The Seven Lakes Business Guild has decided to postpone the Chili Cook-Off scheduled for this coming Saturday until Spring.

 Guild officers explained the decision in an email to the membership:

"Thanks to those of you that committed to the chili cookoff -- we appreciate your support, however, there was not enough participation in either the chili (5 vendors) or the non-chili booths (7 vendors), so we will have to postpone the event until spring."

Tom and Terry Clark are not sitting idly by waiting for their phone to ring; they are on a hunt – for Lacy, their 15-pound miniature beagle.

“It was the first time we ever opened the door without her being on a leash,” says Terry Clark.

Lacy spotted a deer a few feet away and her instincts took over. Deaf to the Clark’s commands to stop, she burst through the electronic dog fence and chased the deer into the nearby woods.

Missing since September 19, they have employed every imaginable tactic to bring her home.

In the first hours after Lacy’s disappearance, they did the things done when a pet is lost; posting ads, using social media, enlisting friends in the search and offering a hefty reward of $1,000 for the safe return of Lacy. However, the Clarks felt the need to use new tactics in their search to isolate a search area.

Terry searched online for canine search and rescue (SAR) that was certified for companion animal recovery and found Pet Search and Rescue based in California. The company put them in touch with their Florida affiliate and handler, Pat Totillo.

Read more: Clarks determined to recover lost beagle

Moore County Logo"The transparency of it all is what's it's about."

That's how Moore County Board of Commissioners Chairman Nick Picerno characterized the purpose of a day-long "Critical Issues Summit" held on Thursday, September 19.

"I want our government board to be totally transparent," Picerno said. "I want people to know what we are thinking before we actually pull the trigger on anything. That way, they don't have to wonder, 'What are they up to now?' If you'd read the papers, you'd know what we were up to, because we're out here discussing it in the open."

"I don't want it to be a surprise if we set up a capital reserve for school construction. I want that to be out in the open, I want it to be discussed, I want our members to think about it. I want all these things to be laid out, so that everybody know where we are going. It's not a guessing game."

"If it's a dumb idea, I expect them to tell me . . . at least we threw it out on the table for an open discussion, in an open forum, Where everybody's in here, including the press."

True to his word, Picerno did lay a few brand new ideas on the table during the Summit, including establishing a separate capital reserve fund for schools and the possibility of merging the County's economic development arm — Partners in Progress — with the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The agenda ranged widely over County priorities, from what to do with the new land use plan to what to do with the now-empty basement of the courthouse, from funding school construction projects to providing incentives for new and expanding businesses.

The one obvious thing missing from the agenda, Picerno noted at day's end, was water, because plans for a new source of water for Moore County was nailed down in the first Critical Issues Summit of the year, held in April.

We've broken our coverage of the September Summit into three parts:

Exploring a new capital fund for school construction,

Creating an incentive policy for new and expanding businesses, and

Land use, facilities, information technology, and transportation.

Moore County LogoOne of the new ideas that Chairman Nick Picerno laid on the table during the Moore County Board of Commissioners' September 19 Critical Issues Summit was creating a County capital fund designated specifically for future school construction.

Every year, the County takes in more in tax dollars than it has budgeted — and often spends less than budgeted, as well. That produces an end of year surplus that is added to the fund balance. If the fund balance rises above fifteen precent of the total budget, then the excess must, according the the County' s financial policy, be placed in capital reserve funds.

The County currently maintains two such funds: one for capital projects, and one for debt service. The capital projects fund currently totals $6.5 million, and Chief Financial Officer Carrie Neal told the Commissioners, "If we end this year like last year, we will easily have $2 million that will transfer back into capital reserves, bringing the total up to $8.5 million."

Saving money for schools

Picerno suggested creating a third capital fund specifically for school construction projects.

"It might be prudent for the Board to set aside a piece of our capital reserve for future school construction," he said. "If we could say that thirty-five to forty percent of every dollar that we save would go into a capital reserve for future school construction, and start building a construction fund for schools, that the School Board could actually see building, then they could plan, like we do for our courthouse."

"If they need to build a school, they could look at that fund and see three or four million dollars, and see by the trends that in a couple of years it would be $6 million or $7 million. Then they could say "Hey, we don't really need a bond.' And they could see that they have a footing that, right now, they don't have."

