Barack Hussein Smithson



We’ve had to endure nearly four years of class warfare nonsense from our soon-to-be ex-president and his cronies.  Now, we’re getting it on the local level from Southern Pines town councilman Chris Smithson.

The setting was the latest council meeting where the proposed rezoning of 500-plus acres near Mid-Pines and Pine Needles by the Bell family.  The Bells, who own both resorts, are seeking to develop this property with proposed uses that could include residential, golf, retail, and possibly retirement / rest homes.   During a discussion of the rezoning proposal, Smithson — apparently seeking some ammo to use in his fight against the rezoning —  decided to launch into a diatribe against two local retirement communities and the fact that they have tax-exempt status under state law.

Mayor David McNeill cautioned Smithson about straying off topic, and encouraged him to focus on the matter at hand.  Not to be deterred, Southern Pines’ boy wonder took his campaign to the message boards of our thrice weekly Peabody Award-winning local newspaper:

Leave church out of this. You, like Mr. Mayor McNeill who indignantly scolded me for bringing up the issue, apparently have no clue as to how or why luxury resorts like Belle Meade don’t have to pay local property taxes. Check NC General Statutes and get back to me. We’ll talk when you understand the law. I have their NC Dept of Insurance reports and I know exactly how they claim exemptions for “community benefits.”

Penick and St Joseph’s account for over 6% of the total taxable base of Southern Pines. That means that every homeowner in SP averages more than $50 extra in property taxes to subsidize the operations of St Joseph’s (“Resort Retirement”) and Penick Village (current ads on radio talk about not having to pay taxes). SP tax losses/shifts are more than $400,000 per year. County taxes are additionally more than $600,000. That’s real money and has NOTHING to do with how or where one chooses to worship (or not).

I’m pretty sure I know who you are and that we are both members of the same church. Doesn’t matter. For the most part, one has to be a millionaire for open admission to either facility. Why should local tax abatement for “Resort Retirement” be legal? Why should someone who chooses or has no choice but to live at home subsidize those who choose to group together with “golf privileges” on numerous local courses? What does healthcare at all with its lobbyist -created, state-enforced exemptions to healthcare self-servitude have to do with local funding which covers things like fire, police, recreation, etc. If the paid-off politicians in Raleigh want to reward the “community benefits” of CCRC’s like St Joseph or Penick, whose “community benefits” largely benefit their pre-approved-for-assets existing residents, then more power to them, but don’t do it on the backs of local taxpayer funding for public safety, parks, etc. We have TRULY disadvantaged people in Southern Pines and ALL of them subsidize the mostly-millionaires in our tax-free retirement communities.

Don’t get me wrong. I think our local CCRC’s are great operations. My grandmother was one of the first residents of Belle Meade. My Aunt was on St Joseph’s board. No problem except they don’t pay property taxes.

The bottom line overall is, if luxury tax free retirement communities were not legal, the Town could afford a brand new fire truck every year or more easily pay for other things like the renovation of our parks.

The bottom line in the context of the “Knollwood Tract” is that the Bell family is asking to be able to have a facility even larger than Belle Meade that could double the unfair tax burden on SP residents.

Oh, where do I begin here?  First, Smithson neglects to mention that Belle Meade is owned by St. Joseph of The Pines, which in turn is owned by The Catholic Church. Smithson denies an accusation from another message board poster that he is FOR taxing churches.  (It sure sounds like that’s what he’s arguing FOR.)

The “community benefits’ Smithson sneers at are –in the case of St. Joseph of The Pines — too numerous to account for in this space.   While Belle Meade’s campus DOES include some nice independent living facilities, it also includes quite a bit of rehab and assisted living space.  St. Joe’s  supplies free and low-cost health and dental care to needy region residents, as well as safe, affordable housing for needy seniors in the region.  St. Joe’s staffers and residents are very active with, and supportive of, all kinds of local charities like The Literacy Council, The Coalition, Habitat For Humanity, and Family Promise, among others.

Penick Village was established in Southern Pines by The Episcopal Church.  It is now an independent operation, but the church is still quite supportive.  Penick provides independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing services.  Penick staffers and residents — like those at St. Joe’s — are also very active with and supportive of all kinds of community service activities and organizations.

Smithson suggests you have to be a millionaire to reside at either location.  I KNOW that’s a false statement.  Penick Village, on occasion, provides financial assistance to current or prospective residents who are in need.  I know several current and former residents of  BOTH communities who are / were nowhere close to millionaire status.

The reason these places have tax-exempt status is that they devote X-amount of their budgets to charitable operations.  St. Joseph of The Pines and Penick Village are both great places that provide comfort to families in need and support to the surrounding communities.

