by Dan Way
Gov. Pat McCrory heard a lot of requests for help from local officials on Wednesday when he met with the North Carolina League of Municipalities. The organization had 500 members present in Raleigh during the organization’s Town Hall Day, which included visits to the House and Senate.
But what stood out in sharp relief to the expected solicitations for assistance from local government folks was a roll-your-sleeves-up speech from Lumberton City Councilman Don Metzger.
“I am thrilled by your initiatives and what you’re proposing to do,” Metzger told McCrory after the governor broadly outlined a variety of strategy plans that he’s working on. But Metzger said municipalities need to take stock of themselves and get on with a self-help approach instead of waiting for Raleigh to deliver answers.
“We need to look inward,” Metzger said. “How can we leverage what we have to better accomplish what we want to do?”
By the time Metzger was finished touting a long do-it-yourself list of Lumberton initiatives, McCrory gushed, “I’m about to hire you at the Department of Commerce right now.”
“We were primarily textile and tobacco. We lost it all,” Metzger said. It’s been tough luring companies to rural areas such as Robeson County that don’t enjoy the advantages of more urban regions.
“So we’ve chosen to start a long-term plan of revitalizing our downtown, taking advantage of a river that runs through our community to carve a natural and scenic park system, develop our cultural center, and working on the arts,” he said.
The city holds an annual book event that draws authors from all over country to promote literacy and reading. It hired retail consultants to evaluate city assets and develop a marketing strategy. It was the first community in North Carolina to be designated a certified retirement community, and now its people work with state government to help other communities achieve that designation.
Metzger had a refreshing pick-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps approach to problem solving that is too often lacking in a culture that seeks easy money to fix its woes.
Warsaw Mayor Win Batten also spoke of self-sufficiency. But his plan involved some state spending.
“Our ports are totally underutilized,” he told McCrory. Instead of perpetually subsidizing the state ports at Morehead City and Wilmington, the state should dredge and widen them to handle the super-cargo ships that will be traversing the ocean in much larger numbers once the widening of the Panama Canal is completed soon.
Dredging the state ports to deepen them would allow North Carolina to attract those super vessels, Batten said.
“Let’s develop our ports…instead of subsidizing them,” he said. “Let them help the economy grow.”
McCrory said Morehead City and Wilmington are the ports where he is focusing his attention for a 25-year transportation plan under development.
During the governor’s remarks to the group, he said:
— “We’ve been very, very engaged the past five or six weeks on the tax reform issue. We haven’t come out with a plan yet but we are working very closely with our delegation on this.”
“We are not competitive with corporate income tax right now. I don’t anticipate it being eliminated, but I do think we need to come up with a pragmatic approach to at least make it competitive with our neighboring states.”
— “Within the next several weeks we are going to be making major announcements on Medicaid reform.”
“Right now our costs are 30 percent higher than the nation’s average in Medicaid.”
Although municipalities don’t deal with the government insurance program for the poor and disabled, annual cost overruns in the program still affect them.
“It’s taking away money from infrastructure, education, and other basic needs.”
— The state’s military bases and returning veterans are “a very important part of our economic development plan. . . We think there’s a way to use that talent to recruit new businesses.” But there also is concern about the impact of sequestration on Jacksonville, Fayetteville and several other areas. Mainly, the across-the-board cuts are hitting just the civilian work force at this time.