County officials urged the local legislative delegation to keep the mantra ‘do no harm’ in mind” as the General Assembly begins to look at the state budget.
Members of the Scotland County Board of Commissioners met with state Reps Ken Goodman and Garland Pierce along with Sen. Bill Purcell over two days last week, and discussed a wide range of issues, including mental health funding and game land revenue sharing.
Lawmakers ended the week with a breakfast meeting with the Scotland-Laurinburg Chamber of Commerce.
County Manager Kevin Patterson who led discussion during the initial meetings, presented two potential sources of revenue which could be created by state action, including the county creating permit fees for Internet sweepstakes businesses.
“We feel that the county should be able to reap the benefits of having these businesses,” said board chairman Bob Davis, advocating for a state level law allowing the county to charge greater permit fees.
Asked if there had been any discussion about what the county may charge the establishments, Patterson said that it was too early to know.
“We will probably look at what other places charge, but this is an issue that has literally just gone from a thought to discussion in the past several days,” said Patterson.
The county also hopes to see some revenue from the more than 20,000-acres of state owned game land it hosts by being allowed to manage pine straw on the land.
“The game lands have a pretty big impact on us, and to the best of our knowledge (the pine straw there) is not being actively managed,” said Commissioner Guy McCook.
Discussions about game land pine straw management are also in the preliminary stages, and details about what revenues might be accessible were not presented during the meetings.
The county also advocated to its legislative delegation for the restoration of lottery proceeds and mental health funding, both of which have recently been cut.
“Psychiatric services are extremely limited in rural North Carolina,” said Patterson, who also suggested that a regional health department that includes Scotland, Richmond, Hoke and Montgomery Counties might be a thrifty option in the future.
“With the cuts, having one regional health department could actually be a strength for us,” said Patterson.
Patterson also described how damaging the transfer of secondary road maintenance responsibility to the county could be.
“If they transferred secondary roads to the counties, it would be a $4 million cost coming down to the county,” said Patterson.
“The liability transferred to the county would far outstrip any revenues promised,” Patterson added.
Concerned with the environmental impact of hydraulic mining (“fracking”) in North Carolina, Commissioner John Alford asked that the delegation remember that, while Scotland County may not stand to benefit from the practice, “it could certainly be very damaging to the water supply of the county.”
“A lot of people stand to be very rich, but the environmental impact to us could be many times worse than the profits they are making in other areas,” added Alford.
Davis was pleased with how the meetings went, and emphasized their importance following Thursday’s meeting with Pierce.
“It’s very important to meet with them like this because they need to understand firsthand what we are facing so that they can better assess these issues in Raleigh,” said Davis.
“It was a pleasure speaking with you all today, and we will certainly keep everything you have discussed close to the heart when we go in for what will probably be a short – very short – session,” said Pierce.
Also pleased with the proceedings, Patterson noted the impact that even small legislative changes at the state level could have on Scotland County.
“These meetings have gone extremely well, and even though this budget session is going to be very strict and tight, it’s good to make sure the issues are constantly in front of our legislators so that their continued support is always there,” said Patterson.
“The state could very easily take more revenues away as a way of cutting costs at the state level, and that could have a very significant impact on our county,” Patterson added.
For instance, Patterson said, were the state to stop providing funding to purchase school buses, the consequences to the Scotland County could be severe.
“We are not Mecklenburg County,” said Patterson.
The lawmakers said that they would review what they heard as they prepare for the upcoming legislative short session.