Modern Day School-Raising in Harnett County
Vice Chairman Gary A. House
Harnett County Board of Commissioners
Over the last eight years of being a commissioner and 24 years of being a certified public accountant in Harnett County, I have had the opportunity to traverse the county many times foraging many relationships. All of the communities in Harnett County have some of the best people in the world. Many have gone out of their way to be kind to me. Frankly, there are many places in Harnett County in which I could be happy living.
I have literally spent many thousands of hours doing volunteer work, coaching, civic clubs, etc. in Dunn, Erwin, Coats and around the county. My duties as commissioner have often taken me to the other side of Harnett County to Anderson Creek. Most of my calls as commissioner came from the Anderson Creek area. I always went when there was a problem no matter from where the call came. I have spent most of my professional career in Dunn but practiced in Lillington for a few years. I know this county well.
I think overall the communities in Harnett County get along well. However, I have detected some animosity by some but not all residents based on geographical location.
I personally feel very comfortable with the people of Erwin and Dunn. I spend a lot time in both communities. However, I often hear that there is a fairly strong rivalry between the two towns. Personally I view the two towns as one. Perhaps this lingering rivalry goes back to the old football days between Dunn and Erwin High Schools. Perhaps it is more.
I often hear particularly from the Lillington area that Dunn thinks it is the center of the universe and gets everything it wants. Conversely, I often hear that Dunn thinks Lillington is the center of the universe and gets everything it wants.
What perturbs me the most, however, is many people try to use the Cape Fear River to split the county in half. It causes me great displeasure hearing people say “this side of the river” and “that side of the river.”
My district as commissioner encompasses much area on both sides of the river. I have always seen the Cape Fear River is the link between the county not a barrier.
I often hear from people of Anderson Creek that they have always been treated as the red-headed step child of Harnett County and Dunn rules everything. I, as commissioner, have given Anderson Creek much more attention than they have had in the past. I hear from Dunn that the Western side of the county has always ruled Harnett County. I have always addressed Dunn’s issues when they were brought to me. I believe I have been successful in looking after both sides of my district.
As you can see, there are lots of conflicting perceptions about where the power lies in Harnett County. In my opinion, most of the perceptions are distorted. We have a lot of caring people in Harnett County and I am fortunate enough to personally know a lot of them
However, one thing disturbs me is the overcrowding of our schools. Some attempt to say this is a problem for “the other side of the county.” The infrastructure problems do not exist just in Western Harnett County. They exist in Northern and Central Harnett County as well. Even Triton has capital improvements that must be addressed. I never heard a word about the County using tax dollars from Western Harnett County to build Triton, Coats-Erwin Middle, Dunn Middle, Harnett Primary, Coats Elementary and Angier Elementary.
One commissioner keeps playing a political ploy that we need a special tax district in Western Harnett County so it can build its own schools. He knows this is not permissible in the State of North Carolina nor is it fair.
The only way that I think a special tax district would be fair is if the taxes collected paid for activities such as recreation and libraries—services typically provided for by taxpayers in municipalities. This kind of special tax district is permissible.
Since there are no municipalities in Western Harnett, that area will never have the municipal amenities that Dunn, Angier, Erwin, Lillington and Coats enjoy such as increased police protection, libraries and recreational programs. These amenities and others will come once areas in Western Harnett incorporate.
But schools are different. We are obligated by the State of North Carolina to educate the children in Harnett County no matter whether they are home grown or transferred here by the military. The Federal and State government have not stepped up to help us in this mandate.
We have a massive problem. It is true that we do not have the overcrowding problems in our schools in Eastern Harnett but we used the tax dollars generated from across all of Harnett County to get into this position. I know of no check written specifically from Eastern Harnett to pay for the schools that we enjoy.
We were helped in Eastern Harnett. Now our neighbors in Northern, Western and Central Harnett County need help. We all need to put aside any geographical biases that we have and realize that we are neighbors no matter what side of the river we live on.
What happened to the days when a barn burned down and our neighbors showed up to help us build a new one? What happened to the days when a family moved to the community and the neighbors showed up to help them build a home before the winter cold set in?
Neighbors used to help neighbors. When one was in need, someone showed up with a bushel of corn. I realized that life is a little more complicated now. There are many of us who are struggling. They struggled in the olden days too but neighbors were there for neighbors. They cared.
One day in the near future, Buies Creek Elementary, Erwin Elementary, and Gentry Primary will need to be replaced. I do not want the people from Western Harnett yelling that they do not want their tax dollars going to this side of the river.
One day in the near future, Benhaven School will need to be replaced. I do not want the people in Eastern Harnett yelling that they do not want their tax dollars going to that side of the river.
We are a county. We should have unity. We should help our neighbors. We should be there for each other.
With the massive problems we have, it is time to have a modern day school-raising—neighbor helping neighbor no matter where you live.