RALEIGH — Scotland County commissioners recently attended a County Assembly Day in Raleigh, bringing back new ideas to the county.
On May 8, Commissioners John Alford and Carol McCall, along with County Manager Kevin Patterson and Deputy Clerk to the Board Jason Robinson heard and spoke about many issues affecting the 100 counties of North Carolina.
The event was hosted by the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners and held each year to give county commissioners and other county officials the opportunity to hear from state leaders and discuss the issues affecting their communities.
The Scotland County delegation heard from North Carolina Department of Commerce Secretary Anthony Copeland, Sen. Brent Jackson and Rep. David Lewis of the North Carolina General Assembly as they addressed nearly 200 county commissioners and staff from across the state. This year’s event focused on two top legislative priorities for counties – expanding broadband access and investing in public school facilities.
Connie Orr, a Graham County commissioner, discussed the need to pass broadband legislation, which would create clear authority for counties to build infrastructure to lease to private providers.
Rep. Lewis commended NCACC for its constructive engagement with the General Assembly and stakeholders to identify solutions that will close gaps in internet access throughout the state.
“No one disagrees that we need broadband, just like we need to have paved roads,” said Lewis. “This is something we need now.”
Lewis also referred to NCACC’s longstanding goal to address public school facility needs.
“Like broadband, one area of universal agreement that the General Assembly holds is that we have to do whatever we can to make our schools safer,” he said.
Sen. Jackson emphasized the need to partner on public education and expand broadband access, particularly for farmers.
“Agriculture needs broadband as much as any other organization,” said Jackson. “This is a challenge for farmers, who need broadband to operate packing lines. Agriculture affects everyone in North Carolina, and we’ve got to preserve our state’s heritage.”
Gordon Wilder, a Vance County commissioner and NCACC Public Education Steering Committee chairman, explained that counties urgently need more state funding to help finance public school construction projects.
The program also featured videos with commissioners speaking on the top priorities, including Burke County Chairman Johnnie Carswell, Cabarrus County Chairman Steve Morris, Chatham County Commissioner Karen Howard and Rockingham County Vice-Chairman Mark Richardson.
Following the morning speaking program, commissioners visited with legislators to advocate on behalf of counties. The Scotland County delegation met with Sen. Tom McInnis and his staff to address a wide variety of issues — from storm relief to mental health and broadband access. The group also met with Rep. Garland Pierce’s staff about many of the same priorities.
“We discussed looking at the county budget, the state budget, and how it would impact locally,” said Patterson. “We conversed with him (McGinnis) and the director of Eastpointe to talk of ways to improve mental health services in Scotland and Richmond counties.”
Anthony Copeland, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Commerce, delivered keynote remarks. He discussed the importance of broadband access and its relation to economic development.
“Broadband is something we need to address,” said Copeland. “Everything we do is technologically integrated and communities have to be prepared. It may be expensive, but we have to do it to compete. We have got to deliver it.”
Patterson added the event was important because it keeps the connection strong from local officials to the state officials as they work in Raleigh.
“When our legislators are up in Raleigh, it’s a very heavy burden,” said Patterson. “They are dealing with and focus on large issues. It’s a reminder to continue the connection of local issues. Our legislators have never had that problem but it serves as a reminder that they are for the people.”
Jael Pembrick can be reached at 910-506-3169 or [email protected]