NASHVILLE – A couple of Nash County commissioners raised some questions and concerns Monday when discussing the appropriation of more than $1 million in funds from Sanderson Farms during the board’s regular monthly meeting.
Last month, Sanderson Farms officials issued a $1,000,389.22 check to Nash County to help offset expenses the county incurred during a failed attempt to bring a Sanderson Farms chicken processing plant to Southern Nash County.
On Monday, county commissioners voted 4-3 to appropriate the funding. The board directed $139,788 to the Carolinas Gateway Partnership for expenses the organization incurred related to the project. The board voted to transfer the remaining $860,602 to the county’s economic development fund.
Commissioners Lisa Barnes and J. Wayne Outlaw and Vice Chairman Billy Morgan voted against the motion.
Morgan said a letter from Bob Billingsley, director of development and engineering for Sanderson Farms, that accompanied the check did not mention anything about giving some of the money to the Carolinas Gateway Partnership.
Commissioner Robbie Davis said Sanderson Farms wrote the check based on a list of expenses that the county provided to company officials, which included some expenses that Carolinas Gateway Partnership had incurred.
Sanderson Farms officials chose to write one check, but they were clear about the fact that they wanted to reimburse Carolinas Gateway Partnership for expenses the organization had incurred that could not be used to help recruit other industries to the area, Davis said.
The envelope that the check and the letter were mailed in included a copy of the breakdown of the expenses, Davis said.
Davis announced the check during county commissioners’ retreat last month. He said Joe Sanderson first mentioned that he wanted to reimburse Nash County for some of its expenses to the county’s mediation team during mediation talks with the city of Wilson. At the time, Davis said, he didn’t think that would happen. Davis said county commissioners were informed of what Sanderson had said.
When company officials announced in November that they were not going to build in Nash County, Billingsley again mentioned that Sanderson wanted to reimburse the county, Davis said. County staff members in conjunction with the Carolinas Gateway Partnership prepared a list of expenses to send to Sanderson Farms.
Commissioner Mary Wells said Sanderson Farms wrote one check for those expenses with the understanding that Carolinas Gateway Partnership would be reimbursed for its expenses.
Board Chairman Fred Belfield Jr. said if the county did not pass the $139,788 to Carolinas Gateway Partnership, it would have to return the money to Sanderson Farms.
Before the board voted to approve the funding appropriation, Barnes made a motion that the board postpone the matter until next month. She said she requested some additional information from the Carolinas Gateway Partnership related to the funding.
Barnes said she would like more time to be able to receive that information, make an informed decision and provide information to her constituents who have questions about the issue.
“I just think everyone has a right to have answers to their questions before we appropriate the money,” Barnes said.
She said she wants to have the same information that some other county commissioners have had access to throughout the process.
The board voted 4-3 to deny Barnes’ motion.
Morgan and Outlaw supported her motion.
Outlaw said he did so because it would have been a courtesy to give a fellow board member 30 days to get the information she requested to allow her to make what she believes would be a more informed decision.
Commissioner Lou Richardson, who made a motion that the board appropriate the funds, said she didn’t understand how getting more information would change what is “right” for the board to do.
“I think we just need to do what they asked us to do,” Richardson said.
Belfield said it’s time for the county to move on. Sanderson Farms officials will not change their mind about coming to Nash County, he said.
“They’re gone, and we need to close this chapter and forget about Sanderson Farms and move on with economic development,” Belfield said.
Barnes said she is trying to put the issue to rest.
“I’m ready to move on, but it just seems like every time I’m prepared to move on that something else like this is brought up that raises more concerns and questions,” Barnes said.
In other business, the commissioners approved a three-year monthly lease for security equipment, subject to review by the county attorney.
The total financed cost will be $208,680, or approximately $5,796 a month.
The three-year lease arrangement will extend the warranty on the equipment by one year to a total of three years with a buyback price of $1 at the end of the term.
The proposal is for security cameras, card readers and the necessary software and hardware to operate the system. It will be installed in the administration building, the Department of Social Services Annex, the Sheriff’s Office, the Courthouse, the Senior Center and the 911 Back Up/Disaster Recovery Center.