Graham may lose ranking

Which county is worse off, Graham or Cherokee?
According to House Bill 795, our neighbor to the south is more economically distressed.
“We are a Tier 1 county, however if this law passes, the way it’s written, we will become a Tier 2 county but Cherokee County will remain a Tier 1 county,” said Graham County Manager Becky Garland.
That means Cherokee has a better chance of receiving Job Development Investment grants than Graham County under HB 795, which the House Committee on Commerce and Job Development passed last week.
Tier 1 counties are first in line to receive help from state programs designed to encourage economic activity because they are considered most economically distressed. To be considered Tier 1, counties must have a population of less than 12,000 and a poverty level above 19 percent.
Graham County, population 8,644 with a poverty rate of 24.7 percent, should qualify. Cherokee County has a population of 27,141 and a 22.5 percent poverty rate.
“Apparently folks in other parts of the state think that some distressed areas are getting too much of the economy development pie,” Garland said. “There’s either something wrong in the formula, or something wrong in the statutory language, or both.”
“This is ridiculous,” Graham County Commissioner Dale Wiggins said. “This tells us we’ve got an idiot collecting that data.”
To Garland, the numbers are wrong.
“According to their calculations, the average annual wage in Graham County is $34,990.
Cherokee County, their average wage is showing $30,785,” Garland said. “There is no way, when we have no casino, we have no Wal-Mart ...Our average wage is not $34,000.”
And average wage is not the only questionable statistic. “Our average property value is $144,000; their’s is $107,000?” Garland said. “Don’t talk to me about tax base, because we really don’t have any.”
The surprising numbers may be due to the state switching from using median income and property values to averages of both.
“Because we have low population, when you do the averaging, it’s throwing us out of kink,” Garland said.
Graham County is currently ranked as Tier 1, and would maintain that designation as long as it remained a low-population county.
“One of the reasons we’ve been able to remain a Tier 1 county is because there’s exemption for population,” Garland said. “They’re going to take that out.”
Garland has expressed her concerns with the Graham County Board of Commissioners, North Carolina Association of County Commissioners Director Linda Millsaps, and State Representative Kevin Corbin.
“One goal of the new approach is to compare counties to the state average on a number of economic development factors, spot trends and understand why counties are trending in a certain direction,” Millsaps said. “To that end, the bill directs the Department of Commerce to help improve key economic indicators for counties that are below the statewide average.”
According to Millsaps, HB 795 has the potential to move about 40 counties up or down one tier based on the new formula. Graham County is one of the 40.
“It’s wrong,” Garland said. “We just get it coming and going.”
No date has been set for the House of Representatives to vote on HB 795.

The Graham Star

Mailing address: P.O. Box 69, Robbinsville, NC 28771

Street address: 720 Tallulah Rd., Robbinsville, NC 28771

Phone number: 828-479-3383

Fax number: 828-479-1044