On May 8, 2019, North Carolina Department of Commerce Secretary Anthony Copeland, Senator Brent Jackson and Representative David Lewis of the North Carolina General Assembly addressed nearly two hundred county commissioners and staff in Raleigh for County Assembly Day.
The event, which was hosted by the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners (NCACC), is held each year to give county commissioners and other county officials the opportunity to hear from state leaders and discuss the issues affecting their communities. Following the morning speaking program, commissioners visited legislative offices to advocate on behalf of counties.
Harnett County Commissioners Gordon Springle, Howard Penny and Barbara McKoy attended this year’s County Assembly Day along with Harnett County Manager Paula Stewart and Assistant County Managers Brian Haney and Coley Price. The delegation from Harnett County held meetings with Rep. David Lewis, Rep. John Sauls and Rep. Larry Strickland, and had a meeting scheduled with Sen. Jim Burgin, who was in session and could not attend. County leaders discussed Harnett County’s priorities including obtaining funding for school capital needs, improving access to Broadband, and the importance of continuing to fund Harnett County’s first-in-the-state Veterans Treatment Court.
This year’s event focused on two top legislative priorities for counties – expanding broadband access and investing in public school facilities. Connie Orr, Graham County Commissioner discussed the need to pass broadband legislation, which would create clear authority for counties to build infrastructure to lease to private providers. Gordon Wilder, Vance County Commissioner and NCACC Public Education Steering Committee Chair explained that counties urgently need more state funding to help finance public school construction projects. The program also featured videos with commissioners speaking on the top priorities, including Burke County Chair Johnnie Carswell, Cabarrus County Chair Steve Morris, Chatham County Commissioner Karen Howard and Rockingham County Vice Chair Mark Richardson.
Expanding broadband access and investing in new schools are both top priorities for the County. In November 2018, the County launched a Broadband Assessment Survey to collect feedback on citizens and local businesses broadband capabilities. The survey will remain open until the end of May and citizens can complete online at https://www.harnettbroadband.com/. The Harnett County Board of Commissioners also recently approved the construction of two new elementary schools within the county. A 1,050-student elementary school will be constructed in Northwest Harnett County and Erwin Elementary School will be replaced with a new 700-student school.
Commissioner Springle appreciated the support from the Legislative leaders at County Assembly Day. “Visiting our legislative delegation is important to help all of us to keep the Broadband issue in the forefront of everyone's mind. We talked about the importance of capital needs for school construction and asked them to continue to move forward in trying to help all counties especially Harnett County to provides funds. I think we were well received by everyone and they are aware of our concerns. I thank them for their willingness to meet with us,” Springle stated.
Anthony Copeland, Secretary, North Carolina Department of Commerce delivered keynote remarks. He discussed the importance of broadband access and its relation to economic development. “Broadband is something we need to address. Everything we do is technologically integrated and communities have to be prepared. It may be expensive, but we have to do it to compete. We have got to deliver it,” said Copeland.
Representative Lewis commended NCACC for its constructive engagement with the General Assembly and stakeholders to identify solutions that will close gaps in internet access throughout the state. “No one disagrees that we need broadband, just like we need to have paved roads,” said Lewis. “This is something we need now.” Lewis also referred to NCACC’s longstanding goal to address public school facility needs. “Like broadband, one area of universal agreement that the General Assembly holds is that we have to do whatever we can to make our schools safer,” he said.
Senator Jackson thanked county commissioners for their service and emphasized the need to partner on public education and expand broadband access, particularly for farmers. “Agriculture needs broadband as much as any other organization. This is a challenge for farmers, who need broadband to operate packing lines.” Agriculture affects everyone in North Carolina, and we’ve got to preserve our state’s heritage,” said Jackson.