Residents challenge price tag of new DSS building in Haywood

A handful of Haywood County residents are demanding a vote by the people before county leaders proceed with purchasing the abandoned Wal-Mart building.

The request comes despite the county commissioners’ unanimous vote in January to buy the shopping center to house the Department of Social Services along with the Health Department.

Haywood has yet to secure the 40-year, low-interest federal Rural Development loan to fund the project.

If granted, the loan would require an annual debt payment of about $632,000 starting in 2012. But the county claims rent from Tractor Supply Co., which is leasing a part of the building, along with state reimbursements for health and social services, will cut that number by about half.

Citizens at Monday’s commissioners meeting argued that since the money would be coming out of their own pockets, they should be allowed to vote on the issue.

They claimed that commissioners were willfully bypassing the vote by deciding to apply for the federal loan, instead of holding a bond referendum to finance the project.

“The commissioners, in essence, are telling the people of Haywood County that you do not trust our judgment,” said Beverly Elliot.

Another speaker, Lynda Bennett, accused the commissioners of holding secret sessions, while at the same time admitting the commissioners had not broken any laws in purchasing the Wal-Mart.

“It is legal, but it’s not popular,” said Bennett.

Chairman Kirk Kirkpatrick said he fully stands behind the commissioners’ decision and sees a vote by the people as unnecessary in this case.

“We are elected to make decisions on behalf of the county,” said Kirkpatrick, adding that not every item that comes forth demands a countywide vote. “Vote by the people is an expensive item, and we choose those items carefully.”

Kirkpatrick said the commissioners had only gone into closed session to discuss price negotiations, and closed session minutes will be released once the purchase is finalized.

Later in the meeting, Commissioner Skeeter Curtis pointed out that the citizens who criticized the commissioners had already left before the seeing the presentation of design plans for the renovated Wal-Mart.

“They don’t have enough interest to be involved with what’s going on here,” said Curtis. “How in the world can you vote on something if you don’t know what you’re voting on?”

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