By Catharin Shepard • Editor • The North Carolina General Assembly’s budget, which passed last Friday, contains about $15.7 million for infrastructure projects and other improvements in Raeford and Hoke County.
Hoke’s elected state leaders, Rep. Garland Pierce and Sen. Danny Britt, announced the funds once the budget passed the General Assembly in the early morning hours September 22, “after a hectic week of negotiations,” a statement from Pierce’s office said.
The money coming to the county and city includes:
•$9.5 million for city of Raeford water and sewer infrastructure
•$5 million for capital improvements and equipment (including $180,000 for a burn tower for county fire departments)
•$1.2 million for Hoke County water and sewer infrastructure
•$50,000 for Hoke County Emergency Management
•$25,000 for the Hoke Native American Scholarship Association
Scotland County also received millions for infrastructure projects, public safety and various other capital improvement projects, including $20 million to the city of Laurinburg for water and infrastructure.
Hoke Commission Chairman Allen Thomas said the $5 million for capital improvements and equipment will be going toward helping to build the new county courthouse, aside from the $180,000 going to Puppy Creek Fire Department for a burn tower.
“I would like to thank Rep Garland Pierce and State Sen. Danny Britt for advocating for the needs of Hoke County,” Thomas said.
With the $5 million added to the roughly $30 million already granted by the state, Hoke won’t have to finance any of the courthouse project costs, the chairman said.
“That is a big win for Hoke County,” he said.
Local leaders presented the state officials with a list of priorities and projects, and Pierce and Britt were able to include funds for some of those projects in the state budget.
“We appreciate them for putting funds in for water and sewer as we continue to expand our infrastructure,” Thomas said.
Kirk Lowery, chairman of the Hoke Native American Scholarship Association, said the money will be going toward helping Native American students attend college.
“Native American students in Hoke County have the highest dropout rate among groups, we’re just one entity trying to improve our Native American kids,” he said.
Since 2007 the group has been able to give away over $100,000 in scholarships, including $21,000 in scholarships just last year.
“Since 2007 we’ve been trying to scrape for money, and we’ve been trying everything. This year we were fortunate enough to be blessed by the state helping us out,” Lowery said. He also praised the people of Hoke County for supporting the association’s goals of helping youth go to college.
“We’re just trying to make a difference for our students,” he said.
Fire Chief Richard Whiteside of Puppy Creek Fire Department said that former Chief John Joseph had been the one to get the ball rolling on trying to get funding for a burn tower. The burn tower will be a place where all of Hoke’s firefighters can train for responding to emergencies. Learning to deal with smoke conditions, analyzing fire across multiple levels of a building, working on search and rescue and rooftop work are just some of the options for training with a burn tower.
The fire department plans to discuss the options for building the burn tower at an upcoming board meeting. The fire department had asked for the funding to be able to build the tower.
“Now we’re moving forward with it,” Whiteside said.
Comments on Medicaid, funding
The General Assembly approved a long-discussed expansion of Medicaid, which will go into effect on December 1. Pierce had the following to say about the approval: “In particular, I think that the Medicaid expansion aspect of the state budget is a win-win for so many people across the state, certainly in Scotland and Hoke counties. So many people have been waiting so long for expansion; they’ve been waiting for surgeries, they’ve been waiting for care, and I’m excited that this budget finally opens the door for that care.”
“I’m also very happy to see the local investments that will occur as a result of this budget, including raises for teachers and state workers, and investments in public safety and public health. I was pleased to work in concert with Sen. Danny Britt to craft a budget that is a great start in providing for our citizens in the district and across the state,” Pierce said of the funding.
Britt said that the negotiations for the budget took months, but ended with a “monumental budget” for citizens.
“After many months of negotiation with my House counterparts, we have crafted another monumental budget for the citizens of Scotland and Hoke counties. This budget includes pay raises for all teachers, state employees, law enforcement agencies as well as decreased individual personal income taxes. By the year 2027, all personal income taxes will be reduced to 2.49 percent. No citizen will pay more than 2.49 percent individual income tax,” Britt said in a press release.
Altogether, the state budget included close to $200 million in funding in total for Hoke and Scotland counties, the state senator’s office announced.
“I greatly appreciate the assistance of my counterparts in the House to craft this legislation. Representative Garland Pierce also worked very hard to ensure these items were in the budget,” Britt said.