LUMBERTON — Issues raised at a public forum in Lumberton on Thursday are not just relevant to Robeson County, but are of concern to residents of rural counties across the state, according to the delegation’s senior member, Rep. Garland Pierce, a Democrat from Scotland County.
Pierce, whose District 48 includes includes parts of Robeson, Scotland, Hoke and Richmond counties, joined the other four members of the region’s state legislative delegation, all Democrats, in the forum held at the Southeastern Agricultural Events Center on U.S. 74. The other participants in the event included Sen. Michael Walters, District 13, which includes Robeson and Columbus counties; Rep. Charles Graham, District 47, Robeson County; Ken Goodman, District 66, encompassing parts of Scotland, Robeson, Hoke, Montgomery and Richmond counties; and Rep. Ken Waddell, District 46, which includes parts of Robeson, Bladen and Columbus counties.
The forum provided residents an opportunity to to ask questions of their legislators, as well as make suggestions that could help their representatives more efficiently represent their interests when the General Assembly reconvenes in May. Approximately 75 people attended the 90-minute forum.
Issues raised ranged from the need for road improvements, reducing highway litter and providing horse stalls at the state operated Southeastern Agricultural Events Center, to reducing the unemployment tax burden on small businesses and improving deficiencies in the new Department of Social Services computer system that administers such programs as Medicaid and food stamps.
Pierce and Randy Voller, the chairman of the state’s Democratic Party, both said the issues raised are concerns legislators across the state are being asked to address as they prepare for the General Assembly’s short session.
“DSS issues and economic development issues along the corridor (between counties) are especially important,” Pierce said. “These are issues that affect all of us, whether we are Democrats, Republicans or Independents. We are all neighbors and must work together to move our region forward.”
Voller said that issues raised during the forum are found throughout the state’s counties and municipalities.
“The demographics may be different, but you have the same issues I hear from people as I travel around the state,” Voller said. “You are not unique. I know you don’t like to hear that because everyone wants to believe their community is the most beautiful.”
Key issues raised at the forum included:
— A request from local businessman Harvey Godwin that something be done to reduce the burden on small businesses of hefty payments being required by the state to recoup $2.5 billion borrowed from the federal government to bolster the state’s ability to pay unemployment benefits.
Goodman, who operates a small furniture business in Richmond County, said that he is concerned that the only businesses being burdened with paying back the borrowed money are businesses that are hiring employees.
Godwin, in addition to county resident Mark Moses, also asked legislators to address Robeson County’s littering problems. Graham said that he has been working with the state Department of Transportation to get no-littering signs installed throughout the county.
Goodman said that there is currently legislation being considered that would increase fines for littering.
— Cecil Jackson, representing the Borderbelt Horseman’s Association, and Jerry King, a Parkton resident who serves on the North Carolina Horse Council, requested that permanent stalls for horses be built at the Southeastern Agricultural Events Center’s pavilion as soon as possible. The stalls are needed so that three-day horse-related events can be held.
“We struggled the last session to keep this facility open,” Walters said. “We were successful in getting recurring funding to do so … . We’re committed to putting stalls in and maximizing dollars.”
— Jessica Elmore, an optometrist from Fayetteville, requested that legislators do whatever possible to correct deficiencies in the state Department of Social Services new computer system that administers Medicaid benefits to individuals and payments to providers of medical care to those receiving Medicaid benefits.
All of the legislators told Elmore that those providers needing assistance should contact their offices.
— Bill Bruce, an Oak Island resident addressing the legislators on behalf of his brother, requested that something be done about the need for roads in subdivisions where residents live but lack any kind of suitable access to their properties.
Waddell and Graham said they have been working to address the issue, but said the solution “probably” will involve an amendment to existing state legislation.
— The Rev. Mac Legerton, executive director of the Robeson County Center for Community Action, told legislators that local food councils should be established to oversee local food production and distribution, including organic food production.
Graham said after the forum that he thought the event was a success.
“We talked about a variety of concerns,” he said. “I think the people saw that the delegation is interested in hearing what they had to say.”
Waddell also said that he believes the forum served to educate both legislators and the public on issues of importance to the region.
“This was a good meeting. It was very informative,” he said. “We got some views from people that will help us move in the direction we should be going. It’s always good to have public forums.”