we use, so we should help pay for it.

But those in town -- and those using private contractors to handle their trash -- don't use the convenience centers and shouldn't have to pay for them.

Isn't paying unfair taxes for something you don't need, want or use one of the reasons our ancestors told the King of England to take a hike?

Another issue

Then there is also the safety issue regarding many of the convenience centers that are located along main roads.

It's a double-barrelled problem.

First, there are no safe turn lanes from the highway into the convenience centers, so those planning to turn into the centers have to stop in the highway and wait until it's safe to turn, hoping that no distracted driver ploughs into their vehicle from behind.

Worse, the entrance -- at least at the one we use near Edward Best School -- is too narrow for two vehicles to pass so things can get congested and even more dangerous.

By comparison, one of those "small box" stores recently went in just a few hundred feet from the Edward Best inconvenience center and they were required to build entrances that make turning into their parking lot a lot safer and easier.

I hope I'm way off base, but I suspect we'll have a bad accident at one of these centers sooner or later -- all because a simple engineering solution has been ignored for years.

Of course, the biggest question is why I still write about this stuff because these issues never get fixed?

Be safe

Yep, believe it or not, it's the Fourth of July and, unofficially at least, summer is half over and the kids will be returning to the classroom before you know it -- especially if they are on those funky year-round schedules.

Since the Fourth falls on a Thursday this year, many folks are doing their best to stretch the holiday into a multi-day event the way government has been doing with virtually every holiday for years!

So, go fishin', have a picnic, toss something delicious on the grill, watch a parade, catch up on household chores, just chill or do whatever other things strike your fancy, but don't forget to take a few moments and reflect on our freedoms and what they mean to every American.

But above all else, be safe this week. Fireworks can injure, boating and swimming accidents can drown and traffic crashes are sometimes horrific.

So be careful and be safe.

And have a Happy Fourth of July! If you can, pretend you work for the government and try to stretch out the holiday for a few more days!