The Guilford County Board of Commissioners has canceled its planned Thursday, Nov. 16 meeting and, while the commissioners may not have meant to send a message to the City of High Point with that move – they sent one nevertheless.
The decision means High Point leaders can drop any last hopes they had that the Guilford County commissioners would make a decision to help finance a $35 million stadium before a critical date: High Point staff plan to meet with the Local Government Commission (LGC) on Tuesday, Dec. 5, to get state approval for the loan needed to build the stadium – which will be the heart of a massive joint public/private downtown revitalization effort.
The LGC is a state finance oversight commission that must give its approval before High Point can borrow the money for the project. If Guilford County had voted to help finance the stadium, the city would likely have had a stronger financing plan to present to the LGC, and backers of the downtown revitalization project have hoped since March that they would be able to present some amount of county participation in the stadium’s financing at that LGC meeting. In August, High Point leaders asked the Guilford County commissioners to commit about $11 million in future tax revenues from an expected increase on property values in a 649-acre section of downtown High Point.
Barring county support for the project, High Point leaders at least wanted to see the Board of Commissioners make a decision one way or the other on their financing request; however, with no regular county commissioner meetings scheduled until Thursday, Dec. 7, it’s now clear that’s not going to happen.
The Board of Commissioners are scheduled to hold a work session on Tuesday, Nov. 14, but the High Point stadium issue isn’t on the agenda and several commissioners say there are no plans to add it.
The City of High Point has already approved a new alternative financing plan – “plan B” – that doesn’t include any funding from Guilford County, but some leaders in that city had been holding out hope that Guilford County would be willing to commit to some form of funding for the project – even if it was less than the $11 million High Point had hoped to get from the county over the next 20 years.
On Thursday, Sept. 21, the commissioners voted to put off a decision on High Point’s request for “60 to 90 days.” Sixty days from that date is Nov. 20 and 90 days is Dec. 20. It’s possible that, even with that Dec. 20 “deadline,” the county commissioners will never even mention the stadium issue again. Talks with High Point have been largely unproductive and the High Point City Council has already approved a new financial plan to move forward on its own.
Earlier this month, Commissioner Hank Henning said High Point officials had been constantly changing statements and criteria and then acting like they hadn’t changed anything. Henning said High Point had been trying to use the Jedi mind trick from Star Wars on the commissioners.
High Point Mayor Bill Bencini has now responded that a better fictional account of the situation is a certain old children’s story: The Little Red Hen. An amused mayor said that story had been making the rounds among High Point leaders in the wake of the county’s reluctance to help finance the stadium. Bencini sent a copy of the story to the Rhino Times to make his point.
In that well known tale, a red hen finds a grain of wheat and seeks help from the other animals on the farm to plant it, harvest it and bake bread from the wheat. All through the process, the hen gets no help from the other animals – the pig, the cat and the rat – as she goes about her business in a picketty-pecketty fashion. The others continually say, “Not I,” when the hen asks who will help. In the end, the hen eats the bread along with her chicks, but doesn’t share it with anyone else, even though they other animals were eager to eat the bread.
(It’s not clear in the story how the hen was able to get access to the materials needed to bake bread or how it managed to do so with no hands. It’s also not clear if Guilford County, in High Point’s interpretation of the story, is supposed to be the pig, the cat or the rat.)
Bencini said that, like the unhelpful animals in the tale, the Guilford County commissioners don’t want to help plant the wheat or bake the bread, but they will want to reap the rewards when that day comes. Bencini said there’s a fundamental unfairness to that. As the red hen states at the end of the story, “If any would not work, neither should he or she eat.”
Bencini said the argument is simply that the county commissioners should share in the cost because they will share in the reward.
The term that some others in High Point have used recently to describe the commissioners is that they are “free riders.”
Henning responded this week that he simply does not think the “free rider” argument has any merit. He said High Point officials have been saying that Guilford County will benefit without contributing anything if High Point’s downtown property values increase due to of the project. He said Guilford County will collect more in property taxes from that area if values go up, but Henning added that any additional tax revenue the county collects will go toward things like schools, law enforcement, emergency services and other vital services that benefit citizens in and out of High Point.
Despite the back and forth with Star Wars and children’s fables, the two sides don’t look any closer to an agreement.
Commissioner Skip Alston said he thought High Point’s vote to form an alternative plan hurt his efforts to get his fellow commissioners on board and Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips said he didn’t know of any progress in this matter.
“There has been very little discussion that I’m aware of,” Phillips said.
Phillips added that, after a meeting on the High Point stadium about a month ago, the commissioners gave staff direction to explore alternative methods of financing, but, he said, there hadn’t been much discussion recently between county officials and High Point officials – or between county commissioners themselves for that matter.
Phillips also said the cancelation of the November meeting was completely unrelated to the stadium issue.
“No, that had nothing to do with it,” Phillips said. “It was a business decision.”
Phillips said Commissioners Alston and Alan Perdue would be out of town on Nov. 16 and there was a light agenda, so the board canceled the meeting.
Regardless of what the county does or does not decide, High Point is moving forward full-steam ahead with the project. High Point City Clerk Lisa Vierling sent out an email to the High Point city councilmembers that said, “The Mayor asked me to give you all a heads-up. We will have a FULL afternoon and evening on Monday, November 20th.”
That meeting will include a closed session at 12:30 p.m. to discuss personnel issues, followed by a meeting for “discussion and action on contracts and agreements and related legal proceedings for the issuance of bonds in connection with the downtown catalyst project.”
Those meetings will be followed by the City Council’s regular meeting at 5:30 p.m. that day.