Legislature needs more local leaders

Published 11:03 am Thursday, April 23, 2009

A problem is growing increasingly prevalent in the North Carolina General Assembly.

To support their spending habits, some legislators – mostly but not exclusively from the more well-to-do districts – want to dump more burdens on local government.

These are burdens that local government doesn’t want and can’t stand. Legislation has been introduced to diminish taxes, stop helping them be collected and to add more responsibility through an unfunded mandate.

A good example is a piece of legislation introduced by State Senator Bob Rucho (D-39th) who wants to transfer the cost of secondary roads from the state, which has always had the responsibility to maintain them, to local government.

That could come at a cost of as much as a 32-cent tax hike for property owner in the local area. I don’t know a single county in this region which can afford to raise taxes enough to pay for road repair and upkeep.

What does that mean?

It means roads will get worse, travel will be harder and the industry that we do have here will move to greener pastures, thus leaving this area poorer and more destitute than ever.

While they’re adding costs, they want to take away responsibility.

State Senator Charles W. Albertson (D-10th), who represents Duplin, Lenoir and Sampson counties, wants to take away the county’s responsibility for deciding where ABC Stores should be placed.

Senate Bill 839, which he introduced, would take that responsibility away from the local ABC boards and give it to the ABC Commission.

Any bets that the ABC Commission isn’t going to care what we want in Bertie, Hertford and Northampton counties?

Senator Clark Jenkins (D-3rd), who represents neighboring Martin County, has introduced a bill that would repeal the combined motor vehicle registration and tax system that was to go in place to help local governments collect vehicle taxes.

Senator Jenkins obviously doesn’t intend to stop the state from collecting their registration fees.

What alarms me most about this bill is that Senator Don Davis (D-5th) was a mayor of a municipality and knows the struggles of local bodies of government, but has signed on as a co-sponsor.

I’m also concerned that even one of our local legislators, Representative Annie W. Mobley (D-5th), is sponsoring a bill that would change the state tax code to allow for certain exemptions, including a senior homestead and allowing the state to place an appraisal cap on general appraisals. This too would negatively affect county and municipal governments.

It may be a good thing to look at, but the state constitution says we all pay property taxes equally. I’m not willing to change that for any group, no matter how well-intentioned the bill may be.

Many county leaders sit in fear as long as the General Assembly is in session. They don’t know what may happen or what state mandate may wind up in the laps of local governments that will come with no funding.

The answer to me is simple. We need more county commissioners in Raleigh. We need people who understand county government helping lead the state so they don’t keep dumping on the local leaders.

Our county commissioners work hard and they deserve a break. They’re certainly not getting one from our General Assembly.

Thadd White is Sports Editor and Staff Writer for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. He can be reached via email at thadd.white@r-cnews.com or by telephone at 332-7211.