Raleigh – During the legislative short session, the General Assembly continued its 2020-2021 budgeting process through smaller, targeted appropriations bills addressing specific issues, funding obligations, programs, and allocating federal CARES Act funds received by the state.
Here are some highlights:
Water/Wastewater Public Enterprise Reform (SL 2020-79) was one of those targeted funding bills for local water infrastructure systems and projects. $100,000 was appropriated to Asheville-based MountainTrue’s water quality testing on the French Broad and other WNC rivers and streams.
S267: Buncombe 1/4 Cent Sales Tax Use Restriction: It was revealed that Buncombe County had not fully dedicated a 0.25% sales tax increase towards capital improvements at A-B Tech Community College. Buncombe County Board of Commissioners and the A-B Tech Board of Trustees requested that I intervene. Therefore, I introduced S267: Buncombe 1/4 Cent Sales Tax Use Restriction (Ch. SL 2020-9) that adopts a memorandum of understanding between the two parties that restricts for eight (8) years the use of the quarter-cent local option sales tax levied by Buncombe County for capital needs at A-B Tech.
S390: DuPont State Forest-Financial Study: The DuPont State Forest is one of our region’s jewels, drawing nearly a million visitors each year. Its popularity, through abundant use, is straining its natural characteristics and our state’s resources. Out of state residents account for about half of the visitors each year, yet only N.C. citizens foot the bill. I introduced S390: DuPont State Forest-Financial Study (Ch. SL 2020-16), which directs the Department of Agriculture to study DuPont’s current operating model and recommend a plan that sustains a revenue stream. This adopted law also distributes a portion of the gross proceeds from the sale of State-owned real property located outside the State Capitol Area to the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund. This additional funding will go directly towards our continuing efforts to conserve and protect our natural resources statewide.
S705: Buncombe County Jobs Recovery Act: Tourism is vital to North Carolina as it supports so many business owners around the state. I was approached by Buncombe County tourism leaders to initiate the response in bolstering the economy by providing grants to small businesses in the tourism industry. When S704: COVID-19 Recovery Act (SL 2020-3) was signed into law on May 4th, it included my bill, S705: Buncombe County Jobs Recovery Act. The adoption of S704 established a $5 million Tourism Jobs Recovery Fund for emergency COVID-19 relief grants awarded to Buncombe County tourism-related small businesses and nonprofit organizations affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The Fund uses revenue from occupancy tax collections designated for tourism product development. The only initiative of this type in North Carolina, the Fund awarded 394 grants to local businesses and retained, recovered, or created 4,787 jobs.
S812: Agriculture Sciences Center Funds: The first of the bond-funded projects approved in the 2016 Connect NC Bond is estimated to be complete in October 2020. We were successful in appropriating funds for the new state-of-the-art Agricultural Sciences Center that will be located in Raleigh, N.C. This long-term investment project received funding in S812: Agricultural Sciences Center Funds (Ch. SL 2020-44), providing $10.1 million for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ new Agricultural Sciences Center using existing cash balances from four different sources. The Agricultural Sciences Center is a 225,000 square foot state-of-the-art laboratory complex that will contain offices and labs for Food & Drug protection, the Veterinary Diagnostic laboratory, Structural Pest Control and Pesticides, and the Standards Metrology and Fuel Quality laboratories.
S212: UNC Asheville Appropriation Reimbursement ($750,000): In the fall of 2018, UNC Asheville opened new apartment-style residence halls named from the namesakes of North Carolina native trees: Aspen Hall, Beech Hall, Cedar Hall, Chestnut Hall, Magnolia Hall, and Willow Hall. Collectively, these apartments would be known as The Woods. The nearly $34 million project grappled in its final month of construction with safety concerns and a longstanding battle between the Department of Insurance (DOI) and the State Construction Office. Because of safety concerns, UNC Asheville had to provide hotel rooms for students due to this standoff between DOI. With the passage of S212: Capital Appropriations/R&R/DIT/Cybersecurity (SL 2020-81), $750,000 was allocated to UNC Asheville to reimburse the school for the extra expenses incurred during this long and drawn out process.
The Gorge Named Top Aerial Adventure Park in US: On a fun note, while ziplines and canopy tours began as a tool for scientific field research, they’ve exploded in popularity as an attraction in their own right a way to experience the forest canopy in a safe and thrilling environment. I am pleased to announce that The Gorge Zipline was recognized by USA Today in their 10 Best Readers’ Choice 2020 list as runner up for the “Best Aerial Adventure Park” in the nation. Pictured with me is Sara Bell, owner of The Gorge, located in Saluda, NC. Congratulations to Sara and her business for this great achievement.