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Article 41

January 04. 2008 9:00AM
County weighs future with planning group

By SETH STRATTON
The Dispatch

The Davidson County Board of Commissioners is discussing whether its absence from a transportation planning group would be a benefit or a detriment to future road projects in the northern part of the county.

At the county board meeting Thursday, Commissioner Billy Joe Kepley asked fellow board members to hold off on signing a "memorandum of understanding" between the county and the Winston-Salem Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, essentially approving a new voting structure. Kepley said the voting structure gives Winston-Salem and Forsyth County too much power and is "un-American and un-Christian."

The planning organization covers much of the northern part of the county, including parts of Wallburg and Midway. The two new municipalities are also members of the MPO. Kepley said the group set a Feb. 21 deadline to have each participating government sign the memo to change the voting structure.

"What I would like to do is us take no action on this memorandum of understanding," Kepley asked his colleagues. "And maybe reply in letter that we will give them the opportunity to address some of our concerns before we would be receptive to signing this."

Commissioner Fred McClure made a motion to table the issue and let the county manager and attorney look at the issue and provide a recommendation or options for the board. The motion was approved unanimously.

Kepley said the county receives four out of a possible 100 votes between the 17 institutions in the MPO. The mayor's office in Winston-Salem receives 26 votes, and two Winston-Salem council members and two Forsyth County commissioners receive 10 votes each. Midway and Wallburg receive one vote.

But Commissioner Sam Watford thought the county may not have a dog in the fight.

"All I can say is that if we had 90 percent of the MPO within our jurisdiction, we'd hold 90 percent of it, so I can't see your point at all Mr. Kepley," Watford said.


Commissioner Dr. Max Walser said the county needs to fight and vote for what it can get and at least be represented.

"I do see Mr. Kepley's point, but at the same time I've always felt that you need to be at the table," Walser said. "I know it's disgusting, I'm sympathetic to Mr. Kepley's plight up there, but I think you just need to be at the table - keep fighting for what you need, believe in, what's fair to us."

Kepley said the MPO is the only organization he has come across that diverges from the typical voting structure. Other transportation planning groups give each government organization one vote, which the commissioner argues is more balanced. As a result of the county's weak voting power, Kepley says only one road improvement project, Hickory Tree Road, has been approved, and it is at the bottom of the group's list of priorities.

If the county refuses to sign, it's unclear what will become of the county's representation in the group. County Attorney Robert Hedrick said the county is paying dues and may have to continue to pay dues to the MPO. The northeastern part of the county is part of the High Point MPO.

"If we throw the ball back in their court, they're going to have to do something with this voting structure or they're going to have to recommend that our area and our representation be eliminated," Kepley said.

The commissioner said he would rather the northern part of the county join the Piedmont Triad Rural Planning Organization.

"You have to be there to appreciate this, but our vote doesn't mean anything," Kepley said.

Commissioners will gather next at the County Governmental Center at 7 p.m. Monday for their monthly public hearing meeting.

Seth Stratton can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 226, or seth.stratton@the-dispatch.com.

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