|Senate panel votes to void Raleigh's lease of Dix site|
Raleigh, N.C. - A Senate committee on Thursday morning advanced legislation that would void Raleigh's lease of the Dorothea Dix site.
Under the terms of a 99-year lease signed in December by Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane and former Gov. Beverly Perdue, the city would pay $500,000 a year - plus annual escalators - for the 325-acre site of a former mental hospital, allowing officials to convert into it into a major urban park.
Republican lawmakers criticized the deal, which they said didn't provide the state with a fair return. They also said it would end up costing taxpayers money because state Department of Health and Human Services offices at the site would have to be moved.
"This was a lame-duck deal done by a lame-duck governor," said Sen. Tommy Tucker, R-Union, one of the sponsors of Senate Bill 334.
The bill, and companion legislation in the House, called for the lease to be renegotiated at a fair-market price, with the proceeds designated for mental health programs. Also, DHHS would be allowed to maintain its offices on part of the site.
Co-sponsors Rep. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, and Rep. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, said the Dix land was given to the state in the mid-1800s for the benefit of the mentally ill, and the state needs to stick to that goal.
"We won't go into a lease that violates state law," Hise said. "The obligation for the state is to provide mental health benefits."
Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, said state officials decided several years ago when they built Central Regional Hospital in Butner to abandon the Dix site as far as mental health treatment was concerned.
Blue also noted that the state transferred part of the original Dix site to North Carolina State University almost 30 years ago for what has become its Centennial Campus. The success of that venture points to what Raleigh could do with the rest of the Dix land as it's developed into a "destination park," he said.