NC commissioners set legislative priorities
After wading through more than 300 legislative goals presented by more than 500 commissioners throughout the state, the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners has agreed on five top priorities to present to legislators during the 2015 General Assembly.
Macon County Commissioner Ronnie Beale, president of the NCACC, gave his fellow commissioners an update on the recent Legislative Goals Conference during the board’s retreat last week.
He said priorities were submitted by commissioners from all over the state and narrowed down to 45 before the NCACC met and cut that down to the top five goals for this session. Beale said he is hopeful that their goals will be met as the NCAC has had an 85 to 90 percent success rate in the past.
Swain County Commissioners David Monteith and Philip Carson also attended the conference. Monteith serves as vice chairmen for NCACC’s Health and Human Service committee.
Return lotto funds
One of the top goals is to have the Legislature return more North Carolina Lottery funds to the local school systems.
“They sold it to the public as 40 percent of it would be returned to school systems, but that’s not happening,” Beale said. “And that hurts everyone.”
Currently, Macon County Schools are receiving only about 17 percent back from the lottery funds, according to County Manager Derek Roland.
Monteith said that additional funding was especially important to more rural communities in North Carolina, including Swain County, because it has such a small tax base.
“”Years ago I would have been opposed to it but since it’s there, it needs to come back to the counties,” he said. “It’s hard to come up with those dollars — we’ve got to have it.”
The NCACC is also asking the legislators for no unfunded mandates. Monteith said there have been several instances of the state or federal government passing laws that must be carried out by local governments while providing only a year’s worth of funding before the responsibility switched to the county.
“It needs to be fair,” he said. “I preach our 14 percent tax base — that’s all we’ve got and it’s hard to divide it up.”
Beale echoed the same sentiments.
“If we have to do it, we want to see a check from Raleigh to pay for it,” he said.
Medicaid is another hot topic throughout the state right now, one that many commissioners are torn over. Since it is a very political issue, Beale said constructing language was difficult for the association.
“The language says we support the state’s efforts — in whatever they come up with — in an effort to provide coverage to all citizens,” he said.
According to a new study from George Washington University in Virginia, North Carolina will miss out on $21 billion in federal matching funds between 2016 and 2020 if the state does not expand Medicaid by 2016.
“Everyone realized we needed to make that happen,” Monteith said about the discussion at NCACC.
The NCACC also voted to oppose the shift of state transportation funding responsibilities such as secondary road construction and maintenance to the counties.
School board lawsuits
Another goal was to repeal local school boards’ ability to file suit against a board of commissioners over county appropriations for education. While he said it hadn’t been an issue for Macon County, Union County School Board was recently awarded $90 million after it filed a lawsuit against county commissioners.
“We have an abnormal relationship with our school board,” Beale said. “A good abnormal relationship because we can sit down and talk through problems.”
The NCACC also approved 45 proposals in areas such as environment, public education, tax and finance and health and human services. Monteith said mental health services were still a big priority in North Carolina even though the issue didn’t make the top five list.