Wednesday, 13 March 2019 19:21

McInnis: Wildlife Commission should be assessed to support schools

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HOFFMAN — One Richmond County legislator is asking the state’s wildlife agency to contribute part of the money it makes off the Sandhills Game Lands in lieu of the lost tax revenue to the county.

State Sen. Tom McInnis filed Senate Bill 111 on Feb. 25, which would require the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to pay $2 per acre assessment in lieu of taxes to the public schools of the affected counties.

“Every year over one million dollars of timber and pine straw are sold from the Sandhills Game Lands with no funds being paid to the counties where the game lands are located,” McInnis said in a statement. “With Scotland having the highest tax rate and Richmond not far behind, it is only fair that a small assessment should be made for the benefit of the public schools of the affected counties.” 

The bill would require the Commission to pay the assessment to the counties containing a portion of the game lands in proportion to the number of acres located in each county on Jan. 1 of the year in which the payment is made, with the bill being due no later than March 15 of each year. The boards of commissioners in those counties would be responsible for funneling those funds to their respective school systems.

While the majority of the game lands are in Richmond County (33,371 acres), there is also a large section in Scotland County (26,885 acres) and portions in Moore (4,569 acres) and Hoke (37) counties, according to NCWRC. 

“(We) understand the bill sponsor’s perspective on this issue; however, money derived from timber receipts are important to maintaining agency infrastructure, wildlife management and habitat,” Fairly Mahlum, communications and outreach section chief for the Commission, told the RO on Tuesday. “In addition to important ecosystem benefits, the lands owned and managed by the Wildlife Resources Commission provide valuable recreational opportunities to many North Carolinians.”

Mahlum said the Commission is currently working with N.C. State University to determine use, economic impacts and value of the the state’s game lands.

“This three-year study will provide estimates of user days for a range of recreational activities, determine economic contribution of game lands to counties where they are located, and determine localized non-market values of game lands,” he said. 

“Finally, we believe the use of timber revenue generated from lands acquired with license revenue to pay in lieu of taxes to support local schools would constitute a diversion of license revenue, which would likely render the state of North Carolina ineligible to continue receiving annual apportionment of vital federal Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program grant funding,” Mahlum continued. “Those apportionments account for approximately 30-percent of our annual operating budget.”

Rockingham City Manager Monty Crump was appointed to the NCWRC by Gov. Roy Cooper in July 2017.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Rules Committee.