Describing a growing divide between “the two North Carolinas,” county officials presented the local legislative delegation with a list of concerns and requests Friday morning.
Meeting with state Rep. Garland Pierce and Ken Goodman and Sen. Gene McLaurin, the Scotland County Board of Commissioners and County Manager Kevin Patterson expressed worry about state policies favoring urban and suburban counties over rural ones.
“We are talking about the ‘two North Carolinas’ now,” said Patterson of recent actions by the state legislature that he said put rural counties, like Scotland, at a disadvantage.
Of the greatest concern to Patterson was the budget proposed by Gov. Pat McCrory which includes a 60 percent funding cut to the North Carolina Rural Center.
According to Patterson, Scotland County and its municipalities have received about $5.6 million from the Rural Center since 2000.
“We will need to go to the Rural Center for funding for the FCC project also,” said Patterson of an upcoming project from FCC that is expected to create more than 60 jobs and bring $78 million in new investment to the county and the city of Laurinburg.
Proposed changes to state industrial incentive packages will also harm rural counties, Patterson said.
“Some will say that they want to even out the response of the state and treat Scotland County the same as Wake County … but there are significant differences,” Patterson said.
Highlighting those difference, Board Chairman Guy McCook said that he read recently of Wake County’s policy only to offer incentives to businesses investing more than $100 million.
“Our policy is that if you invest a half million we’re going to give you some incentives. If we only gave incentives to those ($100 million-plus) investments we wouldn’t have any incentives. We just don’t have those very often.”
Concurring with the commissioners, Goodman noted that “most of the unemployment in North Carolina is in the rural areas. If we can’t (give incentives) for people to come here, we just won’t get a hearing.”
Goodman said that he and McLaurin have proposed companion legislation aimed at providing tax credits to small businesses to create jobs.
“We think it’s a pretty good bill, but I don’t think we’re going to get a hearing in committee because the (Republican) leadership just doesn’t see it.
“We’re going to make some noise about it, but I don’t have a lot of hope for this session,” Goodman said. “Without some help, we’re not going to be on a level playing field.”
Considering proposed incentive changes and the restriction of funds accompanying budget tightening measures, Commissioner Carol McCall said that the disparity between rural and urban could soon grow much worse unless there is a change of course.
“If this track continues, the divide will be even greater in two years. It will be tremendous in two to five years if this continues.”
Restrictions on Medicaid payments could even threaten rural hospitals, like Scotland Memorial, Goodman said.
“These hospitals like the one here, they don’t make a ton of money … and we are probably going to lose some in the rural counties.”
Goodman advised the commissioners to continue to lobby Raleigh on rural issues.
“We need to speak out and say as citizens that this isn’t right. That whole squeaky wheel thing works.”
Pierce and McLaurin both joined Goodman in pledging to champion the FCC project at the state level, making sure that the funding is there when it is needed.
“I’ll tell (leadership) that we have an important project in our district that we need to look into. Job creation is at the top of our priority list,” McLaurin said.
On a positive note, Pierce said that it is likely that some pressure on state-level agencies “could probably expedite funding to show what we are doing here.”