At its Sept. 17 session, the Caswell Commissioners discussed a series of legislative goals that they had in mind for the North Carolina General Assembly in the coming months.
Various Commissioners discussed a range of ideas that they have for the state legislators that can improve things locally here in Caswell County. The topics included private wildlife lands, video gaming operations, academic calendars, infrastructure and broadband, as well as the state’s new legislation regarding minimum wage.
“The one I did submit that hasn’t been submitted in the past, and has not gotten much leeway, was concerning wildlife lands,” Commissioner David Owen said. “I still believe that there needs to be something pursued from our organization to find some way to help us remain involved with wildlife land.”
“We have 20,000 acres (of wildlife conservation land in Caswell County). And I’m all for that. For our situation, it is crucial if we lose any land that comes off the tax books. Especially in light of the new bill that was passed (House Bill 320) that now they can recognize (land) as a wildlife sanctuary, reducing the amount (paid in taxes). I just thought that was maybe the one we should try to pursue again.”
A couple of the Commissioners agreed with Owen that the matter of preserving wildlife lands for the county’s tax base was something that Caswell County should formally pursue.
“This is a case where there are other counties in the state with wildlife lands. We may not get much. But we might get something for it,” Commissioner Chair Nathaniel Hall said.
“I think the one that we have the most chance at this point of garnering support for the rural counties is regarding wildlife lands,” Commissioner Sterling Carter added. “It maybe only a few counties. But I feel like counties that may not have wildlife lands would be able to empathize with our situation, and help advocate for that one.”
Owen also presented the topic of video gaming, and whether or not Caswell County can figure out a way to somehow regulate these often shady businesses, which seem to spout up countywide like weeds in a field.
“This one has been before us - legislation on privilege license taxes on illegal gaming operations,” Owen said. “They spring up. They’re all over the county. And I just think there needs to be some type of way that we have some level of regulation in this thing. Because they spring up all over the county.”
“The state approves the list of what privilege licenses that we can charge. So this needs to be amended by the state. And this would impact a lot of counties,” Hall said in response.
“I completely agree with the list that Commissioner Owen put forth,” Sterling Carter added. “I feel like gaming businesses are popping up everywhere. They’re doing whatever it takes to go around the system. Everyone needs a group effort to handle that situation a whole lot better than we currently are.”
County attorney Brian Ferrell explained to the elected officials the statewide challenge in North Carolina of controlling these fly-by-night gaming operations.
“I’ve heard of this enforcement effort against these gaming operations. What happens is the legislature outlaws a set of activities - considers it gambling. And no sooner does the legislature do than the games twist how the software operates, such that they’re technically in compliance again,” Ferrell said. “This is a cat and mouse game. It’s been going on for a number of years. I know it’s a struggle for law enforcement all across the state. There have been cases brought - criminal and civil cases against some of these operators as well. And unfortunately, there hasn’t been a consensus with how to deal with it.”
“I think we’re still in this state of trying to find a comprehensive way to address these,” the county attorney continued. “One idea is having some privilege license authority, or tax authority. That was the case for a while. Before the wholesale change of the privilege license statutes, a number of counties imposed extremely significant per machine privilege licenses on these operators, as a mechanism to identify where they’re operating in the county, and tax them according to some of the revenues associated with these establishments. I think there’s lots of interest in finding solutions into what many consider an illegal gambling operation.”
Ferrell said that one of the software “fixes” was to have a pre-determined outcome that was already set.
“They (the operators) said there’s no chance involved. It’s already determined who wins and loses. It’s this type of thing that makes it difficult to find legitimate enforcement,” Ferrell said.
“One of the ways they got around this was saying it wasn’t gambling,” Commissioner Chair Hall added. “These were the kinds of issues that the legislature is going to have to deal with.”
Owen also proposed that Caswell County Schools align its academic calendar with Piedmont Community College, making it easier for commuting youths attending one of the local public elementary, middle, or high schools, or those traveling back and forth from Roxboro to Yanceyville, or other points in-between, to attend PCC.
“Regarding legislation aligning K-12 and community college calendars - some counties have done that through legislation, but we’re not one of them,” Owen said. “I think with the relationship we have with our local community college, and the courses that our students regularly take, if we can align those calendars, it makes it much easier on our students. And it’s much easier on the community college students being in those classes.”
“There was some legislation for certain counties last year (to align the academic calendars),” Commissioner Hall said in response. “There is a way that we can make it happen without additional legislation. But we need to know exactly what that is, and we need to get started in a rapid amount of time to make it happen. We can do that. If there’s a way, we need to know what it is.”
Owen’s final legislative goal involved Infrastructure and broadband capability. He stressed the need for Caswell County to join its peer counties across the state in having improved network infrastructure for high-speed internet connectivity.
“We’re unserved in reality,” he said. “Very few places have any type of digital infrastructure in place. For us in Caswell County, if we’re going to seek growth in business - if it’s going to expand anywhere - we’ve got to have that in place. We’ve already gone through the process with some local businesses here in the Yanceyville area. They were really struggling without it. We were able to get some broadband. That’s just another goal that I think will be there. But we need to support it.”
“That one’s been there the last two or three years. The only way we can get relief on that is from the legislature,” Commissioner Hall responded. “Typically, the telephone companies have been very strong in blocking it. So we just have to keep pushing forward.”
The Caswell County Commissioners have to submit their legislative goals online to the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners by Oct. 5, the final day of the annual state convention.