Under the Dome

Senator voices concerns about Dorothea Dix deal

Views of buildings and the Dorthea Gardens neighborhood in downtown Raleigh from atop the Dorthea Dix complex last fall.
Views of buildings and the Dorthea Gardens neighborhood in downtown Raleigh from atop the Dorthea Dix complex last fall. clowenst@newsobserver.com

Nearly two years ago, Sen. Louis Pate was one of three Republicans behind a bill seeking to trash Raleigh’s lease on the Dorothea Dix property.

Pate and others argued that the $500,000-a-year lease, signed by outgoing Gov. Bev Perdue, was a bad deal for the state and shortchanged mental health. On Tuesday, Pate voiced similar concerns about the deal announced Monday to sell the 308-acre property to Raleigh for $52 million.

“I don’t know that the state is in a better position or not, the way this agreement reads,” said Pate, who represents parts of Lenoir, Pitt and Wayne counties. “I think we need to sit back and take a long look at it before we put our stamp on it.”

Legislators won’t be voting on the terms of the agreement. Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration negotiated the sale, and it will get a final vote from the Council of State – 10 state elected officials ranging from Attorney General Roy Cooper to Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler.

But legislators could file a bill seeking to amend or revoke the deal, much as they did in 2013. Pate said he “can’t say” what legislative leaders might do, and it’s too soon to speculate on any action. Senate leader Phil Berger’s spokeswoman said he was still reviewing the deal Tuesday and had no comment.

Pate said his biggest concern is the price. While Gov. Pat McCrory said the $52 million will go toward mental health services, Pate says that amount “can be spent in a heartbeat around here .”

“The thing that continues to bother me is the original landowner’s request in the deed that the property be used for the mentally ill, and I don’t see how this is going to continue to help the mentally ill,” he said.

McCrory said Monday that the $52 million price tag was chosen because it represents the midpoint between the state’s appraisal and the city’s appraisal. The state’s appraiser pegged the property’s value at $66 million, while the appraiser hired by Raleigh leaders came up with $37.45 million. Both numbers were lower than the 2011 state appraisal of $84 million, cited by Republican legislators as the “fair market value” of the land.

“We could have continued negotiations for another year” without much change in the final price, McCrory said. “I feel very confident that the state will benefit. ... It’s all costing us the longer we wait to make this decision.”

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer