02/10/13 — County adopts NCACC goals

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County adopts NCACC goals

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 10, 2013 1:50 AM

Wayne County commissioners adopted a resolution this week supporting legislative goals of the state Association of County Commissioners.

While opposing the shift of state responsibilities and associated costs to local governments tops the list, commissioners said that agriculture continues be a major concern to the county.

That is particularly true for preserving farmland and continuing the present use vales, County Manager Lee Smith said.

"Obviously with our standing and our agriculture base in Wayne County, I think that is important," he said.

The present use values program allows qualifying farmland to be valued on the basis of its current use, thereby reducing the amount of taxes owed on it.

If farmland is sold or transferred, the new owner must reapply and qualify for the program. If the land does not qualify, the owner must pay tax on the actual market value for the current year and three years prior to the transfer.

The association's top agricultural goal is to adequately fund agricultural research and Extension services. That includes supporting legislation to fund the agricultural and research Extension offices through the University of North Carolina system, principally at N.C. State University and N.C. A&T State University.

"They also have economic development programs that help our agribusiness," Smith said. "So that continues to be a big issue."

The second goal is to support legislation to promote and preserve working farmlands by including them in the state tourism plan, by retaining the present use value system, maintaining funding for the Ag Development and Farmland Preservation Trust, and exploring the impacts of transfer of development rights.

"That has been a big issue here in Wayne County," Smith said. "The board heard from the Farm Bureau just the other day on that very issue as it relates to ag development and farmland preservation for us. And also looking at other ways that you could reduce the impacts of transferring development rights."

Wayne County is the fourth-largest agricultural county in the state with agriculture accounting for 22.4 percent of the county's economy with a gross income of $763 million.

Agriculture also accounts for almost 21 percent of employment in the county, with 11,831 jobs. Six of the county's top 10 employers are agriculture- or agribusiness-related.

Approximately 48 percent of the land in Wayne county is farmland and when managed forest land is added, the total is more than 70 percent.

The association's number one goal is to oppose the shift of state transportation responsibilities to counties.

On at least two occasions, legislation has been introduced that would have shifted road maintenance to the counties, Smith said. For Wayne County that would amount to millions of dollars annually, he pointed out.

"That would have been deadly for our local taxpayers, Smith said."

The second goal is the reinstatement of the use of attendance data and lottery funds for school construction, followed by opposing unfunded mandates of shifting of state responsibilities to the counties, ensuring adequate funding for mental health and preserving the local revenue base.

In other business Tuesday, commissioners approved property tax exemptions for several churches.

Tax Administrator David Ward told commissioners the properties would have qualified for exemption for 2012 under state law if timely applications had been filed.

Since the applications were filed after the close of the regular listing period last month, the exemptions could not be approved by the tax office, he said. However, state law grants that power to commissioners, Ward said.

The churches are Tabernacle Pentecostal Holiness Church, Pentecostal Free Will Baptist Church, Stoney Creek Free Will Baptist Church, Saint Mark Church of Christ Disciples of Christ, Whitley Pentecostal Holiness Church, Anchored in Christ Church, Church Alive Ministries Pentecostal Holiness Church, and Palmer Association of Free Will Baptists.

Commissioners also approved two late applications for the current use program. The applications were for Marshall E. Cox Jr., Michael G. Cox, P&D Family Properties, Edna G. Stancil and for David E. Sanderson et al.

In other business:

* Commissioners canceled their March 26 meeting since several of them will be attending a UNC School of Government program on health care in New Bern.

* The board approved a resolution from the Rosewood Fire Department to allow it to refinance up to $475,000 that had been used to purchase a fire truck in order to obtain a lower interest rate.

* Commissioners approved a resolution authorizing the county to provide up to $2,125 in matching funds for a N.C. Rural Center Building Reuse and Restoration Grants Program grant for an expansion project at Balfour Beatty rail. The match was approved at the board's Jan. 22 meeting, but the state requires a specifically worded resolution be approved as well.