The Board of Education is in the midst of developing a new long-term facilities plan, with public meetings expected in October, that is expected to lead to a school bond referendum on the ballot in November 2014. The amount has yet to be set, but is commonly expected to top $50 million.

The Commissioners, while acknowledging both the need for new and upgraded school facilities, appear united in their determination not to raise property taxes, which might be inevitable, if voters approve a sizable school bond.

Read more: County Summit: A Capital Fund for Schools

Moore County LogoThe second brand new idea that Chairman Nick Picerno floated during the Moore County Board of Commissioners September 19 Critical Issues summit got a chillier reception than his notion of creating a County capital fund for school construction.

During a discussion of economic incentives for businesses expanding in or relocating to Moore County, Picerno suggested merging the the County's Economic Development partnership, Partners in Progress, with the Convention and Visitor's Bureau [CVB].

Unlike Partners, Picerno noted, the CVB has its own revenue stream, being funded from the occupancy tax levied on hotel room rentals. Moore County's representatives in the NC General Assembly championed a 2011 bill that allowed up to one-third of the proceeds from the tax to be used for "tourism-related expenditures," including improvements at the Moore County Airport.

Picerno asked whether it might make sense to also tap that funding source for economic development.

After a long pause, Corso said, "That's a big one."

"If Moore County tried to do that in a big way," he continued, "then you would face opposition from the tourism industry."

He explained that the industry was opposed to the imposition of the occupancy tax when it was first approved in the state. When it became clear that it would nonetheless be imposed, the industry organized to make sure the funds collected were used solely to promote travel and tourism. The coalition that led that fight is still quite active, Corso said.

On the other hand, he explained, the Commissioners in Buncombe County persuaded state legislators to authorize an additional tax levied specifically to fund economic development efforts. None of Moore County's Commissioners appeared to express any interest in the idea of a new tax. 

Read more: County Summit: Economic Development Incentives

Moore County LogoThe topics that generated the most discussion during the Board of Commissioners September 19 Critical Issues Summit were creating a capital fund for school construction and crafting a policy for economic development incentives.

But the agenda included a number of items that were dealt with more briefly.

Land Use Plan

Planning Board Chairman Robert Hayter and Planning Director Debra Ensminger Presented the approved draft of the new Moore County Land Use Plan to the Commissioners, who must approve it before it takes effect.

Hayter said the goal of the plan was optimization of land-use within the County.

"Optimum doesn't mean maximum or minimum," Hayter said. "It doesn't mean extreme . . . It refers to that unique middle place that is balanced, without being extreme. "

Optimizing land use, he said, will increase the tax base, increase the efficiency of delivering many public services, provide the best return on the County's investment in utilities, and protect the private property rights of citizens.

Hayter said the County needs to reevaluate its perspective on development, because "the wave of capital moving toward development that we had in the 1990s is not going to work in the next twenty-five years. 'Just build it and they will come' is not sound in the current environment."

He noted that a small percentage of the County's land contains more than sixty percent of its tax base, with most of that property lying within the municipalities. "If you just expand that by five percent," Hayter said, "it captures seventy percent of the tax base. We need to focus on the infill opportunities around our municipalities, and not be putting new towns out in the rural area."

Read more: County Summit: Land Use, Facilities, IT, & Transportation

MCS LogoCuts in the state education budget will cost Moore County Schools [MCS] $600,000 this school year, Chief Financial Officer Mike Griffin told the Moore County Board of Education during their Monday, September 9 regular meeting.

That's a bit less than one percent of the $64.2 million MCS expects to receive from the state.

The largest cut is to the budget for teacher assistants, Griffin told the Board. Last year, the state provided $4.4 million for assistants; this year, the number is $3.7 million, a $700,000 reduction. That's equivalent to twenty-eight teacher assistant positions, Griffin said. Twenty unfilled positions have been eliminated; eight others will be paid for via federal Title I funds, in order to avoid layoffs. Title I funds are directed to schools with a large number of students from low-income families.

The state doesn't simply send MCS $64 million a year to do with what they will. Instead, state funding comes in more than 30 different streams aimed at specific needs, from Central Office Administration to At-Risk Student Services. Some of these, like funds directed to educating exceptional children, will increase this year; most are seeing cuts.

