LAURINBURG — The N.C. General Assembly’s legislative session this year left Scotland County relatively unscathed, County Manager Kevin Patterson informed Thursday’s meeting of the Scotland County Democratic Women.
While the county itself was not a target for state cuts, the public school system, regional mental health management entity, and other state-funded agencies will continue to try to do more with the same — or lower — level of funding. Despite an increase in the gross amount of school funding statewide, an increase in the number of students enrolled in North Carolina’s public schools leads to less funding per pupil.
“The schools will tell you the state cut them again, the state tells us they increased funding again, and frankly they’re both right. It depends on which side you’re looking at it from,” said Patterson.
“With one of the longest sessions they’ve had on record in decades, fortunately there were not that many changes that directly impacted county government. For us, the issues they came up with started early in the session so we made plans and adapted to them.”
Next year, state residents can look forward to paying state sales tax not only on traditional material items but on an array of repair, maintenance, and installation services as well. Those taxes will be distributed to North Carolina’s 78 rural counties in lieu of a failed proposal to distribute the bulk of state sales taxes based on counties’ population rather than point of sale.
“The rural counties wanted to move a lot of that back to where you actually live, because that’s where you need the services,” Patterson said. “That was an extremely heated debate, as you might imagine. The legislature did a lot of good faith work on this, but it did not pass.”
According to Patterson, preliminary estimates indicate that Scotland County will be on the receiving end of up to $600,000 in additional revenue each year from the new tax.
“We’ll start budgeting that once we actually see that we’re going to get it. Not that we’re suspicious, but we try not to plan on spending money that we haven’t received yet.”
The 25 Scotland County Democratic Women members who gathered for the meeting in the Atkinson Street American Legion posed also got an update on the county’s solid waste operation. For the first year, county residents are paying an annual availability fee to bring that county enterprise out of the red.
Patterson reported that Robeson County has approached the county about taking over the solid waste operation, but the Scotland County Board of Commissioners have yet to enter into any related discussion.
But the new fee has bought time for the commissioners to consider the future of the county landfill and other solid waste services.
“The solid waste fund, thanks to the availability fee, will have a cash balance for the first time in years a year and a half from now,” Patterson said. “So it will actually be able to write its own checks without getting money from the general fund for the first time in a decade.”
If the landfill remains open, the county will have a chance to more aggressively pursue foreclosure and demolition of dilapidated homes.
“As long as we have the C&D landfill, it’s a lot cheaper: it costs us manpower, which we’re already hiring, and machine time.”
Also on Thursday, the Scotland County Democratic Women approved its 2016 slate of officers: President Jan Schmidt, First Vice-President Sara Stewart, Second Vice-President Norma Jones, Secretary Mary Evans, and Treasurer Martha Gibson.
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.