More than $50 million in capital projects here funded by state budget.
Rep. Brenden Jones was the man of the hour Friday morning as officials announced more than $50 million in local capital projects that will be funded in the new state budget.
“This was a bipartisan effort,” the Tabor City Republican said.
Gov. Roy Cooper signed the budget Thursday, marking the first time since 2017 that the state has had a new budget. The $25 billion plan had a veto-proof majority on both sides of the General Assembly. Cooper has shut down previous budget proposals, leaving the state to operate on previous biennial budgets.
North Carolina uses a biennial system, with a new budget every two years. Cooper’s refusal to approve previous proposals has held up state budgets – including teacher pay raises, infrastructure projects and other line items – since 2017.
Jones was elected in 2016, and took office in 2017. He is currently Deputy Majority Leader of the State House.
Among the most critical local projects being funded are flood relief and hazard abatement in Fair Bluff and other towns affected by Hurricanes Matthew and Florence.
“We laughed and cried our way through these storms,” Jones said. “It’s just good to be able to bring home the help our communities deserve and need.”
Fair Bluff alone will receive $2.5 million for flood relief projects, and an additional $450,000 to help reduce future problems. Whiteville, Lake Waccamaw, Chadbourn and Tabor City will receive similar amounts.
A major step forward for the sheriff’s office will be the construction of a new building for that agency. The current structure is not large enough, has mold and settling issues, as well as leaks and crumbling interior walls. The sheriff’s office building also has major security problems.
“I cannot tell you how important this is for the citizens of our county and the sheriff’s office,” Sheriff Jody Greene said.
Clerk of Superior Court Jess Hill said it was “an historic day for Columbus county.”
“Standing up here on the old courthouse steps, I think of what this building has meant for our community,” Hill said. “A hundred years ago, people came here and worked together to find solutions. I hope that is the case another hundred years from now.”
The old courthouse building is undergoing a major renovation that will provide additional courtroom space and offices for court staff. The building has been closed for several years due to asbestos and other problems.
Southeastern Community College may be the biggest beneficiary in the county, SCC President Dr. Chris English said.
The community college will receive $14 million for new facilities, including a Science, Technology and Math (STEM) lab and renovations to most of its existing buildings. Community college personnel across the state will also see a pay raise for the first time in years.
“Other state employees got pay raises,” English said, “but the community college system did not.
“Without Rep. Jones support, we cannot build a skilled workforce,” English said.
While the General Assembly is standing down for the holidays, Jones said he doesn’t have time to relax after finally winning the budget battle.
“I have to leave here and go do something I haven’t done for a while – go back to work,” he joked.