LREMC move to COMtech raises questions

“Passed a resolution requesting that the Robeson County Board of Commissioners adopt a policy that it will not appropriate funds to any non-governmental economic development entity that provides economic incentives to ‘any institutional, industrial or commercial enterprise’ to relocate from one municipal jurisdiction to another, or relocate to the unincorporated areas of the county.”

What is above is referred to in newspaper lexicon as a bullet point, and this one was buried deep toward the end of our coverage of a Red Springs Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday night.

Most readers probably read right on through it, giving it little attention or lamenting that more detail wasn’t provided. But for those outside the loop, the mystery is revealed today in a page 1A story by staff writer Bob Shiles. The resolution is what will be a failed Hail Mary by the town to keep Lumbee Regional Electric Membership from moving its corporate headquarters and 118 employees to Pembroke.

Actually to COMtech, which is a couple of tosses of a stone east of Pembroke.

Red Springs doesn’t want to lose what the utility’s employees contribute to the local commerce, eating lunch, buying gasoline or shopping as well as taxes the new building, which could be valued at up to $15 million, will provide.

But the deal is done and the timing of its revelation — after Commissioner Raymond Cummings, who represents Red Springs, won re-election — is not by chance.

The headquarters, which was built in the late 1940s in Red Springs, is old and a new one is needed. For a long time, it appeared one would be built outside of Red Springs, but COMtech is offering 30 acres of land at a discounted price that LREMC will buy.

LREMC’s board is free to make its own decision, but should COMtech, which survives on county tax dollars, use that money to sweeten a deal for the utility to make a move? Red Springs officials say no, and are asking other municipalities to adopt their resolution or a similar one so that they won’t be similarly cannibalized.

The county commissioners say they are doing as they always do, providing incentives to industry. Red Springs commissioners are arguing that the town’s tax dollars should not subsidize LREMC’s move out of their town. The industry is already here — and we can’t envision LREMC packing up and leaving the county.

It’s a fair argument, but in this instance the county commissioners will not vote on the incentives. That will be done by COMtech’s board, but the money is essentially the county’s — make that taxpayers’ — as the park is not self-sufficient.

It all makes for interesting bedfellows.

Roger Oxendine, a county commissioner, is on the LREMC board and represents Pembroke. Cummings, who along with Oxendine, usually gets his way on that county board, represents Red Springs, as does Noah Woods. John McNeill, the mayor of Red Springs, is former chairman of the Robeson County Democratic Party who has worked to elect Cummings, Oxendine and Woods. Ronnie Hunt, the head of the COMtech board, was once the chief executive officer of LREMC.

Our guess is other municipalities in this county will be watching, but it’s a different question as to whether they will stand up to the county. Lumberton, in particular, should be alert as the central office for the Public Schools of Robeson County will likely rebuild away from its current spot inside the city, on N.C. 711, which was flooded by Matthew.

The school system’s temporary headquarters is, you guessed it, at COMtech. We will let you complete that thought.