General Assembly trims Rural Center appropriation
After an intense short session of the N.C. General Assembly, the Rural Center emerged with a 7 percent reduction in state funding for the 2013 fiscal year.
“It’s disappointing to have our ability to serve struggling rural communities cut by any amount, ” Rural Center President Billy Ray Hall said. “Our board will examine options carefully to determine how we can incorporate these cuts with the least harm to programs and services.”
Cuts to public school funding and a shortfall in the state Medicaid program helped feed serious budget debates within the legislative and executive branches. The Rural Center is a private, nonprofit organization that receives significant state support, particularly for grant programs that help local communities finance water and sewer infrastructure and job-creation projects.
Funding for center programs varied widely in competing budget proposals. Some included increases for business loan programs and clean water grants while one would have reduced the overall center appropriation by more than a third. In the end, the basic state budget reduced Rural Center funding by 17 percent but a separate, last-minute appropriation measure awarded additional funds.
“The bright side of this legislative session was seeing the tremendous support from House and Senate members on both sides of the aisle,” Hall said. “They recognized how much rural communities could be hurt by cuts to our programs and fought vigorously on our behalf.”
He noted the particular efforts of Reps. Mitch Gillespie, Jim Crawford, Harold Brubaker, William Brisson and Bill Owens, and Sens. Harry Brown, Brent Jackson, Martin Nesbitt and David Rouzer. He also praised House Speaker Thom Tillis for listening to and supporting rural legislators.
Final legislation awarded the center $23.6 million. Grant opportunities enabled by the appropriations will be announced in October at the annual Rural Partners Forum.
Among non-budget legislation that will affect rural communities and organizations:
Annexation -- Cities and towns must now put annexation plans up for a vote in the areas they want to take in. A majority vote of those affected could approve or prevent the measure. On any losing measure, municipalities are barred from trying again for at least three years.
Fracking – Legislation puts hydraulic fracturing on a fast track. Under its provisions, the natural gas drilling process could be approved within two years. Fourteen counties of central North Carolina contain underground shale formations seen as possible locations for extracting natural gas. Most of the attention has focused on a formation that runs from Granville and Durham counties southwest through parts of Chatham, Wake, Lee, Moore, Montgomery, Richmond and Anson.
Audits – Cities and counties must discontinue use of contingency fee audits that base payments to auditors according to whether they find financial discrepancies. Contingency fee audits had been used in reviews of contracts for construction and services.
Accountability – Nonprofits that receive $5,000 or more in government grants or loans must make their 990 tax forms and basic financial information available to the public.