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Bertie leaders pledge support

WINDSOR – A resolution opposing proposed new hunting regulations from the state Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) was but one of four adopted by the Bertie County Board of Commissioners at their monthly meeting here Monday evening.

In December, after a group of more than 30 hunters were present at the Commissioners’ meeting, the Board voted to draft a resolution stating their opposition to the proposed legislation. That draft was presented on Monday and read into the record by Commissioner John Trent.

“As of 2011 there are 335,000 resident and non-resident hunters in northeastern North Carolina, believe it or not,” Trent stated. “Bertie County bases a lot of its economic development on eco-tourism and this affects us immensely.”

Trent said together these individuals hunt a total of 7,608,000 days if taken out and multiplied out by what the entire hunting season is for white-tail deer. He cited total expenditures, trip and equipment, related to hunting costing a total of $525,281,000.

“That’s an average cost of $1,507 per hunter coming into northeastern North Carolina,” he declared. “And the amount spent by hunter in Bertie County has increased since 2011.”

Trent said the proposed legislation shortens the white tail deer hunting season by 16 days: one week for black-powder hunting, and nine days for rifle hunting beginning with the 2018-19 season.

“The reduction of those legal hunting days would have a significant impact on the local economy of northeastern North Carolina, specifically Bertie County,” he continued. “And that doesn’t account for the lost days’ effect on guides, lodging, and other tourism related to white tail deer hunting.”

Trent said while NCWRC statistics claim the changes would provide for a better deer herd for hunters, no evidence backs that up; neither does evidence show a decline in the quality of the deer population in the northeastern part of the state.

Trent then made a motion that the Commissioners adopt the resolution and that the County Manager present it before the NCWRC as soon as possible; it was seconded by Commissioner Tammy Lee and passed unanimously.

The second resolution, if adopted, would have been the Board’s opposition to class size reduction in grades K-thru-3rd grade.

Commission chair Ernestine Byrd Bazemore recognized the presence of the Bertie County Board of Education who came with the introduction before the Commissioners of newly-sworn Bertie County Schools’ superintendent Dr. Catherine Edmonds.

“We do know in years past that it’s always been good to have a smaller class size,” said Bazemore, herself a former educator. “But this time we understand the state has not sent the money down to do this and we would need more buildings and teachers.”

House Bill 13 (S.L. 2017-9) has been introduced in the General Assembly in response to legislation passed in 2015 requiring public school districts to reduce K-3 class sizes as a way to provide more individualized instruction to young students.

The law sets new teacher-to-student ratios. For example, in kindergarten the law requires one teacher for every 18 students; in first grade one teacher is required for every 16 students; in second grade one teacher is required for every 17 students; and the same one-to-17 ratio is also required in the third grade.

The law also contains specific guidelines for exceptions to the ratios. In grades K-3, the average class can’t exceed the statutory ratio by more than three students. To comply with the mandate, school districts across the state have estimated they’ll need to hire an additional 4,750 teachers at a cost of approximately $300 million — money that hasn’t been appropriated by the legislature.

“Local districts are required to set class size averages in grades K-3 that equal the state classroom teacher funding ratios and will have to meet more restrictive individual class size maximums across those grade levels,” Lee read. “An immediate reduction in the K-3 class size maximum will worsen an already very difficult environment for school districts in finding licensed and qualified teachers to fill classrooms, most likely leading to more classrooms taught by long-term substitutes or lateral-entry teachers, who do not have the teaching experience and classroom management training necessary.”

“Bertie County Public Schools does not have capital funding to build new classrooms or purchase additional modular classrooms and Bertie County Public Schools lacks space to implement the class size reductions,” Lee continued.

In general, the Commissioners were requesting the state legislature to fully fund small classes and slow implementation of the K-3 class size reductions through a multi-year phase-in and the legislature provide full funding for all enhancement teachers so that districts across North Carolina are better able to meet their school facility needs associated with class size reduction and growth.

School board chairman Bobby Occena added that would mean an additional seven teachers for the grades mentioned, and he said the Board of Education had not figured in the increase anticipated should Heritage Leadership Academy close its doors. He endorsed the Commissioners’ resolution.

“It doesn’t make sense for a move of this nature to be pushed to the counties and not receive the kind of funding it would take to implement it,” Commissioner Ronald ‘Ron’ Wesson remarked. “There’s nothing wrong with smaller class sizes, but with that mandate ought to come the money.”

Lee then made a motion to adopt the resolution, which was seconded by Wesson and passed unanimously.

The third resolution extended the property tax deadline, sans penalty interest charges, from Jan. 5 to Jan. 12, 2018 due to the snow and ice weather conditions that gripped the county.

Bertie County Tax Administrator Jodie Rhea read that the deadline could be extended if county offices were closed for weekends of holidays and that the tax office was closed completely Jan. 4-8, and partially on Jan. 9, due to ‘significant snowfall and ice’.

“It is fair and reasonable under these circumstances to extend the deadline,” Rhea said, “until 5 p.m. on Jan. 12, 2018 to pay Bertie County property taxes without interest due to inclement weather.”

Wesson made the motion for the deadline extension, seconded by Trent and it passed unanimously.

Finally, a resolution not on the regular agenda was proposed affecting the hunting of waterfowl (ducks). County Attorney Lloyd Smith prepared a draft on duck hunting opposing a Sunday hunting moratorium from the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

“They (NCWRC) must report their findings to the state legislature by March 1,” said Lee. “The federal government gives you 60 days to duck hunt and then they let the states decide which days that’s going to be. If they oppose Sunday duck hunting it would mean taking away another day. So the hunters I’ve spoken with oppose Sunday hunting.”

She then made a motion for a resolution of Bertie Commissioners on record as opposing Sunday hunting that was seconded by Trent.

The motion passed unanimously, bringing the evening’s quartet of resolution adoptions to an end.