County manager balances budget

At the May 16 Moore County Commissioners meeting, County Manager Wayne Vest said property tax bills for 2024 will be about the same or slightly higher. Personal property, such as vehicles, will have a lower tax rate. This was Vest’s 11th budget presentation.

The 2024 proposed budget is $202,681,365 net, funds county schools at $51,791,838 and Sandhills Community College at $7,950,538.

In April, the commissioners reviewed the school board’s funding request for 2023-2024 at $38,258,500. The school board’s estimated total budget is $182,384,786.

The 2024 proposed budget added task force goals to the regular priorities list. The task force focuses on economic development, homelessness, law enforcement, veterans, solid waste, water, and sewer. The regular three priorities for the budget are education, health and human services, and emergency services.

Vest’s presentation suggested a penny on the general and advanced life support tax rates would create $2,163,174 in revenue. A penny on the fire service district tax rate could create $639,375 in revenue.

The 2024 proposed budget adds 33 full-time jobs and one part-time job.

The board will conduct a public hearing on June 20 at 5:30 p.m. on the 2024 proposed budget. View the presentation here.

In other business, Karen Manning, Caleb Criscoe and Deborah Lawson proposed a new charter school in Carthage named Highlands Charter Academy. Presently, there is no charter school in Carthage, and choices are needed for the economically disadvantaged.

“We want to serve the northern part of the county and will provide transportation,” Manning said about a request for a building on 20 acres.

“We have to do our own funding,” Manning said about not receiving funds until 20 days after students have attended.

Charter schools are public, operated with some freedom, have open enrollment to all disabilities, and have no tuition.

The application was made on April 28, and the founding board will be interviewed in September.

The mission is to use a Western classical education with high moral training and civic virtue, including fine arts and grammar mastery and Latin mastery, and uniforms will be required.

The charter school plans to partner with Hillsdale College to use its curriculum and staff, including the headmaster, and will receive training at its campus.

Already, 160 families have expressed interest, and some families have more than one child.

“Parents were very excited, and they wanted to know more,” Manning said about approaching parents at the Carthage Buggy Festival.

In new business, the board voted to accept a land swap proposal with the Village of Pinehurst as the first step toward ownership.

Vest said they should visit the option of making the Pinehurst property unincorporated from the Village at some point. They did not make definite plans public.

Moore County owns two parcels, one at 111 Power Plant Road and another at 105 Power Plant Road, with two storage tanks, with an appraisal of $335,000.

The Village of Pinehurst owns two parcels on Juniper Lake Road with 44.96 acres and another with 3.2 acres, worth approximately $583,000.

Vest said the land swap would benefit the county and the Village of Pinehurst.

Finally, the public hearing with the planning board to amend the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) on freight terminals for a railroad spur near the Seven Lakes community in West End was continued until June 6 at 10:30 a.m. to allow community input and for the commissioners to research railroad laws.

The railroad spur on six acres is owned by Seven Lakes resident, Angus McDonald, with McDonald Brothers’ Hardware, now out of business, and his brother.

Vice Chairman Frank Quis said Aberdeen Mayor Robert Farrell said there were complaints from nearby railroad residents when the railroad company used a conveyor belt to unload a powdery substance, identified as fertilizer. Quis said he was concerned the powdery substance may be unloaded at the Seven Lakes railroad spur.

McDonald said the use of the terminal was to load and unload lumber and trusses and did not use a conveyor belt.

“We’re a good neighbor and always have been. All we’re trying to do is get this investment going again. We’ve never operated at night, maybe until dark,” McDonald said.

Planning Director Debra Ensminger said the use of bringing in wood was not listed in the table of uses, and the use of that spur had been discontinued 15 years, and they had to add it to the uses.

Chair Nick Picerno said he did not know how they could tell McDonald no.

Ensminger said McDonald had subdivided the railroad spur’s six acres.

“You can restrict what we load and unload but don’t want three-quarters of a million-dollar investment turned into nothing,” McDonald said.

Commissioner John Ritter said the uses could be written as limited.

“It’s something we did successfully for years,” McDonald said about operating the railroad terminal.

Quis said he had concerns about terminal uses that could outlive McDonald’s lumber uses.

~Written by Sandhills Sentinel Journalist Stephanie M. Sellers; BS Mass Communications and Journalism, MFA Creative Writing. Contact her at [email protected]

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