There are two new sheriffs ... er, commissioners ... in town and they’ve got definite ideas on what’s best for the future of Cumberland County.
   Jimmy Keefe and Marshall Faircloth were sworn in as Cumberland County commissioners earlier this month; both men bring a wealth of experience and a wealth of opinions on what it will take to keep the county on a proper course and avoid a few icebergs along the way.
   Faircloth, a lifelong Cumberland County resident and a CPA since the 1970s, served as a school board member from 1988-1992 and had a previous run on the board of the county commissioners from 1992-1996.
Keefe, a native of Fayetteville, served two terms on the Fayetteville City Council. His father and brother also served as county commissioners. He runs the Trophy House on Bragg Boulevard.
   Both Faircloth and Keefe have known each other for years and consider the other to be a good friend. However, they don’t let their friendship get in the way of a good disagreement, especially when the subject is a proposed countywide water system.
   The debate on the need for a countywide water system heated up last February when a number of county residents complained about tainted well water. Of the counties surrounding Cumberland — Hoke, Robeson, Harnett and Bladen — all have countywide water systems.
  {mosimage} Keefe believes a countywide water system is a must for Cumberland.
   “Water’s not a big issue unless you’re the one not getting clean water,” said Keefe, “And you’re the one who has to boil your water and you worry about what your kids are drinking.
   “For us to be a county that is trying to really put our face on the map, for us not to have a countywide water system is pretty poor and we need to change that,” said Keefe.
   As far as funding a water system, Keefe admits it would be “an expensive proposition,” though he thinks the county and the Public Works Administration (PWC) could come up with solutions that wouldn’t include raising property taxes.
   “I’ve talked to the folks at PWC on a few things and they have some very creative ideas as far as municipal water lines and water towers to the outlying areas,” said Keefe. “I think there is a real aggressive approach to getting water and I think it’s important.”
   Faircloth isn’t quite as sanguine on the subject of a water system.
   “I think it’s a pipe dream,” said Faircloth. “I don’t think the county has any business getting into the water business. Somebody would have to show me some feasibility — it would be a losing proposition. The low hanging fruit has already been picked by PWC. I haven’t seen any studies that show the county can possibly even break even by providing water in the outlying areas.”
  {mosimage} Faircloth’s opinion on the county’s property tax rate is much more optimistic. Faircloth believes that the revaluation of property values will drop the tax rate to a number that will make it competitive with surrounding counties — an important factor as BRAC (Base Closure and Realignment) promises to bring new businesses to the surrounding areas.
   “I think the property tax rate is coming down,” said Faircloth. “The revaluation, and all I’ve seem are preliminary numbers and they sound a little high to me as far as property values, I heard the tax administrator say on the radio that it’s coming in between 20-25 percent. It sounds high to me, but even if it’s 10 percent the increase in property values will allow us to drop the rate.
   “Businesses looking here, if they can operate new business in another county that has a lower tax rate, why wouldn’t they do that? They have people there that will work for them so if that’s a factor in business then we’re not competitive,” said Faircloth. “I think that 79 cents number is kind of a psychological number. If Harnett’s out there at 73 cents or Hoke’s out there at 77 cents, if Cumberland is at 79 cents then you eliminate that as one reason to go elsewhere, I think.”
   Cumberland County’s current property tax rate is 86 cents.
   On the subject of BRAC, both Keefe and Faircloth agree that it’s a great opportunity for Cumberland County, though many questions remain to be answered. For example, until the families start arriving from the closed military bases, no one knows for sure how many school children will need to be provided for.
   Keefe compares BRAC to “winning the lottery” for the county, though he does express reservations about the influx of new students and how easily they will be absorbed.
   “There’s a lot of layers to that onion,” said Keefe. “Are we ready for the influx of people coming to the schools ... no. There is an issue on the table trying to get federal money to help build some new schools but quite frankly, time is getting short.”
   Again, Faircloth offers a differing opinion, saying while there are many questions concerning BRAC, he believes the county will be able to accommodate all the new students — as long as those students don’t land in one geographical area.
   “You can just about figure it’s going to be in the western part of the county so there are a couple of schools already being built that I’m not so sure we wouldn’t fill up, even without BRAC,” said Faircloth. “And the honest truth is the number I hear is 3,000 students; if you spread 3,000 students over the whole county they can probably be absorbed. If they jump into one attendance area you’ve got to build some buildings. So it’s a question of where at this point.”
   The two new commissioners come together again on their high opinion of their fellow commissioners and their ability to blend in as the new kids on the block, though Faircloth says he might cause just a bit of consternation once in a while as he relearns the ropes.
   “It will be a good group to work with,” said Faircloth. “If anything, I tend to be more open and let it all hang out than some of them may. And I might make some of them uncomfortable because of that. I’m sensing a little bit of that but I’m not going to spring any surprises on anybody. I like doing public business in public and I think Jimmy’s kind of the same way. So probably, the two rookies will cause a little bit of heartburn at first but I think we’ll all work together real well.”

Contact Tim Wilkins at tim@upandcomingweekly.com 

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