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The new North Carolina state budget compromise bill, released Sunday evening, is slated for votes this week in the General Assembly. In addition to its statewide ramifications, the $20.6 billion biennial spending plan contains numerous provisions that directly impact Western North Carolina.

Here’s a summary of key items in the budget bill [PDF] that would effect mountain-area communities in particular. Most of this information is drawn from a joint House/Senate committee report on the budget, which can be read in its entirety below.

Historic sites would survive, take on new revenue-generating efforts

Elected officials and junior historians gather at a Save the Vance Birthplace rally on April 5, 2013. Under the latest state budget proposal, no state historic site would be closed. Photo courtesy of Vance Birthplace.

Elected officials and junior historians gather at a Save the Vance Birthplace rally on April 5, 2013. Under the latest state budget proposal, no state historic site would be closed. Photo courtesy of Vance Birthplace.

The budget would spare two historic sites — the Vance Birthplace in Buncombe County and the Mountain Gateway Museum in Old Fort — that were slated for closure in some previous budget proposals.

“No sites will be closed, which is a testament to the support they gained from their local communities” during the recent months of budget debates, said Cary Cox, a spokesperson for the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, on Monday. The department oversees those facilities.

However, the department is facing wide-ranging cuts, Cox noted. The new budget stresses that state historic sites are to seek new ways of generating their own revenue, from enacting reasonable admittance fees to selling concessions to visitors. The sites are also encouraged to obtain financial support from local governments when possible.

New western crime lab staffing, planning

The budget would advance a plan by the North Carolina State Crime Laboratory to expand toxicology work, which is presently only conducted in the Triad and the Triangle, to WNC. The lack of toxicology capacity in the western part of the state has led to huge backlogs in the processing of blood samples from DWI cases.

The budget would fund 19 new toxicology analyst positions, along with new equipment to facilitate their work. For now, the analysts would have to set up shop in a preexisting state lab in Asheville.

“We’ll have to make room for the time being and find space for them,” Sen. Tom Apodaca, a Republican from Hendersonville who has been a major proponent of the plan, said Monday. “We’ve got to get them in there.”

That will likely be a short-term solution, however. The budget includes $1.4 million to cover the cost of finalizing a plan for a new lab, which would ultimately be built on the campus of the state-run Western Justice Academy in Edneyville, Apodaca said. The new facility would cost an estimated $16.8 million, and Apodaca said he plans to press for those funds during next year’s short session of the General Assembly.

Rural Economic Development Center would close, replaced by new Dept. of Commerce division

The state’s Rural Economic Development Center, which recently had its funds frozen after a critical report by the state auditor’s office, would close for good under the new budget. In its place, the budget bill mandates the creation of a new Rural Economic Development Division within the N.C. Department of Commerce.

How the center’s dissolution could effect initiatives it previously committed to funding is still an open question. For example, according to The Herald-Sun of Durham, the impact on an incentives package for GE Aviation is unclear. Four N.C. cities, Asheville among them, are set to host new industrial facilities as a result of the package, part of which includes funds from the center.

Compensation to sterilization victims

The budget would dedicate $10 million to create a fund for compensating victims of North Carolina’s eugenics program, which led to the sterilization of 7,600 individuals. Verified victims would be compensated $50,000 a piece.

Under the eugenics program, Buncombe County had the fifth most sterilizations of North Carolina’s 100 counties. Go here to read Carolina Public Press’s previous reporting on the program, its impact in WNC and failed past efforts to fund compensate victims.

Expansion projects at ASU, UNCA

The budget would provide an extra $4 million to Appalachian State University and UNC Asheville for capital projects.

The $2 million allotted for ASU would fund advance planning for the university’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences Building. A similar appropriation for this purpose, in 2008, was reverted by the governor’s office to help cover budget shortfalls.

UNCA would use its $2 million for land purchases to facilitate the long-term growth of the university.

“The UNCA money, it may seem like not a lot of money, but $2 million in this kind of budget is not an insignificant thing,” Rep. Nathan Ramsey, a Republican from Fairview, said Monday.

Detention centers and a rehab facility

Under the proposed budget, the Buncombe Correctional Center, in Asheville, would remain open. The Senate’s initial budget proposal had called for it to close.

Likewise, while an early proposal had called for the Julian F. Keith Alcohol and Drug Abuse Treatment Center, in Black Mountain, to close, it would remain open under this plan while facing funding cuts.

Meanwhile, the Buncombe Regional Juvenile Detention Center, in Swannanoa, is still slated for closure, but the new budget would appropriate $500,000 per year to fund a group home that would perform many of the same functions.

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About the Author

Jon Elliston

Jon Elliston is the Investigations and Open Government Editor at Carolina Public Press. Contact him at jelliston@carolinapublicpress.org.

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