Thursday, 12 August 2021 20:09

House passes budget with more than $30M proposed for Richmond County

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House passes budget with more than $30M proposed for Richmond County RO file photo

ROCKINGHAM — The N.C. House of Representatives voted 72-41 Thursday afternoon to approve a budget that could bring more than $30 million to Richmond County for various projects.


Rep. Ben Moss, R-Richmond, said the proposed budget includes more than $50 million for his district, which also includes Montgomery County and part of Stanly County.

“This $25.7 billion budget provides a record amount of investment in the state of North Carolina and in House District 66,” Moss said in a press release issued late Thursday afternoon, adding that the funding is “for local projects that will improve our infrastructure, provide for enhanced fire safety, and invest heavily in  education.”

“I voted for this budget not because Speaker (Tim) Moore (R-Cleveland) asked me to do so. I  voted for it not because I know Governor (Roy) Cooper will almost assuredly veto it,” Moss said. “Rather, I voted for it because it provides much needed assistance to House District 66 and to the people of North Carolina." 

SHIFT IN SPEEDWAY FUNDING

Rockingham Speedway is still in line to receive state funding for infrastructure improvements.

According to the latest version of the state budget, $10 million would be allocated for water, sewer and other infrastructure related projects.

The budget mistakenly read that the funds would be given to the City of Rockingham, however, Moss confirmed Thursday afternoon that the county would be in charge of disbursing the funds and said there was an amendment to fix that.

Back in May, Cooper proposed in his budget the allocation of $10 million each for improvements at Rockingham Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and the long-idle North Wilkesboro Speedway.

While Rockingham stays the same, state legislators tweaked the budget to provide $15 million for Charlotte and $20 million for North Wilkesboro — both of which are owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc. SMI also owned Rockngham from 2004-2007.

In addition, the budget allocates $5 million for the N.C. Department of Commerce to dole out to local governments to “enhance amenities and increase opportunities for events at motorsport venues.” 

To qualify, the venues must be sanctioned by NASCAR, the National Hot Rod Association or the International Hot Rod Association, or have hosted a NASCAR Cup Series race on or after Sept. 29, 1996 — which was the date of Wilkesboro’s last Cup race.

The budget also appropriates $1 million in grants to small motorsports venues.

Former NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. visited the General Assembly on Wednesday meeting with legislators, including Moss.

“North Carolina is the hub of motorsports,” Earnhardt said, as reported in the Charlotte Observer. “In my opinion, this is where NASCAR lives. Over 90% of the drivers call North Carolina their home. Over 90% of the industry, crew chiefs, mechanics, anyone that has anything to do with the sport lives in this state and it’s something I’m really proud of.”

The speedway staff has recently been working on upgrading the facility, including installing LED lighting along the infield; and MB Drift, which has scheduled its entire 2021 season at Rockingham, is helping to repave the road course.

MUNICIPAL MONEY

The budget passed by the house would also provide more than $700,000 to Richmond County’s towns and cities.

Both Rockingham and Hamlet stand to receive $300,000 and $250,000, respectively, for downtown projects.

Ellerbe is in line to get $150,000 to help pay for a much-needed water and sewer project, and the county could get $750,000.

There is also $50,000 slated for the Dobbins Heights Community Center and $10,000 proposed for each Norman and Hoffman.

PUBLIC SAFETY AND JUSTICE FUNDS

The largest chunk of change in the budget for a local project is $10.7 million for “Raise the Age” renovations at the Richmond Regional Juvenile Detention Center.

Jerry Higgins, a communications officer with the N.C. Department of Public Safety, said the funding would be used to renovate the former Richmond Juvenile Detention Center to house youth who fall under Raise the Age legislation. 

Those aged 16 and 17 are no longer automatically charged as adults.

The funding was included in proposed budgets from the governor, the Senate and the House.

Richmond Juvenile Detention was one of four such centers closed in 2013. 

Higgins said the facility closure was “to deal with declining juvenile detention numbers and move resources to other areas.”

The Samarkand Youth Development Center had closed two years prior.

District Attorney Reece Saunders is crossing his fingers as he could be getting some help.

The proposed budget increases the number of assistant district attorneys to 10.

Saunders currently has nine ADAs to cover the three-county (Richmond, Anson, Scotland) prosecutorial district. One of his ADAs is on military leave, so Saunders does have a temporary prosecutor.

He said he’s been asking for additional help for several years and, based on the current workload, his office could actually use two more.

Moss was also able to add to the proposed budget to provide $100,000 in funding for Richmond County’s volunteer fire and rescue departments, with each one getting $10,000 each.

In addition, the budget includes a 7% average salary increase for correctional officers.

EDUCATION EARMARKS

Prior to Thursday’s vote, the budget allotted $7.5 million to Richmond Community College.

However, when the House approved, that amount had increased to $10.5 million.

That money would be used for new construction, repairs and renovations.

Other educational expenditures include a 7% raise for community college faculty and 4% raise for non-faculty and a cumulative 5.5% average salary increase for public school teachers over the next two years, according to legislators.

According to Moss’ office, the budget also:

  • Restores Master's pay supplement for teachers 
  • Provides teachers with eight weeks of paid parental leave 
  • Eliminates requirement for teachers to pay for substitutes when using leave

The budget now heads back to the Senate before making its way to the governor’s desk.

Moss said he hopes the governor will sign it.

That would be a first, as Cooper has not approved a traditional budget since taking office in 2017.

If the governor were to veto this one as well, Moss thinks there could be enough votes for an override.