Commissioners discuss projects requiring help from legislators

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, March 8, 2023

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The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners discussed requesting money from legislators to help with the start of several, possible public safety projects at their regular meeting on Monday (Mar. 6). Funding would come from the state budget which is written and approved by the General Assembly then sent to Governor Roy Cooper’s office for final approval. 

North Carolina Senator Jim Perry sent a letter to commissioners asking which projects they would like to see funded by the state. The same letter was sent to other counties Perry represents, Craven and Lenoir. 

Three projects commissioners discussed included updating first responder radios, improvement of an emergency communications building, a detention center and a sheriff’s office.  

Updating the radios would require about $2 million dollars, Chairman Freddie Waters said during the meeting. Interim Emergency Management Director Chris Newkirk said the department has applied for federal funding the past for handheld radios for the fire stations. The handheld radios would cost $1 million and radios inside emergency vehicles would be an estimated $700,000 plus an estimated $300,000 for additional technology infrastructure. The new handheld radios would allow for more seamless communication between the fire stations and law enforcement, Newkirk explained. 

Chairman Waters went on to share the cost of a new public safety complex would cost about $5.5 million. This would house emergency communications and the sheriff’s office. He also shared that a new detention center would cost an estimated $22 million for a 140-bed facility. 

The rough total for all three projects would be $29.5 million. 

“Senator Perry is asking us for potential capital needs so I don’t know a better time to ask when somebody asks, ‘We’re working on the state budget. Do you have anything on your wishlist,” Waters said, paraphrasing Perry’s letter. 

Waters explained it may be better to build a new public safety center rather than improve the current facility the sheriff’s office and emergency communications shares. He said engineers have shown possible issues with raising floors and building additional bathrooms. 

In talking about which projects to request funding for from Senator Perry (and Representative Keith Kidwell as well), Commissioner Ed Booth said the “wishlist” is a “great list.” 

“Even if Senator Perry does it, we also got the illustrious Kidwell here that brought $20 million to this county last year. So maybe we can get some money this year. I think it’s a great mission put together,” Booth said. 

Though he was not agreeable to the idea of building a new detention center in Beaufort County, Commissioner Hood Richardson asked the Board to request Perry and Kidwell work on adding more prisons throughout the state at the cost of $50 million. Richardson believes the Beaufort County detention center should be improved rather than a new facility be built. This request is known as a regional request. 

The commissioners voted 6-1 in favor of sending all three county requests and Richardson’s regional requests to Perry and Kidwell. Commissioner John Rebholz was not present at the meeting. Commissioner Stan Deatherage was the sole opposing vote.