NC Rural Center Changes Could Affect Area

Published 2:30 pm Monday, July 29, 2013

Billy Ray Hall, head of the North Carolina Rural Center ,resigned July 18 after a audit report released on July 17 by State Auditor Beth Wood says reporting requirements on grants issued by the center were not diligently enforced and that job creation claims on five grants could not be verified.

The audit also calls the $221,000 annual salary paid to president Billy Ray Hall as “not reasonable” and questions more than $241,000 in a special account to be paid to Hall if he leaves.

The center is supposed to spur economic development in 85 North Carolina counties. Hall says the center maintains “the highest degree of ethical and fiscal integrity.”

The Center has had positive effects in Tyrrell County.

Columbia Town Manager Rhett White explained that the Center has provided assistance many times for the area.

“The NC Rural Center has been most helpful and supportive.The Town of Columbia has benefited significantly from programs of the North Carolina Rural Center in the form of support by way of infrastructure funds for water and sewer improvements and additions, the Small Towns Economic Prosperity (STEP) planning funds and Building Reuse and Rehabilitation Program grants,” he said.

White stressed that he hopes that hope the new agencies that are being created to provide grant assistance will be just as supportive of small towns in rural areas.

“Eighty-five of the state’s 100 counties are rural and it does not get any more rural than Columbia and Tyrrell County. We need an agency in Raleigh that will voice the concerns of and work to support positive growth initiatives for rural areas,” he said.
Washington County Manager Jerry Rhodes mentioned that Washington County currently has no grants or applications pending with the Rural Center.

“Therefore, we are not affected at this time by the changes made by the General Assembly.  However, it remains to be seen how these changes will affect our future needs for funding,” he said.

Rhodes mentioned that he could not name any projects at this time that might need funding from the Rural Center in the future.

The state budget proposal which was voted on last week would end Center Funding and instead create a division within the Department of Commerce focused on rural development.