The director of North Carolina’s budget office stopped in Onslow County Tuesday to discuss the state budget’s effects on the county.
In the past year, the state has budgeted for a career and technical school renovation, a $5 million investment, and budgeted $330,000 for the completion of the Montford Point Marine Memorial.
The 2016-17 state budget had four main areas, including education, health and human services, justice and economic resources, and fiscal responsibilities, state budget director Andrew Heath said.
While some areas of the budget impacted Onslow County specifically, other parts affected residents across the state. Teachers across the state reached an average salary of $50,000 “for the first time in state history,” the director said.
The state also budgeted for more mental health services across the state.
“We are trying to make investments into mental health and substance abuse, so there’s more psychiatric beds available,” he said.
The state made $12 million by selling Dorothea Dix Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Raleigh, which they plan to redirect to increase the number of mental health beds in the state, Heath said. The state budget also accounted for $20 million to implement recommendations of Governor Pat McCrory’s Task Force on Mental Health and Substance Abuse including opiod and prescription drug treatment, emergency housing, drug and veteran treatment courts, and transitional housing.
Heath didn’t only hit budget highlights, however. He also spoke about how the state is helping those affected by Hurricane Matthew recover.
As the state continues to pick up the pieces from Hurricane Matthew, it’s begun to assess the damage, Heath said.
“Right now we’re working with FEMA to do preliminary damage assessments. We’re already doing that in Onslow County,” he said.
The state invested $470 million this fiscal year into a fund for a natural disaster, such as Hurricane Matthew. Overall, the rainy day fund contains $1.6 billion, Heath said.
“As we continue to have these rainy day assessments…they are incurring costs and as these costs add up, they’ll be reimbursed by the rainy day fund at some point,” the director said.
In addition to the $330,000 for Montford Point Marine Memorial and area school funding, Jacksonville received a $94,000 grant in the 2016-2017 budget to aid in restoring the downtown area.
As Heath gave his presentation in the Board of Commissioners Chambers, about 40 people listened intently. Some were county commissioners and some were Jacksonville-Onslow Chamber of Commerce members, but everyone was invested in Onslow County’s future.
Lindsay Gress, manager of N.C. Works Career Center in Jacksonville, said since her organization had such a close relationship with economic development, she wanted to get an idea of where the state was “sitting right now.”
N.C. Works Career Centers provide a place for job seekers, training seekers and employees to come together in one location, according to its website.
“Being new to the position, I’m just here to support economic development,” Gress said. “Whatever we can learn about the state budget, the direction we’re headed, the goals hopefully for the next couple of years, would be good to know.”