04/10/09 — County not taking on cost of roads

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County not taking on cost of roads

By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 10, 2009 1:46 PM

Wayne County commissioners were unanimous Tuesday in making it clear they are not interested in getting into the road business or in increasing property taxes by up to 14 cents per $100 of value to pay for the privilege.

Senate Bill 758, which would transfer secondary road construction and maintenance to counties, has passed its first reading and has been referred to the Committee on Appropriations-Base Budget.

The board's opposition will be passed along to local legislators and the N.C. Association of County Commissioners.

Meanwhile, commissioners have not yet staked out a position on House Bill 148 that would grant counties the authority to hold a referendum on a quarter-cent sales tax for public transportation. The tax would not apply to food.

The net proceeds would be used for financing, constructing, operating and maintaining local public transportation systems.

The revenues could supplement, not supplant or replace, existing resources for public transportation systems.

The bill would also give counties the ability to institute a county vehicle registration tax not to exceed $8.

In each case, to be eligible either the county or at least one municipality in the county must operate a public transportation system.

Only local governments that operate public transportation systems would be able to receive funds from the registration tax, which would be divided on a per capita basis among all qualifying local governments in a county.

Wayne County and Goldsboro operate the GATEWAY transit system.

The bill passed its first reading, was referred to the Committee on Transportation, and is now in the Committee on Finance.

According the bill's wording, it was designed to assist local governments in helping to relieve traffic congestion.

Commissioners did not discuss the bill during the meeting, and later County Manager Lee Smith said he does not yet know what the county's response will be.

During Tuesday's meeting Smith called the road transfer bill "just unbelievable."

"At a minimum, it will take you just for contract and maintenance it will be 10 cents on the local tax rate and that is not including other personnel costs, so I think you would be sitting on something around 13-14 cents to do that," Smith said.

The motion approved by the board asks legislators to oppose the bill as well as any like bills transferring any DOT responsibilities to counties.

"What are these legislators thinking, how do they get away with even suggesting this?" Commissioner John Bell said. "They live in these counties, too."

"The bill sponsors live in Mecklenburg County and Mecklenburg is mostly Charlotte, and they wouldn't have to do it," county attorney Borden Parker said.

The bill would result in a disparity of roads across North Carolina like there is now in South Carolina, Smith said.

"You will go to Horry County (S.C.) where it is great and you go just a little west and there are potholes every three feet. They cannot afford it, and it is going to be a problem."

Smith told commissioners he had received a call from Rep. Efton Sager concerning House Bill 888. The bill, Smith said, was written by one of his friends, Rep. Tim Speer in Washington County.

The bill concerns the regulation of bow hunting in Hyde County.

Smith said that Sager, a former Wayne County commissioner, has gotten calls from landowners who want Wayne County added to the bill.

There already are laws that prevent people hunting with rifles on land without the permission of the property owner.

The laws do not address hunters who use bows or crossbows, he said.

"It would give property owners the right to prohibit people from hunting on their land with a bow and arrow and/or crossbows," Smith said. "They would have to have permission."

Bell questioned whether there were many bow hunters.

"There are a lot," Smith said.

Smith said he understands other counties want to be added to the bill.

Commission Chairman Bud Gray wanted to know about adding ATVs.

"Can you? I don't know," Smith said. "The county receives more complains about ATVs and four-wheelers than anything else. We get them (calls) all the time over in the 911 center. The sheriff says they are getting them every day."

"A lot of hunters use four-wheelers," said Commissioner Steve Keen.

Smith the N.C. Association of County Commissioners has asked for opposition on several other pending bill including ones about tort claims and magistrates.

Smith told commissioners he would compile a packet of information about the bills for them to study.

He said he has asked for input from Parker and from officials in the district attorney's and magistrates' offices.

"I don't know how to deal with them (bills)," he said.

Smith said he plans to send the list to N.C. Association of County Commissioners to determine its stance.

Smith said he needs to know whether the county and the association are in agreement on the bills.

"Obviously, if I am going to run up against that there are 99 other counties then I have a problem," Smith said. "I need to find out what the situation is."