To look into the effects on local governments of recent legislation passed by the N.C. General Assembly, residents and public officials gathered Thursday night for a voter education panel.
The League of Women Voters of Orange-Durham-Chatham hosted “Now Who Pays? The Impact of New North Carolina Legislation and Budget on Local Government Services,” a panel led by county manager representatives in Chapel Hill.
Marna Doucette, program chair with the League of Women Voters and organizer of the panel, said the purpose of the event was to examine how state legislation in 2013 has affected the budgeting and financing of the counties.
“Our objective is really to have a more informed electorate so that voters are informed about the issues and understand what the issues are,” Doucette said.
The event’s panelists were Chatham County Manager Charlie Horne, Durham County Assistant Manager Deborah Craig-Ray and Orange County Assistant Manager Michael Talbert. Panelists discussed the effects on their respective budgets as a result of legislation passed in the last year by the N.C. legislature.
The panelists said the county budgets hadn’t been largely affected by the legislature yet. Instead, the biggest cuts came to the county’s education budgets.
“Orange County has picked up the slack and raised the per-pupil amount, helped pay for Northside (Elementary School)’s opening and a variety of other things,” Talbert said.
“But the direct state impact had the most impact on education.”
Northside Elementary opened its doors this fall on Caldwell Street in the Northside neighborhood, a historically low-income neighborhood between North Columbia Street and Sunset Drive.
Talbert said other reductions for Orange County would affect libraries and in-home care for seniors.
Talbert said Orange County is prepared for any further changes caused by the General Assembly’s legislation.
“If we know the changes are coming, we deal with them, we work with them, we try to make them as painless as possible on the community,” Talbert said.
Vicki Boyer, a member of the League of Women Voters, said she believes local governments should be given more flexibility.
Boyer asked the panel what powers the county governments should have independent from the legislature.
Craig-Ray said she believes the counties should have the ability to create their own administrative divisions and also have an option to create more revenue sources.
Doucette said the event would help the audience members focus on what was occurring on the local level.
“It helps them think about the legislators that they’ve elected at the state level, and it also helps them understand what is going on in their county.”
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