Mayor: Leaders get failing grade

Matthew Block - Contributing columnist

With the end of the school year, it is time also for the mayor’s office to issue grades on the goings-on in Laurinburg community.

To Beacham and Lynn McDougald and contributors to a successful St. Andrews fundraising campaign, the mayor’s office recognizes the time, effort and generosity involved in raising over $500,000 in support of Laurinburg’s greatest asset. For this tremendous accomplishment for the good of our community — a solid “A plus.”

To the Laurinburg Art Garden’s creators, in recognition of the vision, energy, and hard work of the many people involved in this project where an eyesore at the intersection of Church and Main has been transformed into an attractive community space. Special thanks goes to Laurinburg’s former Community Developer Teddy Warner, UNCP’s Adam Walls, LDRC, Laurinburg Beautification team and many others who brought this project to fruition. For this — an emphatic “A plus.”

To the Laurinburg City Council, the mayor’s office is concerned with continued bad behavior. As if spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on an estimate on a new city hall without listening to a word of citizen input wasn’t concern enough, your actions at budget time is cause for further alarm.

Denying the Arts Council a paltry $7,500 and the Humane Society a measly $5,000 increase sends the wrong message to citizens concerned with civic improvement. Council’s reluctance to prioritize things that citizens ask for (recreation, more policing, lower utilities) while writing checks for things council alone wants such as new chambers and new polo shirts and windbreakers for themselves with taxpayer’s money has the mayor’s office thinking perhaps there is a serious learning disability at play here.

How else to explain council’s apparent vision of a city where the poor people live among feral animals, marauding gangs, and no recreation or arts, while city council sits in their new clothes in a $9 million castle (perhaps equipped with a moat to keep cats, criminals and citizens away) complete with a gym and opulent amenities? For this, the mayor’s office sees no option but to issue a furious “F.”

To the Scotland County school board, the mayor’s office is similarly troubled. The board seems to not understand the simple fact that Laurinburg taxpayers cannot afford a $41 million bill at this time. School officials seem oblivious to the fact that home prices are falling here, the population is shrinking and that even before adding this huge expense, the Scotland County taxpayer is already paying the highest relative school tax out of all 100 counties in the state(according to the NC School Forum). Who do they think is going to pay for this? And they plan to eliminate over 40 high-paying positions (by attrition) to help pay for this. The plan will also abandon more buildings, and most importantly, it is unnecessary.

Why, the mayor’s office asks, is IEJ too old be renovated into an Early College campus, but Covintington School is not, when both facilities were built the same year? Could it be the neighborhood IEJ is in? Why can’t IEJ students — the only failing primary school — be divided up to attend N. Laurinburg, Covington and South Scotland, where their education might improve, and move early college to IEJ? With this plan, there would be no more empty buildings, smaller schools, more jobs and no $41 million dollar debt? The mayor’s office is forced to issue a disappointed “F.”

Lastly, the Scotland County Commissioners. At their recent meeting, they took ‘governing’ to a new level, but not a higher one. During their budget discussion they seemed to think that there would be dancing in the streets for a plan to lower the tax rate a penny or two (which, by the way, would still leave Scotland County the highest taxed county, by far). At the same meeting, I kid you not, they began to seriously consider borrowing not just the $41 million the schools want, but tacked on a couple million more for their projects. The mayor’s office stands dumbfounded. Do they not realize that the Scotland County taxpayer already spends relatively more on the schools than any other in the state. Isn’t that the reason Scotland County taxes are the highest in the state? Now they are going to put a $41 million mortgage on top of that? The mayor’s office issues a “D minus.” holding off on a failing grade in the hope that commissioners come to their senses and avoid failure of their duty.

To the citizens of this community, who volunteer their time and effort and expertise, to make Laurinburg a better place, the mayor’s office shows its deepest appreciation for what you have done so well and hopefully will continue to do.

To the elected officials of this community, the mayor’s office, whose concern is not to ‘go along to get along’, but to speak out for the betterment of Laurinburg and its citizens, asks you to do better, knows you can do better, and sincerely hopes on behalf of the citizens of Laurinburg, that you will do better.

Matthew Block

Contributing columnist

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

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

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