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News State / Region County commissioners send message to Raleigh to protect rural communities

Macon County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution on Tuesday night, in hopes of sending a message to Raleigh to protect funds allocated to rural areas of the state, including Macon County.

Gov. Pat McCrory's proposed budget has called for a nearly 45 percent cut to the state’s Parks and Recreation Trust Fund. Each year, the trust fund is divided into three pools of money — 30 percent goes to recreation-related grants to counties, towns and cities; 65 percent to state park projects and five percent is used for shoreline access on the coast.

Under Gov. McCrory's budget, the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) would get $15.5 million instead of the $27 million it has historically received. That would mean a substantial dip in the money available to counties for the development of parks, greenways and sports fields in Western North Carolina, where a portion of the fund has been a lifeline for little governments with big projects.

Throughout North Carolina, 74 small governments applied in January, requesting a total of $20 million from the fund, including Macon County, which applied for money for a proposed recreation facility. If the cuts were to go into effect it would not be until July, but it is not known at this time which applications would be affected.

According to Commissioner Jimmy Tate, who brought the resolution to the board, tax payers would still continue to pay the same amount into the fund, but the governor would change the funds distribution, which would necessitate the funding cuts.

In 1991, the North Carolina General Assembly doubled the excise tax on real estate transfers from $1 to $2 per $1,000 valuation to cover a budget shortfall. The additional revenue was allocated to the state of North Carolina. Beginning in 1996, 75 percent of the new revenue was dedicated to PARTF.

“After doing research into the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund funding and what would change under the governor's budget, I think it is important to pass this resolution along to make sure that the money our taxpayers are spending can return here,” said Tate.

According to the resolution, since its inception The Parks and Recreation Trust Fund has provided $161 million via 722 grants to 370 local governments in 99 counties and has been matched with 312 million of local and private dollars for the purchase of local park land, building and renovation of facilities and development of greenways and trails. Of those funds, $467,000 was used to create the Little Tennessee River Greenway, $250,000 for the Highlands recreation complex and $70,000 for recreation park land acquisition in Highlands. Jackson County has also utilized the funds with $250,000 being used for the recreation center in Cullowhee, $250,000 toward the Monteith Community Park and $181,000 toward the Little Canada Community Park.

The commissioner's resolution argued that the PARTF grant was essential for the state's economy as a whole.

“North Carolina’s population has grown to make it the 10th most populous state in the nation with projections for the significant growth to continue in the coming decades, and more state and local parks are needed to meet the increased demands; and whereas, parks are identified as key contributors to North Carolina’s tourism industry that generates nearly $20 billion in annual economic impact; and whereas, parks in North Carolina are experiencing record visitation levels including over $14.25 million to state parks in both 2011 and 2012,” reads the resolution.

According to Tate and Commissioner Ronnie Beale, while the county taxes into the PARTF would remain the same, rural communities would have a harder time accessing the funds. “The governor wants to put all of the money into a general fund, and with 20 counties in the state having more legislators than the rest of other 80 combined, where do you think the money will go?” asked Beale.

Commissioner Paul Higdon spoke out against the resolution citing trust in state officials to keep the best interest of the citizens in mind. “Lets let the state do what they want to do. They must have a reason for what they are doing,” said Higdon.

Both Beale and Tate emphasized the importance the resolution has for rural areas of the state, who stand to lose the most if things change.

Commissioner Kevin Corbin said that while he believes there will not be any changes to the PARTF funding, he believes the resolution can not hurt and will only help the citizens of Macon County and the rest of the state.

In a 3-2 vote, commissioners approved the resolution. Beale, Tate and Corbin cast the “yes” votes, with Ron Haven and Higdon both voting no.


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