by David Anderson
Kinston Free Press
The state has increased by $4 million the amount of money it will distribute to municipalities for road maintenance through the Powell Bill program this year, but local municipal officials worry that might not be enough to meet their needs.
Officials in cities that are shrinking like Kinston fear they could see less money in the coming years if population declines continue.
N.C. Department of Transportation officials announced this week that $138.3 million will be distributed among 502 municipalities — half was already awarded earlier this month, and the second half will be awarded Jan. 1, 2012.
“With the budget situation many of these communities face, this is a way to provide valuable assistance so they can maintain and improve the safety and condition of their transportation systems,” Transportation Secretary Eugene Conti said.
Money for the Powell Bill comes through gas tax revenue and highway user fees. It is distributed to each municipality based on its population and amount of roads by mile.
That formula is the problem facing Kinston when it comes to road maintenance funding — 75 percent of the allocation is based on population, and Kinston’s has declined by about 2,000 people during the past decade.
“We’re going to have the same mileage of roads to repair, even if we lose another 5 percent of population in the next decade,” Mayor B.J. Murphy said.
Kinston is set to receive $403,378.49 in Powell Bill funds this year. Combined with the city’s $210,986.36 allocation from the state’s Highway Trust Fund, Kinston will get $614,364.85 in state transportation funds this year.
Murphy acknowledged it is an increase from the total state funding last fiscal year — $591,913 — but it is still much less than a decade ago. The total funding for the 2002 fiscal year was $799,005, according to figures supplied by the mayor.
He said it is up to state leaders to change the Powell Bill formula to ensure more funds get to cities such as Kinston.
“I’ll leave the legislating to the legislators and the governor, but it is very obvious that it’s a problem for rural Eastern North Carolina cities who have suffered under job losses and high unemployment,” Murphy said.
The town of Pink Hill’s current population of 552 is a slight increase from the past decade. It will receive $13,124.85 in Powell Bill funds this year, plus $6,864.93 from the Highway Trust fund.
Mayor Treva Brigman agreed with Murphy about the need to change the Powell Bill formula, though.
“That’s a bad formula, because you don’t lose your roads even if you lose people,” Brigman said. “Most of the time you’re trying to increase your roads for the economy and bring in more people.”
State Rep. Stephen LaRoque, R-Lenoir, said state leaders must look at multiple ways to fund transportation — he described the gas tax as an inefficient funding method because of the fluctuating price of gas.
“There’s just several variables that go into (funding), so I think we’re going to need to take a look at all ways in which road work is funded,” LaRoque said.
David Anderson can be reached at 252-559-1077 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Local municipalities will receive the following amounts through the Powell Bill this year:
– Ayden — $96,684.85
– Grifton — $49,026.54
– Hookerton — $8,607.59
– Kinston — $403,378.49
– La Grange — $60,395.68
– Maysville — $22,030.79
– Pink Hill — $13,124.85
– Pollocksville — $7,553.67
– Snow Hill — $31,209.87
– Trenton — $6,103.69
– Walstonburg — $4,996.03