Smithson may have some kind of grudge against Kelly Miller, Pine Needles, or the construction of ANYTHING NEW AT ALL.  But he needs to step back from the class warfare rhetoric and leave Penick & St. Joe’s ALONE.

6 thoughts on “Barack Hussein Smithson

  1. Brant,

    I wish you’d call first…

    Check my website for St Joseph’s claimed community benefits for the last five years. Short of “too numerous to account for” they are usually below $200,000 in most years. They avoid close to $900,000 in local property taxes each year in return for less than $200,000 in “community benefits.” That’s THEIR numbers. That’s audited statements putting themselves in the best legal light. Legal or not, it is not “right.”

    As far as admissions go, just look at their admission prices and monthly fees. They can be upwards of $400,000 for buy in and $3,000 per month forever. Considering that they look at your financial statements for OPEN admission (the usual full, life long admission based on their contracts and not temporary or “special” cases) to ensure residents can afford to stay there long term without running out of money, the numbers speak for themselves. Yes, St Joseph’s and more so Penick bring in some charity cases on a limited basis. They don’t claim much of it. No need to take my word for it. Read the contracts yourself. Read their own annual reports. They’re online. You don’t even have to make a pesky phone call to check facts.

    Again, church affiliation really has nothing to do with the legal loophole that allows “Resort Retirement” to go tax free. Any qualifying nonprofit can operate tax free resort retirement. It doesn’t have to be a church.

    Like I’ve said many times before (if you bothered to look or ask(my number is in the book), which usually provides inconvenient truths for you), I have no problem with either Penick or St Joseph’s or their residents other than the fact that “resort retirement” gets off completely tax free. Should a “charity ward” be tax free? I think that sounds great. Belle Meade is not a charity ward. Again, you may want to look at their contracts- the ones where you have to come up with the six figures and have a lot more than that in the bank- St Joseph’s admits their tax free status and tell prospective residents they may change them if they end up getting taxed. Penick braggs in their radio ads about being tax free.

    The bottom line in the context of The Bell property (which is the current issue) is that your pals McNeill and Fields pretty much ONLY justify their development decisions by claiming tax base increases. Well, no matter how great you, I, or anyone else might think CCRC’s like Belle Meade are, they are tax free. The Bell’s are asking to be able to build something even LARGER than Belle Meade and it could be tax free. You claim McNeill was simply asking me to “focus on the matter at hand” when I brought up the potential tax issue, but if that’s the case, he should do the same when he and Fields use property taxes to justify everything under the sun. Fair is fair, right?

    Frankly, I’d think you of all people would take issue with tax-free “resort retirement.” After all, there are a number of private sector facilities in the area that provide the same types of services without the competitive advantage of property tax abatement. Places like SP Retirement at Pennsylvania and US-1 or Elmcroft assisted living on Brucewood not only pay property taxes, they pay more because the Belle Meades around town don’t. YOU personally pay more taxes because the Belle Meades around town don’t. YOU write blog after blog about the establishment powers and how officials should reject them but you back the establishment up locally at every turn. Well, they are largely “solid Republicans” so I guess it is OK with you.

    This selective outrage or yours is common here. One of your recent postings decried busing of voters to the polls and people being instructed on who to vote for. The exact same thing happened at the Douglass Center (where West SP voters vote) last fall. They were brought in by limo and sent over to certain individuals (one of whom is a Bell employee) who told them who to go in to vote for. Since they were instructed to vote for YOUR cronies, I guess you think that’s OK?

    You may want to do some research on your own and not rely on your “sources.” As you know, they have led you astray in the past. You never corrected those other massive inaccuracies from several of your postings I made you aware of a while back. Remember? Bueller? Bueller?

    You may also want to check most other actual RECORDS instead of whispers from your “sources.” You’ve called me a “Techno-savvy liberal,” but you may again want to do some actual work to learn the facts. I don’t know exactly what you mean by “liberal,” but even a fresh out of j-school “journalist” might check the actual record (you know minutes and stuff). If you were to check the record instead of taking your friends’ whispers as fact, you’d find that I have been the hands-down most fiscally conservative member on the Council since I was elected in 2003. You’d also find my votes don’t line up with what you claim they do. My votes, including one in favor of Pine Needles Village five years ago, are decidely pro-development. If I am guilty of someting, I am guilty in treating everyone consistently and fairly and not giving special consideration to cronies. Again, this is another “inconvenient truth” for those of you who wish to label me as “anti-development.” We even have a common “foe” in the Pilot, although they like to lie about me too. A few years back, they published a front page article about a potential “conflict of interest” due to my $15/month membership in the Elk’s lodge yet they have nothing to say about the two current members of the Council who are into big dollars as members of the Pine Needles golf club. Fair is fair, right?

