Watchdog Report Craven County Board of Commissioners 18 April 2017

Watchdog Report

Craven County Board of Commissioners

 18 April 2017

The Craven Board of Commissioners meeting Monday (17 April) saw a continuation of expansion of government.

First, the “Consent Agenda” contained a request from Craven Area Rural Transit System (CARTS) to hold a public hearing on plans to extend services to include “Paratransit” service as a complement to the fixed route service.  A Paratransit eligible person is any individual with a disability who is unable to board, ride, or disembark from any vehicle in the system which is readily accessible to and useable by individuals with disabilities.  There is more detail provided in the request.   ANYWAY, YOU GET THE PICTURE.

Call me hard hearted, but I can see this addition to the CARTS service as needing more employees (or contract service providers) to accomplish this end.  I believe this type of service should be provided by family, friends, neighbors, church, benevolent organizations, etc.  Is there no service that the government doesn’t want to provide for people?  Their willingness to dip into your pocket and mine in order to give things to small groups of other people continues to amaze and frustrate me.

The Project Development Engineers from the NC DOT gave a presentation on improvements to US 17 which will 4 lane that highway all the way from Bridgeton to Vanceboro in the next few years.  Commissioner Mark was like a proud papa.  This is not a dig.  Roads are needed by and can be enjoyed by all citizens.  They are a proper function of government, and helping to get an appropriate benefit for the folks he represents is worthy of pride.

A revised Solar Energy Facility Ordinance was presented by the planning department.   The entire proposal can be found on the county website as an attachment to the agenda for this meeting.  This proposed ordinance has been discussed at several meetings now, so it did not come as a surprise to me that the burden of responsibilities for cleanup after a facility closes has been shifted to the facility owner and operator.  That is because Commissioner Jason Jones has been looking out for the farmers and doesn’t want the land owner held responsible.  The bond requirement has been dropped from $100,000 to $50,000 to make the land lease easier to make.   Again, this seems to be a reasonable, fair-minded approach.  If a problem is caused, the person or entity which causes it is required to fix it.

I had hoped the ordinance would make it practically prohibitive for these facilities to locate in Craven County because I believe they have no economic value without subsidies, and the government has no business subsidizing business and thus picking winners and losers.  However, the interest of farmers who want to have this relatively new source of revenue continue to be an option for them was the reason that didn’t stand a prayer.  The “softer” approach taken will hopefully be adequate to protect taxpayers from the expense of clean up, so while not perfect, we’ve seen them do worse.

Commissioner Jones had another opportunity to demonstrate his farm roots when the discussion of a proposed ban on smoking outside the Craven County Court House was discussed.  Commissioner Jones pointed out that as a farmer himself he did not like to be perceived as against smoking tobacco.  He does not favor an all out ban on smoking outside the courthouse, but he thinks some areas should be left available for smoking.  Staff was instructed to continue to study the proposal.  Actually, I do not believe second hand smoke is harmful to others in an outdoor environment, so I see absolutely no reason to curtail a smoker’s right to do something (smoke) that doesn’t hurt anyone else at all.  Bans of the kind being suggested are unnecessary intrusions into personal liberty.

It was announced that the Federally Qualified Health Center in Havelock would be open for business in a few weeks.  This is another way the government earns “profits” by charging Medicaid, Medicare, etc. more than it costs to provide the service.  The same thing applies to the Dental Service Van.  The finance director asked for authorization to transfer $97,000 of “profit” from that program to apply toward needed renovation of the van.  The total cost of the renovation will be about $500,000.

Wow!  The counties of our nation have discovered a great new source of revenue!  It’s “profits” from federal and state welfare give-away programs paid for with taxpayers’ money!

The last event of the day that Raynor and I stayed for was the meeting with the four members of the NC General Assembly that represent our area, Senator Norman Sanderson and Representatives, John Bell, Michael Speciale and George Graham.

The stated purpose of the meeting was to let the members of the NC General Assembly know of their desires concerning legislative action.  Several members reminded the commissioners that “crossover” for new bill proposals was only 8 days off, and Representative Bell said the date of the crossover deadline was almost cast in stone this time.  That means that, if a bill has not been passed by one house by that time, it is off the table for this session.  (There are ways around this, if legislators get serious about a bill.  For instance, bills requiring money/ budget related things are exempt, so a financial angle can often be added to a bill in such a way as to overcome the crossover deadline requirement.)  A significant amount of time was spent explaining procedural matters and the fact that the upcoming budget is paramount for them right now.

The commissioners expressed concern about the cost of state mandated class size reductions, and they’d like to see HB-13 passed.   They want the state to fund any changes it mandates.  They also asked that about 40% of the proceeds of the “Education Lottery” be re-directed to education as was originally proposed in order to sell the idea of a lottery in NC in the first place.  Representative Bell said this would be tough as the money is now going to other needed services.  Where could they make up that difference?  Cutting some inappropriate services perhaps?

Representative Speciale said the there are several good “gun bills” and “regulatory reform” bills proposed.  He also said that there’s a “drone bill” proposed that would allow Emergency Management Services to use drones (which would have allowed surveying for damage much quicker during the aftermath of Hurricane Mathew, and as it turned out was an item on the commissioners’ wish list).  He also mentioned work going on that would allow localities to set their own school calendars.

Commissioner Jones said that less and less money was coming from the state for health services for seniors.  He stated that many of the seniors cannot help themselves and government has to do it.  He said he knew many people who think government shouldn’t do it, BUT…

Commissioner Jones also said he did not want to ask citizens of Craven County for another tax increase.  I expect we all concur on that one!

Commissioner Liner said he was disappointed that the “Wind Farm” bill had gone to committee to die.

County Manager, Jack Viet asked for adequate funding for NC Military Affairs and relief from the electronic recycling requirement.

Commissioner Sampson wants the state to do something about a drainage problem in New Bern.

In commenting on HB-13, Senator Norman Sanderson said that the state needs to figure out some way that the need for new facilities is not passed down to the counties, and earlier, in his opening comments, he had said that it will be helpful to cities and counties if the General Assembly gets the NC budget done by mid-June.  That way, cities and counties will have earlier knowledge of what they are dealing with.

All in all, (with the exception of some excursions into reasonableness) you can see from this meeting why our nation is in so much financial turmoil!

Respectfully submitted,

Hal James

CCTA Watchdog

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