Loss of flexibility costs MCS $1.4 million

The state will also stick with a rule change that cost Moore County $1.4 million in state funding last year. Unlike most of the revenue streams MCS receives from the state, the largest, which provides nearly $32 million for classroom teachers, comes denominated not in dollars, but in teachers.

Based on the number of students enrolled in Moore County Schools, the state allocates a certain number of teachers to the County. Last year it was 535. The NC Department of Public Instruction multiplies that number by the average cost of a teacher in the state, roughly $57,000 per year. That number includes salary, payroll taxes, and benefits.

But Moore County teachers are, on average, younger than the state average, and thus don't cost as much to employ. From FY2010 to FY2012, MCS was able to use that difference, which amounted to $1.4 million systemwide, for other programs and to increase its fund balance.

Beginning last year, that flexibility was taken away, and the $1.4 million went back to the state. The same thing will happen this year, Griffin said.

Exactly how many MCS classroom teachers the state will pay for this year is not yet certain, since that depends on enrollment measured on the twentieth day of the school year.

Read more: School Board Approves FY 2014 Budget

[Clarification - Westside Treasurer Dale Erickson informs The Times that we made an error in our reporting on the Tuesday, August 27 meeting of the Seven Lakes West Landowners Association.

We reported that the Association would be discontinuing the monthly payment option for dues. Erickson tells us this is wrong on two counts: first, because no decision has been made, and, second, because he is recommending not the discontinuation of the monthly payment option, but only the discontinuation of the coupon books currently used to make monthly payments. Monthly payments would still be accepted -- if the Board adopts Erickson's recommendations -- but they would be handled through a direct debit of the landowner's bank account. Any decision on changing the payment structure would not be effective until the next fiscal year, which begins on May 1, 2014.

The Times regrets the error.

Here's a clarification that Erickson posted on the Westside website:

During the August 27, General Session, Treasurer Erickson presented the Seven Lakes West July Financials in a PowerPoint format. A portion of Erickson's presentation was a review of delinquent fees, and he stated "Delinquent property owners create additional administrative costs and hinder our cash-low process. Next fiscal year a revised and simplified system is being considered and which may consist of a) Pay lump sum, or be) Monthly bank direct debit."

The PowerPoint presentation authored by Treasurer Erickson is available for review on our web site.

The Seven Lakes Times apparently misquoted the Erickson presentation, as he spoke from the PowerPoint slide (which is documented on the web site), and he did not say that a decision had been made in any fashion.

However, the motivation for the "Delinquent Fee" portion of the presentation is the fact that our annual costs of coupon books is approximately $3,500.00, and that, on a monthly basis, almost 200 landowners are over 30 days delinquent, and follow-up administrative costs are incurred. This is what Treasurer Erickson feels is unacceptable, and some changes are in order.]

SLWLA LogoNancy Workman will serve out the unexpired term of Seven Lakes West Landowners Association [SLWLA] Director Rosemary Weber. Weber’s resignation was announced, and Workman’s appointment unanimously approved, by the Westside Board during its Tuesday, August 27 regular meeting.

Weber’s husband, Ron Weber, died on July 28.

SLWLA President Jack Stevens praised Weber’s work as Director in charge of recreation. Weber and her committee have been responsible for planning and hosting a wide variety of family-friendly events for the Westside community.

Weber’s term was slated to end in March 2014, so her resignation created a short term opening on the Board of Directors.

“The nominating committee has met and discussed several excellent candidates at this time,” Director Ed Cockman reported, recommending resident Workman. “Nancy has had a long standing history in our community. She has many years of experience running her own business.”

The board vote unanimously in favor of Workman, who took her new director’s seat for the remainder of the meeting.

The Board voted early in the year to reduce the number of Directors from nine to seven. Duties of both the Recreation Director and the Safety and Security Director will be turned over to CAS staff. Workman will oversee the reorganization of events planning and work with CAS Manager Jeannette Mendence in defining responsibilities for community events and amenities.

Read more: Workman Appointed to Westside Board.

Moore County LogoBoard of Commissioners Chairman Nick Picerno "was really sort of dismayed" at the Moore County Board of Education's vote to cancel a joint meeting of the two Boards that had been scheduled for Thursday, September 5.

