Caswell County government invited N.C. House Representative Graig Meyer to Yanceyville on Monday, April 15, to seek clarity and provide input before an upcoming lawmaking session in Raleigh.
County Manager Bryan Miller said, “Every year we try to get all of the legislators together with the board so they may express their concerns before [the legislators] get ready to go into (legislative) session.”
Caswell Commissioner David Owen said the county recently received an unfunded mandate that required Dept. of Social Services to in effect work more hours to meet new standards.
Commissioner Nate Hall said DSS staff were capable of the work requested, but not within the mandated timeframes.
Owen said that was only one example and requested Meyer to keep Caswell County’s limited funds in mind when developing mandates.
Owen also said there has been pressure for Caswell County to join a regional board to govern the DSS, to which he disagreed with saying Caswell County knows its own people better than those outside the county and perhaps their voice would get lost if they joined a large conglomerate.
Hall said regional partners are good for economic development and internet but he hasn’t been yet shown how it could better help with DSS.
Regarding countywide internet Hall said, “The bottom line is we need broadband in Caswell County.”
Meyer agreed and said Orange County where he’s from has connectivity issues in rural areas. He has been working on securing internet accessibility since he first gained office, he said.
According to Meyer, he has co-sponsored several bills and the effort is bipartisan.
There are currently two leading thoughts on how to increase North Carolina connectivity, he said. One is to directly effect infrastructure, by for example using signal lines installed by Department of Transportation along highways. Only about 30-percent of the fibers are used and easements could be granted for companies and localities to hook into. The other method incentivizes companies to expand into rural communities through direct investment.
Regarding N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper’s recent budget proposal with two items directly referring to Caswell County, Meyer said there is an active effort to have a permanent farmers market structure in every N.C. county and Caswell is one of the last to receive it, so that should be likely.
“I’m not [a part] of the small group of people who come up with a proposed budget, but I’ll try to make sure it’s in there,” said Meyer.
Commissioner Jeremiah Jefferies asked if Meyer had any insights about the state taking over management of the Thomas Day House in Milton.
“I’m very happy the governor included funds for a proposed Thomas Day historic site in the budget,” said Meyer. “I know the funds are non-recurring but will be enough for the state to take over the property and do the upgrades that would be necessary to turn into an historical site (attraction).”
The next step he said would be to appropriate funds to staff the Thomas Day site. Getting through the first step makes it easier to get through the second, he said.
“I don’t know yet what will be in the legislature’s proposed budget. If the Thomas Day historic site [does] not make it to the proposed budget, I’ll introduce an amendment to include it in the budget and of course I would then go over to the Senate side and talk to Senate representation because I understand it’s important to not just Milton but to all of Caswell,” Meyer said.
Jefferies asked for assistance with adding a flashing traffic sign in Blanch by High Rock Baptist Church. County Manager Bryan Miller added that they had been working on it with Department of Transportation for two years with little success.
Meyer asked for specific locations, a traffic study, crash reports, and estimated cost information to help him help them.
Regarding the budget, Meyer said, “The governor has made a proposal and legislative Democrats have made a proposal to expand medicaid without the need to add additional tax dollars from N.C. citizens,” he said.
Regarding schools Meyer said he knows Caswell County recently approved the bond to build onto Bartlett Yancey High School but he assumes the schools would want to do more construction projects if they could and he said he wants them to be able to do so without having to use exclusively local funds.
An as yet passed proposal would include an additional $10M to be used by public schools and community colleges, he said.
Regarding sales tax collection, Hall said 60-percent of the county has an address named after an area adjacent to Caswell and Owen was concerned that those regions were collecting the sales tax instead of Caswell County. Hall said N.C. Department of Revenue has been giving them the run around for the past four years, supplying them with no real information and Miller said he suspects at least one company sends its taxes elsewhere. Without information from the Dept. of Revenue, he couldn’t do much about it.
School Superintendent Dr. Sandra Carter was invited to the table to speak. She sat at Commissioner Sterling Carter’s empty seat and noted the nameplate matched.
Carter said a recent bill puts paying for school supplies and funding certain enrichment initiatives against each other for funding, guaranteeing that either or both would be short-changed.
“The idea that teachers who are already overburdened with all that they have to do should also spend their time shopping for their own supplies, is offensive,” said Meyer.
Meyer said it would make more sense fiscally if supplies were purchased by administration and then distributed to the teachers.
“I sure hope other people will see the folly of that bill and I will do my best to work it out,” he said.
Carter asked about standardized test selection. She said some tests were more effective than others for Caswell County students but it was unclear which tests were approved by the state for them to use.
Meyer said he had recently confronted the bill sponsor about it.
“I said, ‘Well your gray area is one of the best strategies they use to improve instruction and we shouldn’t put something like that into a gray area.’ So that’s a bill that has a lot of work that I agree needs to be done on it,” said Meyer.
Carter said she hoped Meyer had something he could push through to give lower tax-districts such as Caswell County more supplemental pay funding to enable the schools to be more competitive with surrounding, higher-salary paying districts.
“We need more revenue to take care of all of our schools statewide,” said Meyer.
Rev. Paul Robinson asked for funding for his organization Caswell Community Outreach, which helps people “from the cradle to the grave.”
Meyer said there were block grants available and he welcomed Robinson to schedule a visit with him at a later date.
Michael Russell said cars often drive past stopped buses in his area and he was concerned that one day a child would get hit.
Owen asked for location details and Hall encouraged Russell to report such incidents to the sheriff. Russell was given a card with the sheriff tip-line number on it to report such crimes.
“Public meetings are really about having open communication,” said Meyer. “Commissioners and citizens may call me to have private conversations whenever they want to and I talk to people everyday about issues that impact them. But this (today) is a conservation about having priorities and the public can be here or they can hear about it in the newspaper.”
Caswell County Crime Stoppers may be reached at 336-694-5199; and sheriff, 336-694-9311.
Rep. Graig Meyer may be reached at 919-715-3019.