Gratitude for the Old North State

by John Ager

With the final passing of the holiday season, I wanted to think about the many ways that the North Carolina government makes a difference in our lives here in Fairview. But first, you need to know that the General Assembly is scheduled to re-convene on January 10 for yet another special session. We are expected to debate several constitutional amendments, which would be voted on by the citizens of our state in 2018. The court system has been under a lot of scrutiny, and there are political forces in Raleigh who would like to see judges appointed rather than elected in North Carolina. Merit appointment could work well if the politics can be wrung out of the process, but so far that does not look like the approach that will be taken. The separation of powers between the three branches (legislative, executive, judicial) is a fundamental strength in the American structure of governance, and must be defended at all cost.

I am expecting there to be some legislation dealing with the environmental problems of the Cape Fear River. The NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has reached a settlement with Chemours Corporation over the discharge of GenX into the drinking water of millions of people. Little is known about this chemical, but it is believed to be a carcinogen at some level of contamination. Water purification plants have been unable to find filters to protect water consumers from GenX.

What needs to be resolved in January is the HB 13 K-3 class size crisis, which you can read about in detail in Cindy McMahon’s School Board report in this issue of the Crier. I will be reporting on the January Special Session next month, including other issues that may emerge.

Returning to my search for gratitude, let me begin by saying that North Carolina was once one of the poorest states in the United States. Political leaders in the past saw the benefit of collecting taxes to build transportation infrastructure (roads, airports, seaports, railroads) and to provide quality public education and a university system that would enhance the earning power of families and attract businesses to the state.

The NC Department of Transportation has been active in Fairview during the past year. The curvy mountain road on which I live, 74A, saw a major upgrade of guardrails, as did other roads in our community. There has been concern about guard rail design, especially the ends of each section. We see a lot of accidents, especially when the roads are slick, and I am grateful for the large expense of making the highway safer.

NC DOT also spent a lot of money on re-paving 16 of our secondary roads in Fairview, at a cost of about $1.7 million. Garren Creek Road was especially in need of work. Unlike many states, there are no county-owned roads in North Carolina. Our state manages the second most miles of roads next to Texas, a testimony to past and current infrastructure spending by the legislature. And the DOT is gearing up for the most expensive project in Buncombe County, as the I-26 connector gets underway.

Road infrastructure costs taxpayers a lot of money. Just count the signs on the side of the road as you drive to town. Roadside signs cost between $200 and $300 for labor, sign and post. Revenue to cover these costs comes from fuel taxes we pay when we gas up. Our state tax tends to be higher than our neighbors (I try to fill up when I am in South Carolina). In large part, that is because we have so many miles to maintain, and growing cities that need new roads. There is a looming shortfall in gas tax revenue because cars are more fuel efficient.

Unlike most states, North Carolina teachers are paid their basic salary by the state, not by local property taxes. Buncombe County, in general, is responsible for building and maintaining school buildings. Fairview School, Cane Creek and Reynolds middle schools and Reynolds High School are dependent on millions of dollars coming from Raleigh for supplies and payroll. Charter school teachers are also paid from the state budget, and increasingly even private schools receive state voucher money to educate North Carolina students.

Finally, the old Fairview landfill was found to be an environmental hazard. It was located on Hollywood Road near Pleasant Grove Church, and operated from the 1960s to 1976 by Buncombe County. It was unregulated by any modern standards, and anything and everything was dumped there, including by yours truly. The Department of Environmental Quality has had to create a program called PRLF (“pre-regulatory landfill” program) to deal with hundreds of problem dumps like the one in Fairview. One well near the site was contaminated at an unsafe level. At a cost of $2.7 million, the Fairview landfill is now fully remediated.

There are many other state dollars coming to Fairview, and it is easy to overlook the efforts of your state to provide for a safer and better educated Fairview for everyone. Please contact me ith any issues you have with North Carolina government.

Rep. John Ager, District 115 North Carolina House of Representatives. Contact or 713-6450

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