Council’s priorities misplaced


As I am the only city of Laurinburg elected official who objects to demolishing our current police station and building a $5.5 million dollar new one, I thought I owed it to the other five Laurinburg elected officials, namely, Laurinburg City Council, to see for myself the exact situation.

I felt I needed to see, once and for all, if I am wrong and they are right. Contrary to what people may think, I don’t like being at odds with City Council. So, in a show of good faith, I went on a guided tour of the building. I spent over two hours there, looking at everything. I didn’t go up on the roof, but I did go in every corner possible, including the basement.

Well, let me cut to the quick. I do not believe there is any reasonable, unbiased person who, after taking the tour, and who is aware of Laurinburg’s finances and flat growth, would even entertain the thought of demolishing that building. Sure there are a few problems. The building needs a face lift, inside and out. But demolish it? Heavens no!

The so-called safety problems with the building are all minor, and could easily and inexpensively be addressed by adding a bathroom here and a security door there. The building has not been remodeled in decades and definitely needs to be. But there is unused and underused space throughout. There is absolutely no need for even more space. On the weekday morning I toured it, there were only five people in the whole building.

Yes, Laurinburg’s Police Department has 45 members, but 28 are patrol officers, with only 7 working at any given time and those 7 are not in the building anyway. That leaves 17 office-based employees. But only slightly more than half are at work on any given day, which leaves about 10 employees there on the average work day. Surely the roughly 7500 square feet is enough room. If Council feels it would like to provide the police with a fitness room and a large ‘briefing room’, as the plans in the new building call for, I would suggest instead that the second floor City Council chambers be re-purposed for these needs. After all, here in little ol’ Scotland County there is already a brand new County Commissioners meeting room at the Emergency Operations Center and the Board of Education conference room at the AB Gibson Building. Surely, our community can make do with two rather than three fancy, expensive chambers for elected officials to hold forth.

But enough about this, we have wasted more than enough of the citizens’ valuable time and money on this issue. There are many other important matters that I think City Council needs to be concerned with.

For instance, what about Washington Park Elementary School, which closed last year and remains vacant with no buyers? I have not heard one mention by City Council regarding the fate of this important property. This property occupies 14 beautiful acres on S. Caledonia Road, the main thoroughfare of the African American community in Laurinburg. Is Council going to turn their backs on Washington Park? It is interesting that the three council members who represent this area don’t seem concerned about the effects on this neighborhood of a huge vacant property. These are the same three, by the way, who were so concerned about protecting neighbors’ quality of life that they voted against allowing a military company that would have brought jobs to the Abbott building. If Council is waiting for a church to buy it, they shouldn’t hold their breath. Unlike Carver and Pate-Gardner, Washington Park is within the city of Laurinburg and the cost of owning and operating a property this size within city limits is prohibitive for a church. So, will Council wash their hands of this property, while it decays, like the old Laurinburg High School on East Church Street and the Abbott Lab building? Or, will Council explore what should or could be done? Former Laurinburg Police Chief NW Quick suggested, before he passed, that it would be ideal for a police substation. Washington Park School is on the southern edge of the highest crime corridor in the city. Having a police presence there would send a message to that community that law and order will prevail and thereby promote confidence in home or business ownership in a section of the city that sorely needs it. And, more importantly for the residents of not only Washington Park but for all Laurinburg citizens struggling to pay their bills, it could be done for far, far less than $5.5 million.

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Matthew Block

Contributing columnist

 

Matthew Block serves as mayor of Laurinburg. He writes a bi-weekly column on the city and municipal issues.

 

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