ELIZABETHTOWN — With only a week to go before Bladen County voters are to decide the fate of a sales tax referendum on the March 15 primary ballot, the issue was a hot topic at Monday’s meeting of the Bladen County Board of Commissioners.
Charlotte Smith, a property owner from Clarkton, spoke before the board and asked why three county commissioners — who are also members of the Bladen Improvement Political Action Committee — have been out urging voters to defeat the referendum after the board voted to place it on the ballot.
“I know EMS needs it. I know education needs it. But this is the fourth time we’ve tried this,” Smith said. “I don’t think it’s fair for the property owners to keep footing the bill.
“And seeing commissioners out campaigning against (the referendum) … what does that say about this board?” she added.
All three commissioners who are members of the PAC responded, with Delilah Blanks leading off.
“I support, as a commissioner, putting (the referendum) on the ballot because every citizen has the right to vote their conscience,” she said. Blanks, however, did not support putting the referendum on the ballot, joining Michael Cogdell and Arthur Bullock in voting against it.
“Until this board decides how that money would be spent, I will be against it,” Blanks added. “I’m a member of the PAC and proud of it; I will vote against (the referendum) and proud of it. We have two big needs: EMS and education.”
The last two referendums for a quarter-cent sales tax increase in Bladen County were aimed at benefiting education, but Blanks, Cogdell and Bullock did not support it, either.
“On the night we voted on the sales tax, I requested it be used for EMS, education and economic development,” Cogdell said. “I will support it it goes to those three areas and the money’s uses are specified.”
“I asked that night for the sales tax to be used for education and EMS,” Bullock said. “That would benefit everyone. But my motion was defeated.”
Commissioner Charles Ray Peterson attempted to have a say on the subject, but he was continually interrupted by Blanks until Chairman Russell Priest put a stop to it.
“Nobody interrupted you,” Priest told her.
“I don’t know how much smoke this group can put in this room, but that’s all they are doing,” Peterson said. “We were specific the sales tax would be used only for capital expenditures, and they still didn’t like it. This time it will help property owners with the county tax rate. And just last year we approved a budget item that increased the county tax 1 cent for EMS — so it’s all just smoke.”
Neither side gave in to the other even slightly, but the issue was put to rest until election day.
In other board action on Monday:
— Commissioners selected Thursday, March 31, as a special budget workshop at 6 p.m. in the County Commissioner’s Room.
— Heard from Jeff Kornegay, executive vice-president of BCC, who told the board about a $1.3 million U.S. Economic Development Administration grant awarded, along with $500,000 Golden LEAF grant to be used at the college for a new STEM building.
— Commissioners OK’d the private sale of three parcels that had been previously foreclosed on to the family that owned the property, with the balance to be paid within 90 days.
— Sunday Allen introduced Miss Bladenboro Outstanding Teen Ana Grace Allen to the commissioners, who explained her platform of “Sock It To ‘Em,” an effort to bring socks to homeless shelters. She told commissioners that socks are the most-needed item at homeless shelters. Allen and her pageant sister, Miss Bladenboro Haven Cashwell, will participate in the state competition June 23-27.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.