    Also, I have never been affiliated with a party other than Republican. Again check the RECORD. I went “tea party” before there was one. I abandoned the hypocritical spend-like-drunken-sailor-worse-than-Democrats Rep. party mid-late Bush II, a couple of years before people started wearing tri-corner hats again. But the local party only pushes “Good Republicans” even in non-partisan races, so I must be a “Liberal.” right?

    “Techno savvy?” It’s relative at least. I am probably more techno-savvy than many, but that’s because I am just 40 and grew up with this stuff. Right or wrong, I take “techno savvy” as a compliment.

    Why not talk to your blogging friend Mr. Cochrane? I don’t know exactly what he thinks of me, but he has actually been to a few SP Town Council meetings and thus has infinitely more primary source info than you do. I suspect that at the very least he’d admit I have a more reasonable, pragmatic approach to local government than most of my fellow officials. He’d also have to admit that it is the Mayor who has a number of pet projects presented to Council where he wants to spend additional tens if not hundreds of thousands of taxpayer money. Darn inconvenient truths….

    Call me. My numbers are in the book and on my website. I think you’ll find we agree on the majority of things and that maybe your pals are feeding you something that smells a lot like bull…

    Chris Smithson

    1. Chris:

      So, are you suggesting that the fire dept check people’s property tax records before responding to calls? Are you suggesting that they take credit card payments before dispatching ambulances and fire trucks?

      You are using the same kind of tactics your namesake, our soon to be ex-president, uses. You are focusing on Belle Meade, so people will see the nice facilities and get jealous and then angry. Gin up that class warfare! Never mind that Belle Meade is just one piece of the St. Joseph’s empire. They provide TONS of health care services to people of ALL income levels. They provide a lot of housing to indigent / needy seniors in the region (Providence Place, by Granny’s Donuts, is one of their complexes). From what I understand, those endeavors to benefit the elderly poor in the region are money losers. But St. Joe’s is not in business totally for the money.

      You claim that I am spitting out a bunch of falsehoods about you. All I did was quote your post on and voice my opinion about it. Are you suggesting that quoting you is akin to quoting falsehoods?

      Talking about the tax status of two retirement communities in town has no place in a rezoning hearing. That’s outside your jurisdiction. If you don’t like retirement homes, change zoning regulations to ban them inside town. Good luck with that, by the way.

      Tax breaks for charitable and church-owned entities is a state and federal issue. (Town council can’t do a thing about that.) Ending tax-exempt status for these kind of communities opens the door to taxing churches.

      I think you should run for the state House with a platform of ending that tax break. Let’s see how well that works for you.

      Why should I have called you? Look at the masthead. This is a commentary site. It’s my analysis and opinion. Does Steve Bouser call you before he writes an editorial mentioning you? (No.)

      And you’re a Tea Partier? Chris, you’re going to be struck by lightning. During your first run for mayor, you endorsed the Sierra Club’s Cool Cities initiative — which has government policing private energy consumption rates. You teamed up with anti-development, big government types David Woodruff and Marsh Smith during your second failed run for mayor. None of that fits into the Tea Party’s limited government agenda.

      You were even quoted in the Pilot complaining about Home Depot planning to use its trademarked corporate colors on its proposed Southern Pines store. Anything to oppose / muck up a development deal!

      What it all boils down to is: You’re an attention hound. You like to fight, and tie things into knots, and muck up the process. You’re not a problem solver. You’re a drama creator.

      If you’re really concerned about tax revenue, maybe you should stop trying to chase away development. There’s a lot of potential for additional tax revenue on those 550-plus acres owned by the Bells.

      One good thing I can say about you is that you appear to have mastered the art of the filibuster. Maybe you should take a run at the US Senate.

      1. That description sounds a lot like another local politician. Can’t
        recall his name at the moment…

  2. Bravo!! As stated on the Pilot website, The Councilman likes to set up straw men to knock them down, appealling to his stop everything now crowd, but in the end the tax status of an applicant is not his business, just a red herring.

  3. Chris Smithson is a liberal who is fighting the new direction of the southern pines board which is pro growth, pro business, and pro economic success. The town of Southern Pines tried the Smithson, and the Abigail Dowd model of more government and more regulation. It did not work. Having gone to lunch with Chris, he is a nice guy, but at the end of the day is a liberal who is afraid to admit it and so he hides behind the independent tag.

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