January 24, 2013
At a Thursday, Jan. 17 meeting, the Guilford County
Board of Commissioners showed it still has an occasional surprise up its sleeve: The board voted not to allow Sheriff BJ Barnes to use just under $50,000 from his federal forfeiture fund to buy seven Segways he requested.
Before the Jan. 17 meeting, Commissioner Carolyn Coleman said she didn't have a problem with Barnes using the forfeiture money to buy the single-rider gyroscope-guided vehicles with a maximum speed of 12 mph. However, after the discussion at the meeting, Coleman and Commissioners Bruce Davis, Hank Henning, Alan Branson and Bill Bencini voted against paying the $49,655 for the seven Segways.
During the discussion, Barnes told the board that his department intended to use the Segways largely to patrol seven county high schools, and he said the purchase wouldn't cost county taxpayers a dime because the money would come out of the department's federal forfeiture fund, which is cash confiscated from drug dealers and other criminals, which the federal government takes and then reimburses local governments after taking its cut.
Barnes said that, by law, money from the fund had to be used for items that aren't generally included in his department's budget.
"It has to be a specialty type project," Barnes said of the use of the fund.
Davis pointed out that there was about $670,000 in the fund, and he said the Sheriff's Department had a lot of needs the money could go towards rather than Segways. Davis said that, even given the legal restraints on how money in the fund could be spent, that $670,000 could be used to offset some of the costs the commissioners must find money for the Sheriff's Department in the coming budget. Barnes uses the fund to purchase a wide variety of items and he must have been cringing inside when Davis made his next statement.
"Certainly there are a lot of capital needs," Davis said. "I don't see why we can't get creative with that money."
Davis also questioned whether Barnes' department really needed the Segways. He said that, based on the request, buying Segways apparently falls into the "high priority category" for Barnes. Most of the high priority items for the Sheriff's Department are included in the department's budget each year.
Other commissioners also questioned the necessity of the expenditure.
When the vote came, the rejection of Barnes' request by the board seemed to stun many in the commissioners meeting room, and Barnes was visibly perturbed by the surprise outcome of the vote.
It may be of some solace to Barnes to know that track star Usain Bolt can run at 27 mph, over twice as fast as a Segway, and the top speed for an average human is about 14 mph, still faster than a Segway.
The refusal of the Board of Commissioners to let the Sheriff's Department purchase the Segways means that, currently, the Guilford County
Security Department, which purchased two Segways in 2010, is the only county department to have access to the fun-to-ride, if somewhat strange looking, mode of transportation.
Right after the Security Department first purchased the two Segways, county security guards could often be seen riding the Segways in front of the Old Guilford County
Court House, which is right across the street from the World Headquarters of The Rhinoceros Times. However, it has been a long time since anyone from The Rhino Times has seen the county's Segways in use.Guilford County
Security Director Jeff Fowler said his department does still use them.
"I'm not sure why you aren't seeing them," Fowler said.
He said one Segway is in operation Monday through Friday around the Independence Center downtown.
"The other is used primarily during non-business hours, although it isn't unusual to see me on it on occasion," Fowler said. "For safety reasons, we don't operate them in snow or heavy rain. I've responded from the courthouse to [county buildings on N. Eugene Street] both on foot and on the Segway. The Segway is the better way to go."
Fowler did not say in which way it was better, but that could mean that it is more fun for the security officers or because it is better because the officers like to wear the funny helmets when they ride the Segway.
At the Jan. 17 meeting, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Linda Shaw said several times that the board needed to hurry things along because sleet and snow were falling outside. Her words, however, didn't seem to resonate with all of the commissioners – especially not with Davis, who gave several long-winded speeches despite the worsening conditions outside.
At the meeting, the commissioners held two public hearings for incentives requests, and, in both cases, the board voted to give away taxpayer money to the rich and thriving companies that had come asking for a handout.
The first payout of taxpayer money went to the Qualicaps Group, which requested and will now get $273,000 to create 123 new full-time jobs in the county over the next three years.
Shaw said she struggled over which way to vote. However, in the end she voted for the incentives along with the four liberal Democrats on the board – Coleman, Davis, Kay Cashion and Ray Trapp – while the other four Republicans on the board voted no. So the motion passed 5 to 4.
Before the vote, Michael Rowan, the president of Qualicaps America, spoke on behalf of his company's request. He said Qualicaps is a leading provider of empty gelatin capsules used by the pharmaceutical industry. Drug makers buy the empty capsules from Qualicaps and fill them with drugs, vitamins, etc.
"We make about 20 percent of the capsules used in the United States," Rowan said. "We have one major competitor that makes the other 80 percent down in South Carolina. We make about 10 billion of these capsules a year at our facility here in Guilford County
Rowan said the county's existing Qualicaps facility in Whitsett employs about 150 people and the company is expanding to make a new line of capsules that doesn't contain any animal products. The expansion, he told the board, would add about 120 new jobs that would average $37,000 a year and offer attractive benefits to the workers. He also said the capital investment in Guilford County
, if that ended up the location the company chooses, would be about $26 million.
NC Department of Commerce Senior Economic Developer Bernard Torain also spoke on behalf of the request.
Torain said the State of North Carolina was backing the expansion through $1.3 million in state incentives as well as through education and training grants that put total state support at over $2 million.
Henning had clearly conducted some research on the company before the meeting.
"I saw something online," he said. "I wanted you to verify it that there was a purchase of this company by another on Christmas Day."
Rowan said Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings had recently made an offer on Qualicaps to buy it from the current owner, The Carlyle Group.
Henning said he was concerned about the longevity of the jobs since Qualicaps was about to have a new owner....continued on page 2