Moore County Commissioner Tim Lea is running at break-neck speed across the county, preaching to anyone who will listen — stray dogs, grazing cows, and convalescent patients — about how he supposedly is the last line of defense against his colleagues’ “big spending” ways. Is he right? Let’s take a look at the facts. (Facts can be incredibly inconvenient, sometimes.)
- The Public Safety Center: Lea has been highly critical of this currently-underway $26.2 million project in Carthage. Lea claims a majority of the board ignored his concerns about the current site and the project cost. I obtained a copy of the presentation the architect (Ware Bonsall) made to the board of the commissioners. The commissioners voted to support the architect’s “Option 1B” proposal, which the architect’s documents describe as the “Least costly option.” Lea is championing the architect’s “Option 2B ” proposal, which the architect’s documents describe as the “most costly option.” (To make things even more confusing, minutes from a March 2009 meeting show Lea making a motion to pursue contracts for “Option 1B” — in other words, what is under construction in Carthage as I write.) Lea is also criticizing the size of the jail cells in the project. Funny thing is — Lea and his colleague Larry Caddell were on the committee that overwhelmingly approved cell size, and other aspects of the project, prior to the start of construction.
- Surplus: County officials are preparing to announce a $2 million surplus from last year’s budget. Sounds like they are doing a better job in Carthage than they are in Raleigh and DC. The fund balance is in excess of $25 million. County sources suggest roughly HALF of that could be kicked back to the taxpayers, and county government would function JUST FINE.
- Who’s the BIG SPENDER? The last budget commissioner Lea voted FOR was the 2007-2008 version, which sought $49 million in revenue. According to county documents, the budget for the previous year, 2006-2007, was for $36 million. So, Lea voted FOR increasing county spending by $13 million in ONE YEAR. Current budgets have the county BACK AT 2006-2007 spending levels, with plenty of money to service its debt.
- Debt: Lea has been claiming that the county has more than $220 million in debt. Official county documents show the debt total at $135,323,267. That includes roughly $85 million in voter-approved school bonds, which the county government is obligated for. $17.75 million of that is for utility work that will be paid for via utility customer water/sewer bill payments. County officials say Lea is including potential interest payments if the county takes 40 years to pay off the debt — something my sources describe as “highly unlikely.” It would be more honest for Lea to describe his figure as “the total potential exposure” for the county.
- County payroll: The last budget supported by Lea(2007-2008) included paying for 644 county employees. The county currently has 614 employees.