ONLINE UPDATE: Officials talk priorities ahead of short session

by Cole Dittmer
Friday, February 14, 2014

With the North Carolina General Assembly reconvening for a short session on May 14, Wilmington City Council spent time with local delegates on Friday, Feb. 14, to discuss policy issues that will arise in the session. Film incentives, historic preservation tax breaks, environmental regulation and public safety were among the topics discussed amongst the two groups.

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo began the breakfast meeting by asking NCGA delegates Ted Davis Jr., R-New Hanover, Rick Catlin, R-New Hanover, Thom Goolsby, R-New Hanover, and Susi Hamilton, D-New Hanover and Brunswick, to support the state’s film incentive program in the coming short session.

“Hopefully we can find some sort of vehicle to have this continue in our community … anything you could do about it would be greatly appreciated,” Saffo said. “We don’t want to lose business to places like Georgia and Louisiana.”

Representative Catlin said finding money for film incentives would be a major issue with Medicaid and education expenses potentially mounting.

“I recognize the concerns but … we are going to look at extending these credits and also look at trying to raise teacher pay,” Catlin said. “So we have to find the money for that and I have been made aware that we will also be looking at maybe another $400 million for Medicaid.”

Like the film incentives, councilman Kevin O’Grady said another tax credit set to expire that would especially hurt Wilmington and blue collar workers is the historic home tax credit. Speaking from his experience in renovating his own home, O’Grady said the tax credit has helped to transform Wilmington’s historic district.

“Years ago three or four of the homes on that block were in significant disrepair,” O’Grady said. “Today every house on our street, with one exception, has been remodeled using of the tax credit.”

The merits of the historic home tax credit are something dwarfed by discussions of the film incentive program, said Representative Susi Hamilton, who added that it deserves more recognition.

Another issue to be brought up in the NCGA’s May short session is the ability of local municipalities to pass environmental regulations that are more stringent than state regulations. Catlin said the legislation passed last year that disallowed more stringent regulations than the state’s was designed to be temporary and that the issue would be revisited in May. 

“We are studying that now before the short session and we are receiving info from local governments about its effects and whether or not there will be some unintended consequences,” Catlin said. “So I need to hear how [the city] feels about that.”

Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous was also present at Friday’s meeting to present the case for harsher punishments for felons caught carry concealed weapons. With the current laws, Evangelous said his officers could not apply any jail time to a first time offense for a felon caught illegally carrying a concealed weapon. Evangelous said his department would like to see at least a year of maximum jail time applied to those arrests to lower violent crime rates and that the requested changes would have no impact on legal firearms.

Senator Goolsby said he would be willing to have the changes drafted into a bill for the short session and Davis also said he would be willing to take up the bill.

email cole@luminanews.com  

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