County discusses tax cuts, ETJ, water supply

It was a long morning for the Moore County Board of Commissioners, who met on Tuesday, May 28, to discuss items of business relating to Moore County happenings. The meeting, hosted in the Moore County Senior Enrichment Center, lasted four hours and covered issues from every corner of the county.

Fiscal Year 2025 Budget

The commissioners discussed the Fiscal Year 2025 Budget at length, having been given a presentation on the proposed budget at a previous meeting. The budget’s mission statement is “providing exceptional services that make Moore County a premier community in which to live, work, and raise a family.”

A recent budget review suggested lowering the property tax rate to .32/$100. Now, the proposed rate is .31/$100.

Chairman Commissioner Nick Picerno stated that this is the third consecutive year of reductions for taxpayers in Moore County.

“This ensures we fund our schools, our fire, our police and rescues; there are no service cuts in this budget, only increases to cover the inflationary cost,” explained Picerno. “It’s a great opportunity to cut another penny, but it does not affect the schools.”

Commissioner Jim Von Canon agreed and noted that many Moore County residents are struggling financially due to inflation and rapidly rising living costs. “Pennies are helping,” he said. “I think the credit card debt just for groceries is higher than it’s ever been. A penny doesn’t seem like a lot until you multiply it a couple million times. It’s our responsibility to worry about what’s happening on the ground right now with our citizens.”

Additional topics that were discussed during the budget review to be covered more in-depth at later dates:

-Excess funds that did not have a pre-determined allocation were to be designated to fire and rescue departments, which the commissioners agreed to favorably.

-The commissioners have already approved several school projects and allocated the funding, including new bleachers, HVAC units, and curtain rigging for auditoriums. They hope to hear more concrete proposals from the Board of Education in the near future.

-Progress continues on the ongoing sewer project for Seven Lakes and West End. As it stands, the committee and engineers behind the project do not anticipate sufficient funding to complete it and do not yet have a solid estimate of how much additional funding they will need.

-After hearing about the poor condition of the Davis Community Center in Robbins, the commissioners are considering allowing the building to be demolished and constructing a new multi-use facility to serve the community better. Picerno suggested preserving its history but moving forward with a facility that can be functional and support the community, which includes working in conjunction with Sandhills Community College.

-County-wide waste collection and disposal improvements were discussed, including a new scale house and an attendant building for the Aberdeen waste collection site. Von Canon suggested that a new waste collection site be built in the Lobelia-Crains Creek area to make waste collection easier and cut back on litter/dumping in that region.

A vote on the proposed $216,653,005 net budget will take place in June.

Water Supply Update

The Public Works Department provided a comprehensive update on the county’s water sources and discussed future strategies to meet Moore County’s growing demand. County water supplies are currently sourced from multiple locations, including Harnett County, Southern Pines, Aberdeen, and Pinehurst, utilizing 6.838 million gallons per day from several basins and wells.

However, the imminent expiration of the Aberdeen contract in 2025 poses a significant concern. While Southern Pines is expected to renew its contract through 2033 or 2034, losing Aberdeen’s water supply remains daunting. With the potential loss of Aberdeen’s water supply and rapid development in the county, the county is expected to outpace its water supply in coming years unless a new contract can be formed from a new source.

The county is exploring new water sources, including drilling two wells on Linden Road and planning deep wells in the bedrock aquifer. 

A revised System Development Fee Analysis was presented, recommending a 3.5% fee increase effective July 1 to support necessary infrastructure investments. Commissioners debated the best course of action, balancing the need for self-reliance and cost-efficiency.

Picerno emphasized the uncertainty of projecting growth and its impact on water demand, along with the burden increased rates would place on homeowners. “Do we want to continue to drive up the cost of home ownership?” he asked. “We’ve got to do something, but I’m struggling with trying not to overburden our homeowners while also needing to find more water.”

Von Canon cautioned against costly infrastructure decisions, while Commissioner Kurt Cook vocalized the importance of self-reliance to avoid dependency on external sources. Ultimately, the board moved to continue the discussion in their next meeting to allow for a more thorough consideration of this issue.

Extraterritorial Jurisdiction: Pros and Cons

The meeting’s hot topic was Senate Bill 166, which would “remove ETJ within the county of Moore.”

Extraterritorial Jurisdiction (ETJ) is complex and often hotly debated. ETJs allow cities to extend their regulatory authority beyond their boundaries and are often used to control growth, appearances, and nuisances.

The commissioners discussed that in the past, three new requests for ETJs have been made: by the Town of Pinebluff, the Town of Carthage, and the Village of Pinehurst. All three entities faced “extreme opposition in the courtrooms,” and none passed.

Several speakers representing municipalities large and small across the county were present to discuss the topic. Though the meeting was not a public forum, Picerno wanted to hear their thoughts and allotted speakers time to argue their points. “I have to look from both sides of the fence,” he said. Instead of taking a stand, getting mad, and causing problems, I want to have a discussion.”

The first representative to speak was Cameron Town Clerk Wendy Butner. “We use our ETJ as a corridor into our community, where we can control how it looks,” she stated simply. “It would take away our zoning district. Our planning board has more ETJ members on it than it does in-town members.”

However, Von Canon noted that the municipalities with more residents in their ETJs than in-town residents — one of which is Cameron — are the only two whose ETJ residents do not voice complaints as they are the only two whose populations are fairly represented on the planning boards.

Similar to Cameron, a representative from Foxfire expressed that their landowners want to preserve and maintain control over their community, including surrounding areas. Proponents of ETJs argue that they are crucial for managing growth, preserving aesthetic standards, and ensuring orderly development.

Yet, one speaker from Vass stated, “People in the ETJs aren’t happy because they are not represented, and the town is allowing too-rapid development. We want to [have a] choice.”

This sentiment was echoed by Thomas Tyson, a representative from the small community of Jackson Hamlet, who took the podium to speak on over two decades of documented issues surrounding Pinehurst’s ETJ.

“We can’t do anything unless we go through Pinehurst, and the only thing we get if we go through Pinehurst is permits,” started Tyson, “yet Pinehurst has taken measures to avoid maintaining or representing us. Jackson Hamlet is a small, Black, historical community. We’d rather see it go to the county because we would get more support and representation than we do now.”

Tyson went on to cite records and studies of decades of requests for Pinehurst to pave and repair Jackon Hamlet roads, and the community has been excluded from local government participation, thereby denying them the opportunity to protect their property and citizen rights.

Public sentiment on ETJs remained mixed. Some residents appreciate the increased property values and proximity to city amenities, while others feel disenfranchised and overburdened by city regulations on properties outside city limits. Though Von Canon spoke against ETJs, he stated that Moore County municipalities should give residents the right to vote on whether they’d like their town to have Extraterritorial Jurisdiction.

Senate Bill 166 has recently been turned into a legislative study, during which officials will discuss the subject over the next year.

~Article and photo by Abegail Murphy, Sandhills Sentinel assistant editor.  

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