Holding collects breadth of data

Mar. 28, 2013 @ 07:11 PM

After a visit to Vance County on Thursday, U.S. Rep. George Holding was well versed with perspective on priorities and images of struggle.

County and city government officials, along with business executives, were on hand to share their ideas for improvement, areas of concern and to update the freshman lawmaker for North Carolina’s 13th congressional district.

Tommy Hester, chairman of the county commissioners, put together the unique informational session at Henderson Country Club, which included Holding taking a tour with Mayor Pete O’Geary and other city leaders through Henderson.

The Republican from Raleigh heard presentations from representatives of the public schools, a charter school, the community college, county leadership and city leadership.

“Two things stick with me, just are top lines, and one is how on the ball your city and county government officials are,” Holding said at the end of the day. “We’re not sitting here looking at projects that haven’t gotten started, we’re looking at projects that are under way, at the 5-yard-line.

“Another top line take away is how generous the community is. There were numerous presentations that the element of it was the generosity of people here in the community.

“I have every confidence in the world that Henderson Collegiate is going to be able to accomplish its goals of building another facility on the 31 acres that have been donated to them because of the generosity of this community.”

Holding has served in the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of North Carolina. That experience enables him to see a cycle when he tours neighborhoods with needs, and looks at the overall big picture of the nine counties he represents.

Part of the tour included the Flint Hill neighborhood. It is an area where councilwoman Brenda Peace-Jenkins was raised.

On the tour, she told Holding very few families still reside in the area’s homes, filled instead with drug dealers who stay briefly and invest nothing in the community.

Holding commented on the situation as a vicious cycle, created by lack of family values, decreased economic stability and drug use.

“I found that as the U.S. attorney, when we go into communities, and target communities for just intensive law enforcement, it worked,” Holding said. “I know that is under way here.

“Your police chief, and sheriff of Vance County work closely with federal law enforcement, the DEA, ATF and ICE,” he said, referring to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

According to Holding, eastern North Carolina has become a transshipment point for drugs and guns.

“Having I-85 and U.S. 1 here are great for economic development, but it also makes it attractive to drug dealers as well,” Holding said.

During the morning portion of the session, Holding was briefed by Ronald Gregory, superintendent of Vance County Schools; Caitlin Dietrich, director of development at Henderson Collegiate; Stelfanie Williams, president of Vance-Granville Community College; Jerry Ayscue, the county manager; and Jordan McMillen, director of the county planning department.

A common theme among the education administrators was changing lives. Ayscue and McMillen devoted a majority of their time to a water project that began with an idea within a land use plan 17 years ago.

“In that plan they talked about the need for extending water,” McMillen said. “It took a couple years really to gain some traction, but the board established a water district in 2004 and then it began some preliminary design work.”

McMillan told Holding the county would be helped by having more flexibility with federal stimulus money as phases 2A and 2B of the county water project pick up momentum.

Currently federal stimulus money has provided 44 percent of the total funding for phase 2A, or $3.9 million. In phase 2B, $1.9 million in federal stimulus money was provided, or 33 percent of the total funding for that phase.

“Without that money these phases would not have moved forward,” McMillan said.

While the federal stimulus money aided development of 2A and 2B, county officials feel distribution of those funds in other phases may be necessary.

“One thing we may need in the future is to have a little flexibility with this stimulus money,” McMillan said. “If there’s a need to have additional money, maybe in phase 1A, at some point we’ll be talking to USDA and there may be a need to move some of that around if possible.

“Flexibility with that money is a big deal for us.”

City officials were also in search of flexibility with regard to the interbasin transfer permit process as they work to double the capacity of the regional water facility from 10 to 20 million gallons.

“Giving flexibility to a community is a great way of working smart,” Holding said. “You go through every federal agency, and a consistent complaint is going to be, ‘Hey, they came up with a one size fits all approach that doesn’t fit my community.’”

Gregory asked Holding to take a closer look at the adopted resolution on sequestration, and the impact it would have on Vance County.

“There’s a great need there because that’s a big hole here we are having to look at,” Gregory said referring to the fiscal impact.

In order to move forward with construction of a 45,000 square-foot, two-story school, Henderson Collegiate has needs for funding.

The new school will be built on McArthur Street in the South Henderson area, allowing it to fill out as a 500-student middle school for grades 4-8.

“Our biggest areas are the facility, because we are going to have to take a substantial loan from Self Help in order to complete that,” Dietrich said. “We just need general operating support.”

Williams said the college needs to be able to compete for federal grants. She also noted the three challenges for potential students are consistent in all four counties served: financial aid, transportation and childcare. She said support for rural transportation is second only to the need for accessing federal grants.

Holding also had an opportunity to meet several business leaders not making presentations during a luncheon, at which time he spoke and took questions.

He told the group he was thankful for the knowledge gained, and was encouraged by the positive aspects already in play.

Contact the writer at amauser@hendersondispatch.com.