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Archive for February, 2008

Don’t pay your property taxes by March 1 and your name ends up in a newspaper advertisement listing all the delinquent taxpayers.

It’s an annual incentive/threat to get the bill paid on time that’s mandated by state law for every municipality. That’s a mandate Mount Airy Commissioner Deborah Cochran is none too happy about. Before voting to authorize the advertisement because it’s legally required, Cochran made it clear Thursday that she views such a threat as overly harsh and embarrassing to folks who may be going through times of financial hardship. The flip side to that argument is that getting ride of the ad would make for one less way to persuade property owners from dragging their feet on taxes.

Interestingly enough, the total amount of unpaid taxes for Mount Airy comes out to $320,600, about double what it was last year.

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When the Department of Transportation’s board meets, there’s often decent material for a story on an upcoming highway construction project. But not this month, when the contracts approved included no projects from anywhere nearby. I’ll give the DOT the benefit of the doubt and say the projects that were awarded are all badly needed, as the state’s population growth is creating infrastructure issues all over North Carolina.But it’s always frustrating to see improvements to U.S. 52 put off indefinitely, as is the case in the DOT’s Transportation Improvement Plan. Other highway projects, such as improvements to N.C. 268, are also stuck in the “unfunded” black hole. An easy-to-read breakdown of what’s funded in our district can be viewed here. It’s nice to see I-77 and I-74 rehabilitated, but better access to the Piedmont means a lot more for this county from an economic and quality-of-life standpoint. This might be the issue to follow most closely in the governor’s race, with every candidate trotting forth a different DOT reform proposal. There’s a big shortfall on the horizon for highway projects, and they only get more expensive by the month.

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Our own Rep. Virginia Foxx was on the Congressional committee that heard testimony from baseball great Roger Clemens on Wednesday regarding use of performance-enhancing drugs. Here’s what Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci had to say in his live blog about her:Virginia Foxx (R-NC) made it clear that she would rather not be at the hearings, that Congress shouldn’t be involved in baseball matters. ‘I think we’ve been playing gotcha games and I don’t agree with that,’ Foxx said. Then Foxx proceeded to prove beyond a doubt that she truly didn’t belong there. She showed a poster of Clemens in four different photographs for four different teams (Boston, New York, Toronto, Houston), the exact dates of which she had no idea. ‘You appear to me to be about the same size,’ she said. ‘It doesn’t appear to me that your size has changed much.’ Great. Now Foxx can tell us whether players are using PEDs just on body type in photographs. It’s exactly that kind of sloppy eyeball detective work that we should have left behind a decade ago.” Just thought you’d like to know.

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The nice thing about presidential elections is they drum up turnout and interest in local races, which often have a more direct effect on the everyday lives of voters. Since the Democratic nomination could still be in play, North Carolina’s May primaries might draw plenty of people to the polls, who would then weigh in on contested local seats on the ballot.Problem is, there aren’t many candidates as of yet, just a list of incumbents who have thrown their names in the ring since the filing period opened Monday. There’s still more than two weeks to file. Hopefully some informed and dedicated challengers will step forward. Here’s where to get filing forms in case you’re interested.For the rest of us, the question is what issue(s) could generate significant interest in races that are too often afterthoughts. There’s enough transition going on in the county that we should expect meaningful plans and policies from our local government and school board hopefuls. What will be issue that decides these elections (the local Congressional race included)? Or will it just be about who puts up the most signs and billboards?

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The latest in textile plant layoffs Thursday further drives home the need to diversify our local economy with other industries? But which? It’s a question that goes beyond what’s attainable, sustainable and pays well, also taking into account what our workforce is trained for or what our educational institutions can prepare students for. The Employment Security Commission keeps tabs on the fastest growing occupations locally and statewide. There’s also detailed info on how much each occupation pays on average. This is the type of discussion that forces us to take a hard look at what unique assets we can offer. Why come to Surry when almost every county is making a passionate pitch?

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By the end of today, the full force of campaign donations will wield its sledgehammer of influence on the presidential race. An upstart candidate can snag a state on a shoestring budget, but coming out on top during “Super Tuesday” — in what almost amounts to a national primary —involves the loads of cash only the big four have left to shell out. Though our local candidates in less publicized races don’t need to go on spending sprees just yet, the critical importance of a well stocked war chest filters down from the top. Case in point: Roy Carter. The Democrat from Ashe County is taking on our incumbent Congresswomen Virginia Foxx, and his backers are excited because his first filing with the Federal Election Commission shows that he has raised more money during the opening fiscal quarter of a campaign than any Democratic congressional candidate from this district in the past decade. That is reason to get excited, until you look at Foxx’s most recent filing. Her staggering totals indicate just how expensive it is to wage a fully loaded campaign in this day and age. And it’s not just congressional races. Our local state representative, Jim Harrell III, spent more than $300,000 during the last election cycle. The two candidates for Surry sheriff in 2006 easily eclipsed the $100,000 mark when their totals are combined. On some level campaign finance reform can be viewed as impinging on free speech, but the current system unquestionably puts fundraising as a primary focus of any campaign, perhaps diverting attention from devising solutions to the problems at hand.

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