09/14/12 — County eyes priorities for legislators in new year

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County eyes priorities for legislators in new year

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 14, 2012 1:46 PM

Support for agriculture, safeguarding military airspace, promoting economic development and easing detention space requirements in existing and new jails top a checklist of issues Wayne County commissioners are hopeful state lawmakers will support when they return to session next year.

Commissioners will hold their third work session on the goals following their Tuesday morning session, which begins with an 8 a.m. agenda briefing. The formal meeting will start at 9 a.m. Both will be held in the commissioners' meeting room on the fourth floor of the county courthouse annex.

The board is expected to adopt the goals and forward them to the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, which each year develops and submits its legislative goals -- items culled from suggestions from its 100 member counties.

Wayne County is the fourth-largest agricultural county in the state, and farming alone pumps more than $330 million a year into the county's economy. Overall agriculture accounts for 20 percent of the county's employment.

As such, agriculture is listed as a major project among the county's goals.

Specifics of that goal include supporting legislation to:

* Promote and preserve working farmlands by including them in the state tourism plan, by retaining the current authority for the present use value system, by maintaining funding for the Agriculture Development and Farmland Preservation Trust, and by authorizing counties to implement transfer of development rights

* Increase agriculture research and extension services and maintain existing research stations at current levels

* Implement the Sustainable Local Food Advisory Council's recommendations including a prohibition against municipal involuntary annexation or regulation of farm or forestry activities within a voluntary agricultural district or conservation district and support state funding to maintain and enhance the North Carolina Transition Network.

Seymour Johnson Air Force Base also is a major contributor to the county's economy, commissioners say.

Commissioners want lawmakers to review and pass legislation to protect air space around the state's military installations and along low-level flying routes in the state as well.

Another issue that has demanded commissioners' attention has been overcrowding at the county jail. The county has looked at a number of ways to keep the population down in hopes of delaying construction of a new jail that could cost in excess of $50 million.

Reducing the space requirements would allow housing more inmates, commissioners have said.

Commissioner say that the state needs to support work force and economic development in North Carolina by appropriately funding to the North Carolina Community College System. The funding would be used to provide colleges with 21st century equipment to support training that leads to third party credentials in career areas such as advanced manufacturing and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

Other suggested goals include:

* Design build: Several counties, including Wayne County, have special legislation allowing the design build, or engineer-contractor team approach, to construct and/or renovate public facilities. However, much of this legislation has a sunset date. Commissioners are requesting that design build be adopted by legislators as a permanent alternative process for construction/renovation of county facilities and schools without an expiration date

* Rural public transit systems: The goal requests that North Carolina public transit systems be required to review and assess the feasibility of regionalizing rural transportation systems and/or routes that cross county lines creating ultimately creating route efficiencies

* Scientific studies/data: This is a request that legislators verify or determine the validity and/or basis of scientific studies/data utilized to create, change or alter state or local rules or laws

* Farm use/deferred property tax: Commissioners want a statewide county cost impact analysis to determine the actual impact of farm use/deferred taxes to counties. People who have property in the farm use program receive a tax break on their property.