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Council says no to reopening Wingate pact

Hendersonville Fire Chief Dorian Flowers told the City Council Thursday that the department wants to conduct a "training burn" to remove the house at 647 Sixth Avenue West. Hendersonville Fire Chief Dorian Flowers told the City Council Thursday that the department wants to conduct a "training burn" to remove the house at 647 Sixth Avenue West.

Four Hendersonville City Council members shot down an effort by Councilman Jerry Smith to reopen the five-party agreement for a health sciences building on the Pardee campus, saying the city needs to honor the historic deal and move on.


The City Council, county Board of Commissioners, Wingate University, BRCC and Pardee Hospital announced an agreement on April 4 to build a health sciences education building for Wingate and BRCC and for use by Pardee on the hospital campus at Sixth Avenue and Oak Street.
Under the deal, the city will buy the .92-acre property for the building and remove an 84-year-old two story house. The council earlier in the meeting agreed to the purchase, for $650,000, and discussed removing the house through a "training burn" by the city fire department.
After a frenzy of last-minute negotiations, the county agreed to repay the city half its investment in four installments starting 15 years now, when the county will have repaid a construction loan of up to $26 million.
Smith, who was teaching school and did not attend the joint city-county meeting on April 4, drafted a resolution seeking to change the repayment terms. Under his proposal, the county would start repaying the city once the building opens — $23,400 a year for 15 years.
"We've been working under the number that this is going to be about $700,000," he said. "Now we don't know that because now instead of tearing it down we're burning it down. I assume it saves money. My only interest in doing this is ... we don't have to wait 15 years to be repaid a quarter million dollars they've agreed to repay us, and it's some way to help with the tax burden, considering some of the things that we're facing."
Smith prefaced his remarks by noting that the city faces a possible tax increase this year. A year ago, the City Council rejected a staff recommendation of a 3-cent tax increase to help meet debt payments. Unless substantial cuts are made, administrators are again expected to recommend a tax increase.
Council members did not have the stomach for reopening the complicated multiparty agreement that had been brokered after heated discussion among council members and a volley of offers and counteroffers between City Manager John Connet and County Manager Steve Wyatt.
"I'm totally not comfortable with it," Councilman Jeff Miller said of Smith's resolution. "We have entered into an agreement. We did ask about this (repayment arrangement). I do not want to get back in the weeds again on this issue. We're looking at some challenges (in the budget) this year but the challenges aren't because of this. (Given) the communication and the goodwill that's been created by this joint venture I'm not about ready to go back and ask them to change it."
Councilman Steve Caraker supported Miller.
In a conversation with Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Messer, he said, "I got the impression if the deal doesn't go through they can still call it off and go to Blue Ridge Community College and we're stuck with a piece of property that's got an old house on it. I think we need to hnor the commitment we've made and just keep moving forward. It may not be the best of terms and you all have heard my position on that but I think it's something we got to do to keep Wingate in Hendersonville and they will be quick to point out that our financial commitment to this is peanuts compared to theirs."

 

Mayor Pro Tem Ron Stephens said that while he agreed with the spirit of Smith's proposal, "The game is over."
Smith's motion to ask for new repayment terms failed on a 4-1 vote.