Local county government officials, including those in Sampson, have laid out what they want from lawmakers, and it is much the same as it has been. Tops on the wish list: Keep state transportation responsibilities from shifting to counties and reinstate valuable ADM and lottery funds for school construction.
The North Carolina Association of County Commissioners set its top five legislative goals, and those were again the top two. That is how they were ranked by the NCACC Board of Directors in December, and then as voted by counties at a recent NCACC Legislative Goals Conference.
More than 200 county officials from 88 counties gathered at the conference to debate and ultimately approve 60 proposals submitted by counties to be included in the goals package. The package, representing the collective wishes of all 100 counties, was supported by way of a resolution by the Sampson County Board of Commissioners last week.
Along with opposing the shift of state transportation responsibilities and reinstating ADM (Average Daily Membership) and lottery funds, rounding out the top five were: oppose unfunded mandates and shifts of state responsibilities to counties; ensure adequate mental health funding; and preserve the existing local revenue base.
The five priorities stayed intact from the proposed goals in December, with the final two flip-flopped. The proposed goals had preservation of the revenue base as fourth, and ensuring mental health funding as fifth. Commissioners wanted the opposite order.
News of the set goals were delivered this week by Commissioner Jefferson Strickland to the Board of Commissioners, which unanimously approved the goals as part of a resolution.
The NCACC Legislative Goals Conference, held in Durham County at the end of last month, is the final step of a months-long process where all counties can have thorough discussion, deliberation and debate on the issues. The proposed goals, and many others, were brought for discussion by the group, following which there was a vote from the delegates.
“It was a tremendous learning experience,” said Strickland. “I was there for all sessions, all discussion. We also got a chance to meet some commissioners from the other counties. It was a very lively, open discussion. Everyone was permitted to say what they had on their mind and then vote. It was a great learning experience.”
All 100 counties are voluntary members of the NCACC. Every two years, the membership of the association develops and approves a package of legislative proposals designed to protect and enhance the interests of county governments and the state’s citizens. The process to generate this package of legislative goals is “deliberate and inclusive and provides extensive opportunities for counties to be involved,” the county’s resolution read.
Strickland, who is a member of the District 6 NCACC Board of Directors, including Sampson, Harnett and Cumberland counties, served as the voting delegate for Sampson. Strickland was accompanied by assistant county manager Susan Holder during the first day of the conference, and county manager Ed Causey on the second.
Aside from the top five goals, there were several categories within which the NCACC has sub-priorities. Those delve into issues concerning agriculture, environment, health and human services, intergovernmental relations, justice and public safety, public education and tax and finance.
County officials have noted the importance of setting legislative goals and having lawmakers hear the pleas of Sampson and others. ADM and lottery funding is sorely needed, and direly missed, as it relates to paying school construction debt. Shifting transportation duties would only compound matters, causing more headaches and budget tightening locally.
The ADM funding can be used to pay for debt service but not new school construction, was relied on, and obligated, by Sampson County when moving forward with local projects to build new schools in recent years.
“The ADM funding is what Sampson County had pledged to use toward paying our 1999 COPs (Certificate of Participation) issue, somewhere in excess of $600,000, which has been gone for the last five years maybe,” said finance officer David Clack.
The lottery funds go hand-in-hand with the ADM funding. A significant cut in those funds has affected the budget, and will likely be a topic of discussion with construction debt for the new Roseboro Elementary School coming on next year.
“The lottery funds is what we pledged to pay our most current COPs issue of USDA debt for our last building of schools, which was the three high schools and Roseboro Elementary School, (whose) debt service will be coming on next year,” said Clack. “This year will be the third year it has been cut by a significant amount. The county is having to come up with that money and we’re using part of our debt reserve to make it up.”
The final priorities of the NCACC will be submitted to state legislators.
“This happens every two years,” said Strickland. “The board adopts these goals and then they are good for two years, to be worked on by the lobbyists.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.