Former Lincoln County Commissioner John Gamble (also a former member of the N.C. House) did a rather lengthy citizenâ€™s investigation into how money from the BFI Corp., which holds the franchise for Lincoln Countyâ€™s landfill at Lake Norman, made its way to local non-profits in Lincoln County.
As Gamble pointed out in his article appearing in the opinion page early this month, a payment from BFI of $50,000 was routed to a special committee created by the county board. That committee then routed the money out to local non-profits. What really caught his eye, and ours, is that this wasnâ€™t just a one-year payment, but amounted to a huge sum â€“ $250,000 over a five-year period.
Gamble looked over minutes of past board meetings attempting to determine how the board reached an agreement on this expenditure, but found little record of discussion on the matter. Our own coverage of board meetings does not reflect open discussions or public announcement of this expenditure, other than the photo, showing a presentation of a $2,000 check to the Lincoln County Literacy Council. We were informed at that time that a total of $50,000 would be distributed to 17 non-profits in Lincoln County and that the distributions would continue for the next four years.
Thatâ€™s great. The literacy council and other non-profits in Lincoln County do a wonderful job and this generous allocation will certainly help them. The problem, as Gamble points out, is that the county boardâ€™s obligation is to the taxpayers and the general fund. If BFI is going to pay $250,000 to the county in return for a franchise agreement, shouldnâ€™t the taxpayer be the beneficiary, rather than local charities?
The county can make gifts, and often does, to local entities in need of financial support. A few months ago county officials announced a $20,000 contribution to Gaston Collegeâ€™s Lincoln Campus for a needed building program. Thatâ€™s well and good.
But local government is not the vehicle to distribute large sums of money to non-profits. The United Way, local civic clubs and foundations normally fill that role. Many businesses do make generous contributions to our local non-profits through their own initiative. Thatâ€™s the way it should be done.
The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners should review this policy.
by Al Dozier