Smaller voices need to be heard

Published 6:56 am Monday, February 18, 2008

By Staff
Who is speaking for you?
Eastern North Carolina voters need to start thinking about that question, and they’d better start thinking quickly.
Some of North Carolina’s counties have gone through a massive growth spurt in the last few years. Wake County added 67,835 residents in just the period between 2000 and 2003, based on estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau. To put it another way, that’s the combined population of Beaufort, Hyde and Washington counties with 3,400 people left over. Yet another way to look at it is to picture a line of 1,356 school buses rolling into town, an average of nearly nine a month. That’s what Wake County dealt with.
It’s not just the big metro areas that are seeing growth. Currituck County grew by 14.5 percent during the same period. Camden was up by 12.2 percent. Those are huge numbers for a three-year span.
Containing growth hasn’t been a problem for a lot of counties down east. Martin, Washington and Hyde counties ranked 98, 99 and 100 on the growth list for the 2000-2003 period. Each saw their population shrink, not grow. Now picture 22 fully loaded school buses leaving town. That’s what it amounts to. There were 1,100 people living in those three counties in 2000 that weren’t living there in 2003.
In Raleigh’s case, the growth appears to be tapering off, but that is still growing. This year 22 percent fewer additional students enrolled in public schools, according to the Raleigh News and Observer. That’s still 5,900 more kids, but the year before the figure was 7,500. The number of housing construction permits issued throughout Wake was down 7.5 percent last year to 10,384, the lowest number since 2004. That’s still a staggering number.
Some blame the economy for Wake’s slower growth rate. We can’t help but wonder if the lack of drinking water is playing a role it in. Unless something happens, Raleigh has about 100 days of drinking water left. That’s not a problem in most of Beaufort County, which saw its population grow by 1 percent during the three-year span.
Wake County officials, at least some of them, aren’t complaining about the slowdown in growth.
Wake County’s population is expected to top 850,000 this year, within about 50,000 of the state’s most populous county, Mecklenburg. In just five years, Wake should reach one million people, the N&O reported.
You may wonder why what happens in Wake and Mecklenburg counties is of any interest to folks down east. It is, and it will be when it comes to decisions on how state funding is spent. There is a little cluster of six counties, including Jones, Lenoir and Onslow that were on the bottom of the growth scale along with Martin, Washington and Hyde. Sooner or later that is going to be reflected in how voting district maps are made. Sooner or later that may mean the areas that need the most help in the General Assembly may have the smallest voice in getting it.
That’s one reason we, as voters, need to make sure only the best of the best are elected to represent us. The needs of eastern North Carolina are real. No matter what your political party is, you need to vote for the people who you think understand our needs and won’t overlook us. We’re not asking for pork barrel politics, but just a clear and articulated voice for the rest of us.