Leaders oppose merger

Published 1:17 am Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Chief Deputy Harry Meredith with the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office took issue Monday night with some of the information about the Sheriff’s Office presented by Commissioner Hood Richardson at recent meetings of the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners and encouraged local residents to call the Sheriff’s Office if they have any complaints about the office. Richardson responded that he was “delighted” the two were having the exchange (Betty Mitchell Gray photo).

The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners agreed with other local leaders that merging Beaufort County Community College with a neighboring one is a bad idea.

But on Monday night the panel turned back an impassioned plea by one of its members to oppose merging any of the state’s community colleges in an effort to save money.

The commissioners voted 6-1 to join the Washington City Council, the Beaufort County Board of Education and several other local boards in opposing an effort to save tax dollars by joining BCCC with community colleges in Pitt, Martin and, possibly, Edgecombe counties.

Commissioner Robert Cayton, who had asked the board to consider a resolution that opposed merging any community colleges, cast the sole dissenting vote.

He said after the vote that he voted against the resolution because he supported broader language that opposed any community college mergers.

“It’s principle, principle, principle,” Cayton said.

Cayton’s proposal to expand the motion to oppose any community college mergers was rejected by the panel 6-1 with only Cayton voting for it.

“There are some poorly run community colleges in North Carolina,” said Commissioner Hood Richardson in response to Cayton’s proposal. “The issue for Beaufort County is this community college is well-managed. It has the support of the community.

“We are better off protecting what we have rather than take on the legislature on this issue,” he said.

The vote came after BCCC President David McLawhorn asked the commissioners to take exception to a study now before the N.C. General Assembly which recommends the merger of BCCC with another community college within 30 miles of its campus.

In July, the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee approved the findings of the report, “Purchasing Consortiums and Merging Community Colleges Could Save $26.2 Million Over Seven Years.” It estimates that by merging smaller community colleges and establishing a system of statewide purchases, the state could reap an estimated $26.2 million in savings over seven years – including $8.6 million in savings by completing 15 community college mergers by 2018.

It touts significant savings in administrative costs by combining community colleges with fewer than 3,000 full-time equivalent students, or FTEs, with another community college less than 30 miles away.

Despite the fact that many of the state’s leaders – including Gov. Bev Perdue, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger and N.C. Rep. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort – have said they oppose the plan, McLawhorn said opposition by local leaders to the proposal is still needed.

It is expected that other legislative leaders will announce their opposition to the plan in the coming days.

“We need to take a bat and beat it down … hoping this thing will go away,” McLawhorn said of the study.

Commissioner Stan Deatherage challenged some of McLawhorn’s comments and asked “You will concede that there are some community colleges that are inefficient and need merging? I’d like to see some language that says they are not all wrong in Raleigh.”