HIGH COUNTRY — The North Carolina state budget signed into law on Nov. 18 provides more than $75 million in funding for Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties, including money for a parking facility in Watauga, sidewalks in Lansing and county building renovations in Avery.
“This budget moves North Carolina forward in important ways,” Gov. Roy Cooper said when he signed the budget into law. “Funding for high speed internet, our universities and community colleges, clean air and drinking water and desperately needed pay increases for teachers and state employees are all critical for our state to emerge from this pandemic stronger than ever. I will continue to fight for progress where this budget falls short but believe that, on balance, it is an important step in the right direction.”
It also includes a tax cut that reduces the personal income tax rate to 3.99 percent over six years and increases the zero-tax bracket to $25,500 for married filers and increases the child tax deduction by $500 per child and eliminates the state income tax on military pensions, according to Ballard.
“After months of productive negotiations with the Governor, I’m proud to see this budget pass and be signed into law,” Ballard said in a press release. “As the chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, it’s reassuring to see Democrats and Republicans come together to work on behalf of our students across North Carolina. I am also glad to know our High Country residents will keep more of their hard-earned money and see major infrastructure improvements funded in their community because of this budget.”
Rep. Ray Pickett (R-Blowing Rock) stated that he believes the state budget “budget reflects our belief in conservative stewardship of our state’s financial resources.”
“This is a historic budget that includes critical funding for our community and the people of North Carolina,” Pickett said in a press release. “I am proud to have helped make sure the needs and concerns of our region are met.”
State Sen. Warren Daniel (R-Avery) stated he is also proud the budget passed.
“For the past decade, North Carolina Republicans have enacted smart, fiscally responsible budgets,” Daniel said in a press release. “Because of that, we’ve seen healthy budget surpluses year after year. This year’s budget builds on that by providing major tax relief to families and major infrastructure improvements, including $128 million for projects in our community.”
For Ashe and Watauga counties, the following funds are included in the budget:
- $4.8 million for Town of Blowing Rock water and sewer
- $1 million for Beech Mountain water and sewer
- $700,000 for Seven Devils water and sewer
- $500,000 for Rural Medicine Resource Initiative
- $500,000 for Middle Fork Greenway
- $362,500 for Watauga County capital improvements
- $250,000 for Lansing playground and restrooms
- $200,000 for Watauga County parking facility
- $150,000 for Blue Ridge Conservancy Watauga River Paddle Trail
- $100,000 for Watauga County Roof Repairs
- $137,940 to Watauga County for a local health department grant
- $100,000 for Blue Ridge Opportunity Commission Inc.
- $362,500 to Ashe County for capital improvement
- $2.5 million for the Ashe County Agriculture Center
- $125,000 to the Ashe Memorial Hospital for educational training equipment
- $54 million for ASU Innovation District Project
- $25 million for ASU Peacock Hall
- $43 million for various repair and renovation projects at ASU
- $100,000 for Wards Mill Dam removal
- $50,000 for Northern Peaks State trail
- $45,000 for Lansing sidewalks
- $40,000 for Lansing Creeper trail
- $113,748 to Ashe County for a local health department grant
For Avery County, the following funds are included in the budget:
- $1.25 million for needed county building renovations in Avery County
- $4 million on agriculture and environmental projects in the Avery state senate district
- $98 million overall for building renovations in the Avery state senate district
The budget also provides money for education across the state.
According to Ballard, the state budget includes $100 million in recurring funds for a new state-funded teacher salary supplement for lower-wealth counties to help them recruit and retain high-quality teachers. Watauga County is set to receive more than $350,000 in additional teacher supplements, for a total of $855 per teacher. Ashe County is set to receive more than $445,000 in additional teacher supplements, for a total of $1,672 per teacher.
“Even though we are over four months into the fiscal year, I am very grateful that we have a budget in place and we can plan for the remainder of the school year,” Watauga County Schools Superintendent Scott Elliott said. “There are many positive aspects to the budget, including the bonuses for our hard working school staff members and the increased investments in school facilities and community infrastructure. I am especially encouraged by the positive bipartisanship and leadership that our state so badly needs right now. Maybe this is a sign of more positive things to come.”
Watauga County Association of Educators representative Adrienne Stumb agrees that there are good items in the budget for educators, as she said it appears that legislators are moving more North Carolina Education Lottery money into public schools in the form of construction and repair of schools.
“These capital expenditures are long overdue, and we appreciate that our lawmakers saw this as a need,” Stumb said.
In addition, Stumb said the wage increase for classified staff — like custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and teacher assistant — is a step in the right direction toward honoring the work these people do to keep “our kids safe, fed, in school and fully supported in their education.”
However, the wage language for teachers, Stumb said, is disappointing.
“While many of the press releases tout an ‘average five-percent pay hike for teachers,’ in reality, this is only a 1.3-percent pay increase this year with a similar 1.3-percent pay increase next year,” Stumb said. “The step increases are also there but this leaves our veteran teachers, many who are not eligible for step increases due to outdated salary charts, without a wage that matches inflation. We would appreciate our lawmakers being more upfront to taxpayers and educators if they feel they cannot provide fairer salaries.”