BY JOHN H. WALKER
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
Two local projects scheduled with funding from the North Carolina Rural Center are on hold now that the governor’s office has frozen its access to state money.
An $18,400 grant to fund the Town of Tarboro’s Disinfectant By-Products study to comply with new federal mandates and an $84,420 grant to replace or repair 25 non-functioning fire hydrants in Princeville are just two of the projects up in the air.
Tarboro Town Manager Alan Thornton said, “What we do not know yet is what is to happen to the awarded commitments of the Rural Center such as the Town’s Disinfectant By-Products study. We know that the Rural Center was not funded for FY ‘13-‘14. We know that the Center had $ 60 million plus or minus in funds at its disposal when this legislative decision was made. We know that the Center’s funds have been ‘frozen’ by the General Assembly. That being said, there are a lot of questions yet to be answered.”
Thornton said the testing limits requirements of the North Carolina Division of Water Quality (DWQ) for water distributions systems is still to be implemented and required on permitted entities such as Tarboro.
He said that means the town would have to address disinfection by-products in our water distribution system in some way.
“I am hopeful that some resolution to Rural Center funded entities such as Tarboro and Edgecombe County regarding committed funding will take place very soon and we can move forward,” he added.
Thornton continued, “In essence, we are waiting for everything to shake out a bit as there are many like us who had funding committed and many who were right in the middle of funded projects that will certainly be very vocal regarding a desire for committed funds to be released and those commitments honored.”
In Princeville, the funding addresses a public safety concern in that at least 25 of the town's 80 fire hydrants are either not working or in dire need of repairs. Three of the faulty hydrants are near some of the town's largest and oldest structures — Princeville Elementary School, St. Luke Church of Christ Disciples of Christ and Princeville Museum.
The Local Government Commission, which took over Princeville’s finances at the end of last July, approved $9,380 transfer from the town’s Water and Sewer fund to match the grant. An LGC spokesman was unavailable to comment on the possible impact of the funds freeze.
The Rural Center came under fire following the release of a scathing state audit from North Carolina State Auditor Beth Wood.
Former executive director Billy Ray Hall's salary amount was criticized in the audit, which called it "not reasonable."
The review also questioned the Center's oversight of state money and said it did not verify that jobs were created with grant money. The center's mission is to focus on economic improvement for people in North Carolina's 85 rural counties.
Hall resigned after the audit was released in what was described as an effort to save the center.
Funding for the center was eliminated in the $20.6 billion state budget unveiled late Sunday.