Editorial: Anxiously awaiting the drama

Jun. 27, 2013 @ 09:12 PM

We’re watching anxiously as the summer drama related to the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center plays out in Raleigh.

The Tri-County has gotten excellent benefits from some of the Rural Center’s more than 5,000 grants and $680 million in projects since 1987. We’re hopeful for more.

Politics is taking a toll on the state’s rural counties. Every dollar matters, and every action deserves our attention.

Currently, we’ve been looking in three directions.

We first were caught by the budget proposal of Gov. Pat McCrory. Since the recession circa 2001, funds began to flow from the General Assembly to the Rural Center.

But McCrory sliced into that with his proposal. He’s campaigned on fiscal responsibility, and the Rural Center is among many feeling the former Charlotte mayor’s promise. McCrory cut $10 million.

And along Jones Street, members of the state’s House and Senate are in the final days before the fiscal year starts trying to wrangle out a budget. They’ve already passed a measure to give themselves more time.

But somewhere between McCrory’s ideas and the two chambers, a balanced state budget will emerge. We don’t expect the Rural Center to get any more, and we’re concerned it could be less.

On over across Edenton Street on McDowell Street is The News & Observer, which recently researched some Rural Center work. The impression was grants helping restaurant chains and big box stores, not the typical “rural” flavor.

Then came two messages from the Rural Center out near the Beltline. The first was a defensive response from Brian Crutchfield, Bill Gibson and Billy Ray Hall, two board members and the president, respectively. Their eight-point message was positive reflections on their work, and counterpoints to The N&O research.

Then came a message from Valeria Lee, chairwoman of the Rural Center’s board of directors. Her five-point message outlined launching a review of procedures in awarding, monitoring and reporting grants.

Any organization utilizing taxpayers’ money is not above investigation. And third-party organizational reviews are often extremely beneficial, even if no improprieties exist. Lawmakers need accurate information.

And us?

Working with the Rural Center, our communities have prospered when we might not would have otherwise. Vance, Granville and Warren counties need the Rural Center’s efforts to continue.