State budget impasse hamstrings city projects

State budget impasse hamstrings city projects

SANFORD, N.C. – A man who has been homeless twice said even a state grant for the local shelter won’t begin to meet the area’s needs.

What You Need To Know

  • North Carolina has not had a new state budget since 2019
  • State lawmakers say they have reached a budget deal among themselves but they’re still negotiating with Gov. Roy Cooper
  • Projects including water treatment plants, homeless shelters and farmers markets are on hold while they await state funding

Lance Grames said when he became homeless, Sanford only had two shelters: one for women and one for men.

There is now also an emergency shelter, but it’s only available during severe heat or cold. The men’s shelter, Outreach Mission, is located in a small, old house along the railroad tracks that bisect the town.

“I don’t think I was ever in here when it wasn’t full,” he said. “I probably, on two or three separate occasions, could not find a bed.”

City officials said Outreach Mission has been waiting for a $100,000 state grant for at least two years. The grant would fund an expansion, which Grames said still might not be enough to meet the area’s needs.

Outreach Mission is the only full-time shelter in Sanford for men experiencing homelessness. The shelter has been waiting for more than two years for a $100,000 grant from the state to expand.

North Carolina has been without a budget since June 30, 2019, when the last budget ran out and lawmakers deadlocked with Gov. Roy Cooper, who insisted on higher teacher pay and Medicaid eligibility expansion.

By law, the state has continued to fund programs at previous levels but new funding has not been available. The 2021-2023 budget was supposed to take effect on July 1 of this year, but lawmakers were unable to come to an agreement on how much to spend, let alone how to spend it. 

The long budget impasse has put numerous projects on hold, including at least half a dozen in Sanford alone.

Mayor Chet Mann said city officials want to convert the abandoned King Roofing, Heating and Air building into a farmers market.

Besides giving local farmers and artisans another place to sell their wares, Mann said it would bring a healthy food option to a low-income part of town that currently has no nearby grocery store. He said the city needs about $250,000 – $500,000 in state grants to make it happen.

“The thing about the budget is, it doesn’t really affect individuals until they feel it in their pocketbook, so the average citizen may not care if we pass a budget,” he said. “But when you’re the mayor, and you’re trying to run a city, budget funding is critical to cities and counties.”

Downtown Sanford, Inc. is looking for another half a million dollars or so to turn the historic train depot into a welcome center, including a business space.

On the large-scale side of things, Mann said the city is waiting for $34 million to start building a new regional water treatment plant. Raleigh Executive Jetport, located just north of the city, is earmarked for new state funding as well. 

A floor plan for the welcome center planned for Sanford’s old train depot, which currently houses Downtown Sanford, Inc.’s offices. The project needs a roughly $500,000 match from state funding in order to proceed.

In addition to his own time in the shelter, Grames said he has worked with other people experiencing homelessness to connect them with services.

He said the availability of shelter space proved critical for helping him and others get back on their feet. He said additional space would be a big help, but more funding for services would be even better. 

“If you can’t change people’s minds, they struggle with drugs, alcohol, whatever it may be, and they end up going right back,” he said. “Do we need money? Yes, but housing is just one part of it, not the whole picture.”

Legislative leaders in both chambers said they are still negotiating with the Cooper administration before they present the bill to the full General Assembly for approval.   

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