A cutting-edge prison facility?Published 9:47pm Wednesday, April 2, 2014
No city, county, state or nation has ever failed because it did not have a cutting-edge prison facility. Communities fail because debt burdens lead to taxes that overwhelm their economies.
Beaufort County’s commissioners are committing the county’s 50,000 residents to an additional indebtedness of somewhere near $20,000,000 for a mega jail south of the Pamlico River and they are doing so by purposefully circumventing the voters. By denying taxpayers a vote on this issue the commissioners are avoiding the need to win public approval by means of a rigorous public debate and they are presuming to personally possess the competence to carry out a capital budgeting project that far exceeds anything that any of these men have ever attempted on their own dime.
None of the commissioners favoring the proposal have any professional training in capital budgeting or the evaluation and execution of large multi-year construction projects and, ominously, the board’s past record of undertaking such projects is nothing less than dreadful. Taxpayers only need to ask themselves why the new jail is being located at the Chocowinity Industrial Park. It is because the board shot the county in its collective foot under the Economic Development Commission’s decade of real estate misadventures and now the county owns over two hundred acres of empty land along Frederick Road. While the board was acquiring millions of dollars worth of unsellable real estate it was also borrowing $35,000,000 to build new schools where they were not quite needed and then turned its attention to liquidating the county’s fifty-year investment in health care. Now the commissioners are more than tripling the county’s future prison capacity by undertaking a 350 bed jail complex just as the Attorney General of the United States has endorsed sentencing reforms for nonviolent drug trafficking, and Washington state along with the State of Colorado have legalized marijuana. With the jails of surrounding counties already reported to have excess inmate capacity readily available, just who is Beaufort County going to put in our 350-bed facility?
There is no principle more integral to American politics than the right to vote on substantive issues of community life. Public discussion is democracy’s greatest protection against impetuous action. Our county is about to be encumbered with an additional $20,000,000 in debt and the public’s participation in the process has been limited to half a dozen 3-minute snippets at the beginning of the county board meetings. Frankly, anyone who has ever watched a televised board meeting understands that most of the board’s important votes are cast along lines of whether or not Hood Richardson is for it or against it. Commissioners spend far too much time either echoing or bickering with Commissioner Richardson. Well, Commissioner Richardson hates the new jail. Surprise! Surprise! But the taxpayers should not be disenfranchised concerning a $20,000,000 expenditure just because commissioners cannot get past deciding public policy on the basis of their bruised egos and unresolved personal spats.
Taxpayers deserve better. We deserve a voice in the process. Give us a vote.