If a driver is sitting on the shoulder in a broken-down old car while a shiny convertible goes roaring past him at 80 mph, it is small comfort to him to know that the average speed on that stretch of the road at that moment is 40.
That is sort of like the position that the Northern Moore town of Robbins has found itself occupying for the past couple of decades, as Town Commissioner David Lambert explains so compellingly in a column that appears on page B3 of today’s Pilot.
Here’s the problem: In calculating the economic assistance to be distributed to individual communities, the state of North Carolina uses a “tier system” based on the average wealth in each of its 100 counties.
This means that Robbins, which is in desperate need of help, keeps coming up on the short end of the stick because it is unlucky enough to be located in the same administrative bailiwick with Southern Pines and (especially) Pinehurst.
‘Too Rich to Deserve Any Help’
To give you an idea of just how dramatic the contrast is between towns in the northern and southern ends of our county, consider that the median household income in Robbins is $27,250, compared with Pinehurst’s average of $75,284.
“Robbins has lost over 1,500 jobs since 1990 — a number greater than its current population,” Lambert laments. “Certain parts more closely resemble war-stricken Third World countries than what one would typically expect to find in a rural North Carolina town.”
Still, he says, when the town applied for a grant to help repair some of its ailing infrastructure, “the grant was denied because Robbins is located in a county deemed too rich for aid.” Moore County as a whole, you see, is a so-called tier three county, meaning that it is considered too well off to deserve any help.
That means a town like Robbins can’t win for losing. And there are dozens of others in similar situations in counties across the state. What’s worse, a “cure” being considered in Raleigh, a so-called index system, could well end up being worse than the disease for places like Robbins.
“When a community cannot even address fundamental infrastructure problems,” Lambert asks, “how can a town hope to improve its economy?”
‘A Further Penalizing’
By coincidence, another aspect of this situation reared its head this past week and was discussed at a Thursday meeting of the Moore County Board of Commissioners.
Last year, remember, our county was one of 21 in the state that were cheated out of their fair share — or any share — of the additional revenues they were paying under an expansion of the sales tax.
Now, according to County Manager Wayne Vest, the state is considering doing away with the former distribution method and replacing it with — guess what? — the tier system. And once again, Vest said, Moore would apparently be left holding the bag, since the system deprives “counties such as Moore because of the wealth of parts of the county.”
What we are seeing, complained Commissioners Chairman Nick Picerno, is “a further penalizing of Moore County because of its perceived wealth.”
As we have pointed out repeatedly in this space, the tier system is grossly unfair and should be abolished altogether in its present form.
The main problem with the current system is that it is built on the faulty metric of average income from all sources, a number that is easily manipulated.
The state needs to wean itself from its infatuation with per-capita income and look for a different yardstick. We think the average wage paid to working individuals would be a far more meaningful measure of a county’s economic well-being.