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Nichols revives plans for full-time school

With change in mandate by governor, Mecklenburg schools will seek waivers for in-person daily classes starting Aug. 10


Two others injured as vehicles collide head-on in Lunenburg County

Lakefest now set Sept. 18-19


Preparing for the new normal





Holiday pile-up / November 27, 2019
Morsels of news are piled high, so allow me to take time to clear off the plate before Thanksgiving gets here …..

» It now seems certain that the new Mecklenburg County high school-middle school complex in Baskerville cannot be built for the amount of money the Board of Supervisors has budgeted for the project — $120 million at last check — which raises the obvious question: What now? This week, we learned that a second round of bids from general contractors essentially did nothing to bring down the cost estimates for the new school facility, which leaves the county in the unenviable position of either having to increase the project budget or curtail the project.

The former option is unappetizing and the latter should rightfully be considered unacceptable, which leaves …. budgeting more money for construction. Look, I realize these are all unsavory choices, but the county is in the position of making decisions in the here and now that will have consequences for Mecklenburg students and families for decades to come. No one will remember 20 years down the road if the Board of Supervisors had to raise taxes by a modest amount to cover an extra $33 million in capital costs due to higher-than-expected contractor bills. People will know by that time if MCHS/MCMS had been shoddily built back in the day — and we’ll all be worse off for it.

Even the best-laid plans must be adjusted from time to time to comport with reality. The Board of Supervisors and School Board have laid out their priorities for the new school facility — all of them justifiable, none of them free. If the county can wring some savings out of the army of contractors, architects and engineers that it’ll hire for the project, great. If not, it’s still time to move forward.

I know I often invoke the words, “next door in Halifax County” in this space, maybe too often … but next door in Halifax County, voters just approved a Nov. 5 referendum to raise their own taxes to either replace or renovate Halifax County High School, a shoddy-looking building if ever there was one. Halifax’s sales tax referendum passed by a better than 2-to-1 margin on the strength of arguments too numerous to repeat here, but one point that stood out during the debate is just how poor construction standards were when the HCHS building was first thrown up — a term used advisedly — in the late ’70s. A consulting architect for the Halifax County Board of Supervisors told board members that “they were building warehouses for children” during that blighted era of school design and construction. Mecklenburg will be poorly served if county leaders take shortcuts in quality and design that lead to a similar outcome.

On a related note, the overwhelming success of Halifax’s sales tax referendum makes it very likely that the idea will be tested elsewhere, and I can’t think of many places more suited for an encore than Mecklenburg County. With the amount of traffic flowing on Interstate 85 and folks from Maine to Florida taking the exits to stop and shop in South Hill, out-of-towners would probably contribute enough sales tax revenue on their own to cover any of our present-day budget shortfalls, whatever they may turn out to be.

The surprise with Halifax’s referendum isn’t so much that it passed, but that it passed by such a lopsided margin. The message ought to be clear — when people believe their tax dollars are being well-spent, the case for keeping taxes as low as possible falls by the wayside. It’s an important message for county leaders to heed going forward.

» Speaking of tax dollars and how they’re spent — badly in this case — our local Farm Services Agency office sent in a press release to run this week on “the second tranche of 2019 Market Facilitation Program” payments by USDA. This is the official term for the bailout money that the Trump Administration is providing to ag producers who have been hurt by the president’s trade war with China. To be clear, the fact that farmers are receiving government money to offset damage from Chinese tariffs is not the fault of farmers, but of the White House they largely (and mystifyingly) continue to support.

For the record, the much-maligned bailout of the auto industry during the Obama Administration cost taxpayers $12 billion, in return for which the U.S. saved a linchpin industry employing tens of thousands of people at above-market wages. What has the Trump farm bailout cost the country, and what have we gotten in return?

According to Bloomberg News, the bailout tab is now $28 billion, and “farmers expect the money to keep flowing” next year. In other words, the hit to taxpayers is likely to be three times that of the auto bailout, which, just as an aside, was largely paid back to the federal treasury. “China hawks in Trump’s administration want Beijing to quit subsidizing strategic industries, yet that hasn’t deterred the White House from doling out billions in aid to American farmers, who have become more dependent on government money than they’ve been in years,” reports Bloomberg. There’s a persistent belief in some quarters that the trade dispute will end up working out for the best, and farmers who are hurting now will recoup their losses later down the line because of Trump’s trade standoff. Sadly, there’s not a jot of evidence to support this wild idea.

» On a more upbeat note heading into the holidays, the price of turkeys at the grocery store has fallen to its lowest level since 2010, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual survey. The cost of Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people is up only a penny from last year — $48.91, which buys your turkey, vegetables, rolls, cranberries, stuffing, sweet potato pie and “all the usual fixings,” reports NBC News.

And why is it so economical to host Thanksgiving dinner this year?

NBC reports:

President Donald Trump’s trade war and ensuing tariffs on imported goods have meant an oversupply of domestically produced goods, in some cases, bringing down prices. “The biggest items seen impacted are soybeans, some pork, cotton, and feed grains,” John Newton, the Federation’s chief economist told NBC News. “Really what it’s done is it may have increased supplies at home, leading to lower input costs” …

Holiday ham lovers will see lower prices, with a 4-pound ham down by around $2, partly due to the ripple effects of President Donald Trump’s trade disputes with Mexico and China. Mexico slapped tariffs on imports of U.S. pork after Washington implemented duties on imports of aluminum and steel. That has led to a glut of U.S. pork, bacon, and ribs.

Takeaway from the news: If you run into poultry and hog farmers this holiday season, be sure to give them a hug. They may need one.

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