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Much needed repairs in Edgecombe

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Edgecombe County commissioners don’t make a heck of a lot of money for their time and patience in meetings and other events – about $440 per month. Rest assured, they’re earning every cent as they wrestle this year with one of the tougher budgets in recent memory.

Commissioners voted 3-2 this week to spend $34,000 on desperately needed water-line repairs and new heating and air conditioning units for Edgecombe Community College. The college has a whole list of needs – it originally asked for $145,000. If that seems a bit much, consider that Edgecombe commissioners this year cut funding to the school by more than 16 percent over what Edgecombe Community College received in 2012-13.

And despite the relatively low sum awarded by the commissioners for the infrastructure repairs this week, some members of the board wondered if it was fair to spend the money at all, considering how tightly the budgets have been structured for just about every other department in the county.

The key to reducing the financial strains Edgecombe County faces is to grow the tax base. A county does that by bringing in new industries and the jobs that come with them. New companies develop land and buildings. New employees buy houses. The county collects property taxes from both.

But that’s easier said than done. Edgecombe County’s unemployment rate has shrunk – but so has its labor force.

Eastern North Carolina has relied heavily in the past on the jobs generated by tobacco farms and textile mills. But those industries have been hurt by the export of jobs to overseas plants and fewer cigarette smokers.

Edgecombe Community College is a cornerstone for job training and continued education. But until this area sees some long-lasting economic improvement, the school will continue to face money challenges. Water pipes are just the beginning.