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Get out while the getting is good!

Back in 1989, a rock-and-roll group by the name of The Kentucky Headhunters released a song entitled, “Walk Softly on This Heart of Mine.”

A portion of its lyrics went like this:

“Walk softly on this heart of mine, love,

Don’t treat it mean and so unkind.

Let it rest in peace and quiet, love,

Walk softly on this heart of mine.”

Fast forward exactly 30 years and that tune is still stuck in my mind. However, this time around, I can slightly adjust the lyrics by saying, “Walk softly on this wallet of mine.”

In September, the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald published a front page story regarding the intentions of Northampton County local government leaders opting to spend over a half-million dollars of taxpayer money to purchase property on Lake Gaston near Henrico. At that time, county officials said the property was being purchased for “economic development.”

Exactly what that meant was unclear one month ago. However, an email sent to this newspaper last week from Northampton County officials appears to shed more light on this land purchase. In an effort not to bore you with all the fine print in that five-page document, here’s a brief summary of the county’s Request for Qualifications for Architectural and Engineering Services:

“Northampton County is seeking statements of qualifications from professional firms that are experienced in all phases of design, development and oversight of the construction of a convention center complex to expand the County’s recreational and wellness offerings and to further economic development within the County. The project site will be located at or near 625 Edwards Beach Road (NC State Road 1250), Henrico, North Carolina, being portion of Northampton County Tax Parcel No. 01-09679.”

Before I address an alarming lack of infrastructure in that particular location, the first thing I would like for Northampton County leaders to tell me – as a county citizen and a taxpayer – is I hope you do understand what a convention center is. In basic terms, it’s a facility designed to host events where groups gather to promote and share common interests. Convention centers need to offer enough floor area to accommodate thousands of attendees.

So, would this be just a convention center (meeting place) or a “complex” that would include a hotel?

The Request for Qualifications (note that whichever firm lands that contract will charge a million or more dollars for their services) also mentions expanding “the County’s recreational and wellness offerings.” The county also owns and operates a Cultural and Wellness Center in Jackson….complete with a nice outdoor playground and a huge recreational complex that includes several lighted ballfields.

Is there something wrong with the highly popular facility in Jackson, which, by being located in the center of the county, is easily accessible by ALL citizens of Northampton? Do we need to expend millions of taxpayer dollars to build a similar facility in the far western corner of the county, one that at the very least is a 100-mile round trip (one hour drive each way) from eastern Northampton?

As for the infrastructure currently in place in the newly acquired county property near Henrico, those county water lines were designed to work to handle household demands. I’m no expert on engineering, but wouldn’t a facility that would accommodate 1,000 or more people need larger water lines? If so, there’s another significant cost factor to figure in….at least a seven-figure amount.

That area would also need sewer, and I’m not talking about a huge septic tank. An investment – I would guess costing at least eight figures – would have to be made in designing and building a public sewer system, complete with lift stations, a wastewater treatment plant and a sprayfield. The latter three would require the purchase of additional property.

If the Northampton leaders need advice on how costly a public sewer system can be, I would encourage them to contact their cohorts in Gates County.

And once the bills start mounting and the “snowball” grows larger and larger, who will the Northampton leaders turn to….its taxpayers to foot the bill; coming at a time where we already pay one of the highest ad valorem tax rates in the state.

Unless my elected leaders in Jackson have inked a deal with a major (and respected) corporation who has a successful track record in the operation of a convention center – and who have promised to add a significant number of well-paying jobs for our citizens and who will add greatly to our tax base – I would encourage you to stick a For Sale sign on the property you just purchased and get out while the “getting is good!!”

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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