Rural authority includes Vance appointment

Dec. 06, 2013 @ 06:53 PM

The N.C. Rural Infrastructure Authority met for the first time Friday, with a Vance County official seated at the table.

Tommy Hester, a commissioner from Vance County, was appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory to the newly created authority. The board is tasked with formulating policies and priorities for grant and loan programs administered by the Rural Economic Development Division.

The NCRIA also makes awards through a new Industrial Development Fund Utility Account and for economic development projects from community development block grant funds.

The governor and the leaders of both the N.C. House of Representatives and the N.C. Senate each select five members to serve alongside the state’s secretary of commerce, Sharon Decker.

“It is an honor to be appointed by the governor to this N.C. Rural Authority,” Hester wrote in an email. “I will work diligently to live up to the duties and responsibilities set. Having been raised, worked and married a lady from rural North Carolina, it is near and dear to my heart.”

Hester said the county’s unemployment rate of 10.5 percent is one reason the governor selected someone from Vance County, which is ranked 94th out of 100 counties in unemployment.

“It shows we need help, so he is trying to pick people nearest to those areas who are qualified,” he said.

At the first meeting, Hester said the board planned to determine the guidelines, criteria and application forms for grant making in fiscal year 2014. Also scheduled were determination of the review process for an initial cycle of grants and establish the application submission and award dates for grant cycles in fiscal year 2014.

In the 2013 session, the N.C. General Assembly passed the Appropriations Act of 2013 that established a new Rural Economic Development Division within the Department of Commerce to administer grants and loans to local governments, which had previously been the role of the nonprofit N.C. Rural Economic Development Center.

In July, the office of the governor froze state money administered to the N.C. Rural Center following a critical audit of the organization.

While the Rural Economic Development Division administers grant and loan programs, it will not be responsible for making award decisions.

Instead, the Rural Infrastructure Authority will review applications for grants and loans, and then award funds.

The programs to be offered by the new division are similar to programs offered by the rural center.

The new division’s programs will provide funds for construction of water and wastewater facilities; other infrastructure needs, such as natural gas, broadband, and rail; and for matching grants or loans to a local government for reuse of vacant properties, with priority given to communities with populations under 5,000.

Contact the writer at smansur@hendersondispatch.com.