Area officials met in Macon County on Monday with Joel Yelverton, the southern coordinator for Partnership for Rural America campaign, to discuss what consequences may arise if the Secure Rural Schools Act (SRSCA) expires at the end of the year.
States have received funding from the federal government since 1911 to offset the loss states would experience from property tax revenues which occurred when National Forest lands were established across the county. SRSCA, which was established in 2000, is an act intended to subsidize payments to counties and took into consideration historic payment levels before the decline.
School districts across the country, including Macon County and 24 other rural counties in North Carolina that have a substantial amount of federal lands within their boundaries, stand to lose a vital amount of funding. The revenue that could be lost in Macon County from 2008 to 2012 is estimated at $223,850.
The Partnership for Rural America Campaign estimates that if SRSCA were to expire, nearly $440 million would be lost and 11,000 jobs nationwide. Funding to North Carolina would decline by 82 percent, from $2.54 million in 2008 to $446,374 in 2012—a loss of almost $2.1 million.
Rep. Heath Shuler attended the meeting to show his support of the Partnership for Rural America campaign. Shuler’s district, Congressional District 11, which includes Macon County, stands to lose the most within North Carolina in the event a reauthorization does not occur. Of the $8,897,319 North Carolina received from 2008 to 2011, Shuler’s district received $6,592,833.
“Many of Western North Carolina’s most cash-strapped counties rely on SRSCA funding to run their schools and maintain their roads,” said Shuler last week. “Failure to reauthorize the program would be extremely detrimental to the budgets of these local counties.”
According to Yelverton, it is the responsibility of the individual communities that are being affected to contact their respective government representatives to get them on board with the reauthorization. Yelverton noted that Macon County has already taken action by forming a coalition action team, which is headed by Superintendent Dan Brigman. As Yelverton explained, it is crucial for members of the community to contact House and Senate members during critical times. The current August break provides the community with a vital opportunity to reach out to representatives’ and voice their concerns.
Yelverton also encourages citizens to stay current on reauthorization plans by receiving press releases sent from the Partnership for Rural America campaign. The press releases highlight strategies that can be detrimental in promoting reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools Act. The final step for community members before reauthorization is sent to the House and Senate to be voted on is to participate in fly-ins to Washington to meet with representatives face to face, which according to Shuler, is extremely important. “I think the most important thing is the grass roots effort; and the fly-ins are probably really important. Most people look at it as giving the opportunity for you to talk to colleagues outside of your district,” said Shuler.
The Partnership for Rural America Campaign promotes the development of “active” forest management plans that “protect the ecological values of our forests while promoting economic activity.”
“If they upped the harvest, then there would not be as much of a need for money through this act,” said Yelverton, voicing the perspective of many who would like to see logging increase for economic reasons.
Yelverton noted that the reauthorization process will probably not be completed within a year’s time. According to Shuler, the “worst case scenario” in the process is to receive an extension, which Yelverton confirmed as being the probable outcome due to similar situations in the past.
As Superintendent Dan Brigman noted, “It all boils down to dollars for kids, and that’s what we are looking at. Macon County is subject to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars, close to a million dollars over the next four years if we do not get relief to sustain this act.”