By Eliot Duke
Dunn Daily Record
Benson commissioners dealt a crushing blow to a proposed three-town partnership between Interstate 95 communities.
Representatives from Dunn, Benson and Four Oaks came together in December and agreed to move forward with the I-95/I-40 Crossroads of America Economic Development Alliance. Designed to recruit new industries and promote economic development, the alliance offered a way for the cities to work together to create jobs and increase the tax base.
One of the first steps in making the alliance an actual entity and not just an idea called for the three towns to contribute $50,000 each towards a nonprofit corporation that would pay operational expenses associated with economic development.
Four Oaks already approved the money and Dunn scheduled a public hearing for May 11 to consider the appropriation. None of that mattered after the Benson Board of Commissioners on Monday night voted not to approve the $50,000 expenditure.
“I don’t want to mess with this thing, I don’t want to consider this thing,” Benson Commissioner Jim Johnson said. “Let’s drop it once and for all. I certainly don’t want to fund it.”
Commissioners expressed several misgivings regarding the alliance. Commissioner Maxine Holley worried about oversight and the ability of the town to opt out of the agreement in the future.
“I need to know who would be in charge of oversight,” said Holley. “I have a problem not knowing. I don’t want to be a part of sitting here making the same mess for somebody else to come along and have to try and clean up.”
Commissioner William Neighbors, an alliance board member and one of the few representatives who questioned the pact in December, said the town sacrifices a certain degree of autonomy by entering into such an agreement where decisions will be made through a majority vote. With only three Benson people on the alliance’s nine-person board of directors, Neighbors said the city loses part of its voice.
“We are entering into a non-ending contract with a corporation,” Neighbors said. “There is no cancellation here. According to the [memorandum of understanding] the only way this alliance dissolves is by a 2/3 majority vote of the alliance board of directors. Not by us, not by Benson, not Four Oaks, but the board of directors. They don’t report to us.”
Benson Mayor Jerry Medlin played a key role in helping create the alliance, spending more than a year doing research on how such agreements benefited similar areas. Medlin, however, appeared to be in the minority in his support of the idea and constantly tried to bring commissioners back to the negotiating table.
“We voted to move ahead to get this set up,” said Medlin of the December meeting. “We’ve got people right now calling wanting to know what’s the phone number of the alliance. There are a lot of advantages to having an alliance. I’ve spent I don’t how many hours on this in the past year and a half. I came to the opinion a long time ago that if we don’t expand our horizon we won’t be getting too much. Right now we have an opportunity for a number of things that are going on that the Alliance would be a really big help.”
Johnson felt the alliance wasn’t necessary and commissioners should keep its focus on Benson and its residents.
“Benson better concentrate on doing Benson stuff and worry about Benson business and not worry about what’s going on in Four Oaks or what’s going on in Dunn,” Johnson said. “I can assure you Dunn isn’t worrying about what’s going on Benson, not from a positive perspective. I don’t think the alliance will be the tool we need to market property in Benson. I’m certainly not for sharing with other municipalities. Call it selfish or whatever you want to call it. I don’t think it is. I think it’s probably a positive for the taxpayers in Benson.”
Johnson also questioned the scope of the agreement.
“You’re creating an entity you can’t control,” Johnson said. “You’re not going to have control over it and why would you even consider doing it? I promise you once you create this thing you’re going to lose control of it.”
Formally creating the alliance called for the three municipalities to contribute $50,000 per year for three years.
Benson commissioners nuked that idea Monday night.