BOONE — Liquor revenue, “super street” projects, stormwater, ETJ and federal infrastructure funding were among the topics the Boone Town Council discussed with four of its lobbyists on March 7.
Joining the council for the meeting were Steve Metcalf and Chris Wall of The Policy Group in Raleigh, John Cooper of Connect C LLC in Raleigh and Brad Edwards of Jenkins Hill Consulting in Washington, D.C.
The town budgeted $180,000 for lobbyists in this fiscal year — $160,000 allocated from the Water and Sewer Fund and $20,000 from the General Fund.
Edwards noted that the passage of the latest Farm Bill in late 2018 could have benefits for the town of Boone, as it increased the maximum population limit at which local governments may be eligible for financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program.
The Farm Bill increases the population limit eligibility for USDA’s water, community facilities and broadband programs to 50,000, according to the USDA. The previous threshold was 20,000 — a population that Boone expects to reach by the 2020 Census.
But Cooper indicated that the 20,000 population limit could still apply to certain types of projects, and he urged the town to submit any funding requests related to its new municipal complex within the next couple of years.
“The municipal building needs to be a priority now if we want to get Rural Development funding,” Cooper said.
Boone Council Member Loretta Clawson asked about the possible restoration of Boone’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) authority, which was abolished by a bill filed by former Republican state Sen. Dan Soucek in 2014 that was upheld by the state Supreme Court in 2016.
Metcalf said lobbyists have discussed the ETJ issue with Boone’s representatives, Rep. Ray Russell, a Democrat, and Sen. Deanna Ballard, a Republican.
“They know where you stand; they know your concern for it,” Metcalf said. “Will they introduce legislation this session? I don’t know.”
“It’s going to be difficult to get ETJ in this session,” Cooper said. “We’re going to continue to work on it. It may be the next session or the next year.”
Council members and town staff also expressed concerns about state legislative bills that would mandate consolidated county ABC boards where two or more municipal ABC boards exist.
Boone Town Manager John Ward said that the town receives $525,000 in annual revenue distributions from its ABC store and that losing that revenue would mean a property tax increase of three to five cents. Staff, council members and the lobbyists also discussed what is perceived as a push toward privatization of North Carolina’s liquor sales.
Ward told the lobbyists that maintaining current N.C. ABC laws would “be our preference and I believe is the League’s (of Municipalities) stance as well.”
Council members and staff discussed concerns about stagnant state funding for transportation improvements, including paving, noting that Boone’s Powell Bill allocation has remained at $440,000 for several years. Ward noted that the town typically supplements its Powell Bill funding with an additional $200,000 to $300,000 “to try to keep up.”
“We’re way behind,” Council Member Lynne Mason said.
The council also voiced concerns about the recent “super street” proposal by the N.C. Department of Transportation for N.C. 105 in Boone, which would have installed concrete medians and limited left turns onto the highway, which sparked an outcry from businesses along the corridor.
Wall said there are efforts to stop the super street model across the state.
“There are 300 of them planned in the state,” he said, adding that NCDOT’s planning takes into consideration traffic and safety, but not economic impacts.
“You can have the best road in the world,” Mason commented, “and you have no people to travel on it.”
The council also discussed clean energy efforts and stormwater mitigation, the latter on which it hopes to complete a study in conjunction with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Edwards said it is still unclear if Army Corps resources will be diverted to help pay for as well as build a wall along the southern U.S. border.