12/03/07 — State legislators take look at water use, annexation

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State legislators take look at water use, annexation

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on December 3, 2007 2:24 PM

Just because the state General Assembly is currently out of session, that doesn't mean local legislators aren't still focused on the myriad of issues and concerns facing North Carolina.

Included among those are the drought and involuntary annexation -- just two of the topics being looked at by recently formed study committees.

The Agriculture Drought Response Committee, to which Sen. Charlie Albertson, D-Duplin, was appointed, is charged with evaluating what governments, farmers and other groups can do to help mitigate the damage being caused by the continuing dry weather.

"We'll be taking a look at who our major water users are and what conservation efforts we can take," Albertson said. "We're in one of the worst droughts in the history of our state and the future doesn't look encouraging."

He added, though, that he is not sure what the committee's recommendations will be.

"We want to make sure we're doing everything we can to conserve water. It's our most precious resource and we need to use it prudently," he said. "We're going to be bringing everybody together and preparing for the worst case scenario."

Also receiving discussion over the next few months will be the state's involuntary and satellite annexation laws.

"From what I understand, we're going to be looking at the current regulations and seeing if anything needs to be changed," said Rep. Louis Pate, R-Wayne. "We've heard from a lot of people in areas that have been annexed."

And, he acknowledged, much of what they have heard hasn't been positive.

"I think it's a matter of selling people on the idea -- convincing them that they need the services the municipalities have to offer," said Pate, a former Mount Olive mayor. "But I have a feeling that hasn't taken place and that people are feeling they're being taken just for their tax revenue. Sometimes it just looks like a land grab, but I think if they do it the right way, it can be an asset to everyone."

And, he added, while he is not sure what sort of recommendations the committee will come up with, members are going to be listening to both sides.

"We're going into it with the intent to see what is written and what is really taking place," he said.

But those aren't the only two issues being discussed.

Rep. Larry Bell, D-Sampson, is on a committee that is meeting to discuss school budgets and the formulas that are currently being used for per-pupil funding, funding for disabled students and low-wealth supplemental funding.

"We need to look at that to see if it's equitable across the state," he said.

Pate also is taking a look during these off months at education, but from a different angle.

A member of the education oversight committee, he explained that one of the committee's charges is to look at the amount of testing being done in North Carolina's public schools.

Currently, he said, students are spending an estimated 25 of their 180 school days taking some type of standardized test.

"Maybe we've gone way too far with testing," he said. "What are we learning from it? I think we've gotten too regimented in the classroom. I think teachers ought to be given a little more leeway to reach their students."

Additionally, Rep. Van Braxton, D-Lenoir, is on a committee taking a look at the state's transportation needs and where funding might come from.

"There are a lot of different ideas out there," he said. "Toll roads and bond issues -- those are the two main things. We've just got to come up with some ideas for how to pay for some of these transportation issues facing us, including some bridges we need to look at replacing."

Those committees, like the ones on annexation and the drought, are expected to offer reports to the General Assembly when it reconvenes in May for its short session.