A Monday meeting between Havelock and Craven County officials to hash out ongoing issues turned into a 4 1/2-hour marathon that leaders say was worth the time.
"It was probably one of the best meetings I’ve had with the county in many years," Havelock Mayor Jimmy Sanders said, although "there were really no concrete changes, no new deals agreed to."
Havelock and Craven County officials had been at odds, mainly over what city officials termed a lack of financial support from the county for programs that benefit both city and county residents.
"I was exceptionally pleased with the willingness of City of Havelock leaders to be forthcoming about their relationship with the county," said Scott Dacey, chairman of the Craven County Board of Commissioners. "I believe it was a very productive meeting."
Neither board had a quorum, so the meeting was not subject to open meetings law and was closed to the public and press.
Two recent issues precipitated the meeting at the Havelock Tourist and Event Center: The city’s unmet request for Craven County to buy new computers for the Havelock-Craven County Library and a federal-state cut in senior meals funding that resulted in that program being cut at the Havelock and Harlowe senior centers.
Another issue discussed was the old Phoenix landfill site. The site abandoned more than a decade ago is located on county property but is next to city property and Tucker Creek Middle School. Back taxes are owed after the company went bankrupt, but the county has not foreclosed, fearing liability for the site cleanup, estimated at $7 million. The city would like to build a park on the site.
Other topics included funding for recreation, water, courtroom, emergency medical services, school resource officers and tourism development. City officials say about 40 percent of participants in the city recreation program are county residents and would like more financial support from the county. They also say city ambulances respond to calls in a wide area, ranging from Harlowe and Adams Creek to Carolina Pines and Catfish Lake.
"There were a series of legitimate concerns raised by city officials concerning their belief there has been a level of inequity of treatment of the City of Havelock relative to other parts of the county," Dacey said.
"As I have learned while now having served 2 1/2 years, this is another instance where things have been allowed to go on unchecked too long," he said. "I believe our board will go forward to address the concerns as quickly and well as we can within the fiscal restraints before us."
The debate over funding Havelock library computers appears close to resolution. The city committed $4,000 on top of its budget for the computers, expecting the county to come up with $6,000 for the remaining cost. Instead, the county supplied no money. Officials later blamed miscommunication and said a plan is in the works to get all regional libraries new computers.
"There are areas the county can improve on to make certain the citizens of Havelock have a good experience at their local library," Dacey said.
As for senior meals, the county cited budget cuts in ending the programs in Havelock and Harlowe, saying those who qualified for free meals could come to New Bern to participate. City and eastern Craven County officials said they felt their programs were targeted for elimination when across-the-board cuts throughout the county could have saved them.
"Again, there was no real resolution," Sanders said. "Some new questions came up and they are going to be researched. I think there is a willingness on the part of the county to help with this situation to the best of their ability."
Craven County Commissioner Lee K. Allen, who represents the Havelock area, said concerns about ongoing Tourism Development Authority funding for the Havelock Tourist and Event Center when the current agreement expires in 2017 was discussed and a solution for ongoing funding is expected to be worked out, like most of the issues discussed, "with a little give and take on both sides. I know they are impatient but the wheels of government don’t move very fast."
Dacey said the meeting was productive.
"It was exceptionally cordial, direct," he said. "I don’t think either side pulled any punches and are pleased that it appears to be productive."
Sanders said: "Quick take is it was an afternoon well spent. I think we all left with a new respect for each other."