"And I was particularly concerned about the comment of one School Board member that the Board of Education and the Board of Commissioners seem to have different goals in mind," he added. "I believe the goals of both boards is giving the children of Moore County the best education that we can afford."

Picerno addressed the meeting cancellation during the Tuesday, September 3 Commissioners meeting. [See our story here for more on the School Board's decision.]

The purpose of the joint meeting was to discuss financial planning for Moore County Schools [MCS] facilities and the digital learning initiative, as well as the goals of the two boards.

In addition to those new school-related expenditures, the Commissioners face the prospect of building a new courthouse in the next decade, as well as upgrading other facilities. So they have a keen interest in developing a comprehensive picture of long-term capital financing needs.

"I am concerned that we can't have just board members sit down in a work session, without staff," he added. School Board members wanted to have Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence and other MCS staff participate in the meeting; the Commissioners wanted only elected officials at the table.

"It is in everyone's best interest . . . to have a good working relationship," Commissioner Randy Saunders said, noting that, as the Commissioner designated to interface with MCS, he had regular conversations with Kathy Farren, the School Board member designated as liaison to the County.

"We are going to work to have a meeting where we can talk through those things," Saunders said. "We have to keep an open line of communication. The only way for us to have success in the schools is to work together."

"If they don't want to sit down and talk with us, how do they ever expect to resolve anything?" Commissioner Otis Ritter asked.

Read more: Commissioners Critical of Meeting Cancellation by School Board

Moore County LogoMoore County's need for facilities and the Board of Commissioners' determination to avoid a tax increase are on a collision course. The magnitude of the challenge was outlined in a Friday, August 23 meeting of the County's Courthouse Advisory Committee.

Moore County needs a new courthouse, something the experts believe will cost $20-$25 million, or more. A new jail and public safety complex were just completed, at a cost of $25.8 million, which must now be repaid.

The County's student population is growing; some schools need to be expanded, and others need to be replaced. Exactly what will be built and what that will cost will determined in a public planning process this Fall. But, in November 2014, voters will likely find a bond referendum for $60 million, $80 million, or even more on the ballot.

Moore County Schools has initiated an ambitious plan to provide digital technology -- laptops and tablet computers -- to every student in every classroom. That could add an extra $2 million each year, every year going forward, to the $26.5 million county taxpayers currently provide to the schools.

There's a lot to be accomplished, a lot of money to be spent, and the Board of Commissioners are determined to avoid any increase in property taxes.

That was the message that County Commissioner Larry Caddell and Commissioners Chairman Nick Picerno carried to the August 23 meeting of the County's Courthouse Advisory Committee.

Read more: Commissioners Determined to Build Courthouse Without Raising Taxes

In Memory Of

  • Jane Scales Facey

     of Foxfire Village died on Tuesday, April 19 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. A private...

  • Nancy P. Neilson

    formerly of Seven Lakes, died on Monday,  April 18. Nancy and her husband, Roger, retired from...

  • John E. Letter

    95, of Seven Lakes, died Monday, March 21, at his home, surrounded by family and friends. A...

  • Marilyn Rose Kemble Bearden

     84, formerly of Seven Lakes, died on March 8 in Greenville, SC. The family will receive friends on...

  • Vonadora Baker Stackhouse

    96, died on Wednesday, March 2, her wedding anniversary, at her home in Seven Lakes West. Services were...

  • James R. Nichols

    (Jim) of Seven Lakes died at his home on Monday, February 22.  A Celebration of his life will be...

  • Timothy William Bouchelle

    49, of West End died on Friday, February 19, 2016 at his residence.  A visitation will be held from...

  • John P. Carpenter

    75, of Seven Lakes North died Saturday, February 13 at FirstHealth Hospice House in Pinehurst. A...

  • Michael Jerome Loney

    87 of Seven Lakes West died Tuesday, February 9 at First Health Moore Regional Hospital in...

  • Glenda Mae (Marks) Tucker

    64 of Seven Lakes passed on Sunday February 7 at Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital in Greensboro.  A...

  • Dr. William Harrell Johnson

    92 years old, of Seven Lakes West, died on Tuesday, February 2, at home.  A memorial service was...