New year brings solid progress

Published 9:14 pm Tuesday, January 1, 2008

By Staff
Last year brought closure to some of the issues facing the greater Washington area, and the start of some exciting new ventures.
The Turnage Theater renovation project, something that had been in the works for a decade, was completed. The 1930s-era performance hall is now hosting events designed to appeal to a broad spectrum of residents.
The issue of where to build an outlying landing field wasn’t settled, but it’s almost a clear bet that it won’t be built on the Washington-Beaufort county line as the Navy had wanted. Lawmakers agreed to strip the funding for the project from the defense spending bill. While the legislation was vetoed by President Bush, it wasn’t because of the OLF. When it resurfaces, it’s a strong bet the ban on funding for the local OLF site will remain.
Last year Washington residents got something they’d longed for. Work on a U.S. Highway 17 bypass around the city started and immediately drew the ire of motorists. To haul in the mountains of dirt to build bridges over West Fifth and West 15th streets required a convoy of dump trucks. Within months the dirty part of the job was history and the task of building the mammoth bridge had begun.
The sheer scope of the U.S. 17 project got the attention of city officials. A hearing is planned this month to look at what new businesses should be allowed in the area.
The City of Washington and the Washington Housing Authority also mounted efforts to cut down on crime in the area of Market and West Seventh streets.
Trees have been cut back, with some totally removed to discourage loitering. Extra lighting is being installed by the housing authority to protect public housing residents.
The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners and the Beaufort County Board of Education also reached an uneasy truce in 2007. Commissioners voted 5-2 to enter an agreement with the school board that bars the two bodies from suing each other over school-related funding for four years. Considering the two groups spent upwards of a quarter of a million dollars in attorney’s fees, the pact was a step forward. The agreement calls for the school board to relinquish funds it receives from state-lottery proceeds to the county until 2012. In exchange, the county will release bond-sale revenues to help build the new John Small Elementary School. As part of the deal, the school board will receive a 5-percent increase — about $300,000 — in county dollars each year for the next four years. It’s far better to spend the money where it counts — on students — than on lawyers.
Belhaven residents got the first glimpse of a new council, one they hope can steer the town toward better days.
Local governments also got an early Christmas present when the state agreed to shoulder a larger share of Medicaid costs. Beaufort County typically spends between $3.5 million and $3.8 million annually on Medicaid each year. A fourth of its residents are eligible for the program, so a long-term solution to the funding issue has a big impact at home.
Here’s hoping 2008 can bring just as many solid changes.