10/05/12 — County lists state goals

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County lists state goals

By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 5, 2012 1:46 PM

Protecting military air space, easing regulations on jail space requirements and supporting agriculture top the list of legislative goals Wayne County commissioners have submitted to the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners.

Commissioners plan to follow up on the list by attending association steering committee meetings to support the goals.

The association develops and lobbies for its legislative goals -- items assembled from suggestions by its 100 member counties.

County Manager Lee Smith said he thinks the list is "heads and shoulders" above those submitted by other counties. He also called commissioners' attention to the steering committee meetings.

Smith suggested during the board's Tuesday session that commissioners attend the sessions to support the goals.

"You may have other counties that may not be familiar with what we are talking about," he said. "So it may be good for us to go up and advocate our goal. If not, it may not go in. I think it says a lot when the county shows up to support the goals that it submitted."

One meeting that the county definitely needs a presence at is the Intergovernmental Relations Steering Committee on Oct. 17 that would look at the county goal to protect military air space, Smith said.

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

And last month they adopted a resolution opposing a wind turbine project in Beaufort County that is in the low-level flying route used by the base's jets en route to the Dare County bombing range. Commissioners have asked state lawmakers to review and pass legislation to protect air space around the state's military installations and along the low-level flying routes.

Another is the meeting of the Justice and Public Safety Steering Committee, being held today, to talk about relaxing jail space regulations.

Overcrowding is an ongoing issue 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, Smith said.

In presenting the list to commissioners, Smith noted the board had said it wanted a greater emphasis on agriculture.

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

Portions 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.

Also submitted were:

* 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.

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

* 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.

* 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.