Legislators meet with local officials

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Wide range of issues discussed, with a couple of surprises

From left, Rep. Howard Hunter, D-Hertford; Rep Bob Steinburg, R- Chowan; and Sen. Bill Cook, R- Beaufort.

From left, Rep. Howard Hunter, D-Hertford; Rep Bob Steinburg, R- Chowan; and Sen. Bill Cook, R- Beaufort.

ELIZABETH CITY — Sen. Bill Cook, Rep. Bob Steinburg, and Rep. Howard Hunter met recently with Elizabeth City and Pasquotank County officials to discuss their legislative priorities. Mayor of Elizabeth City, Joe Peel, and the Chairman of the County Board of Commissioners, Joe Winslow, attended along with other city and county officials.

After an initial welcoming statement by Mayor Peele and Chairman Winslow, the legislators made their opening comments. Sen. Cook was typically brief and Rep. Hunter admitted that he was new and was still trying to become familiar with the issues. Rep. Steinburg, however, spoke the longest, commenting on a wide range of issues from the gas tax, to transportation priorities, to renaming Elizabeth City State University.

Steinburg believes the prospect of an auto manufacturing plant in eastern NC can be a game changer from the standpoint of jobs and highway construction plans in our area. The state has wanted to build an Interstate Highway connecting Hwy. 17 South from the NC/VA border, down to Hwy. 64 West at Williamston, providing greater access to the Port of Norfolk.

The proposed auto plant might provide just the impetus that this project would need to accelerate plans.

There were various ideas that came forward from the legislators as well as local elected officials. But of the greatest local interest, was the proposed taxing authority of the local School Board. Mayor Peele suggested that the Legislators should favor and sponsor legislation that would allow the school boards to act as their own taxing authority.

Steinburg and Cook stated that they were opposed to raising taxes. Steinburg, in particular, said that raising taxes is the default position of everyone in Government, but that raising taxes was counterproductive.

He made it clear that localities need to cut spending rather than levy new taxes.

Then suddenly, in a move that separated the County from the City, Chairman Winslow stood up and stated that he too opposed tax increases, adding that county residents still face desperate times and do not need, nor can they afford, a tax hike.

Winslow also opposes the city’s request that they be required to meet with the city annually to “confer on sales tax distribution methods.“ This was a reference to the city’s request for mandatory negotiation with counties on sharing a larger portion of their sales tax revenue. In this regard, Cook said the legislators are considering changing the formula for sales tax distribution.

Presently, Sales Tax revenue is distributed based on point of sale, he said. This seems to benefit larger urban counties with more stores and services. What will become of these discussions is unknown at this point. But if the formula is changed, it will be the intent to improve the distribution to rural counties.

Discussion of the Gas Tax known as Senate Bill 20 followed. This calls for the minimum gas tax to be set at 35 cents per gallon, preventing a decrease from 37.5 cents to 34.5 cents later this year. Steinburg mentioned that the gas tax is used for local and secondary road maintenance, which is favored by localities. So even if our gas tax is somewhat higher than neighboring states, when you consider that all road maintenance is covered by NC DOT, it is not so high after all.

However, Senate Bill 20 also provides for outsourcing more road construction and the loss of state jobs, which those in favor of the bill do not mention. Steinburg is opposed to the bill while Cook is in favor.

Another issue, of great local interest, was the suggestion by Steinburg that the name of ECSU be changed to University of North Carolina at Elizabeth City.

Steinburg said students would be better served with the name change. He opined that this was not a black or white issue and that ECSU needed to be known, not as a traditionally black college but as a part of the UNC system.

As someone who has made his living in marketing, Steinburg stated that ECSU is a primary cog in the wheels of Elizabeth City, which has been under-utilized in the past, and that needs to change.