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‘Take Back Our Budget’

By Ran Northam Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:29 pm

Local elected officials say they’ll have to cut services, especially in the school systems, to make up for the budget cuts, which County Commissioner Penny Rich says were done to hurt the local governments.

“We know that the state is purposefully taking money away from school systems to make us suffer,” Rich says. “It’s not to make something better; it’s to make us suffer and to make us spend our money.”

Budget discussions between Orange County and the schools systems begin Tuesday.

Chapel-Carrboro school board member James Barrett says these cuts are moves by legislators that go against what the state constitution says is our foundation.

“Our state constitution is very clear that the responsibility of providing a sound education for all of our students lies in the general assembly, and they are passing on that,” Barrett says.

While raising taxes increases the amount of money going out of a household budget, former Mayor of Carrboro and Register of Deeds candidate Mark Chilton says cuts to the state budget have done more harm.

“There (are) a lot of households whose household budgets have been hit hard by the legislature as well,” Chilton says. “Up until a few months ago, I was working in the nonprofit sector, and every day seeing people come into our office who were single moms who were just barely scabbing it together with whatever resources they could find. We’re seeing the resources available declining rapidly. It puts people in some very tough situations.”

Federal cuts piled on the state cuts with things like reduced food stamp funding healthcare benefits. Rich adds that the cuts are sending more people below the poverty line.

“We turn more people in our county into working poor, instead of knowing that we can help them get above that,” Rich says. “We talked a little bit about public education, but it’s also (about) higher education. I have a son who’s at App State: the first semester, his food plan was not taxed; the second semester, his food plan was taxed. How are we helping our families in North Carolina let their kids get higher education?”

Chapel Hill Town Council member Ed Harrison says the General Assembly cut off the legs of the local governments when it not only cut the budget, but it also reduced the authority of the governing bodies.

“For a city or town, particularly, because we do not have home rule—nor do counties—that’s been the major impact, because we entered the session without having home rule and the General Assembly majority just piled on higher and deeper,” Harrison says. “They took away what little authority we thought we had, in some cases. For instance, in the City of Durham case, the ability to control who gets their water and sewer.”

What’s the solution? Council member Lee Storrow says the move that Raleigh is making now is just for show.

“In Orange County and across the state, local governments are having to find ways to increase revenue or increase taxes,” Storrow says. “ So it’s easy to say, at a superficial level, ‘look how great it is that we haven’t raised taxes’, but they’re just passing the buck onto local leaders and local governing bodies.”

He says with state and local elections right around the corner, there are places where Democrats can sneak in and take back part of the legislature.

“I appreciate the importance of finding creative solutions, and that’s incredibly valuable,” Storrow says. “But if we want to maintain the values that we care about in Orange County and in North Carolina, we are going to have to do work to support candidates who are in winnable districts, who can help move the legislature in a different direction.”

Rich says until that’s accomplished, the local governments have to show whatever support they can to those who are taking hits from the budget cuts.

“It’s really important that we get behind these people and they should know that we’re going to be there for them, even though monies are cut,” Rich says. “Can we set up some public-private partnerships? Can we get someone to donate paint? Can we support something like that? So, the money is the most important, but if we can’t give them money, we’ll be there for them to direct them to the right people that can help them with donated good.”

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