The Republican-controlled House and Senate gave final approval on Thursday to their compromise two-year state spending plan in separate votes.

The $48.8 billion biennial budget now goes to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who is expected to veto the spending plan because it doesn’t include Medicaid expansion. There are enough Democrats to uphold the veto if they remain largely united in supporting the governor.

Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, a Republican from North Wilkesboro, on Thursday listed aspects of the budget that are of particular significance to Wilkes County.

Elmore said the proposed budget as it now stands includes:

• a little over $14 million to the Wilkes County schools for capital needs (school renovations) under a “pay-as-you-go plan” as an alternative to the bond referendum proposed earlier this year by Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, speaker of the House. Under the pay-as-you go plan, the state would use money from the State Capital and Infrastructure Fund, created in 2017 to pay interest payments on existing debt and fund capital improvements to state-owned buildings. The Wilkes County Schools stood to gain $9 to $10 million for capital needs from passage of the bond referendum;

• over $1 million to the Town of North Wilkesboro for a 500,000-gallon water storage tank at the town-owned Wilkes Industrial Park on River Road-Liberty Grove Road. This includes $580,000 announced last week as a Community Development Block Fund Grant and an additional appropriation of about $500,000. The funding is tied to Jeld-Wen Inc.’s plans to add 29 jobs and invest $8 million at its door manufacturing plant in the industrial park. The $2.2 million water tank is needed to increase water supply and fire suppression capabilities at the plant. The town is also seeking a $420,000 Golden LEAF Foundation grants and would take out a 20-year loan at 1.82 percent interest issued by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund for the remainder of funds needed;

• additional $5.5 million for Wilkes Community College for capital repairs and renovations. Elmore said funding for a 1% pay raise is included for community colleges statewide, but the state community college system is being given the freedom to let individual colleges allocate these funds on salaries as they see fit to allow increase pay of some positions by more than 1%.

• $100,000 for the North Wilkesboro-based Blue Ridge Opportunity Commission, a nonprofit organization established in 1966 as a Community Action Agency that provides various assistance to low-income families in Wilkes, Ashe and Alleghany to help move them out of poverty. Elmore said the funding isn’t earmarked for any particular use by BROC;

• $50,000 to the Town of Wilkesboro building restoration, apparently for work on the town-owned “Rock Building” on North Bridge Street. The latest plans of town officials for the building include removing the rock façade, building new wooding framing and reinstalling the rock façade at an estimated cost of about $300,000 to serve as a courtyard with restroom for activities at the adjoining Carolina West Wireless Community Commons.

Elmore said $1.4 million included in the prior year’s budget for building a facility-based crisis (FBC) center in Wilkes is in the compromise budget approved by the House and Senate Thursday. The FBC would be for treatment of mental health, alcohol/drug use or developmental disability needs, primarily for residents of Wilkes, Ashe, Alleghany, Watauga and Avery counties. The latest plan calls for establishing this with an addition to a county-owned facility leased by Synergy on Peace Street near Wilkesboro.

Elmore said the compromise budget also includes additional Powell Bill funds for street maintenances in towns across the state.

Teacher pay

Elmore said the compromise budget gives particular emphasis to increasing the pay of veteran teachers (with 15 or more years of experience) since past teacher pay efforts have focused largely on beginning and early-career teachers.

“The House presented a very aggressive teacher pay plan by dealing with the veteran teachers, and the Senate has been very good working with us trying to deal with the issue of salary compression,” Elmore said. Salary compression is when an organization has little differences in pay between people who have differing skill sets and/or experience levels.

In the compromise budget, teachers with 0-15 years of experience would receive automatic step increases of $1,000.

Teachers with 16-20 years would receive $500 increases both years of the biennial budget, those with 21-24 would get a $1,500 increase the first year and $500 the second. Teachers in steps 25 and above would receive $600 increase. Teachers with 25-plus years would also receive $500 bonuses each October of the biennium.

Principals would see pay increases, too.  And the state would create a recruitment fund to entice principals to work in low-performing schools.

All increases would be effective July 1.

The compromise budget also expands the forgivable loan program for prospective teachers to up to three more colleges and universities. Currently, five N.C. colleges and universities can take part in the program.

Senate GOP budget-writers say the compromise budget helps state employees, cuts taxes and sets aside reserves for the next recession. Democrats say the measure falls short in education funding and by failing to expand Medicaid.

Republicans turned back amendments that would have blocked budget provisions moving over 2,000 government health workers from Raleigh to Granville County and reducing Medicaid payments to a Greenville hospital.

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