Raleigh, N.C. — Although lawmakers on hand for Monday's Dorothea Dix announcement spoke favorably about the deal, not all legislators are completely convinced the terms are good for the state.
The $52 million deal to sell the 308-acre campus to Raleigh has been long in the making, supplanting a lease agreement signed two years ago by then-Gov. Bev Perdue.
"It's was not immediately obvious that it was a horrible deal," said Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, who has been a key player on health and health budget issues for the Senate.
Hise was also the primary sponsor of legislation to block the Perdue deal that sent the state and city into negotiations. The bill never passed, but Senate Republicans have long expressed a desire to see the state get more for its money.
Hise called the $52 million price tag "on the lower end" of what would be acceptable, and he was not thrilled that the state was still open to some liability for environmental issues.
"It seems to be a better deal for Wake County than the rest of the state," he said.
Gov. Pat McCrory does not need the legislature's approval to ink a final deal. That decision is made by the Council of State, a group of 10 statewide elected officials that includes McCrory. However, lawmakers could push through a bill similar to the one contemplated in the wake of the Perdue deal that would trump the council's approval.
That would be a drastic step, and Hise said any decision on whether senators might, or might not, intervene would come down to the governor's plans for the Department of Health and Human Services. Currently, the state houses much – but not all – of the agency in aging building dotting the Dix campus. While the proposed sale agreement gives the state time to find new locations, eventually the department will have to move.
"It's really going to depend on what the governor says his plan is for the future of (DHHS)," Hise said.
No definitive plans were announced Monday.
"One of our biggest issues with that piece of property is the cost of maintaining those buildings," McCrory said. "We think in the long-term, that's one of the reasons this will be a good deal for all the taxpayers of the state of North Carolina, because we think, in the long term, we'll be able to reduce the operating costs."
Asked where he might put a consolidated DHHS operation, McCrory only said the state would be going through "a transition process."