Commissioners decide on goals for state legislature

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 5, 2012

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY – County commissioners decided Tuesday on the new issues they want the state legislature to look at in the coming year.
Their five legislative goals for 2012-13 will be submitted to the N.C. Association of County Commissioners for consideration. Later, the association will vote on which goals to promote, including those from previous years that haven’t been met.
The Rowan County Board of Commissioners agreed unanimously to submit a goal of giving metropolitan planning organizations, or MPOs, more authority to decide where state road money should be spent.
Vice Chairman Carl Ford said the N.C. Department of Transportation doesn’t seem to put much weight on the needs and goals submitted by MPOs. He said he thinks local elected officials on the MPOs generally know more about local transportation issues than state officials do.
The board also approved four goals submitted by Commissioner Jim Sides to look at local school funding, change appointments to the county social services board, abolish ETJs and make elections partisan.
At first, Sides said said the state should give counties more direct control over how local funds are spent by school systems. But some commissioners didn’t like that wording.
By state statute, counties are only required to fund schools’ capital expenses, but in practice they also give money toward operations. Sides said the county allocated $31 million to the schools this year and even increased funding a bit.
“In my opinion, they basically slapped us in the face to take $1 million out of their fund balance to give their employees another raise,” Sides said. “That’s supposed to be for emergencies.”
Chairman Chad Mitchell said he’d support a discussion at the state level about how local school funding should be used.
“But I personally don’t want direct control over that, simply because I don’t want to have to sit through a second set of budget meetings to determine how to spend that $30 million,” Mitchell said.
Commissioner Jon Barber said it also could involve the county in issues of school board policy.
“If the citizens aren’t happy with the policies they set… they can make that change every other year when the election for certain seats come up,” Barber said.
Mitchell offered to change the wording to simply call for an examination of how local funds given to schools for operating expenses are spent.
Sides said he would accept that, and commissioners voted 4-1 to submit the goal.
“The people on the Board of Education hopefully are more informed about that arena than commissioners are, most of the time,” Coltrain said before voting against it. “I would say let the people with the most knowledge of the subject matter make the decisions.”
Sides said submitted goals won’t necessarily be recommended to the association’s membership by its steering committee. The idea, he said, is to get a discussion started at the state level.
Next, commissioners approved a goal to remove all municipalities’ extraterritorial jurisdictions, or ETJs.
Sides said recently enacted changes to the annexation laws make them outdated, especially in a county with its own planning staff, zoning ordinance and land use plan. Vice Chairman Carl Ford agreed.
“We have people living in ETJs who are controlled by the zoning of the town and can’t vote for those who are voting on zoning,” Ford said.
Coltrain said ETJs give residents of cities and towns input into what goes on around them, and he doesn’t want to take that away.
Commissioners also narrowly approved Sides’ goal to make all city, county and state elections partisan.
Commissioner Jon Barber joined with Coltrain in voting against it. Barber said nonpartisan elections can encourage people to do more research about individual candidates, instead of voting based only on party affiliation.
Commissioners unanimously approved a goal for all appointments on the county Board of Social Services to be made at the local level. Currently, two are appointed by the county Board of Commissioners, two by the state Social Services Commission and one by the four current board members.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.Twitter: