Bill faces local opposition

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Since the 1930’s counties across the state have not been in the business of maintaining the roads within their respective borders.

That may change if legislation proposed by a Mecklenburg County state senator is approved.

And, to date, that legislation is experiencing stiff opposition, including the opinions of several local citizens that placed phone calls to Roanoke-Chowan Publications last week.

Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, the primary sponsor of the bill, said the purpose of the legislation is to make the state Department of Transportation more efficient. He has filed Senate Bill 758 (Transfer Secondary Roads to Counties). The bill shifts the state’s existing responsibility for funding transportation construction and maintenance projects to county governments.

The proposed legislation has been referred to the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

The Hertford County Commissioners, at their meeting Monday night, were expected to adopt a formal resolution in opposition to Rucho’s proposed legislation.

Under Rucho’s plan, the state would be responsible for all N.C., U.S. and interstate routes while each county would assume responsibility for any road not falling under those categories.

The senator told several statewide news organizations that the counties understand their individual needs for road improvements better than NC DOT.

However, if the proposed legislation becomes law, each county must find the financial resources to assume the responsibility of maintaining its system of secondary roads. According to Rucho, counties have four options:

Develop its own transportation department;

Make an arrangement with a municipality that has an existing road maintenance department in place;

Hire a construction company to complete the work; or

Hire NC DOT to complete the work.

Rucho said there is at least one DOT facility in every county. That property and equipment could potentially be shifted to the counties.

The proposal comes with a hefty price tag for the counties. Especially hit hard would be the small, rural counties as found here in the Roanoke-Chowan area.

The following is a breakdown of the secondary road mileage in each R-C area county; the projected maintenance costs for those roads (as listed by DOT for 2007-08) and the tax increase possibly passed on to citizens just to pay for road upkeep:

Bertie County – 486.06 miles; $2,744,316 in maintenance costs; 23.3 cents worth of added tax (per $100 of property value);

Gates County – 279.29 miles; $1,327,693; 24-cent tax hike;

Hertford County – 329.69 miles; $1,851,742; 15.9-cent tax increase; and

Northampton County – 446.13 miles; $2,751,887; 15-cent tax hike.

As noted by Hertford County Manager Loria Williams, there is a big disparity between what one penny of a tax increase was able to generate in a metropolitan-type county, such as Mecklenburg, compared to a small, rural county such as Hertford. She said a one-cent tax hike in Mecklenburg could generate $9.3 million while the same in her county would only generate $116,687.

“Mecklenburg could pay for their secondary road improvements (projected by DOT at $8.32 million) with less than one penny of a property tax increase while we would have to pass along nearly a 16-cent increase if this legislation becomes law,” Williams said. “Our citizens cannot stand this and we will fight this bill.”

If total highway funds, including Highway Trust Fund monies, for paving and enhancement projects are shifted to the counties, that would add even more to the tax burden on Roanoke-Chowan area residents (an additional 7 cents per $100 property value in Bertie County; 56 cents in Gates; 16.5 cents in Hertford; and 7.6 cents in Northampton).

Roanoke-Chowan area citizens wishing to voice their opinions on this issue can contact the following local state legislators:

NC House 5th District Representative Annie Mobley (919-733-5780

NC House 27th District Representative Michael Wray (919-733-5662)

NC 4th District Senator Ed Jones (919-715-3032)

Legislators could vote on the bill later this session or next session. If passed, it would go into effect Jan. 1, 2011.