During the New Hanover County Commission meeting Monday morning, one issue garnering a lot of press was that of the purchase of more than 80 acres in the Smith Creek area for parks and amenities for almost $4 million. Several initial reports stated that the vote was unanimously in favor of the expenditure; however, upon close examination, it was noticed that the call for "all those opposed" by Chairman Barfield was apparently never made, and therefore the lone dissenting vote of Brian Berger, was never heard.
The Wilmington Watcher was able to catch up with Berger immediately after the meeting. "I did not vote in favor of the measure; and since the call for those opposed was never made, I had to check with the clerk to make sure that she had properly recorded my vote against it", he said.
As of this writing, it is not known as to the legality of the procedure, and the omission of the nay votes. Stay tuned to The Wilmington Watcher for updates on this developing story.
The video of the meeting is available online, in which the omission can clearly be seen, as well as Berger's silence during the aye vote. See item #13, within the last minute of the segment here: http://newhanovernc.swagit.com/player.php?refid=05162011-14
Also noteworthy, were the mathematical justifications of such an exorbitant purchase by county taxpayers by both Commissioner Davis and Commissioner Catlin. Davis, who calls those who question these actions "naysayers" and "skeptics", reports that David Swain, who bought the entire parcel that the county is purchasing a portion of, paid $6,255,000 for 140 acres. The county bought 85 acres for $3.8 million; equaling a difference of $27 per acre between what Swain paid and what the county is paying.
Much defense of the purchase was made based on the fact that it is being bought with parks bond money, which is issued debt that must be paid back by taxpayers with interest; a practice that is often criticized by conservatives as being presented dishonestly, as if it is money that has been set aside, or saved for a particular purpose; when in fact, it is nothing but potential debt with interest.
Interestingly, Davis, a Republican, said, "I realize we have this bond money; and I realize we don't have to use it - we don't have to spend it". It is often misreported that since the county has already been issued the bond money that it must be spent; however, the county commission, if being guided by concern for the taxpayer and fiscally responsible ideals, could decide to use the issued funds to pay down the existing debt, and relieve the taxpayers altogether, instead of continuing to spend the money, adding to the principle and accrued interest that taxpayers must pay back.
Commissioner Rick Catlin, also a Republican, echoes Davis by saying that the county got a great deal because if they had to purchase all of the land, instead of just what they wanted, they would have had to pay money for expenses and upkeep while waiting to sell it off in the next year or so.
Parks Director Jim McDaniel reported that the county got "90% of the lake frontage" in the 85 acres that the county purchased from David Swain's 140 acres. By all accounts, the county claims that it got the best land out of the total property, and even admits that Swain could have chosen to develop all of the land as homesites and make a fortune. However, for some reason, Swain purchased the 140 acres, and sold the very best part of the land to the county at cost, for no reported benefit to himself or his business whatsoever; truly a rarity among business philanthropy; especially when taxpayer money is at stake.